4 Ways to Engage Your Heart When You are Feeling Distant from God

It is such a joy to introduce you to a new friend of ours, Lauren Washer. Lauren has a passion for pursuing the heart of God and immersing herself in truth from his Word, and it spills into everything she says and does. Lauren kindly adapted an article from her blog for our audience, and our hope is that you will find encouragement and inspiration through her words, particularly if you're feeling distant from God.

When I became the parent of a child with special needs, there were a number of emotions that took over: sadness, grief, feeling overwhelmed, fear, and even anger. It took time to work through each of these, but once I had grasped the reality that we were facing a lifelong diagnosis of Down syndrome, I wanted to provide all that I could for our son.

We took him for regular blood tests and to have his heart checked. We watched diligently for milestones like cooing, smiling, tracking toys, and responding to facial cues of others. We were more watchful of potential illnesses –– even things like a simple cold –– knowing that he was more susceptible to respiratory sickness and more severe things like cancer. We started therapy twice a week in our home, hopeful that this would enable him to make the developmental progress we longed for. I was eager for him to learn and grow, and it was exciting to think about all that he might accomplish –– possibly defying the statistical odds, even.

It didn’t take long for the fire of excitement and wonder to dwindle. Therapy became a burden, another block of time on the calendar that kept us from other, more enjoyable things. The emotions I had felt in the beginning resurfaced in the face of sickness, when I compared my son to other children his age, and during times of frustration when he seemed to be lagging further behind in areas of normal growth.

The fatigue of caring for a child with developmental needs, not seeing results, and continuing to long for a sense of normalcy was discouraging. I wanted consistent feelings of eagerness and excitement about all we could do for our son. I longed for a positive outlook every day and in the face of each challenge.

But those feelings weren’t consistent and instead of feeling optimistic about all that his life could hold, I became blind to the good things that were happening. Like how his face lit up when he saw his Dad and sisters, or the fact that he could eat, sleep, and function normally without the need for medical assistance.

Turning Dry Seasons into an Invitation to Press On

You could say that my relationship with the Lord has been characterized by similar feelings. There are stretches of time when I read my Bible longing for connection with the Lord, but it can feel empty. I write down some thoughts in my journal, and then open my Bible, hoping for some fresh insights to guide me through my day. Yet, often times I walk away feeling as if nothing is happening in my heart.

My spiritual life has been marked by seasons of great growth and seasons of plodding along with no evidence of change. And the temptation during those dry spells is to throw in the towel, quit reading your Bible, and hope for a change of heart.

But just like I’ve learned to push through the seasons of no apparent growth with my son, I've learned that the seasons of empty, stagnant, or dry Bible study are invitations to press on. To keep drinking from the well believing that it never dries up, that eventually the truths you learn will meet the deepest needs of your soul, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, your heart will be changed.

So, what do you do when reading your Bible feels empty? When you go to study a passage of Scripture and you feel like your heart isn't being stirred? When you don’t see immediate results from your efforts to grow in your knowledge of and love for God?

First of all, you pray. No study of Scripture will work its way into your heart without a deep dependency upon the Holy Spirit to use the truth to make you more like Christ. The Word of God is powerful, yes, but we need the Spirit's guiding influence to understand the truth and apply it to our lives.

In addition to prayer, I have found several ways to help move my heart to be engaged once again in the process of reading God's Word.

1. Read Through the Psalms Looking Specifically for Characteristics and Behaviors of God

Our purpose in reading the Bible is ultimately to know and love God more. What better way to do that than by intentionally studying who he is?

During a season of spiritual dryness three years ago, I started a study through Psalms about God. Each day I would read a Psalm, and when I came to a characteristic of God, I would place an "A" beside it. Then, I would go back and write a little summary of that verse in the margin.

This study was powerful, and I quickly experienced a shift in my heart. As I studied about God, I was moved to worship him.

2. Be Artistic

During a study of Ecclesiastes, I would read a short passage, and after I had written down some thoughts in my journal, I would choose one word or phrase. Underneath my summary, I would write it out in my best calligraphy (which isn't awesome, but that wasn't the point). Each day I walked away from my study with a phrase solidified in my mind because I had spent so much time writing it out artistically.

You could do this in a number of ways: painting, drawing a picture, or writing something on your hand. The key for me was that I remembered what I had read, and it remained with me throughout the day. Meditating on Scripture is a great way to engage your heart, and being artistic with something you learned can help to make this happen.

3. Do a Bible Study with a Friend (or Group of Friends)

Last fall, our community group at church went through 1 and 2 Thessalonians together, following the sermon series at our church. Each Wednesday night when we gathered together, we would look at the passage that would be preached on the following Sunday. After spending a few minutes to read over the passage on our own, we would come together to write down our observations and note our questions. We then moved on to interpretation and application, discussing what we thought the passage meant and how we could apply it to our lives.

It had been a long time since I had done this in a group setting, but it was such a gift. Gathering with a group of believers to study God's Word together will enlighten your mind, give you new things to think about, and help you look at Scripture in ways that you might not have on your own.

If you feel like you just aren't getting anything out of your own Bible study, I would encourage you to grab a friend and spend some time together digging into God's Word. My experience with the Inductive study method was powerful. I think you'll be amazed at what you uncover, both in your mind and your heart.

4. Read Through the Bible as Quickly as Possible

Last year I did a lot of Inductive Bible study, and I enjoyed all of it. But toward the end of the fall, I noticed that my heart wasn't as engaged. My journal entries felt a bit shallow, my mind was tired, and I felt like I needed to do something to switch up my regular time of Bible study.

So, I chose a start date, opened my Bible in Genesis, and began reading as much as I could each day. I didn’t follow a plan; I just read and picked it back up the next day where I had left off. It took me 78 days to complete, but it was wonderful. I remember more about the Old Testament stories and the messages of the prophets now than ever before.

Each book of the Bible is part of a bigger story, and sometimes we either lose sight of this or we just don't grasp how that small part fits into the entire narrative. Many of us have knowledge of stories throughout the Bible, but piecing it all together helps us understand what God has been doing since the beginning of time. The bigger picture of redemption became fresh to me once again.

And the best part? My hunger for God and His Word was rekindled. I found myself enjoying the time I spent reading my Bible. I could feel the growth. I sensed the Holy Spirit at work in my heart on a daily basis, and I discovered that I was eager to listen to his voice.

Renewed Strength and Joy

We can’t always see the fruit of our efforts in caring for a child with special needs. The paperwork can seem endless, the meetings don’t go anywhere, our children struggle with the same issues time and time again. But we press on, knowing that one day, we will see fruit from our efforts.

The same is true in engaging with the Lord. When we are diligent to invest in consistent and meaningful study of the Bible, we will draw closer to the Lord. We will find joy, we will be aligned with his purposes, and we will ultimately live our lives in worship of God.

Lauren Washer is a wife to her husband of 11 years, and Mama to five children with another little one due to arrive in April, 2018. They are currently stationed in Norfolk, VA, with the Navy. After their third child was born in 2012, he was diagnosed with Down syndrome, and life changed drastically for Lauren. The Lord has used this unexpected journey to deepen her faith and give her a passion for women to experience Jesus through a growing understanding of God’s Word. She shares about the treasure of Jesus from everyday moments on Instagram, and writes occasionally on her blog.