Part of the Christian life includes walking through spiritually dry seasons. That’s normal, and yet we don’t want to get stuck there or remain apathetic. Here are six things to remember or to do when your walk with Christ feels stagnant.
This World is Not (Yet) Our Home; We All Will Feel Lost at Times
See Acts 7:6; Rom. 7:24-25; Heb. 13:14; 1 Peter 2:11-12; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21.
This world is broken, we are fallen, and sin still gives a bitter taste to even the sweetest things in life. Because of this reality, we are in this life still always sojourners and pilgrims. This world is not (yet) our home, so we will never fully feel at home, at rest, or experience joy and satisfaction like we were created to experience. One day, on a new earth with resurrected and glorified bodies, we will experience fulfillment and joy like we long to now.
That should temper expectations and remind us that in one sense, even the best of life now is still a wilderness until we return to the Garden of the restored Earth. While spiritual dry-seasons don’t have to be normative, experiencing them is normal. You are not alone or unique if you’re walking through them. All Christians wander, or are guided, into the wilderness while journeying through this life.
“The saint all the while he is in this world, is like a pilgrim in a dark wilderness.” Jonathan Edwards
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” C.S. Lewis
Refreshment Comes from God’s Presence
See Psalm 16 (especially v. 11); 21:6; 23; 27 (esp. vv. 4, 14); 34:8; 38:4; 73:28; Acts 3:19; Ex. 33:14; Josh. 1:5; Jer. 31:2-3.
In Psalm 16, we take refuge in the Lord and realize He is enough. Storms, troubles, stresses, and enemies push us to flee to a refuge. What we experience is that God is present, sufficient, and satisfying. He protects us from what we’ve run to escape. He shelters us and gives the peace, safety, refreshment, and rest we need. He befriends us through His friendship and hospitality. In all of this we learn that there is nothing truly good we have apart from God (cf. Ps. 73:25). He is the Gift, not just the Giver, as our chosen portion. He is in control as the one who holds our lot, maps out the lines of our life for our good, and gives us an inheritance. He gives joy through His presence, shows us the path of life, and satisfies us with the fullness of enduring pleasures.
In Psalm 23, we are people with enemies surrounding us and we walk through the deep and dark valleys of the shadow of death. But God leads us through. He brings us safely out and into the light. He walks with us as a shepherd. He fights off predators, knows our needs and provides, feeds and waters us, gives us rest, calms our fears, and guides us where we need to be. He binds our wounds, carries us when we’re weak, and stays with us through the night. He doesn’t force us to go without the things we want. He doesn’t not drive us too hard or into the ground. He doesn’t ignore our concerns, pains, and needs. He doesn’t allow predators and enemies to overtake us. He doesn’t let us go our own way forever. He is with us. He restores our soul.
In Psalm 27, David is troubled by the evildoers and enemies surrounding him. He is the king, with a kingdom worth of stress and fear. In the midst of it all, the one thing he seeks above all else is to see and know God. One glimpse of God’s glory can settle his troubled soul. He knows that God is the one who can hide him in His presence, cover him with His tent, lift him high up on a rock. He cries out to God to reveal Himself and not to hide. He makes his claim that he is seeking after God’s face, and asks God to fulfill this godly desire. He calls on God as his help to be his help. He waits and trusts. His hope comes from faith this will not last forever but he will soon taste the goodness of the Lord. In the meantime, he waits and tells his heart to be strong, to endure, to take courage, and to wait on God.
Jesus Offers Himself as the Bread of Life and Living Waters
See John 6:22-55; 7:37-39; 15:1-17; Matt. 13:44-46; John 4:10; 10:10; Phil. 3:7-11; Col. 3:1-4;
“God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” C.S. Lewis
In John 6, the people follow Jesus because of his miracles. They eat the bread and fish and they want more. Jesus tells them they’re attention is caught up on the wrong things. The food won’t satisfy, nor will the miracles, but the one behind them will satisfy. Jesus is the miracle-worker, bread of life, and living waters. The problem is people would rather snack on substitutes.
Jesus redirects their attention to a person. They’re following Jesus because of what they think they can get from Jesus or what Jesus can do for them. Jesus tells them what you need isn’t something from me but you need me. Jesus is saying to these people and to us that the thing we need to seek after most, where we find life, the key to happiness and fulfillment isn’t in something apart from Jesus or even something offered by Jesus, but it’s Jesus himself. He is the bread of life. He sustains and strengthens. He gives joy, rest, and peace. He satisfies the hungry soul and refreshes the weary.
We were created to know God, find our joy and rest in God, and to worship God. When that doesn’t happen, we will not be happy. Jesus tells us we find life in him. He calls us to feed on him as the bread of life (John 6), to drink from him as the living waters (John 7), and to abide in him as the life-giving vine (John 15). Only Jesus can satisfy, and Jesus alone is sufficient. In the midst or wilderness, what we need even more than getting out or help is to see and know Jesus.
Be Still and Wait on God
See Psalm 25:5; 27:13-14; 31:24; 33:20-22; 37:7-9, 34; 40:1-2; 42:11; 46:10; 62:1, 5; 123:1-2; 130:5-6; Is. 8:17; 25:9; 30:15; 33:2; 40:31; Lam. 3:25-26; Micah 7:7; Rom. 12:12; Gal. 5:5.
“Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. 21 For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. 22 Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.” (Ps. 33:20-22)
“But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.” (Micah 7:7)
Part of our spiritual wilderness strategy is waiting it out. But it’s a certain kind of waiting. It’s not a bunker down, bury your head in the sand kind of waiting. We are called to endure, and sometimes endurance is a big part of the lesson, but if God has purposes and plans in this season then we cannot solely hope in the storm to pass.
God calls on us to trust in Him and look to Him while we wait. We pray to God, we lament to God, we pour out our hearts to God during this season. We ask for help or change or deliverance. All the while we learn that God’s ways are not our own and His timing isn’t based on our calendars. One of the hardest parts of any wilderness season (however long) is that it seems like it lasts longer than it needs to be. It stretches on and on. The longer it goes the more pressed and perplexed we feel. We’re tempted to give up on God or to look elsewhere. Like Israel was tempted to turn to other nations and their gods when things got hard, we’re tempted to turn to anyone else besides God that offers relief, hope, distractions, or deliverance.
Living in an instantaneous age makes this even more difficult. I am entitled, impatient, used to immediate results and quick answers. If I have to wait for a haircut I’ll check in online to save time. If life is busy then I’ll have someone purchase and deliver my groceries or dinner. If the doctor doesn’t call back right away I’ll search online (never a good decision). We begin thinking God should work just as quickly or immediately, and we grow frustrated when trials draw out or the spiritual drought continues.
As we open the Bible, God tells us that throughout history, His people are called on to trust God…and not stop. He tells us to look to Him, to wait for Him, to trust in Him, to not give up, dismay, fear, or try to take control. We’re called to be still and know that He is God as we wait, to find rest in the firm conviction that God is still caring and in control. None of this is easy. But as we learn to wait on God in the wilderness we learn dependence, trust, patience, endurance, and hope. It opens a door for God to show up in a way that only He could (Ex. 14:13). Looking back, it allows us to know God was there and He did care even when we felt otherwise.
Spring Will Follow Winter
See Psalm 27:13-14; 40; 42; 63; Lam. 3:22-26; Is. 40-41;
Remember that this season will not last forever. It feels permanent, but it’s not. Some spiritual droughts are a few weeks, and some might be years. Our timeline is very different than God’s and so is His perspective. Consider the life of Joseph and the years in prison. Consider the life of Moses and the years spent in the desert (a few times). This is not to say that some sorrows don’t stay with us forever, and some consequences for sin do not ripple throughout our lives, but our trials are temporary.
We know from experience that every winter has ended and spring eventually comes. We know from our past that many things that seemed overwhelming, permanent, and insurmountable are things we made it past, survived, and experienced God’s faithfulness. We know that many nights of stress, fear, and sadness were met by new morning mercies.
Put Yourself in God’s Path
Our goal isn’t activity, spiritual disciplines, Christian checklists, or proving our sincerity to God. Our goal is knowing God, experiencing His presence, and walking in His Ways. It’s easy to make the means the ultimate goal and forget about the end for why we’re doing them in the first place. But we do have to seek after God, or put ourselves in his path. Sometimes in our spiritual apathy, we want something to change without changing anything we’re doing. If we assume we’ll wake up one day and all of a sudden be passionate for the things of God without continuing to put ourselves in his path, we’ll be sorely disappointed.
We cannot demand, manipulate, manufacture, or guarantee God’s refreshing presence in our lives. There’s no magic-formula to getting out of spiritual wilderness or steps to complete. But, we can do certain things to put ourselves in God’s path so that we’re there and we’re looking when He comes to us. Here are a few ideas.
- Lament. Ask for deliverance. Keep turning to and trusting in God. Lean in during weakness, brokenness, and emptiness rather than running away.
- Take care of your body. Sleep, exercise, eat healthier, and rest.
- Don’t grow content in your spiritual apathy. Getting out is hard work, but fight for it.
- Prioritize time in the Word if it’s been neglected. Your life has lots of things competing for your attention but nothing is as important as walking with God through the Word.
- Be in biblical community. Be known by others and know others. Be encouraged by their faith. Be stretched in serving and an outward focus. Don’t stay hidden in the wilderness because of shame or fear. Talk to others about it.
- Gather with your local church. Many of the Psalms talking about revival or seeking God’s presence talk about doing it together in his temple. We need immersed in praying, singing, testimonies, the Word, fellowship, and the ordinances.
- Give Thanks. As we replace gratitude with grumbling we find greater joy though seeing God’s goodness, kindness, provision, and work all around us.
- Sing and listen to singing. Songs have a way of getting to our heart when words, sermons, and books are not getting there.
- Listen to sermons when you don’t feel like you have the strength or energy to read.
- Try reading a Christian book or doing a Bible-study.
- Fast or break from phone, social media, video games, tv, news, etc. Observe effects on your life. Free your life from unnecessary distractions.
- Get outside. We need the wide-open and soul-replenishing effects of Creation in our life.
- Practice some new spiritual disciplines you might be missing: journaling, remembering, meditating, serving others, outreach, confession, fasting, etc.
- Spend more time meditating or reflecting on the Bible, God’s promises, attributes, and the gospel. Take time go deep with these thoughts and let them settle into your heart rather than staying on the surface.
- Adjust to different expectations and experiences on what the Christian life should look like. Is your lack of joy in part based on unfounded ideas about what you think you should be or what you thought discipleship looked like.
- Read or listen to Christian biographies. We can be encouraged by the faith of others, many of whom have walked through deep waters with God at their side.
- Enjoy the simple pleasures as the gifts they are (Ecclesiastes): friendship, good food and drink, your child’s laughter, a walk outdoors in fresh air, etc.
- Record God’s faithfulness and times of refreshing so you can remember and rehearse these in seasons of drought.
- Change Your Habits. We’re formed by our habits, good or bad. It’s direction, not intention, that takes us a certain direction.