Week 6 of the spiritual formation lecture series, was about why believers sometimes suffer times of terrible dryness when God seems distant and uninvolved. The series is taught by professors from Biola University’s Institute for Spiritual Formation. I’ve been reposting my notes here hoping they may be of help to others.
As believers we often unconsciously believe that maturing as a Christian always means an ever-richer, more personal and meaningful relationship with Christ. So after feeling the joy and excitement and presence of God when we first come to know Christ, we are frequently confused by dry times of spiritual loneliness when God seems far away and uncaring. We wonder, “What am I doing wrong?” The ancient writers clearly understood periods of desolation, writing “laments,” which are simply sharing feelings of conflict directly with God. Psalms 22, 13, 88, and 77 are great examples.
The truth is that these are times God intends for our greatest growth. Our spiritual feelings have no correlation with spiritual maturity. Rather, all our spiritual feelings are gifts from God for his purposes. The excitement of new believers is the gift of consolation – God giving a taste of his presence even before our character development in order to turn our hearts toward him. Times of spiritual dryness are the gift of desolation – when God thinks you are ready to face the truth of what’s in your heart. So he withdraws the baby bottle of consolation and lets us be hungry, to be more aware of our need.
It’s important to make the distinction that God is not withdrawing from you, he is withdrawing the bottle of consolation. Times of desolation can be considered in light of Ephesians 4:22 – putting off the “old man.” In fact, at these times he is actually never more present or actively involved in our lives. And we can’t depend on feelings to know that. The temptation will be to work harder to get “that lovin’ feeling” back – the feelings of consolation – or to just give up all together on prayer and Bible reading.
Instead, we should focus on finding God’s purposes in our lives in these “dark nights.” Be faithful – continue prayer and Bible reading, but expect to see more truth than encouragement. Be open to what God gives you rather than trying to generate an experience. (Worship leaders should take note: on any given weekend people in your audience are experiencing these dark, dry periods – consider songs of both praise and lament. And you can see how attempting to generate an “experience” would actually be a disservice.)
Remember the truth:
1. God is always present. We are now one spirit with him (1 Cor. 6:17), partakers of the Divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).
2. God will never leave us. Nothing can separate us – not even the ugly truth of what’s in our heart. We are forgiven. And we are loved.