Written By Abigail Ellington, USA
Everyone struggles with their faith at times, and it can be hard to talk about it.
During challenging times in my life, I have often felt that if I spoke all my questions aloud, talked through how I really felt, and was completely forthright about my lack of spiritual motivation, people would doubt the sincerity of my faith.
I loved God, and wanted to follow Him, but I went through stretches where I even doubted my own salvation. As I went through the motions of Christianity without feeling worshipful or close to God, I felt like I was living a lie, and this led to a cycle of guilt and shame.
As I grew in my understanding of the gospel, however, I understood that my walk with Christ is not dependent on my thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. Jesus paid for all of my sin on the cross, and His perfect righteousness has been credited to my account. My standing before God is dependent upon that alone. On the days when I feel like a failure, I remember that God sees me in all of my sin and brokenness, but has covered me in perfect forgiveness and love. God does not judge me based on the quality of my devotional life, my theological understanding, or my feelings of love for Him. His conclusion about me is based on Christ’s work on my behalf.
Philippians 1:6 says that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” It is because of this confidence in God that I am able to persevere through difficult stages of my faith and put these beliefs into positive action.
Here are five things that I have found helpful during times of spiritual dryness.
1. Read your Bible, pray, and attend church even when you don’t feel like it.
When the Christian life gets challenging, it is tempting to withdraw. That’s when engaging in spiritual disciplines keeps channels of God’s grace open in your life. If you avoid reading your Bible because you think it is lifeless and dull, you won’t be able to see God work through Scripture. God grows believers through practices such as reading and hearing His Word, responding to Him in prayer, and worshiping and fellowshipping with other believers. If you are faithful in these spiritual disciplines, then no matter how you feel, you are where He has promised to meet you.
2. Meet your physical needs.
As many have said, “Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap.” God created us as both physical and spiritual beings, and when we are sick, hungry, or tired, it will be difficult for us to feel passion for God. Don’t neglect regular meals, hydration, adequate sleep, and exercise, because they are important for your body and your soul. It amazes me how much a 15 minute walk in my neighborhood can rejuvenate me and reorient my thoughts and feelings towards God.
3. Look for ways to experience God in nature or art.
Sometimes, when my devotional times have felt inadequate, I have felt pangs of beauty and hope upon seeing a beautiful sunset, listening to music, spending time with a friend, or reading a good book. These experiences are secondary to God’s revelation in Scripture, but they have great power to uplift us and redirect our hearts towards Him.
As famous apologist and author C.S. Lewis wrote, “Nature never taught me that there exists a God of glory and of infinite majesty. I had to learn that in other ways. But nature gave the word ‘glory’ a meaning for me.” Seek out good and beautiful things which fill your heart with gratitude towards the Creator.
4. Recognize and accept your individual, God-created personality.
I am an introvert, and I sometimes imagine that if I were more outgoing, my Christian walk would be easier. I also think on occasion that if I were more inclined to outpourings of emotional response than to theoretical reflection, I would have a more vibrant spiritual life. I have to remind myself that God created me and everyone else with our own unique personalities and gifts. As 1 Corinthians 12 explains, the church is like a body, and each part depends on all the others.
It is good for different church members to have different functions, and no one is superior or inferior before God. In my experience, I see that while God has gifted others with outgoing personalities that connect with and unify groups of people, my quieter personality helps me minister to individuals who feel less comfortable and open in a crowd. Introverts and extroverts both meet important needs in the body of Christ, and we reflect different aspects of God’s character to one another.
5. Find friends and mentors who will encourage and guide you as you follow Christ together.
It is tempting to remain isolated during times of spiritual struggle, but God’s intent is for us to live in community with other believers, bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) and pursuing Him together. It is vital for Christians to connect with others and discuss their spiritual lives in deep, transparent ways. In these relationships, people learn each other’s stories and can provide advice and encouragement that is tailored to specific needs. Such relationships are vital for accountability and support in the Christian life.
However, it can sometimes be difficult to find and connect with like-minded people. If you’re in that stage of life, make the most of the relationships that you already have, being open with people you know you can trust. At the same time, pray for God to provide future friendships. When I struggled with loneliness and isolation years ago, God provided for me in both unconventional and typical ways: I developed some lifelong friendships on an online Christian forum, and eventually, I met new friends at church. God brings people into our lives in different ways, at different times. Sometimes, the most we can do is just be open, willing to get to know people and seek connection.
The main business of following Jesus involves common, everyday habits. No artificially pumped-up spiritual high can ever provide the steady, formative influence of ordinary means of grace. Even when I come to God feeling exhausted and unmotivated, I have confidence that Scripture, prayer, and corporate worship will shape and change me as I follow Jesus. I don’t have to experience immediate impact from a devotional time or worship service to know that the effort was worthwhile, because I have seen how faithful God is to grow my character and love for Him through these habits. I cannot measure the value of every sermon or every prayer time, because I cannot see what God is doing behind the scenes. Instead, I trust that He will use these influences to produce spiritual fruit in my life.
In my life, following Jesus has often involved cyclical patterns of spiritual exhaustion and spiritual joy. It is always discouraging to return to a difficult time, but there are important lessons to learn from both joy and struggle, and I know that because God has been faithful in the past, He will be faithful again.
Feelings of defeat do not last forever, and God works through both my obedient choices and my failures, and brings me closer to Him. Because my standing before God is secured in Jesus, I know that I count on God, not my own efforts, for the future. No matter what, He will never let me go.