Open When You Can't Discipline Yourself to Spend Time With God
WE’VE ALL BEEN THERE
Feeling God is awesome. It’s amazing when you can stand on the mountaintop, lift your hands, and sing: “I’ve seen You move—You moved the mountains!” with tears streaming down your face and the guitar strumming in the background.
But then you drive home. Homework begins piling up. Friends are texting you to hang out. Your parents are on your case for you to take out the trash and clean your room. Reality sinks in, and your “mountaintop” retreat experience with God seems like a distant, faded memory from the past.
I know this because I’ve been there in that same exact experience hundreds of times before. And I want to share with you that it is possible to have a permanently lasting relationship with God. It takes work, don’t get me wrong. But God has taught me that it’s totally worth having a real relationship with Him—starting with discipline.
If it were up to me, I would love to feel God all the time. Those warm, overwhelming feelings when I can almost touch His presence around me is like nothing else. And don’t get me wrong—those experiences are beautiful and precious; God blesses us by allowing us to feel Him close. It’s such a gift, and I look back at those moments with God and smile when I’m going through hard times. But to be a Christian, we have to understand one very important truth: our faith cannot be bossed around by our feelings. Our feelings (though real and important to acknowledge) cannot be the foundation of our faith, the same way anything important in life isn’t based on emotions.
Put it this way: think of an activity or practice you commit the majority of your time and energy to. Maybe it’s school, your friends or family, or a sport. You don’t practice that activity only when you feel like it. If you never went to a soccer game because you were tired or decided not to study for an important exam because you were bored, you would struggle greatly in sports and school. The same goes with our relationship with God. God doesn’t call us to “feel like it” when we are with Him. He just calls us to show up and look for Him. Wait for Him. Trust Him. And live like we love Him. Sometimes, that’s the most we can do. Thankfully, that’s enough for Him to work with because He calls for obedience, not feelings.
There will always be excuses not to be with God. Someone once told me that we will never “find time” to be with God. We have to make it. I totally believe that’s true. I’ve had to look at my life and decide what’s important: if I really say that my relationship with God is the most important thing in my life, I better make time for Him. When my schedule gets busy, quiet time is often the first thing to get cut. But the more I decide to fight against my anxiety in getting everything done and spend time with God anyways, the more He blesses and enables me to get more done that day. A homework assignment gets postponed, giving me more time to complete it. I somehow am able to be more efficient. An activity gets canceled and I have an extra hour to my schedule. He’s taught me that my whole life can be put on pause when Jesus, the King of Creation and my Maker, is calling me. He’s the King of Time and fully capable of giving us more of it when we prove our trust by spending time with Him. In Matthew 6:33, Jesus tells the disciples not to worry, as He promises to finish everything that needs to be completed:
“Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
The truth is, you can have that “mountaintop” experience in your room. I’ve come to discover that there’s nothing extra spiritual about being in a crammed cabin at a higher altitude with dozens of other Christians. All that was different was that you were allowing yourself to be in the presence of God by showing up before Him and letting Him move. That’s nothing you can’t have in your room, car, or shower, if the Holy Spirit (the presence of the powerful, living God) lives permanently in you. You just have to give Him the chance to show up in these mundane, normal places by spending time with Him there. And I promise that time spent with Him is never wasted. Unlike everything else in this world, He will never disappoint.
If you’re struggling, pray and ask God for the discipline to spend time with Him. Pray He would call you out during the day to be with Him and give you the obedience to follow. When we simply can’t do things, it all comes down to us lifting our hands and asking Him for help through prayer. He loves to answer prayers that are in alignment with His will, and He has the habit of always answering the ones that bring us closer to Him (1 John 5:15). Every struggle I’ve overcome didn’t happen through me adopting a new habit or becoming a stronger person—it started with me admitting my weaknesses and need for help and calling on God to fix it. Do what you can do (no matter how little it feels like) and trust Him to do the rest. He never asks us to do anything on our own human strength but challenges us to lean on Him in the things we can’t accomplish, asking Him to work and then trusting that He will through our baby steps of obedience every day.
And each day, He will show you just a little step you can take as you spend time with Him. Do that on His power, and tomorrow He will complete in you what you formerly thought was impossible.
Just a reminder, just as easy as it can be to not discipline yourself to spend time with God, I have often fallen into the struggle of depending on quiet time as an idol instead of God. Just because you skip a day of spending time with God or pray for a shorter amount of time doesn’t mean that God loves you any more or less. His love isn’t based on our actions and rituals but on His death on the cross and His own decision to love us. He practices the love of a perfect father, loving His children not because of what they do but simply because they’re His. When we forget this, we lose the joy of being with God and spending time with Him becomes a burdensome religion or chore. Remember that He loved us while we were still sinners at our worst (Romans 5:8) and that NOTHING can separate you from that love (Romans 8:38). Ask Him to show you those truths, and don’t be afraid to switch up your quiet time routine when you’re struggling with feeling burdens of legalism. He is in control of your relationship with Him, not you, as He wears the pants. And He will hold it together better than any of your efforts ever can.