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5 Things to Do When You’re Spiritually Dry

Written By Dorothy Norberg, 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.

5 Reasons Why the Reformation Matters Today

Written By Dorothy Norberg, USA

In a conversation about our favorite historical figures, I asked a coworker if he knew who Martin Luther was. He responded with, “Oh! Is that the guy who nailed stuff to the door?”

“Yes, that’s him!” I said with a laugh.

For many people, Martin Luther exists in this single snapshot: a monk hammering the Ninety-five Theses to a church door. While some historians believe that the tale is likely apocryphal, his true legacy has greatly influenced me.

Martin Luther, a German who lived from 1483-1546, was a key figure of the Protestant Reformation, when Protestants—so-named for their protest against Catholic teachings—split from the Catholic Church. Luther’s involvement in this movement was shaped by his personal testimony of receiving God’s grace and overcoming doubts about his salvation.

God used Luther to help restore a Biblical understanding of salvation. Because I struggled with my own guilt and self-condemnation, Luther’s story resonated with me, as it showed that God can use struggles in people’s lives to draw them to Him and equip them to change the world.

This year, on October 31, we honor the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses. Here are five foundational reasons why his testimony, beliefs, and stand against the theology and practices of his day still matter today.

 

1. It reminds us to know the gospel for ourselves.

In the 1500s, the Catholic Church taught that salvation came through faith, works, and grace, and that those who repented of their sins before death would be punished for their sins in Purgatory before they could go to Heaven.

One very controversial practice was the sale of indulgences, which were credits that would supposedly reduce time in Purgatory for both the living and the already dead. This allowed corruption to flourish. One friar even advertised with the jingle, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs” (Estep, 1986).

Luther spent years fearing that he was not holy enough to merit God’s favor, and only escaped this struggle when he understood that salvation was about Christ’s righteousness, not his own. His experience with spiritual despair taught him that good behavior and church rituals could not remove the weight of his guilt (Perry, 2013).

As a professor and preacher, Luther encouraged people to focus on Christ and study the Scriptures. Things came to a head on 31 October, 1517: in his Ninety-five Theses, Luther protested the practice of selling indulgences and argued that the church did not have the authority to save souls. His writings were circulated widely.

Luther teaches us that the true gospel frees souls from spiritual bondage, and also frees people from dependence upon the gatekeepers of tradition. We should not depend upon pastors, speakers, or writers to make Christian teaching available to us. It is important to read the Bible for ourselves, know its truth, and be prepared to defend it against false teaching.

 

2. It reminds us that we are saved by grace alone.

As a monk, Luther spent countless hours in the confessional, trying to remember and recount all his sins. He also tried to attain holiness through pilgrimages, long hours of fasting, and prayer. He later said of this time, “I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailer and hangman of my poor soul.”

I will never forget what it was like to learn about Luther’s struggle to feel forgiven. As a church kid, I related to his fear that no matter how outwardly compliant he tried to be or how well he followed the rules, he could never remove the stain of guilt from his soul. Like Luther, I desired to follow Christ, but I feared condemnation and lacked assurance of salvation.

What transformed Luther’s life—and mine—is the knowledge that we are saved through grace alone. In Luther’s study of the Scriptures, he was struck by the language of righteousness in books such as Romans and Galatians, and came to understand that we are saved not because we do righteous acts in union with God, but through faith in the perfect righteousness of Christ.=

 

3. It reminds us that following Christ always has a price.

Luther was summoned by church authorities and told to recant under threat of excommunication. His response was, “I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.”

Luther chose this knowing that the authority of Scripture was of greater value than his reputation or comfort. Luther once said, “I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”

Even in my ordinary life, following Christ requires sacrifice. I cherish this reminder that when I lay down my preferences at the altar and pick up my cross to follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24), my ultimate security lies in Him.

 

4. It reminds us that the gospel is for everyone.

Because the Germans did not have accessible Bible translation in their language, they depended upon the Catholic Church for religious education and training. The church taught that only priests could rightly read and interpret Scripture, but Luther argued that every person can receive faith and understanding from God.  He spent many of his later years crafting a Bible translation of the New Testament in the German vernacular, making the transformative, authoritative text of Scripture available to ordinary people.

In churches today, we should not give special favor to the well-educated, wealthy, and beautiful, as if these markers of worldly success indicate spiritual strength. The Holy Spirit resides in every believer, and through Him, we have access to God. Spiritual gifts are poured out upon all those who put their faith in Christ.

 

5. It reminds us to depend on Scripture.

Throughout different generations, challenges to Scriptural authority vary, but the correct response remains the same. Christians must depend upon God’s revelation in Scripture as truer than any church leader’s vision or political system’s creed. They must also reject the temptation to prize other means of spiritual discovery as more important than the Bible.

Luther said, “From the beginning of my Reformation I have asked God to send me neither dreams, nor visions, nor angels, but to give me the right understanding of His Word, the Holy Scriptures; for as long as I have God’s Word, I know that I am walking in His way and that I shall not fall into any error or delusion.”

In today’s culture, it is easy for believers to feel like the unbelieving world can never be persuaded by the Bible, and that we must find fresh, glamorous ways to attract people to Jesus. But these approaches discard the tool that best convicts of sin, reveals God’s glory, and teaches the gospel. As the Reformation and the rest of Christian history shows, the Bible is our irreplaceable source of truth, with the power to change both individual hearts and the world.

 

References
“Renaissance and Reformation.” William R. Estep, 1986
“Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society.” Marvin Perry et al., 2013

How Narnia’s Fantasy Led Me to the Truth

Photo taken from Official Trailer

Written By Dorothy Norberg, USA

At church as a child, when I was supposed to draw a picture of what I thought heaven would look like, I scribbled yellow crayon all over the page, conveying light and glory. Heaven was a mystery to me, and I feared it would be like my illustration: empty of all that I found beautiful in the world, characterized only by gold and blinding light. We would all be happy, and pain and tears would be gone, but wouldn’t praising God for eternity get tiresome?

My fears faded when I read The Chronicles of Narnia. In these classic novels by British novelist and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, children experience extraordinary adventures in another world and develop relationships with Aslan, the lion who represents God. Through the truths which these stories conveyed, I recognized God as the source and fulfilment of all beauty and goodness.

Fantasy stories are often criticized as escapist distractions from the real world, but The Chronicles of Narnia shaped my affections for God and showed me how to deeply love and engage with the world around me. The longings which fantasy awakes need not destroy one’s love for the real world or distract from what truly matters.

On the contrary, fantasy can highlight and communicate profound values which are too big and beautiful for us to fully grasp any other way. Someday, wrong will be made right, our Savior will return, and what we have lost will be restored to even greater beauty. Much of what we know about God comes from the incarnation: God taking on human flesh and dwelling among us. Because we know God primarily through Christ embodying Him on earth, it should not surprise us that we understand theological concepts best when they are conveyed to us through familiar form and symbols. Narnia’s influence endures because it illustrates how God can be both love and thunder, what it means to seek nobility and honor, and how goodness and truth will win out in the end.

My desire for a world like this did not cast gloom over or dissatisfaction with my dull life. Instead, it deepened my appreciation of material and spiritual realities, because I learned that they belonged together. Heaven is not an escape from the world, but the ultimate fulfilment and perfection of the world which God created and called good. If God could make this finite, temporary earth so beautiful, why would I ever think that a new heaven and a new earth would be dull and lifeless? I came to believe what Jewel the Unicorn said of heaven in the final book in the Narnia series, The Last Battle: “This is my real country. This is what I have been longing for all my life, though I never knew it until now.” When Christ returns, we will live in resurrected, perfect bodies, experiencing the presence of God and the final satisfaction of a story well-told.

The knowledge that we will one day experience everything good in its true and real form should lead not to dismissal of the world, but to deeper enjoyment of it. The feelings I experience when reading the Narnia books, gazing at sunsets, or watching sunlight filter through the trees in my backyard are not wasted vanities. They are opportunities for worship, and hints of everything to come. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory, the earthly things we find most enthralling “are good images of what we really desire,” and only break our hearts if we depend upon them. “For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

In heaven, I will experience all of the beauty and joy that I have felt in a piercing but inadequate sense in my time on earth. This redeemed, new world will be more beautiful than anything I can imagine, and until then, I am right to cherish the beauties and joys which will be magnified there.

Good fantasy is not a distraction from reality, but promotes hope that there is more to life than what we currently experience. Narnia affirmed my deepest longings and showed me how to direct them towards God. When I read the following quote from The Weight of Glory, my eyes fill with tears, because C.S. Lewis showed me this beauty through his fantasy stories and immeasurably impacted my faith: “At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”

What if I Can’t Accept My Suffering?

Written By Dorothy Norberg, USA

For years, I had struggled with health issues. Plagued by auto-immune problems, anxiety, and OCD, I had to accept physical limitations and challenges with schoolwork, but I could not make peace with the mental disruption and chaos in my life.

My mind was constantly in overdrive, full of overwhelming anxiety, inappropriate thoughts, and interfering noise. I almost never felt calm. While I managed to act composed in public, my thoughts were always raging.

The strain of combating this unceasing, vicious stream of intrusive thoughts left me unable to deal with other life challenges or interact well with family members. There were good moments, but overall, when I wasn’t sobbing on the floor, I was tense, irritable, and on the verge of exploding.

 

Why, God, why?

I could present nuanced and detailed arguments for why God lets His children suffer. I knew that evil entered the world because of sin, that God ultimately defeated it through the cross, and that He allows suffering in our lives for our growth and His ultimate glory. I also trusted that one day, God would welcome His children into a kingdom with no more tears.

However, as it became increasingly difficult to function each day, this knowledge no longer gave me peace. Captive to my unwanted thoughts and irritable behavior, I grew increasingly resentful.

Through my suffering, God produced greater compassion, humility, and gospel dependence in my life, and I knew that I should rejoice. But couldn’t God have accomplished the same good through a litany of other—less painful, more acceptable—circumstances? If I had to be sick and crazy just so that I would see my helplessness apart from Christ and worship Him, wasn’t God twisted and terrible?

I couldn’t hate God, so I hated myself, chasing these thoughts in circles with no hope of resolution.

 

Why can’t I stop?

My physical problems were morally neutral, but I equated my wild thoughts with sin and felt incredibly guilty. My anxiety, anger at God, critical thoughts about others, hate-filled emotions, and the stream of inappropriate, unwanted thoughts were unacceptable. But no matter how hard I fought to preempt or discard negative thoughts and feelings, I could never stem the tide.

Over time, I began to understand that neurological issues were the root of my conflict and disorder. This realization comforted me, but even though I did not feel responsible for the thoughts entering my head, I still had to fight them. I engaged in a constant tug-of-war between wanting to pardon myself and wallowing in guilt. Much of my anguish stemmed from the fear that every awful thought I had was documented, and that I would face that record on Judgment Day. As I worried about how God would measure my extenuating circumstances, I lost sight of the fact that my record was nailed to the cross (Col. 2:13-14).

As I heard my pastor preach each week, studied Scripture, and engaged in Christian community, God used these ordinary means of grace to deepen my belief in the gospel and expand my understanding of its power. I saw that my sin and brokenness are both dead and that I don’t have to obsess over my guilt or innocence, because I am free from sin and alive in Christ. How can I rail against God for allowing me to suffer when He has saved me from my sin and credited Christ’s righteousness to me? How can I be angry with Him when His Son has taken the crushing weight of sin and death for me?

 

God answers

Over time, my life circumstances improved. I still struggle with my health, but I no longer deal with the type of intrusive thoughts that made my life miserable. I received the resolution that I wanted and have seen my growth through suffering. But for a long time after, I continued feeling that God was unjust. More often than not, my grateful reflection over spiritual growth gave way to yet another internal argument over whether or not there was any justification for what God had required me to endure.

I can neither understand nor explain why God designed my life the way He did, but I know that He is good, that He is powerful, and that He is loving. Because of what I have suffered, I know that my faith is real. God took away what I valued and depended upon most—the self-righteous morality and dignity that I had worked so hard to maintain—and drew me nearer to Him.

My happy ending didn’t arrive when I experienced relief or got an explanation. Rather, resolution came when I grew to love my Savior more than my desire to dictate my own life. Charles Spurgeon, the English preacher, once said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” I have used this quote to reframe my perspective, accepting that God calls me to something greater than my ideas of what goodness is: He calls me to Himself. My only boast is Christ, not what good I’ve done or what sin I’ve fought victoriously against. I will accept the goodness and value of whatever leads me to cling to God.