When I asked God to take over my life, I felt good. I will never forget the sense of adventure that the next morning brought. I had a friend in God, a forgiving, loving, wise and comforting Father. He had plans for my life. I could talk to Him.

But time went by and I discovered that things are not, emotion­ally, that simple. I could get down, sometimes depressed almost to the point of despair. Talking to God at those times seemed like talking to a wall. The joy was gone.

I thought I must be doing something wrong. I prayed harder, yet felt no change. I searched for sin in my life, yet sometimes found that confession brought no relief. I would try to take my mind off myself and work at helping others or ask friends to pray for me. Sometimes, too, for a reason I could never track down, my feelings would get better by themselves. But I found I could not count on any one technique to make me feel better.

But when I felt down and far away from God, some of my friends recommended a new way of praying. Others recommended reading certain passages of scripture. Yet when these don’t work, what do you do? Investigate other religions? What?

For me, the first key to feeling better, was to become a little skeptical about my emotions. Feeling good is important, but not all-important. Just because I feel bad today doesn’t prove I really am especially bad. The fact that yesterday I didn’t feel God’s presence doesn’t prove He wasn’t there. A lot of times I felt bad because I was very tired, or was going through turmoil and transition. My bad feelings didn’t prove anything except that I needed rest.

Besides, the main goal in life for a Christian “isn’t feeling good”. It’s following God. Many Christians seem to believe that God gave them a money-back guarantee for good feelings, and that this is what being a Christian is all about. When they pray, if they do it right, they will feel warm and close to God. When they study the Bible, if they do it right, they will feel tremendously inspired. When they go to church, they will join in a wonderful spirit of worship and be moved close to tears. But He gave no such guarantee. You can be sure of God hearing you, of God giving you a whole new way of looking at life, of God listening to and enjoying your praises. But you can’t be sure that good feelings will turn on like a signal light when those things happen.

The question I’ve had to ask is, why am I doing these things? If I always felt lousy praying, would it still be worth doing? If my motive for praying, reading the Bible, going to a Bible study group or anything else I did – even eating breakfast – is strictly to make myself feel good, then I am not doing them in a Christian way. Christians should do things because in God’s sight they are worth doing – not for the good feelings that may result. Good feelings are an extra.

But when will those extras come? When Christians tell you not to concentrate on feelings but on facts, they sometimes imply that the feelings always come along too, like the wagging tail of a dog, like the caboose on a train. The facts, they say, are that God has accepted you, forgiven you, loved you. Apply faith to those facts – believe them, and act on them – and the feelings will come predictably along.

Unless you have a very stable personality, you know it doesn’t work quite this way. Some­times you feel good when you haven’t exercised any faith and wait an awfully long time for your feelings to change. Feelings have a way of changing, without reason, good to bad to good to bad again. Feelings are as unpredictable as gremlins. No, I take that back. Over periods of time there are broad patterns to feelings, patterns you can predict. But day-to-day, feelings are as unpredictable as … the weather.

I like that analogy. I lived five years in Illinois, where the weather can change faster than anywhere I’ve ever been. One summer day we’d be sweltering at 95o, the next we might be shivering at a rainy 55o But whether it was hot or cold, I never doubted that summer was summer. The weather was more or less predictable – you knew that in summer most days would be hot. But you didn’t tell the season by reading the weather report. You read the calendar.

Now I live in California. In my town, near San Francisco, the weather is wonderful. We have blue skies and comfortable temperatures at least two days out of three. But still, on any given day the weather can be rotten. Friends come out to visit us and wonder where all the big talk about California weather is – a cold rain drizzles the whole time they are here. Still, I never doubt that I love it in California, or that the weather is good here. I didn’t even doubt it when we endured a two-year drought. A lot of people were sure that the weather pattern was changing for­ever (as a few years before they were worried about California falling into the ocean). But I’ve got friends and relatives who are farmers, and I remember: droughts come. But they don’t last forever. You take what­ever measures you can to conserve water, and you wait for the weather to turn. You don’t sell your farm and move to Australia.

This is the way we ought to think of our feelings. As a matter of fact, we sometimes talk about them this way. “I’m having a bad day,” sounds very much like “It’s a dreary, rainy day.” Neither statement implies that there is something drastically wrong. It’s just a weather reading.

Just as you wear a raincoat when it looks like rain, so you ought to go out of your way to reach out to people when you’re feeling distant and alone. But you don’t have to make a crisis out of a bad day, or a bad week, or even a bad season. When you have a bad winter you complain about the snow and the cold, and you wait for spring. When you have a streak of feeling bad you may complain to God and your friends, and you make adjustments. But you don’t despair. You wait for the in­evitable change.

The fact is that, if you are living as a Christian, you are living in the sphere of God’s grace. The climate is good there. There are good days and bad days, and there may be a long drought. It could be, too, that if you’re always feeling wet there is a leak in your roof. You ought always to check that possibility of some­thing wrong in your life. Maybe you aren’t listening to (obeying) God. Maybe you have emotional problems that need to be talked out with a counselor. Maybe there are patterns in your life that need to be changed.

But for the most part, you brave bad times the way you brave bad storms. The spiritual weather may be bad for a time, but you never doubt that in God’s climate the weather, overall, will be good. God will reappear. You wait, you ‘weath­er’ the glumness and the emptiness of feeling that God has seemingly disappointed you. And as you grow older, you find yourself looking back on the “big storm of 2015”, smiling at how bad the weather could be. When you stop worrying so much over long winters, it leaves you freer to enjoy the sunny seasons.

Tim Stafford

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