Why does God feel distant, no matter how much I pray?
The Bible tells us that God is near to all who call on Him, but we can all feel like God is far away and not near. Hidden fears and anxieties can make it hard for us to be still and recognise His presence. Misguided beliefs and worldly temptations can keep us from opening our hearts to listen to His Spirit. Idol worship, witchcraft, and other forms of occult that God calls abominations create stumbling blocks that turn God against us. Thankfully, the Bible gives us some guidance on how we draw close to Him through repentance and God’s healing.
Psalm 145:17-18 ESV The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
Psalm 46:10 ESV “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
Ezekiel 14:6-8 ESV …Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations. For any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel, who separates himself from me, taking his idols into his heart and putting the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to a prophet to consult me through him, I the Lord will answer him myself. And I will set my face against that man; I will make him a sign and a byword and cut him off from the midst of my people, and you shall know that I am the Lord.
God wants us to worship Him in spirit and truth
Our prayers and worship can feel “hollow,” “repetitive,” “empty,” and “powerless.” This is because genuine prayer and worship do not just involve saying something intellectually from the human mind — it involves all the understanding, passion, and desire from the human spirit.
1 Corinthians 14:15 ESV What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.
Job 32:8 ESV But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand.
God wants us to worship Him in spirit and in truth. While it is possible on the rare occasion to experience God physically, through what we can see, hear, or feel, the primary way we communicate with God 24/7 is through the human spirit that God has formed within each one of us. (In his letters, the apostle Paul often sent greetings that the Lord would be with his readers’ spirits, illustrating his awareness that it was his readers’ spirits that needed God’s presence. See Philippians 4:23, Galatians 6:18, 2 Timothy 4:22, and Philemon 1:25.)
Zechariah 12:1 ESV … Thus declares the Lord, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him:
Philippians 4:23 ESV The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
Our spirit is the life and consciousness that God has breathed into us. With it comes our self-awareness, thoughts, emotions, creativity, and desires. God is passionate that all our spirits stay faithful to Him. This shows that our spirit can choose to stay loyal to or rebel against Him.
James 4:5 NLT Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him.
Job 32:18 NLT For I am full of pent-up words, and the spirit within me urges me on.
God is Spirit and He is the Father of all spirits. When we call out to God as our Heavenly Father, it is our spirits that call out to His Spirit. When we die, it is our human spirit that will return to God to worship Him forever. Our spirit is eternal.
John 4:23-24 ESV But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Hebrews 12:9 ESV Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?
Ecclesiastes 12:7 ESV and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
Unfortunately, mankind’s sinful nature and the brokenness of this world have corrupted every human spirit in one way or other. Various philosophies have taught us that our mind is the real master of our own fate and we should focus only on the here and now. Our spirits have lost our understanding and intimate knowledge of God and His thoughts, His emotions, His creativity, and His desires for us.
Our spirits no longer yearn for or worship God in spirit and in truth. We may be physically alive but may be unaware that we have been spiritually dead and separated from God the Father for quite a long time.
Romans 3:10-12 ESV as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
The good news is that Jesus came in human form to die for our sins to reconcile us spiritually with God the Father. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts so that we may be made alive in the spirit. We receive the free gift of the Holy Spirit when we turn to God, repent of our sins, and are baptised in Jesus’ name.
2 Corinthians 5:17-18 ESV Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;
1 Peter 3:18 ESV For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,
John 3:6 ESV That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Acts 2:38 ESV Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit connects us spiritually with God
The Holy Spirit is the One who moves our spirits to cry out to God, the Father of spirits, as “Papa” (or Abba in Hebrew). The Holy Spirit joins with our spirits to affirm that we are God’s children who have become one with Him spiritually. He is also proof that our spirits are alive in God and that God dwells in us.
Galatians 4:6 ESV And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
Romans 8:16-17 NLT For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs.
1 Corinthians 6:17 ESV But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.
1 John 4:13 ESV And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us.
While it is true that God can choose to reveal Himself or speak directly to anyone who has not been baptised in Jesus’ name, an ongoing intimate relationship with Him is built upon a parent-child relationship with the help of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus has called our Advocate and Helper.
John 14:26 ESV But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
God’s Spirit will help us turn away from being enslaved to the “weak and worthless elementary principles of the world” so that our spirits learn how to become faithful to Him alone.
Galatians 4:7-9 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?
What is our understanding of how we relate spiritually with God?
God’s Spirit is through all and in all that He has created. Therefore, it is impossible for God to be “distant” because He is everywhere at all times. The distance that we describe in our hearts is more likely a spiritual disconnect with the Father of spirits.
Ephesians 4:6 ESV one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Therefore, if we feel spiritually “distant” from God, we may need to start with first asking ourselves:
- Baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit | Have I chosen to repent of my sins, be baptised in Jesus’ name and receive the Holy Spirit?
- God’s Spirit in my heart | Have I fallen for the lie that God is “out there somewhere”, but not in my heart?
- Views of the Holy Spirit | Have I understood and cherished my relationship with the Holy Spirit, or have I dismissed or squashed His voice?
If we have answered “yes” to any of these questions, let us start by first repenting and reconciling with God in spirit and in truth. We all need a biblical understanding of God and our relationship with Him — one that is based on His eternal truth and not based on human opinions. The Bible shows us that He is near to all who call on Him in truth.
Psalm 145:18-19 ESV The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.
What is the condition of our spirits?
The next area to consider is the condition of our spirits. Our spirits may not be right before God or may not be willing to submit to Him.
Psalm 51:10-12 ESV Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
This is because our spirits can be:
- defiled by idols — we need the Holy Spirit’s cleansing and renewal | 2 Corinthians 6:16-17,7:1 ESV What agreement has the temple of God with idols? … Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you … Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.
- crushed by heartache — we need the Holy Spirit’s healing and salvation | Psalm 34:18 ESV The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
Thankfully, we can pray and ask God to restore us to have the right attitude. As king David prayed in Psalm 51:12, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”
As seen from many testimonies on this website, we all need to invite the Holy Spirit to cleanse and purify our hearts so that we can become one with our holy God, no longer separated from Him spiritually or feeling “distant”. God seeks to have an intimate relationship with us as long as we worship Him in spirit and truth.
James 4:8-10 ESV Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Hebrews 10:22 ESV Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
For more on the topic of idols, please refer to:
Testing for idols in our hearts
4 ways we unknowingly idolise our parents
7 ways to test if your church has become your idol
Rejection can lead us to form idols out of pain
For more on the topic of crushed spirits, please refer to:
Unhealed trauma affects our spiritual growth
Emotional suppression is ungodly and harmful
The lasting emotional imprints from the womb
The importance of emotional healing
The Holy Spirit heals the wounded child inside us
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