It is not unusual for Christians to feel as though their spiritual lives have become dry. We all want to have spiritual lives that are like a consuming fire, but more often than not that fire seems more like a few glowing embers in danger of going out altogether.
Despite how you feel about the spiritual side of your life, you should recognize that you ought not to be satisfied with spiritual dryness. It is possible to fan even the smallest embers into a consuming fire.
You may be disappointed that while you started out your faith journey with a vigorous devotional life, over time the vibrancy has diminished.
However, please remember that “he who began a good work in your will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6). Every Christian goes through periods of time where they feel spiritually empty, but the good news is that there are always ways and means to “fan into flame the gift of God” (2 Timothy 1:6).
Interpreting Your Story
The way we interpret our life stories and our world has a massive impact on how we feel about ourselves. If your life story seems to read like a heartbreaking tale of adversity, shame, and discouragement, you’re not alone.
People just like you visit Christian counsellors every day to share their difficulties and despair. The greatest benefit of Christian counselling is that it opens up an opportunity to reinterpret your life story, however tragic your past has been.
When you have faith, you have an amazing fountain of spiritual wisdom at your disposal. It may not seem like it when you are struggling, but even secular counsellors recognize that people with faith have a kind of inner strength that people without faith don’t have.
Whatever you face in life, you have spiritual resilience to cope. The Apostle Paul describes Christian resilience in the familiar passage from 2 Corinthians 4:8a: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed.”
Great stories require conflict before resolution and that means that facing struggles is part of what makes your story great. That might seem like small comfort, but if you change the way you interpret your story, there are huge spiritual benefits.
Christians were never meant to have easy, trouble free lives. A life without adversity of any kind doesn’t make for a good story. It doesn’t make for a powerful testimony. God writes a life story for you that involves triumph – but in order for there to be triumph, there has to be something to triumph over.
If you find yourself fighting against a tide of difficulties in your life, you need to understand that like in any great story, the trials you face are building tension and driving you towards a breathtaking victory that God will bring to pass. It’s vital that you trust that God is able and willing bring about victory – it is this trust that is at the heart of Christian resilience.
It enables you to live a life of hope no matter how dark the situation becomes. It is too easy to succumb to negativity and tell yourself that when things improve you will get back to building your spiritual life again. Although a very human attitude, this is not what God wants for you. He longs for you to experience a spiritual awakening.
The Light Shines in the Darkness
You may be wondering how you go about spiritual when your spiritual life has become dry and dormant. The best and single most effective way of achieving spiritual awakening is to turn on the light and start to take action – just as you do every morning when you physically awaken. Instead of focusing on all that is wrong with your life – which only increases negativity – you must shine the light of the world into every corner of your life. Renaissance scholar Erasmus wrote, “Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.”
It is, of course, easy to get trapped in a pattern of over thinking and over analyzing your life. However, Martin Luther King Jr. famously declared that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.” You must find a way to let the light shine on the situations that have you dwelling on negativity.
Practical Advice for Spiritual Awakening
Turning on the lights in your spiritual life requires action. It’s important that you understand that while God is the origin of the light, you still have a vital part to play. The first step in achieving spiritual awakening is to prepare your heart.
Imagine that your heart is a field in which a farmer wants to reap a big harvest. The ground has to be cultivated before any seeds can be sown. Sunlight and rain cause the seed to produce a crop, but this can only be achieved once the soil has been tilled.
Every day, Christian counselors meet with clients who are “waiting on the Lord” to take action and bring about a sense of peace, joy or self-control in their lives. These people, however, haven’t made the effort to cultivate their hearts, making such fruit unattainable.
Philosopher and professor Dallas Willard, who has written many books on Christian spiritual life, said this in his book Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23:
“You may very well say, “Can’t God just move in on us and touch us or do something to us?” Yes, he can do that, and he does that on many occasions. But when it comes to experiencing the sufficiency of God, we are not talking about what God can do, we are talking about what we need to do.”
One effective strategy that helps us to bring the light of God into our lives is practicing those aspects of spiritual life known as the spiritual disciplines. In essence, these are the kinds of habits that help us to prepare our hearts and minds so that God can work in our lives and give us spiritual gifts.
Richard J. Foster’s Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth is a classic devotional book that teaches the spiritual disciplines needed to embrace spiritual awakening. In the introduction, Foster writes:
“God has given us the disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving his grace. The disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that he can transform us.”
Disciplines to Ignite Your Spiritual Awakening
Foster describes a number of different spiritual disciplines that are beneficial for every Christian to practice. There are ten in total. Here we cover the first three.
Meditation is a really important Discipline that is highly beneficial. The world in which we live is chaotic, busy and noisy. The demands of the world are a drain on our energy, and we’re left feeling physically, mentally and emotionally empty.
Just as David cried out in Psalm 42:2, we long to experience divine tranquility: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” Meditation is a means of effectively preparing an inner sanctuary in our hearts where God can come and dwell. When we prepare in this way, He will meet with us and fellowship with us.
Theologian Walter Rauschenbusch poetically describes this: “The world of men is made of jangling noises. With God, it is a great silence. But that silence is a melody set as the contentment of love, trilling as a touch of flame.”
Meditation is something frequently discussed in contemporary society, but many Christians back away from the idea, because most often meditation is assumed to mean the Eastern understanding of meditation, not the Christian one. Eastern meditation is built on the concepts of detachment and renunciation.
Richard Foster aims to set the record straight about meditation: “Eastern meditation is an attempt to empty the mind; Christian meditation is an attempt to fill the mind. The two ideas are quite different…detachment is not enough; we must go on to attachment. The detachment from the confusion all around us in order to have a richer attachment to God.”
If you associate the word meditation with the Eastern and/or New Age practices, then it’s understandable that you would question whether it’s something that Christians should be engaging in. However, if you set those associations aside and focus on Foster’s Christian definition of meditation, you can see how it is beneficial for spiritual awakening. We are not talking about mystical practices.
You might be surprised to learn that Eastern meditation, while most widely known, is not the most common meditation practice. Mental health professionals use meditation techniques to help patients focus their minds; techniques such as focusing on breathing and focusing on a positive thought are beneficial in coping with anxiety.
Regularly practicing this helps to create new neural pathways in the brain and move patients towards recovery. There is nothing mystical about these techniques – they are merely practical tools for healing.
Similarly, Christian meditation is a means of fixing our spiritual eyes (and minds) on Christ. The benefit of this is obvious: when Jesus is at the center of our thoughts, the effect on our spiritual life is powerful, and we are able to shine His light into our darkest thoughts and fears. Take this Scripture as an example of the concept:
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you. – Isaiah 26:3
Dallas Willard explains that when we do this, it’s a means of bringing God’s reality into our lives. The actions that result are based on the connection we have with God in our minds. He writes, “There is nothing mysterious here. This is why the mind, and what we turn our minds to, is the key to our lives.”
It’s probably no surprise to you to learn that prayer is at the center of all the disciplines. The reason for this is because prayer is very much like a lifeline to God. When we neglect our prayer life, the result is that everything we do is done on our own, using our own strength, and based on our own motivations and understandings. Without prayer, our actions are limited by our humanness and we are isolated from God.
Unfortunately, a lot of people tend to avoid prayer. There are multiple reasons why this is so, including fears that they won’t do it right, or that God isn’t listening because they’ve made too many past mistakes.
At the same time, Christians often feel guilty for not praying regularly, leading to greater feelings of shame. The guilt has a counterproductive effect of causing fear of prayer, too, as people assume that God will be disappointed or angry at their lack of prayer.
The enemy delights in keeping Christians away from prayer. He knows that a lack of prayer makes us spiritually weak. When we avoid prayer, our faith is built on an abstract view of God, and we don’t have communion with him.
This means that we don’t have access to His grace and perfect love, so we remain in a state of brokenness and insecurity. Our power as Christians is neutralized by a lack of prayer. When we pray, we have the power to overcome our trials in the strength of God’s love for us.
Foster describes prayer this way: “To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives. The closer we come to the heartbeat of God the more we see our need and the more we desire to be conformed to Christ.”
Fasting is one of the spiritual disciplines that is poorly understood and least practiced. It’s a common misconception in Christian circles that fasting is both outdated and harsh. We might tell ourselves that God wants us to be well fed for our health. Such beliefs keep us from practicing an ancient discipline that Biblical figures from Moses to Jesus, himself regularly practiced.
Our culture and society have a big impact on how we perceive fasting. The messages we receive from media, books, and experts tell us that to be healthy we need three meals a day and snacks in between. Anything less, in the western world at least, is considered to be an unhealthy practice bordering on starvation. Fasting, therefore, is seen as counter intuitive if we want to take care of our bodies.
What many people fail to realize about Christian fasting is that it’s not actually self-denial. Of course, fasting means abstinence from eating, but the purpose of fasting is to spend the time that you would spend eating on filling yourself up with more of God’s presence and Word.
In place of food, you are consuming “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Fasting enables to understand a huge secret – we can experience far greater nourishment from communion with God than we ever can from food.
Dallas Willard explains it this way:
“When we make contact with God a flow of energy comes to us. That energy is directly the source from which Jesus worked, and we can know it by experience. Jesus taught us that when we fast, we are not to look miserable (Matt. 6:16-18).
Do you suppose he was asking us to fake it? Was he saying, “Now, you’re going to be miserable, but don’t let it show?” No, Jesus understood that when we fast before God we are nourished directly by the word of God, whether spoken or written. Fasting is feasting upon God.”
It is normal to struggle a little when you first begin to practice the discipline of fasting. It’s important that you extend patience and compassion to yourself and take things slowly. Perhaps start with fasting one meal and then build up to a longer fast. The Lord will walk with you and guide you through the process of spiritual awakening through fasting. Focus on the internal transformation that takes place when you fast.
When you are ready to start the process of spiritual awakening, it can be beneficial to contact a Christian counselor who can walk with you through the journey and give you additional guidance.
“Faith”, Courtesy of Marc-Olivier Jodoin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “The Chimney”, Courtesy of Recardo Gomez Angel, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Prayer”, Courtesy of Naassom Azevedo, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Prayer”, Courtesy of Ben White, Unsplash.com, CC0 License