9 Reasons You May Be in a Spiritual Drought—and How to Find Refreshment
If you have been a Christian for any amount of time, you know that spiritual passion, sight, and affections ebb and flow. At times our sense of spiritual realities can be strong and vibrant. Other times our hearts feel like lead weights, and we find ourselves longing for God to visit us once again and bring refreshment (Ps. 85:4-7). These seasons are usually referred to as times of “spiritual drought” or “spiritual dryness” and find intimate expression in many of the Psalms. David often cried out to God in times where his soul seemed like dust, and he yearned to be refreshed by the presence of the Lord (Ps. 13; Ps. 63).
Spiritual drought, though a persistent and unwelcome visitor, is not something with which we must constantly live. There are Biblical means by which we can, by grace, put ourselves in the way of refreshment; we can be restored to once again feel the joy of our salvation. But this can only happen if we are able to discern why we might be experiencing spiritual dryness, so we can take the appropriate action. With this in mind, I would like to suggest a few reasons we may be experiencing a season of spiritual drought and provide the correlating remedies.
1. Unchecked Lust
Peter’s warning could not be more explicit: “Abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul” (I Pet. 2:11). Impure thoughts and freshly cultivated fantasies will only dull our sense of spiritual things; this is what Peter means when he tells us that lust “wages war against the soul.” Harboring lust defiles our conscience, feeds our sinful flesh, and withers our spiritual vitality.
Jesus, in confronting the Pharisees’ desire for self-exaltation, provides a valuable insight as to how pride relates to faith. The Pharisees were unable to see the truth and beauty of Christ, because they were infatuated with their own glory and loved receiving praise from men. And although this passage speaks specifically of pride obstructing saving faith, I think we can safely apply this principle to our lives as Christians: pride kills faith in Jesus. If we are nurturing self-love—seeking praise and appreciation from our friends, our congregation, our professors, or our supervisor we will find out very quickly that “God opposes the proud” (James 4:6). Our souls will shrivel as we fill them with the glory that comes from man. On the other hand, turning from ourselves and our reputations to exalt Christ at all costs will bring about spiritual renewal since “[God] gives grace to the humble.”
3. Love of Money
There is also a direct correlation between our attachment to stuff and our ability to see the glory of God. Jesus connects our physical gaze with our spiritual sight in Matthew 6:19-23. Christ instructs us to store up lasting treasures in heaven rather than temporary riches here on earth. Whether we do this or not will have a significant impact on our affections, for “where [our] treasure is, there [our] heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19-21).
4. Lack of Bible Reading, Meditation, and Prayer
When we neglect Bible reading, meditation, and prayer, we are cutting ourselves off from essential nourishment for our souls. It is impossible to thrive spiritually without feeding our minds and hearts with God’s Word. Psalm 1 reminds us of the benefits of meditation. On the other hand, our leaf will wither if we are not planting ourselves near the life-giving streams of God’s Word. This reminder is especially important for those of us who tend toward service and who desire to stay busy and productive.
Although it is good to be busy and always abounding in the work of the Lord (I Cor. 15:58), our work can become empty, heartless, and sapped of power if we are not fueling ourselves with the spiritual food that comes from God’s Word. We need to fight to set aside regular time to read, meditate, and pray over Scripture.
It is also beneficial to memorize Scripture so that we can receive refreshment from biblical truth any time during the day. If we refuse to drink from the well of God’s Word on a regular basis, we should only expect dry ground and withered leaves.
5. Too Much Time Indoors
It is easy to see why blatant sins like lust, pride, and the love of money can impede spiritual passion and affection. It is not so easy to discern the subtle effects other lifestyle habits have on our zeal and vitality. One area that I find receives little attention is the role of the creation in maintaining our spiritual health. But if the heavens declare the glory of God (Ps. 19:1), and if we are refreshed by seeing God’s glory, it would only make sense to go outside in order to behold that glory!
At times I can literally feel my faith revived as I spend a few minutes looking up at the grandeur of a clear night sky, filled with unfathomable expressions of power and creativity. I can find refreshment in a simple hike or walk. I do not think this is simply because I “love the outdoors.” I love the outdoors because I can see glory, and seeing this glory has often served to restore my weary soul.
6. Lack of Exercise
This ties in with the last point but belongs in its own category, because one does not necessarily need to be outdoors in order to get exercise. Now, lest this sound unspiritual and more like I am suggesting things that are only beneficial to those of a particular physiological makeup. Many will find their spiritual vitality renewed by simply going on a thirty-minute walk or run, or by going for a swim, or by riding their bike, or by hiking some of the trails near their house. I am often amazed at how a little bit of exercise benefits me mentally and spiritually. Perhaps you are pursuing the Lord, mortifying sin, regular in Bible reading and prayer, and yet find your soul dry and dusty. Maybe you should go on a run.
7. Neglect of Responsibilities
When we choose laziness over diligence, this can often lead to spiritual dryness, even depression. And this process usually perpetuates itself: laziness will create spiritual dryness. When we are spiritually dry and depressed, we are usually not powerfully motivated to pursue diligence. But it is precisely at this point that we need to break the cycle.
8. Morbid Introspection
Ironically, when we find ourselves spiritually dry, it is best not to ruminate over our condition for too long—this can lead to an unhealthy preoccupation with ourselves and to morbid introspection. This is another situation that can perpetuate itself: the more we experience spiritual drought, the more we are tempted to examine ourselves and look inside; the more we look inside, the more we may experience spiritual frustration. Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones is insightful here: I suggest that we cross the line from self-examination to introspection when, in a sense, we do nothing but examine ourselves, and when such self-examination becomes the main and chief end of our life. We are meant to examine ourselves periodically, but if we are always doing it, always, as it were, putting our soul on a plate and dissecting it, that is introspection. And if we are always talking to people about ourselves and our problems and troubles, and if we are forever going to them with that kind of frown upon our face saying: I am in great difficulty—it probably means that we are all the time centered upon ourselves. That is introspection, and that in turn leads to the condition known as morbidity.
9. Forgetting the Gospel and Living in Legalism
When the Galatian Christians began to drift from the gospel, Paul’s response was to remind them of how they first enjoyed the presence of the Holy Spirit: Oh foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness?” (Gal. 3:1-6)
The Galatians experienced the freedom and joy of the Holy Spirit, not by keeping commandments in order to gain salvation, but by hearing and believing a message—the gospel message. We are all in danger of drifting like these Galatians. After having received the Holy Spirit by faith, we attempt to perfect ourselves by the flesh and in our own strength, trying to earn some favor with God.
This is why I believe Jerry Bridges is right when he reminds us to “Preach the gospel to ourselves every day.” The truth of the gospel—the benefits of Christ’s substitutionary life and death on our behalf are received by faith alone—regularly poured into our minds and hearts, will guard us from deadening legalism and subsequent spiritual dryness.
A Few Closing Thoughts
None of these suggestions will guard us from all spiritual drought. Because we are sinful and because we live in a fallen world with fallen bodies, we must face up to the reality that spiritual dryness will come again. That is why the psalmist says that the Word of God restores his soul (Ps. 19:7). That it was in need of restoring implies that his soul was no longer in a happy, satisfied state—it was in need of refreshment. Knowing this and recognizing potential causes of spiritual drought can help us to weather seasons of little or no rain.