Hello everybody, I wasn't sure where to post this, so please forgive me if this is the incorrect place. It's quite a long post, so bear with me!
I have come here looking for some help in regards to my faith. I am not a practising Christian (yet), but I Googled 'Christian message boards' and you guys came up, and I don't know where else to ask about my problem. Once again I hope that this is all alright. I am by no means looking to offend anyone.
Any and all help is appreciated, but may I please make a polite request that nobody respond speaking at me in 'Biblespeak', as I find that actively off-putting. That doesn't mean not quoting passages from the Bible (I expect that could be very helpful), I just mean please don't tell me I'll burn in Hell for all Eternity if I don't honoreth This and That as quoth by Him and Him in Chapter-this Verse-that. Plain English will do just fine, thankyou!
Now, here's my story:
I have never been religious. I went to Sunday school for a few years as a young child, but God never meant much to me back then, and eventually I stopped believing in God in much the same way as I stopped believing in Santa Claus. No traumatic event inspired this, it just happened gradually as I got older and found out that there are many religions, and also whole schools of thought that follow none of them.
Despite not being a Christian however, I believe that I lead quite a moral life. In my every day life I am always respectful of all religions, and of each individual's right to follow whatever faith they want to. I'm not sacriligeous about any religious figure, not knowingly anyway! Whenever I go to Church I'm mindful that I am in God's house, and that the people around me feel that way even if I'm not sure. I don't drink or take drugs or sleep around, I don't steal or commit other crimes, I try not to lie or cheat at anything, and I try to treat people the way I'd like to be treated. I try not to be judgemental and I help people as much as I can.
Over the years I have ranged from lapsed Christian to staunch Atheist, and I am still not one to leap headfirst into a radical branch of Christianity and start spouting Bible verse at random passers-by, that is not my style. However, at this present point in my life, having considered myself Agnostic for many years, I am fully open to trying to 'find' God, trying to hear his voice, feel his spirit, etc. I hear Christians talk about him (sorry, Him) all the time, talking about the power of prayer and how they feel God's spirit and/or Jesus' love in their hearts. They talk as though they experience genuine physical feelings, and some of them even physical voices, visions etc.
Now I'm not expecting (or looking for) visions or speaking in tongues, but my problem is that I don't feel a thing when I attempt prayer. Or when I read the Bible, or even on the very rare occasions I go to Church (carol services with my grandparents or similar). I can admire the ancient history of Christianity, enjoy the stories of the Bible, agree with many of Jesus's teachings, be awed by the architecture of cathedrals. But when I pray, I feel as though I am just talking to myself.
This is not through lack of trying. I pray a lot considering I don't follow a religion. Most nights I talk or think outwardly, addressing Whoever may be out there. I don't feel any response from that either, but I still do it. I know a fair bit about Christianity and the Bible, through my own (non-religious but actively curious) study over the years. I have tried lots of different ways of praying, but generally I try to pray according to the teachings that I know. I never ask God to prove himself to me, I never question his great plan, I don't ask for special treatment for myself, I always include other people in my prayers, most of the time I ask for world peace and for all those who are suffering to be relieved, that sort of thing. I try to be humble and deferential and admit that I'm not worthy of his grace but that I'd like it anyway. I try to be completely honest, and I ask forgiveness for the things I've done wrong.
The trouble is, that despite all this, I just don't feel anything. It's not even about not feeling anything back, not getting a response, so to speak. I mean it is a little about that, but then I don't expect that God sends a personalised memo in response to every prayer, he's got a lot to do! It's mostly about the fact that when I'm praying, I don't feel like I'm doing something sacred. I just feel like I'm sat in a room, talking to myself. That nobody's listening.
Am I doing something wrong? Clearly I have my doubts about God's existence, but I've read about many Christians who sometimes feel those doubts but are still adamant that God is in their lives. I'm never going to completely rid myself of those doubts, simply because I'm a see-it-to-believe it kind of person, and religion by default is not based on tangible evidence. But doesn't the fact that I WANT to believe counteract that problem? I want to know God, my heart is open to him even if my mind isn't 100%, I'm actively trying to let/bring/ask Him and Jesus into my heart and into my life, but nothing happens. I feel like I've been waiting my whole life for some epiphany that never comes.
I suppose I am mostly looking for an insider's perspective, as it were. What do you feel when you pray? Do you absolutely unquestionably feel God's presence in your heart, and if so, does every other Christian you know feel that way?
A heartfelt thankyou to anybody who is still reading after all that, and I eagerly look forward to everybody's input.