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I’m willing to bet that most of us have experienced a spiritual dry spell—a time when we felt far from the Lord, unfruitful, unmotivated, and maybe a little lost. Feelings of closeness and communion with the Lord faded. That fiery desire to love and serve Christ dwindled.
Maybe that’s you, now. Maybe you’re wrestling with the host of emotions that accompany a spiritual drought—anything from confusion to doubt, apathy, even depression.
Three Causes of Spiritual Dry Spells
If we are Christians, if we have been freed from condemnation, united with Christ, and the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in our souls, then how is it we still experience these dry spells? What causes them? How do we get through them?
Let’s look at three common causes and their cures.
1. Harbored Sin
In Romans 6:2, Paul asks, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” The answer is…miserably. We cannot serve two masters. While “we know that our old self was crucified with [Christ]…so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin,” the battle between our flesh and our new spirit is still very much in play (Romans 6:6). The sinful part of our nature that is wired to respond to temptation is still a dividing force in our lives.
If you’re feeling far from the Lord, if you no longer feel drawn to spend time in his Word, if you’ve become hardened to serving him and maybe even hardened toward other people, odds are that there is a part of your life where sin is reigning free. Sin is always in the business of distancing us from the Father. Sin turns our focus inward instead of upward, and eventually downward into shame and despair.
The cure for this cause is simple—repentance. We have a painfully, yet beautifully clear picture of this in David. David was a man after God’s own heart, who at one point sank so deeply into sin that he justified murder as a means of hiding his indiscretions (2 Samuel 11). Look at his prayer of repentance in Psalm 51:11-12. He says,
Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
David prayed for the Lord to restore the joy of his salvation because it had been lost to sin. He begged the Lord not to cast him away because he knew that sin has the power to divide and cut off.
If there is an area of habitual sin in your life, put it to death. As a believer, the cost to you is too great to continue in it, and the cost to your Savior was too great for you to ignore it. As John Owen so simply put it, “Always be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
2. Trust in Feelings
Our hearts are fickle. Our emotions are not to be trusted. In fact, Jeremiah goes so far as to say that our hearts are “deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). Oftentimes when we feel far from the Lord, when we don’t feel God’s love the way we used to, it’s because we’ve mistakenly put our trust in feelings about our faith rather than facts, what God’s Word says about our faith. That’s what Proverbs 3:5 means when it says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”
The Lord is unchanging, immovable, and steadfast. The same cannot be said of our emotions. That’s why we’re commanded to trust in him with our hearts, rather than trusting in our hearts to understand him.
The cure, in this case, is Scripture. If this cause is ringing a bell, you’re probably spending more time dwelling on your thoughts and feelings than you are on the Word. Turn to passages like Romans 8:31-39 that remind us of the binding love we’ve received through Christ. Nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ, not even our ever-changing moods and affections. Look at 1 John 4:10 where we’re reminded that our salvation came out of God’s love for us, not our love for him. Our emotions didn’t save us, and they are not what will sustain us.
God’s Word is living and life-giving. It’s able to breathe new life into a dry and distant soul. Like the psalmist, make the Lord’s testimonies your delight and your counselor, not your emotions (Psalm 119:24).
3. A Forgetful Memory
Fear of the future or bitterness over the past can suck a soul dry and harden the heart. Though fear and bitterness are two different states, they spring from the same root. If you find yourself with a fearful or bitter heart, it’s likely that you’ve forgotten the goodness of the Lord. In the case of fear, you’ve forgotten all the Lord has already seen you safely through and his promise to never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5-6). In the case of bitterness, you’ve forgotten the Lord’s mercies woven through your past pain and his power to redeem lost days (Joel 2:25).
Deuteronomy 4:9 lays out this final cause and its cure beautifully with a warning we would all be wise to heed:
Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life.
If we aren’t careful to remind ourselves of all the Lord has done for us, memories of his provision, protection, and grace will fade. Along with them, fruitfulness, confidence, and joy in the Lord will fade as well. When that happens, it’s no wonder we feel a sense of emptiness.
To combat this cause, we give thanks. Listing everything the Lord has done for us helps us call to mind his goodness and his faithfulness. We should again be like the psalmist and say, “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds” (Psalm 9:1).
Washed in the Living Water
Regardless of why you find yourself in a spiritual dry spell—whether because of harbored sin, misplaced trust in feelings, a forgetful memory, or any other cause—pray for your soul, your heart. We know that God, alone, can remove a heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).
This is why it’s so important that we preach the gospel to ourselves every day. Sin becomes less tempting the more I think on its deadly weight. The more I meditate on Jesus as Lord of all, the easier it is for my heart to submit to his sole lordship. When I remember the grace I’ve been given through my Savior, it’s more difficult for fear or bitterness to take root.
It’s hard for the soul to dry out when it’s daily washed in the living water of Christ, crucified and risen to save it.