Often when people have spoken to me about spiritual dryness, I’ve often tried to work out what they’ve meant by it. Some people associate spiritual dryness as being spiritually down or depressed. Others speak of spiritual dryness as feeling as though their Christian life was in a lull. Sometimes people articulate spiritual dryness this way – ‘I go to church, I read my Bible, I pray, yet I still feel empty and down as a Christian. To make matters worse, everything around me is falling apart. I feel as if God is distant.‘ Richard Foster in his book on Prayer, calls this walking a spiritual desert. Let me share with you some thoughts that I hope will help you along the way in your desert experience.
Firstly, let me say that the Scriptures have much to say about desert experiences. The Psalms are full of prayers that express the pain and depths of feeling alone, isolated, rejected, abandoned. The story of Job is the story of a guy who looses everything he has in his life. The story of Joseph is the story of a guy who is sold into slavery by his brothers, and is then jailed for a crime he didn’t commit.
What can we learn about spiritual dryness from the Scriptures?
1) Spiritual dryness is not necessarily a bad thing. We must always remember that God is sovereign and is still actively working for our growth and good. Job in ch.1 was never privy to the spiritual exchange that was happening between God and Satan. Joseph only in hindsight understood God’s good purposes in Gen.50:20. We must remember that God IS committed to us, HAS demonstrated his commitment to us completely and definitively in his Son (Rom.8:31-39), and is working even through our present desert experiences to grow us to be more like Jesus (Rom.8:28-30). Spiritual dryness is part of God’s sanctifying work growing us to be more like Jesus. Sometimes we forget that there is unseen beauty in the desert.
2) Spiritual dryness should drive us to desire and seek God. When I’m hungry I raid the kitchen for food (often it’s the chip cupboard at midnight). In the same way, when we are walking in a spiritual desert, we should be panting for God like a deer panting for water. Read Ps.42 – this guy was truly down spiritually and physically. He’s wondering where God is. Tears has been his food day and night. Yet, it drives him to want God, to seek Him, to find Him. Spiritual dryness should drive us to desire and seek God: his comfort, his presence, his strength, his filling, his help, his love. We should be devoting ourselves to fasting, solitude and prayer during these times, to seek Him and to long for Him.
3) Spiritual dryness should drive us to ask what God is wanting to teach us. I mentioned before that God is sovereign and is always actively working for our good, to grow us to be more like Jesus. Well, ask yourself, what is God wanting to teach you through your desert experience? Growing in prayer, learning to depend more on him, perseverance and faithfulness, finding comfort in him, loving him more, seeking and proving his promises, praising and giving him thanks for what you do have? Spiritual dryness can draw us closer to God and grow us.
4) Spiritual dryness should drive us to examine our lives. In our spiritual dryness God might also be wanting us to examine our lives to see if there might be anything in our lives that might be hindering our spiritual walk with Him – unrepentant and unconfessed sin that we need to repent off, habitual sins that we neglect to deal with, spiritual disciplines that we need to commit to, priorities that need to change. Sin if not dealt with affects our spiritual walk with God (Is.59:2), affects our joy (Ps.51:12), brings God’s discipline (Heb.12:6) and a whole host of other consequences.
A verse that has always been a comfort to me in my desert experiences has been Is.50:10 where we are told that, ‘let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.‘ When there is no light, I trust in the name of my LORD i.e. the unfailing and proven character of the one who has loved me, died for me and saved me, who holds my life and future in his loving hands (Gal.2:20). Let me encourage you to do the same in when you walk the desert paths. May you keep trusting Him, may Jesus fill you abundantly.