How should Christians deal with spiritual coldness and discouragement?
In recent weeks, I’ve had several conversations with Christians who are struggling. They feel discouraged, dry, and far from God; and increasingly guilty the longer these feelings linger. I have to confess that although I can readily identify with such times, I have felt shallow in my initial responses, and this post is the fruit of the thinking I’ve done since.
Let me know what you think…
I’m sure there is no neat and tidy answer that will suffice for every situation. Spiritual discouragement can result from any number of causes – real and legitimate worries, depression, suffering, bad experiences within the church, and our ever sinful hearts.
What I’m certain of, is that this spiritual matter cannot be solved with human willpower alone, or with an easy formula. (Which is why this post is not titled “3 steps to relighting your spiritual fire”!)
One thing that we must be clear on, even as we seek to climb out of a rut we’ve gotten into, is that it is only by the work of the Holy Spirit, that a dead and unfeeling heart is exchanged for a new heart that loves and seeks after God. This is a transformation that began when we first heard and believed the gospel. A transformation that accompanied our once-for-all eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, and continues as we start to resemble him.
The discouraged Christian should first rest secure in the knowledge that their name is written in heaven!
Nevertheless, we cannot afford to be complacent or apathetic when we recognise that our hearts have become cold towards God.
We are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5) And it should grieve us and call us to repentance when we do not.
But don’t be surprised at the coldness of your heart. A friend of mine used to say that every morning she had to perform spiritual CPR on her heart. I can testify to this being true. I’m often shocked at my apathy and coldness toward God, and how quickly I forget or disbelieve the gospel!
We need to fight for a constant and growing love and closeness to Christ.
So here are a few things that I suggest, and find personally helpful in these times:
Relearn the gospel, and let it revive you. Immerse yourself in the accounts of the crucifixion in the Gospels. Jesus is the friend of sinners; he came as a doctor for those who knew their need of healing. (Luke 5:31-33) He invites the thirsty to come for living water. (Isaiah 55:1-3, John 7:37-39) He ever lives to intercede for his people. (Hebrews 7:24-26) These are just a few of many such passages!
Consider God’s character. Remember that he is merciful, steadfastly loving, faithful, gracious, and kind. (See Exodus 34:6)
Remember that he knows it all – your sin, your bad experiences, how you have come to be where you are now – even when you don’t know! Don’t let anyone or anything make you believe that you have walked too far away to come home. Just read the parable of the Lost Son in Luke 15. God is far more gracious than any of us deserve!
Begin to talk to him again, as your Father, honestly and humbly. Ask his spirit to give you the words if it’s been a long time.
Make use of the Psalms. Especially Psalm 42 “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.”
Don’t give up going through the motions. Seek with God’s help to be obedient. Honour, fear, and follow him, even when you’re not ‘feeling it’, attend a good church, and get some support. Ask him that the right feelings would follow.
Evaluate your diet. This is a particularly practical step. What is going on in your daily life? What are you reading, watching, and listening to? What are the messages that you are receiving? Are you giving yourself a chance for God’s word to sink in and change you, or is it snatched away immediately by the way you spend your time and energy?
Along with asking God’s spirit to renew your love and desire for him, do all that you can to prepare the soil!
Imagine a marriage where a husband and wife only ever talk in the presence of others, never spending time alone. It would be pretty hard to sustain a good level of love and communication! Are you giving God the time and opportunity to speak to you, by spending time reading scripture and talking with him?
2 Chronicles 16:9 tells us that the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.
Ask for him to do in you what you are unable to do. We need God’s spirit to continue to work in us, so that our hearts will be fully committed to him.
Let me end with a passage that I return to again and again in challenging times:
I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’
I’m sure there is much more to be said, but I’ve written enough! What do you think? What would you add?