How to Overcome Guilt to Enjoy God's Presence

Inaction or over-reaction are both a result of guilt. Both cause us to miss the relationship with God that he freely offers you.

As you start to understand Rhythms and initiate reframing your life around the way of Jesus, guilt may show up to spoil the party.

Guilt is heavy. I feel tired merely thinking about the effort it takes to fight it off or live while carrying it. More problematic, guilt becomes an obstacle in my attempts to commune with Jesus.

God, however, says that walking closely with Him makes our life’s load easy and light. So, guilt really has no place as we try to live like Christ. I’m going to address and unpack it to perhaps lighten the load so we can sit and enjoy time with Jesus.

Guilt may arise in Rhythms because it may seem to uphold a standard of conduct that reveals our shortcomings. Guilt says, “I should be there, but I’m nowhere near that.”

Feeling guilt can be so discouraging that it causes inaction; you disqualify yourself from even starting. Or guilt may have the opposite effect. It may trigger a quest to strive for a perfect image of yourself so that no one can say you don’t measure up.

Guilt is a signal that you are not living up to an upheld standard of conduct. This may cause discouragement leading to inaction or striving to attain the perceived standard of perfection.

Often, Christians take the feeling of guilt even further! Guilt becomes not just an emotional state, but a mental state that concludes we are in a legal status before God of deserving punishment.

How often do you remember how you have not measured up, feeling as though you deserve punishment, and therefore stay stuck in self-loathing and separate from God? Or how often does remembering make you endlessly strive for perfection, making you anxious about slipping up and ruining your relationship with Him?

Inaction or over-reaction are both methods to try to avoid punishment. Both reactions to guilt cause us to miss the relationship with God that He freely offers you.

In the midst of guilt, God says that He loves you so much that He would die for you (Romans 5:8). He invites you to return to Him, and He will return to you (Zechariah 1:3).

The psalmist David recognized his guilt, and then he trusted in God’s ability to keep him from the pit of punishment. So, he could freely walk in God’s path, and as he did, he experienced the joy of being in God’s presence.

“I say to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’

…I have set the LORD always before me;

because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;

my flesh also dwells secure.

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see the pit.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy;

at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

(Psalm 16:2,7-11, ESV)

You, too, can “set the Lord always before you” so that you can participate in His ways and enjoy being in His presence.

Participating in Rhythms is an invitation to walk with Jesus.

If you find yourself stuck in inaction, I gently encourage you to trust that Jesus has saved you, and respond to the invitation. Trusting this good news is to know you dwell securely because God both is able and desires to save you. Accepting discouragement may seem appropriate, but it does not help your relationship with God to grow. Instead, responding to the invitation, as with a friend, deepens your relationship. If God is calling you to walk with him, such as by participating in Rhythms, trust Him to receive you, and engage in it.

If you are trying to overwork to make up for your sense of lacking, may I gently say that such striving often causes more harm than good. For instance, an invitation to be healthy that turns into a diet of starvation causes damage to your body, rather than the sought-for health. When Jesus went to wash the apostle Peter’s feet, first Peter said no, and then he asked Jesus to wash his whole body! Jesus replied that those who do not let Him wash them have no relationship with Him; and that His type of washing is sufficient. Jesus has a deep connection to those he has cleansed. Further, Jesus needed Peter to accept the sufficiency of His cleansing. When you participate in Rhythms, remember that His ways are sufficient, and the goal is not to overwork but to be refreshed as you live in His presence.

If Rhythms brings up a sense of guilt, perhaps you want to avoid attempting it altogether. Or maybe you want to strive for a perfect image. But, God doesn’t want you to live in fear of punishment. He wants to restore your relationship to Himself. You can choose to accept His invitation and to trust His cleansing is sufficient, as psalmist David and apostle Peter did, as you participate in Rhythms to help you walk in His way.