One of, if not the most, profound spiritual moments in my life came when I was most spiritually depressed. I was in college and found myself in the midst of a serious spiritual search. I was a Christian, at a Christian college, studying the Bible, and I had entered the midst of the Charismatic Movement. I was regularly with friends who saw visions, prayed for and received healings, were “slain in the Spirit,” who even prayed that pennies would stick to their dormitory walls, and apparently, they did. We even went to see a man that claimed he could transport “in his Spirit” to the Garden of Eden. He was spiritually teleporting. Even then, and especially now, I was very skeptical of much of this. However, I’d had many moments where I felt incredibly close to God, as if I was in the same room with Jesus, talking, even touching. I wasn’t too concerned with getting pennies to stick to walls or seeing the Garden of Eden, but I wanted more of Jesus. I wanted to experience Him, radically, really, tangibly.
One night, I was at a Charismatic event. There were about 50 of us, all wanting to experience God (with rather different conceptions of what that might look like). As Charismatic worship goes, I was in the front of the room, on my knees, singing. I was also begging God, actually raising my hand in a fist making a motion like I was knocking on a door, asking the Lord to “let me in” to where He is. This was the culmination of months of seeking God, and feeling like I was getting nowhere. No vision, no voice, no ecstatic feeling, not even a gravity-defying penny. I didn’t have a red cent to my spiritual name. Nothing.
During the worship, I got up, left the room and sat in the entry area, crying. I honestly confessed my heart to the Lord: “God, I feel like I’ve been doing everything you want, but you’re not holding up your end of the deal. Why are you so far off? If you love me and you’re my Father, where the heck are you?”
Immediately, this Psalm came to mind: “For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our belly clings to the ground” (Ps. 44:25). I thought, “this is exactly how I feel.” Then, I imagined myself lying face down in the dirt. It was a picture that seemed to capture the apex of spiritual depression. It doesn’t get much lower than on the ground, face down, and in the dirt. That’s where I was spiritually.
Then, as I imagined myself in this position, I thought of myself raising my hands, palms upward, over my head, as my face was in the mud, worshipping God. Suddenly, my chest began to swell. Tears filled my eyes again, but this time, they were tears of deep and abiding joy. I had an epiphany. Spiritual “success” was not measured in how I felt. Rather, it was determined by how I worshipped God. I didn’t need to spiritually teleport or have some ecstatic vision or experience some sign or wonder (in this you can see God’s patience with me in that He actually had to teach me that lesson). I just needed to worship God, in whatever state I was in. That moment, I decided to worship God, even though my belly clung to the dust.
A little later, I read Job say, “though He slay me, I will yet hope in Him.” After that, I read CS Lewis say that God’s goal is to get us to the point where we can look around and see no evidence of Him whatsoever and say, “I will still worship Him”.
This lesson has been the bedrock of my spiritual journey. This has been the thing that keeps me on track when I want to wander. I realized that my job is not to work my way to greater revelations of God. Rather, it is to trust Jesus. I am not supposed to pray certain words, in certain ways, with certain feelings, with great faith in order to unlock God’s blessings like typing a code into a lock. Rather, I am supposed to sit, and wait. I am supposed to hold my Father’s hand and go when He goes, and stop when He stops. When He guides me forward in spiritual delights, I am to delight. When He stops and has me wait in spiritual listlessness, I am to trust and worship.
Paradoxically, it is the worship in moments of spiritual depression that are the most profound. When you don’t feel God, and you even feel abandoned by God, yet you see yourself, almost as if you’re outside yourself looking in, worshipping God with all your heart, you all the sudden realize the gravity of your salvation. You are so saved in Jesus that you don’t need evidence, or happiness to worship Him. You trust Jesus so much that even when worldly wisdom says, “You’re nuts! There is no God, and even if there was a God, He clearly doesn’t care about you,” you ignore the thought like Jesus ignoring the jeering crowd as He carried His cross to Golgotha. To whom would those words better apply than to the Son of God, after He was brutalized by Roman soldiers, and was forced to carry the instrument of His death. What picture could you imagine that would depict being more forsaken? That’s the one God apparently cares most about and He’s been going through the wringer for hours. God knows everything and He certainly knows what’s going on with His Child. So, He must not care. He must be up there ignoring the fact that His only begotten Son is being tortured to death. How could He care? If He did, there is no way He would let Jesus get into this difficult, this depressing, situation.
But Jesus set His face like a flint, and carried on. My God He is strong. In that moment of worship in sadness, you are experiencing some of what Christ felt. He knew He needed to march on toward His death because it was worth it. And the joy of bringing many sons to glory overshadowed the pain of the cross upon His scoured back. So it is with us. When we don’t feel like worshipping because we are depressed, we worship anyway knowing that this difficult road we’re on will one day result in glory. But what’s more, we worship because Jesus walked that road, and He’s walking it, right now, with us.