Ten Questions To Ask When Your Spiritual Life Is Dull And Dry

Ten Questions To Ask When Your Spiritual Life Is Dull And Dry
By: Jean Fleming

Nearly all of us experience times when our spiritual appetites diminish or when God seems distant. These “seasons” can be discouraging, distressing, or even downright frightening. How do we get through them? The following ten questions provide some basic ideas to help us understand, interpret, and grow-even in a spiritual desert.

1. Are my expectations unrealistic?

A man deeply committed to Christ wept as he shared with my husband his concern about the condition of his spiritual life. As my husband probed further, he began to wonder if our friend had an unrealistic picture of what our life in Christ should look like.

It’s easy to do. Biographies often depict the most dramatic and glowing incidents from the subject’s life. We read that David Brainerd knelt in the snow for hours to pray for the native Americans he was trying to reach for Christ, but we gloss over the sections that tell of his bouts with melancholia.

Even in the life of King David, as recorded in the Old Testament, we tend to overlook the times that he didn’t sense the presence of God. Yet the historical accounts of his life, as well as his songs, indicate that David experienced times of doubt and spiritual coldness.

However, the touchstone of David’s life is not primarily that he always walked in the full enjoyment of God’s presence, but that even in dry times he trusted in God.

2. Is there any sin I need to confess to God and turn from?

Half-buried sin does great harm. It tamps down the soil of our lives, making it hard and impenetrable as an ancient path, so that God’s words to us, His advances, and the prompting of His Spirit cannot pierce its surface. David knew this, and his words are recorded in Ps. 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24).

The desire to turn from our sin is the heart of repentance. This desire was the difference between Saul and David. Both sinned. Both confessed. But the similarity ends there. Saul confessed his sin hoping to retain a position of prominence. David lamented his sin because it was an offense to God.

Hypocrisy devastates our spiritual lives, so periodically we need to examine our lives to see if they match our spiritual talk.

3. Am I engaged in practices that dull my spiritual sensitivity?

Susanna Wesley told her children that anything that dulled their desire for God was sin for them. Hebrews 12:1 says it this way: “Let us throw off everything that hinders…and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

This is largely an individual matter linked to our consciences. Each of us must develop discernment and sensitivity to the areas that may hinder our walk with Christ, whether it is movies, books, television, music, or unhealthy relationships.

Luke 8:14 warns us that “life’s worries, riches, and pleasures” choke God’s word in our lives. Stress, anxiety, preoccupation, time pressures, distorted values, and poor choices can strangle our life in Christ.

4. Am I consistent in spiritual disciplines?

I meet people who recoil at the mention of spiritual disciplines because they fear legalism. Faithfulness in spiritual disciplines should not be confused with legalism, which is a problem of the heart and the understanding, not the will.

Spiritual discipline does not gain Christ’s love or favor. Rather, the benefit lies in helping us focus on the grace and nearness of God and on His love and commitment to us. This means making a deliberate choice to spend time with Him, because what is real, true, and supremely important is invisible and never pressing.

5. What conditions surrounded my best times with the Lord?

Revelation 2:5 gives the prescription for regaining first love: “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.”

Jesus calls us to remember the high points, the time of greatest reality and joy in our relationship with Him. We refresh ourselves with the memory of the attitudes, actions and thoughts that predominated during that period.

For example, in my best times with the Lord I was very aware of my need and His sufficiency. So when I find myself in a dry time , I sometimes use this helpful exercise: I list my needs and His ability to provide what is needed. As I list my need for wisdom, humility, or courage and considerHis rich promises, my heart is warmed.

After I ponder the memory of my high points with Christ, He tells me to contemplate the height from which I have fallen. Where am I now compared to then? I consider the past heights that I might repent. Perhaps I need to ask forgiveness for living as if I were self-sufficient or for not taking the time to consider what my current needs are and how God can meet them. Or perhaps my need is to cultivate those courting rituals that sweethearts know so well.

After I remember the height from which I have fallen and I repent, then God tells me to recover past practices. He says, “Do the things you did at first.” First love-the fervent love of a bride and bridegroom for each other-is expressed in “first things.” If you sang spontaneously to the Lord, then sing again.

Above all, bride love is a love of abandonment. In Jer. 2:2 the Lord says, “I remember…how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert.” The purest expression of first love is unmitigated joy in being near Him, regardless of the conditions.

6. Have I fallen into a spiritual rut?

George MacDonald said, “Nothing is so deadening to the divine as a habitual dealing with the outsides of holy things.” Do you attend church! You should. But perhaps, you need to rethink why you do. Do you read the Bible and pray? Maybe you need to examine your motivations to see if you’ve lost sight of the true goal of these activities.

Disciplines that should breathe the very life of God into our lives can stiffen in rigor mortis if we lose sight of Christ Himself. We must meet with a Person, not a habit.

We all know married couples whose conversation with each other seldom reaches beyond the exchange of functional information or the rehashing of the same events or thoughts. In our relationship with God, we can fall into similar patterns.

It has helped me to expand the dimensions of my time with God by meeting with Him around different issues. Often He chooses the issues as He speaks through the Bible or to my mind by His Holy Spirit. In these times, He may convict me of lying or He may instruct me about love.

Sometimes I raise the topic of conversation. For example, I may read Jn. 3:16 to consider His grace or His mercy, the cost to God as Father, the cost to God as Son, or what is the essence of this giving. This kind of interaction with God could go on and on as we contemplate a well-known verse from different angles.

Another approach is to sing psalms to the Lord or come into His presence as you might come into your boss’s office for the day’s instructions. Look for a specific aspect of your life in Christ as you read, e.g., the hope we have in Christ or how Christ handled unbelief in those He met.

7. Is poor health or fatigue a factor?

Elijah was depressed, ready to give up, to lie down and die (1 K. 19:4). What he did, however, was to lie down and sleep. One has only to read the account (1 K. 18:16-46) to understand the tremendous spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional exertion Elijah had expended. God didn’t chide Elijah for his despondency. He sent an angel to fix Elijah breakfast twice and to tuck him in.

Don’t assume that spiritual dryness is a spiritual problem. Fatigue, chemical imbalance, or illness can impair your judgment. A friend or doctor may more objectively discern your need.

8. Am I praying for God’s blessing on my life and enlisting the prayers of others?

Wouldn’t you think a guy whose mother named him “pain” would be at a disadvantage in life? God said that Jabez (which sounds like pain in Hebrew) was more honorable than his brothers because he begged God to bless him, to enlarge his territory, and to keep him free from pain (1 Chron. 4:9-10).

What are you praying for yourself? Ask God to make His presence real to you, His Word rich and alive, and His ways clear. Ask God to give you a responsive heart. Sometimes during dry times I depend on the prayers of others. Like the paralyzed man who allowed others to present his need to Jesus (Mt. 9:2), I ask others to pray that God would sustain me and draw me into the warmth of His presence again.

9. What person or group might stimulate my life in Christ?

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone! Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.

The life of Christ must express itself in us both individually and corporately. God holds each person responsible for his or her own spiritual walk (Ro. 14:12). He also intends for us to function in the company of others. The prayer of two has special power and blessing (Mt. 18:19-20). One life sharpens another (Prov. 27:17).

Sometimes even a brief encounter with someone who is alive in Christ can fan a diminished flame. The benefit may even come in the form of a helpful book.

10. Have I asked what God is trying to teach me?

Have you considered that nothing may be wrong, but that everything may be right? God led Jesus into the desert for forty days of testing. Moses spent forty years in desert obscurity as part of God’s training program. David fled from crevice to cave in those twelve years on the lam in the wilderness.

The desert is part of God’s plan to teach, train, and refine us for greater fruitfulness. In the parched place, we remember that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3). Even though we miss the sense of His nearness, we realize that it is better to wait for Him in the desert than to seek someone or something else by the pools. Like Peter, we say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn. 6:68).

Above all, in the desert place we must remember that without faith it is impossible to please Him. He rewards those who diligently seek Him. When we find ourselves in the arid land, let us look to Him with confidence to show us if our need is to confess and forsake some sin, to rethink our motivations, to recover something of first love, or to merely relax in the assurance that even this disconcerting dryness is part of His hand of training and blessing.

(The above material appeared in the 1991 issue of Discipleship Journal.)

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