Every Christian goes through phases where they feel like they are wandering through a spiritual desert. This kind of spiritual dry spell can come after walking through difficulties, spending time in half-heartedness or sin, or simply getting stuck in rut. We sing in worship and feel nothing. We read the Bible and stare blankly at the words. We pray and think we are talking to ourselves. The joy is not there, and it seems as if God is a thousand miles away.
To compound the problem, we are often embarrassed when we go through a dry spell because we see Christians around us who seem to be thriving. Their joy and evident growth stands in stark contrast the the spiritual dehydration in our souls. This leads us to feel guilty and causes us to wonder if there is something spiritually lacking within us. Questioning ourselves in this way then leads to an endless loop of guilt, shame, and bewilderment.
What can Christians walking through a spiritual dry spell do to begin to regain the joy of their walk with Christ?
Remember the Good News
When I was a young Christian, walking through a difficult time spiritually automatically made me question my salvation. I assumed that if I was an actual Christian my growth would be on a constant trajectory of growth, not knowing that sanctification usually looks like a man falling up an escalator.
We can become overly introspective when we walk through the spiritual wilderness. Instead of constantly looking within yourself and evaluating whether your feelings for God are strong enough, instead look to Jesus whose love for you never wavers. When we gaze at Christ, we remember that he lived the perfect life we could never live and then died in our place bearing our sins. We are right with God, not because of our good works, but through faith in Jesus alone. Because of Jesus, we have been reconciled to God, adopted by God, and given an inheritance by God. Look to this encouraging Gospel, for it will remind you of the depth of God’s love for you.
Change Up Your Bible Reading
We know reading God’s word is key for reigniting our spiritual lives, but struggle to know what to do when our Bible reading doesn’t seem to be transforming us. One thing you can try to do is to change how you normally read the Bible. I don’t mean that you need some hidden key to the Bible you didn’t know existed, but rather that you should try a different method for Bible reading. If you usually read several chapters a day, then maybe you should read fewer verses and drill deeper into them. If you usually read only a paragraph or a chapter, then maybe you need to set aside time to read longer portions of Scripture. Sometimes a simple thing like changing our pattern for reading the Bible can help us encounter its message with a renewed freshness.
Pray the Psalms
Our prayer life suffers the most during dry spells. We feel distant from God, so we don’t pray because we find it discouraging and this only leads to a further sense of alienation from God. When you struggle to pray, try praying through several Psalms to reinvigorate your time in prayer. These words inspired by the Holy Spirit give us a vocabulary for prayer and remind us that other people who know God walk through the same periods of darkness that we do. Meditate and pray through Psalm 42 or 63. Hear the longing in the Psalmist and pray it will renew that kind of thirst for God in you. Then pay attention to what the Psalmist says about God and remember his nearness to you.
Talk to a Friend
The Psalmists aren’t the only people to have walked through the desert. Your Christian friends know what it is like to be discouraged and distant from God. Sit down and talk with them about what you are walking through. Ask them how they worked through it. Even if they cannot offer actionable suggestions, it’s good for us to talk to another believer who can pray for us and encourage us in our struggles.
Read a Good Book
Good Christian books can offer much encouragement to the struggling Christian. A classic like Knowing God, just to give one example, will turn our focus to who God is and what it means for us to know and follow him. Packer writes in a way that is thoroughly biblical but also warmly devotional. This combination offers us great insight into the Scriptures while applying them into the deepest recesses of our hearts. The key is to find a book rooted in the Scriptures and the truths of the Gospel. A book focused on our efforts and self-improvement may give us a temporary shot in the arm, but will do little to deepen our walk with the Lord in the long term.
Listen to a Sermon
In addition to hearing the word of God in the local church to which you belong, search out a reliable pastor and listen to a sermon or two during the week. While a podcast can never be an acceptable substitute for our own local fellowship, sometimes we need to hear the word of God from a different voice. The sheer volume of men whose sermons are available can be overwhelming, so I will share the ones that help me. The first person I turn to when I need to hear God’s word during the week is Ray Ortlund at Immanuel Church in Nashville. His preaching is biblical, warm, challenging, and encouraging. Rarely have I heard him that it was no a balm to my soul. I have also often benefitted from the preaching of Matt Chandler, Eric Mason, Alistair Begg, and John MacArthur. (Shameless plug: you can hear my sermons at Chelsea Village Baptist Church here.)
Sing to the Lord
Have you ever been reading the Psalms and noticed the word “selah?” This term is a musical notation, and it is in your Bible because the Psalms were originally meant to be sung. Something about singing truth to the Lord encourages the soul and draws us near to him. Singing songs and hymns to the Lord as part of your devotions or in the car on the way to the work can stir your affections for him. Lately I have been listening to the Indelible Grace Hymn Sing and find many these songs true to Scripture and Christian experience. They enliven my soul and give voice to what is happening in my heart. After getting over the initial embarrassment of this practice, you will find it is good for your soul.
What about you? What practices have helped you when you were struggling?
“When You Struggle to Pray“
For Further Reading:
When I Don’t Desire God by John Piper