That Nagging Feeling: How God Uses Restlessness

That Nagging Feeling: How God Uses Restlessness

Posted by Jacob Hudgins on Oct. 29, 2021

Job complained, “When I lie down, I say, ‘When shall I arise?’ But the night continues, and I am continually tossing until dawn” (Job 7:4). When we experience similar restlessness, the sensation that things are not as they should be can serve as fuel for our spiritual lives. 

For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling (2 Cor. 5:2). 

New Testament writers frequently instruct us to be peaceful and content. We have made peace with God (Rom. 5:1)—resolving the great issue of our lives—and we can spread this peace to our relationships (Rom. 12:18; Matt. 5:9). Christians are taught to be content in any circumstances, silencing carnal ambitions (Phil. 4:13, Heb. 13:5, 1 Tim. 6:6-8). This serenity is one of the great blessings Jesus offers us. 

Yet peace can lead us to feel that the crisis has passed. We might be tempted to put our feet up and wait for Jesus to return. New Testament Christians are not so! They live with a holy restlessness. They are continually aware of their need for God, their immaturity, and the fallen state of the world. They hold a nagging feeling that things are not as they should be. These thoughts do not produce peace but hunger and passion. How does God use restlessness? 

To Awaken Us to Our Need 

The rich young ruler approaches Jesus, both running and kneeling (Mark 10:17) with a burning question on his heart. “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16). After he establishes that he has kept Moses’s commands, he gives voice to his deeper concern: “What do I still lack?” (Matt. 19:20). He knows he is missing something, and God uses that restlessness to bring him to Jesus for the truth about his condition. 

All people share that nagging feeling that we are not whole on our own; Jesus tells us why. “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). The reason we desperately search for meaning, pleasure, and love in so many places is that we are seeking something that only Jesus can provide. Solomon restlessly searches for meaning and discovers only God (Eccl. 12:13-14). The Athenians restlessly seek some new teaching to make sense of their existence (Acts 17:21). Only Jesus satisfies that nagging feeling that we are useless on our own (John 15:5), that we need a protector and guide (John 10:14), and that we are powerless in the face of an unavoidable death (John 11:25-26). If we are content with such deficiencies, then we never seek to resolve them. Restlessness awakens us to our need for God. 

To Drive Us to Grow 

After we come to Jesus for life, there is still a vast gulf between our character and “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). We’re not there yet! Paul explains: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12-14). Paul has a passion for pursuing the character and perspective of Jesus because he hasn’t achieved it yet. Christians “press on” to a higher ground of maturity. 

Peter teaches Christians not to become satisfied with their current level of growth. He tells us to “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue” (2 Pet. 1:5), gives a list of traits to pursue, and exhorts us to “be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election” (2 Pet. 1:10). Aware of how far we are from the character of God, we exert diligence and effort. We refuse to rest on our laurels. God uses that nagging feeling that we are not what we should be to keep us from complacency. We’re not there yet! 

To Help Us Hunger for Something Better 

Christians hold out hope for God to make all things right, wipe away all tears, restore justice, and give us eternal life. Yet we still live day-to-day in a place characterized by sin, injustice, and death. This tension produces a nagging feeling in us. We long for something better. 

Paul speaks about his body as a tent, a temporary dwelling. “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Cor. 5:2-4). He anticipates a better, eternal body. As Paul watches his own body deteriorate,traces his scars, and buries those he loves, he does not despair. He groans in anticipation of a time when God will change things as he has promised. 

Jesus foretells a time in which “the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day” (Mark 2:20). We experience sorrow because Jesus is not with us in the ultimate, eternal sense that we anticipate. Paul says that both creation (Rom. 8:22) and we ourselves groan “as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). Something better is coming, but it’s not here yet. 

We experience that nagging feeling as we look around at a world that does not share our love for God. Things are not right in the world. We do not feel peace when we hear the martyrs cry out to God, “How long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10). Paul is not at peace as he observes the idolatry of Athens; “his spirit was provoked within him” (Acts 17:16). We see evil and hear evil. We are its victims and sometimes its perpetrators. This does not sit well with us. It should not. Yet, that nagging feeling is God’s way of helping us to appreciate our desire to go home—a place of justice and righteousness. Every funeral, every injustice, every broken home, every devastating scandal, every physical pain, every stinging word makes us groan and mourn and weep. We work to help, to redeem, to heal, and to bless— but underneath it all is the deep longing for something better. 

There is no contradiction between restlessness and inner peace or contentment. Paul writes Philippians 3 (“not that I. . .am already perfect”) just before Philippians 4 (“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”). Let us learn to adjust to our circumstances and the behavior of others, so as to find peace, while still realizing that we are not yet perfect— and not yet home. 

What Do We Do with that Nagging Feeling? 

Explore It Instead of Ignoring It 

When we feel that something is not right, we should pay attention. This may be a way God is alerting us to our need for him or some change we need to make. There is value in determining the source of restlessness. 

Pray about It 

Paul continually prays for his fellow Christians to grow and remain faithful. Christians pray for God’s justice (Luke 18:7). Our needs should bring us to God’s throne. 

Use It 

Discomfort makes us move! Our hunger pushes us to work, investigate, change, challenge, and seek. Channel your restlessness toward the goals you know God wants you to pursue— saving others, doing good, controlling self, building knowledge of Scripture, reinforcing hope, and honing character. 

When you experience that nagging feeling, direct it toward God’s things: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt 5:6).