4 Ways Out of a Spiritual Desert
The desert is not a place many people want to be…yet in a spiritual sense we all tend to visit there on occasion. Some of us find ourselves there regularly and for extended visits. Spiritually we are dry, dusty, and barren. We long for fresh and living water. Yet, for whatever reason we feel isolated and alone. Like even God has abandoned us. We remember those moments, days, seasons when God felt present and our souls overflowed with His love and then we look around at our spiritual landscape and all we feel is lost. Disoriented. Afraid. We begin to indulge thoughts of inadequacy and unworthiness. Lies enter our minds…”God never really loved you.” “You’re not a real Christian.” “See, God isn’t trustworthy.” “If God were real you wouldn’t feel like this.” And even, “You’ve been a fool to believe in God all these years.”
If you’ve ever felt this way then the first good news for you is, you’re not alone! No one who has been on this journey with Jesus for any length of time can avoid the desert days. And no one who has truly matured in the faith has done so without a sustained journey through the desert. In fact, it is often the desert experience that ultimately matures the saint. That’s the second piece of good news, though you may be in the desert; the desert has a purpose. That purpose is our spiritual maturity.
But how do we move out of the desert? How do we get out of this spiritual funk that clouds our spirits? Sorry, but there’s not any specific prescription or formula. We are all so different. And God is often dealing with specific issues in each of that make the desert experience unique and different for everyone. Yet, I will share what I do when I feel lost and disoriented and in the dryness of the desert. I find that in these four steps I will usually encounter a place of spiritual growth that eventually, not instantly, leads me out of the desert.
- Practice the unpracticed discipline. The classic spiritual disciplines provide great insight and movement to our growth in Christ. I might try fasting, meditation, guided prayer, and solitude. It’s challenging to me, but I keep practicing the chosen discipline whether I ‘feel’ anything or not. And often, since I’m usually in a more contemporary worship setting, I’ll bring into my daily prayer time some more liturgical practices, like praying the ‘daily office.’
- Confess for the unconfessed sin. More often than I’d like to admit I find myself in the desert as a result of unconfessed and unrepentant sin in my life. Though I may be unaware of it. If I’ve been through a very busy season of work and ministry and I’m particularly tired I will take on a very functional attitude and might even miss where I’ve sinned. My prayer will then echo Psalm 139:23-24, it’s a great idea to pray this Psalm on a regular basis:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; Test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
- Reconcile the unreconciled relationship. So very often we experience a break in our relationship with God when we are experience a break in a relationship with another person in our lives. Our relationships in this life impact our relationship with God. Maybe that’s why Jesus included reconciliation in the Sermon on the Mount.
“So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23–24 NRSV)
- And, embrace the tension. We don’t like tension. So maybe this sounds a bit counter-intuitive. Embrace the tension. Especially the tension created in the desert experience. The tension of the unknown. Embrace the desert. Allow the tension in the desert experience to bring you to a place of great desire for God! It will. Lean into the tension and over time a greater desire for God will well up in you! Don’t short change the desert experience and don’t let misguided advice keep you from what God desires to do in you through the desert experience.
The desert is not an easy place to be. It’s uncomfortable. It’s maddening. It’s frustrating. It can also be of great benefit if we’ll allow it to be.
What have I missed? What do you do when you experience the dryness of the desert experience? How do you move out of a spiritual funk?
Grace and Peace, Rich