When do you notice this sense of ‘dry faith’ happening, in you or perhaps in others?
I notice it happening when people have been ‘comfortable’ for a long time. As in, there’s nothing dramatically going wrong, or spectacularly well either. Like I’m in ‘cruise control.’ Also when church or connect group has become just a routine, when missing weeks here and there doesn’t seem to have been a big deal so it eventually becomes a regular thing to miss it – still regularly attending church, but also regularly skipping church (for reasons other than sickness or appointments that cannot be moved). Lack of personal Bible reading is also a big thing that I notice. Doing things with other people (such as church attendance and connect group) may still be kept up, but a consistent lack of personal time with God seems to be a big indicator of spiritual dryness.
What does it feel like for you?
For me, it feels as though God is still there, but that he’s not really actively involved in my life. He hasn’t turned his face from me, but I don’t feel like he’s close, either. I can’t seem to feel like he’s there personally involved in my life or that he’s especially intervening to change me or shape me. It feels like a really old relationship where we’ve become so used to each other that we have stopped expressing how special we are to each other or how much we appreciate each other. So personal devotion time is either non-existent or very difficult to stir myself up to do…when this happens it doesn’t seem like I’ve learnt new things about God or appreciated something about him in a very long time – and it’s obvious that those two things are connected! It can also happen if I’ve been very busy and tired for a long stretch of time. Often when I’m fatigued my personal time with God is one of the first things to go. So extended periods of tiredness can lead to spiritual dryness for me.
What do you do? Do you have a go-to?
I clear out my schedule or look for ways of getting some rest periods into my diary to restore and recover. Devotion time does come back into regularity again, and persisting until it has become a regular pattern again is important.
I also find it helpful to challenge myself to try something new – like volunteering to serve in a new area of ministry, or changing my personal devotion patterns by changing the time slot or the book of the Bible that I’m reading.
As this is a real spiritual battle, my ‘go-to’ Bible verse is Ephesians 6:10-18. I read it very slowly and visualise each word that I’m reading. Usually, either around v10, where I realise I need God’s strength, or around v16, where I realise Satan’s flaming arrows are being shot at me, I can actually feel the truth of these words moving my heart. I know someone who physically mimes putting on the armour of God, piece by piece, as she reads this passage!
I also tell a trusted fellow Christian that I’m feeling dry and ask them to keep me accountable on the things that I’m doing to try and change, and to pray for me.
I also tell God that I’m struggling and that I need his help.
Usually doing just one or two of these things is more than enough to snap me out of it!
Are there other things that help you like books, habits to cultivate, things to remember…?
While ultimately our relationship with God our Father is secure because it’s guaranteed by his Son Jesus, who will never cast us out, still I think it helps to know that our daily experience of that relationship is in many ways like other relationships that we have – if we are not willing to put the work into it, it will suffer. Bad habits can surface and it can be hard to break these. So be willing to put incremental, small amounts of work into it as a daily habit. If you put little bits of work in every day, then you are not going to need to put in massive amounts of work when you get to the crisis point – because you won’t get to a crisis point.
Also knowing that we can survive a period of spiritual dryness, that we all go through it and therefore not being too hard on ourselves if we do is another good thing to remember. God is powerful and he loves us.
What is important to not do in these seasons?
Don’t give up! If a season of spiritual dryness goes on for a while, I think we can deceive ourselves that it will always be this way and that things will never improve.
Don’t keep doing what you were doing before – clearly this happened because unhelpful patterns were forming in your Christian life. So repeating the same patterns without making some adjustments will lead to more despondency and dryness. So think about small things that you can change.
Don’t keep your struggle to yourself – don’t think that you’re alone in this or that no one else can help. People have gone through this before; they will be able to pray for you and might be able to share with you how they were able to get out of it.
What sorts of prayers might we helpfully pray at these times?
I think talking to God honestly, full stop, will help. Acknowledge it before him – God doesn’t need fancy words or a set way of prayers for us to pray to him. Our honest, stumbling and inadequate prayers will still be listened to and answered by our very generous and loving God.
If you aren’t able to come up with the words to say, reading and praying through some good quality prayers that have been published may be helpful – the Valley of Vision puritan prayer collection, for example, contains some fantastic prayers. Or theAnglican Prayer Book (e.g. AAPB) has some amazing prayers in it that you could pray through.
What can I say to/do for my brother or sister in Christ who has told me that they are struggling with this?
Thank them for their honesty and trust in coming forward to tell you – it’s not always an easy thing to do!
Listening carefully to how they are feeling and why they might have got to this point in their own words is important. Then you can offer some suggestions and perhaps your own story of how you may have struggled in the past.
Offer to pray for them – pray with them then and there, and keeping them in your own prayers would also be a great thing to do.
Continue to ask, periodically, how they are going, and if they have noticed any changes or improvements, and do let them know that you are praying for them – it is so encouraging.
ACR: Thank you Susan for sharing your experience and wisdom!