Fading Joy: Am I Seeking an Experience or a Relationship?

By M.R. Conrad. Reposted from Rooted Thinking.

The lights dim as the music begins to play. The energy in the crowd seems to almost crackle audibly. You feel a surge of anticipation for the songs you know, the empowering words you always hear, and the inspirational, larger-than-life people you see standing before you. At a well-designed worship service, Bible conference, or summer camp, God seems real, close, and exciting.

Then, you go home and open your Bible alone. You know the Scriptures are filled with life-giving words and powerful examples, but somehow, it’s not the same. The atmosphere is gone. You struggle to maintain your interest. Spiritual dryness sets in. What is wrong with you? Where has the joy gone?

The Joy Is Gone

In Psalm 16:11, David speaks of the joy that you now are missing: “You [God] will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” What is this joy? Joy is a positive mindset that expresses our satisfaction and pleasure in things we value. We find joy in what is most important to us. What do we value most?

Too often we value a feeling over the reality that would produce that feeling. We want to feel close to God without actually drawing close to God. We want the benefits of a close walk with God without the heart change required to walk with God. Many times, we want the outward trappings without the inward transformation. Our need for an experience can become an idol that dethrones God in our lives.

How do we rediscover joy in our devotional time? What can we do to avoid the spiritual dryness that comes from seeking an experience rather than a relationship?

1. Seek God, Not the Feeling of Seeking God

David writes of his own experience in Psalm 27:8: When You [God] said, “Seek My face,” My heart said to You, “Your face, LORD, I will seek.” That yearning for closeness to God is good and right. James 4:8 confirms this: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” God commands us to seek Him, not an emotional experience. But where does the emotional experience come from?

Joy in Psalm 16

Let’s go back to Psalm 16. Fullness of joy in the presence of God was a result of (not the object of) David’s relationship with God. Before he described the joy, David spoke of the source of that joy. In Psalm 16:8, David writes, “I have set the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” David set the Lord always before him. He sought the Lord. Joy was the result, not the object of his seeking.

We don’t joy in joy: we joy in God. With the prophet Habakkuk, we must declare, “I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:18).

Joy in Psalm 63

Make Psalm 63 your prayer and heart’s desire: “O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You In a dry and thirsty land Where there is no water. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory. Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips shall praise You. Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, And my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips. When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches.”

2. Seek God on God’s Terms.

But you might say, “Wait, I am seeking God, but I don’t feel the joy David describes.” Maybe you are seeking God on your own terms. Those who truly seek God do what it takes to be close to Him. This means personal holiness (Psalm 51:12).

Let’s go back to James 4:8 and read the whole verse in context: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” We cannot draw near to God if we are unwilling to get right with God. We cannot go our own way and feel close to God. We must submit to God (James 4:7) and to His way.

3. Seek God in the Day-to-Day. Enjoy the Mountain Top Moments.

“But wait,” you say again. “I am seeking God, and I have confessed my sin. I just don’t feel the emotional high when I go to God alone.” Maybe your expectations need some adjustment.

What if we viewed marriage like we sometimes view our walk with God? When everyday life is not as exciting as our honeymoon, should we worry that something is wrong with our marriage? No! Both the high points and the day to day are wonderful blessings. The romantic getaways are a highlight, but the daily grind is where the genuine relationship lives.

Related Tips to Combat Spiritual Dryness Caused by Seeking an Experience1

  • Choose to spend time with God at the same time each day regardless of your emotional state.
  • Accept that your emotional feeling will not be the same every time you have your devotions.
  • Thank God for the high points and be faithful in the day-to-day.
  • Try to avoid evaluating your time with God based on how you feel. Evaluate it based on what the Word of God told you about who God is and what He has done. Humbly apply the passage to your own life while asking God how He would have you to change based on what you read.
  • Find promises of God as your read the Bible and trust what He says more than your feelings.
  • Confess the sin of idolatry when you try to find satisfaction in an emotion rather than in God Himself.
  • Read the poetic sections of Scripture, including the Psalms and Habakkuk. 
  • Supplement (but don’t replace) your Bible reading with encouraging devotionals, like George Muller’s Book of Bible Promises or even my missions devotional.2

Notes

1 Spiritual dryness can occur for many different reasons. This article is part of a series in Rooted Thinking. Read more about other factors in the related posts: #1 Introduction, #2 Quietness, #3 Misplaced Hunger, #4 Double-Mindedness, and #5 Narcissism.

2 Read more in Daring Devotion and its upcoming sequel, Daring Dependence.


Dr. Conrad serves in urban Asia. He, his wife, and their four children squeeze into a 700 square-foot apartment where he seizes rare moments of quiet to write amidst homeschooling, a cacophony of musical instruments, and the steady stream of visitors they so enjoy having in their home. He enjoys birding, board games, and basketball. He is the author of Daring Devotion: A 31-Day Journey with those who Lived God’s Promises.

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