When the Winter Doesn’t End: Avoiding Spiritual Dryness
One of my favorite books is C.S. Lewis The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In it, three children travel to a land called Narnia, a place that lives under a curse. When some of the characters are called on to describe the curse, they remark that it is “always winter, never Christmas.” This is, in so many ways, a great description of our lives prior to Christ, isn’t it? We try to fill our lives with things we think will bring joy, but they end up leaving us cold and alone. Then the Gospel breaks through that winter, and we experience the warmth of Christ’s love for us, and we rejoice in His work. At least for a season. For many of us, this may have identified our early spiritual journey, but we find that, the more familiar we become with the Gospel, the more complacent we feel. And we find that the fire that once defined our early Christian experience no longer defines us. And so, we find that winter has come again. And we feel cold, and alone.
Why does this happen?
One of the great joys I get as pastor is to point people, including myself, back to the flame we were called to cultivate within us. To show people that the Christian life is best lived hot, with flaming affections and passion for the Christ who saved us. But what can we do if the flame feels to have gone out? What do we do if we feel that we have lost this affection?
John Piper wrote a great book called When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy. In it he outlines some ways that we can work towards reigniting our passion for God. I will not include all of them here, but here may be a few helpful places to start:
- Spend more time talking to yourself than listening to yourself – “getting into your own head” is one of the most dangerous exercises for the Christian. We must first identify ourselves as the main problem, and then resolve to spend time telling ourselves the truth of the Gospel. Psalm 42 is a great example of this. In the midst of the Psalmist lament, he stops to speak to his own soul saying “why are you downcast, O My soul?” He recognizes he must stop and speak to himself before he buys into the lies his sinful soul is selling. And then he charges himself to “hope in God!” When we feel stagnant, we must immediately begin speaking into our own lives.
- Preach the Gospel to yourself – and when you are talking to yourself, don’t just talk about how you feel; preach the Gospel to yourself! Constantly reminding ourselves of the massive wickedness we were saved out of and the marvelous Light of Christ we were saved into is the only place to start. In the midst of the distance you feel from God, remind yourself that God has brought you near. It is His love that holds you, not your love that holds Him. It is His promises to never leave and forsake us that serve as the reason for our hope. We must look inside and remind ourselves from what we have been saved from. When that happens and the truth of who we were meets the grace of what God has done, worship is the response of our hearts. And worship leads to joy, and joy kindles the flames of our lives as we live in light of what Christ has done.
- Fight for the sake of your own soul – each morning we wake, we engage in spiritual conflict. There are a ton of things that pull for our affections: comfort, prosperity, addictions, compulsions, all vie for our time and affection. Even good things can take a bad place in our hearts and lead us to chase those things with the same energy with which we should be chasing Christ Himself. In the midst of spiritual dryness, talk to yourself, preach the Gospel to yourself, and commit to yourself that you will wage war against complacency, against coldness. A fire must constantly be fed, you have to constantly work against nature to keep it lit so that you will stay warm. Likewise, spiritual growth never happens by accident. You must be intentional to pursue godliness. Wage war, friends! Your soul is at stake.
- Finally, as an aside, don’t fight alone – you need the church. If you are reading this, and are not committed to being a part of a local body of believers, then I can offer little in the way of hope for consistent, personal, spiritual growth. You need to be around other believers. Sometimes, one of the greatest catalysts for personal spiritual growth is being around other believers who are growing. Go sit next to some folks who are on fire! Likewise, being in a body of believers will put you around others who are struggling as you are. There is comfort in knowing you aren’t the only Christian in the world who doesn’t wake up every day spiritually excited. Your soul needs community. Find a good local body of believers and plug in!
Jesus sat by a well in Samaria, and spoke with a woman about water. His words to her were confusing, because she came out of physical thirst, but didn’t realize her spiritual need. “whoever drinks of the water I will give him will never thirst,” he said (Jn 4:14). He was talking about Himself. May we drink deeply of the well of Christ, and find our joy and hope in him. And, if you are experiencing winter in your soul right now, my prayer is that you will run to the Gospel, and let the light of God’s Word bring the Spring Thaw.
By His Grace,