Why God Allows Spiritual Dryness in the Christian Life
I must confess that I did not begin studying the Scriptures personally on a daily basis until almost two years ago. I grew up having family Bible reading in the mornings and often in the evenings. But, about two years ago, I came to a point when I realized that it was something I really should do faithfully on my own. I readily admit that when I first made the decision to become faithful in reading my Bible daily, I didn’t feel especially enthused about it. I wasn’t averse to the idea; rather, I had a lethargy, an apathy for it. But of course, it was always something that was expected of me as a Christian, and I knew that I really should make time for it, so, even though I didn’t have a deep, burning desire to read the Bible on a daily basis, like eating your vegetables, I knew it was good for me, so I got together a Bible reading plan and began to delve in. I was extremely dedicated to daily reading of the Word and I let not one day pass in which I did not read four chapters, two from the Old Testament, and two from the New.
The first month or so in which I began to read my Bible faithfully, I fully expected to have a deep inner longing for God and His Word. But I just didn’t. I became so frustrated, wondering what I was doing wrong. I was doing my righteous duty as a Christian and I was expecting God, like a vending machine, to make me into an ultra-spiritual person right away. I wasn’t getting the emotional closeness from God that I wanted to have, but I kept pressing onward, trusting that if I, in faith, obeyed what I believed He wanted me to do, then surely He would give me a heart for the Scriptures.
I began to pray, asking God to give me a hunger for His Word. I knew I couldn’t change my heart to desire it on my own, so I asked Him to conform my desires to His. And, sure enough, as I spent time in the Word of God and as I asked faithfully for His help in changing the desires of my heart, I experienced great spiritual growth, and I actually began to look forward to reading my Bible. I began to take joy in what the Lord was going to say to me in His Word each day. I was so thankful that I could see the Lord working in my heart, conforming my desires to His and helping me to love what He loves. The Lord blessed me with this rich study of the Word for a while, and I grew to love the intimacy with God that I felt while having my daily Bible time. But, as time passed, I noticed something in myself that grieved my heart terribly.
I noticed I would go through seasons in which my time in the Word was full of rich insight and fellowship with the Spirit. But then, I would go through seasons, sometimes days, sometimes weeks, when I simply did not feel on fire. The icy fingers of lethargy and apathy from the early days of my devoted Bible reading would come back to haunt me and I would hear a voice in my head telling me that I don’t really desire God, and I knew it was true.
I wondered what I had done to deserve this. After all, was I not doing everything right? I had overcome the adversary of apathy many months ago, hadn’t I? And yet, I found myself struggling with the same feelings once again. So I stormed the gates of heaven with tears in my eyes and a heavy heart, begging God for help, knowing that, just as He did before, He must deliver me, for I am powerless to do so myself. And, being the merciful God He is, He did deliver me, at least for a while. But even now, I still wrestle with periods of spiritual dryness from time to time. Why does God let us go through dry spells where we don’t desire Him like we ought? I don’t believe that God enjoys watching us struggle, but I do know that He works everything together for the ultimate good, even when, in the moment, we can’t understand what all is actually going on. So, based on how the Lord has used spiritual dry spells in my life, I want to explore a few of the reasons that I believe God allows them in our walk with Him.
One reason that God allows us to experience seasons of apathy is that He wants us to seek Him diligently. Seeking God ought to be a relentless pursuit and when we get accustomed to receiving everything from Him without us having to ask Him for it we don’t appreciate or seek it out nearly as diligently as we ought. Let’s observe Matthew 15:22-28 to get a glimpse into the mind of God.
“And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.”
Here, we see that Jesus wasn’t trying to hurt this woman by not answering her pleas right away, nor was He withholding good things from her for no reason. Instead, He wanted to test her faith — He wanted her to ask Him repeatedly. The dogged pursuit of God’s help proves to Him our faith, just as it did with this woman, and I believe that He delights not only in hearing our requests, but also in fulfilling them Himself.
Another reason that God allows us to experience dry seasons in our spiritual walk is because it pleases Him to see our persistence despite our lack of passion in the moment. It’s easy to follow faithfully when we are feeling excited about it, and when we walk in confidence and security. But it is much more difficult to obey when our hearts don’t feel ravished by His Spirit and they are cold and dry. It then becomes a discipline, a sacrifice, to remain faithful. And I believe that such sacrifices warm the heart of God. Our persistence in obedience becomes most glorifying to Him when we follow despite our lack of zeal at the present.
I believe that God allows these times of apathy to fill in specific holes in our individual spiritual maturity. James 1 says, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” Here we see that the “trying of your faith” that comes from asking God to create perfect desires in us and then waiting upon Him to do what we have asked causes us to become “perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” In my life particularly, the Lord has used dry seasons to teach me the importance of spending a great deal of time in prayer. I had always been used to praying at mealtimes and before bed for just a few minutes, but the discipline of fervent prayer was not something that I really learned until I began to experience seasons of dryness that forced me to my knees on a moment-by-moment basis for daily sustenance.
Finally, I believe that God gives us times of testing in this way to teach us to depend completely upon Him for everything-even the very desire to know Him. As I began my journey of regular Bible study, my mind was convinced that I was doing the right thing, but my heart was not full of passion for what I was doing. I tried to change my own heart, but all of my efforts were worthless. But when I cried out to Jesus for help, confessing my sins and asking for Him to change me, He was faithful! He walked into the field full of dry bones, and said, “O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!” and immediately the dry bones of my heart were clothed with flesh and the breath of life entered into them! (Ezekiel 37:1-14) If we were powerless to save ourselves from hell, why do we think that any other battles we fight mustn’t belong to God as well? As the Apostle Paul said,“He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6, emphasis added
In conclusion, then, we understand why God allows us to suffer seasons of apathy and spiritual dryness, but we may yet ask, “Why is this struggle so relentless and ongoing?” My answer is, “Because we are at war!” We have an adversary who is very real and who comes to us in our lowest, driest points and accuses us to no end. He tells us that we are unworthy to call ourselves Christians, that we are just religious hypocrites, and that God is unwilling either to forgive us of this sin or to help us overcome it. But we can see through the façade our enemy puts on, can we not? And whenever we are on our knees, imploring God to help us through our weakness, we are doing hand-to-hand combat with the devil. As John Bunyan said, “Prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge for Satan.” It feels like a fight because it is one. But it is a fight we are sure to win, for Matthew 7 tells us, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened…If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” God delights in answering our prayers, just as a father delights in providing for his children. He will not let us struggle forever, nor will He tarry in delivering His people. But while we are passing through the valley of dry bones, let us heed Psalm 27:14 and,“Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.”
Image courtesy of Moyan Brenn.