Posted in focus on faith

What’s the “Fix” for Spiritual Dryness?

button-fix-it“My soul is so withered up I barely recognize it any more!” Comments like this come to me on a regular basis. I hear from people of both genders and all ages who feel frustrated, sad or even desperate because their faith has eroded. Most of them don’t know why or how it happened nor do they know how to rediscover the vibrant faith they once knew.

I understand! I was in a spiritual wilderness for at least 10 years. It was my Big Secret because I was married to a minister (and did not want to negatively impact his calling) and I was in ministry myself as a writer for religious publications. I kept asking God to fix me since I had no idea how to fix myself. 

Let me insult your intelligence by telling you something you probably already know: there is no quick fix.

But there is a fix — or at least some points to consider to guide your steps as you seek answers and direction. (For a more complete study of this topic, check out these books.)

  • If your faith had worked for you, you wouldn’t have lost it. More to the point, if the practice of your faith was mature, growing and sustainable, you would still have it. The problem is that many of us, myself included, have heart issues, old wounds, new fears, hardships (and much worse) that our faith cannot adapt to. Our faith that has worked thus far runs into trouble and begins to erode as we subtly drift away from God.
  • God hasn’t left you even though you might feel abandoned. Because most of us in spiritual dryness drift away slowly, we are blind to what caused it and where it began. As a result, we feel like a victim rather than the pilot of our own faith. Ergo: God must have moved! It surely wasn’t me! We forget (or disbelieve) the myriad times God says: I will never leave you nor forsake you. He didn’t move. You did. If you moved away, you can move back.
  • Admit the truth out loud. Break the conspiracy of silence. Just say it: “I’ve lost my faith” or “My faith no longer works” or “I don’t believe in a personal God any more.” Use your own words to say the naked truth about the current state of your soul. God can take it! You will not shock Him or hurt His feelings. He may be waiting for you to come out of denial before His redemptive work can get some traction. “When our embarrassment level is exceeded by our desperation level we are a candidate for God’s grace” (Peter Lord) Your pastor and others in your church can probably take it too. Choose a few safe people to tell so that your “secret” loses it’s hold on you.
  • Ask Him to come after you. If you aren’t praying any more, this counts as your first prayer. It’s like saying sic ’em to a dog (no disrespect intended). In fact, He is already pursuing you but you are temporarily blinded by your unbelief. What this prayer really means is that you will now be on the lookout for the invisible God. God will begin to remove the scales from your spiritual eyes and the wax from your spiritual ears.
  • Risk saying yes. Spiritual dryness is the result of mistrust and disobedience. In other words, as we drift away from God we lose faith that He is trustworthy and we stop doing what He asks. We say no, not with our lips, but with our lives. But we never stop having a vague sense of spiritual nudging. Say yes to one of those nudges.
  • Get back into (or stay in) “God’s habitat”. When hunters want to bag a moose, they don’t dress up in camo gear and hike into downtown Chicago. They head for the forests and swamps — the places moose hang out! If you are looking for God, spend as much time as possible in His territory. You know what that means but for the sake of absolute clarity here are some suggestions: the Bible, Christian books (fiction and nonfiction), church, bible study groups (real and virtual), prayer groups, music (worship band, choir, solo listening), godly friends (old and new).
  • Never lose hope. Remember there is no quick fix but there is a fix. You did not drift away in a day, you won’t come back in a day. Take it one day at a time and follow God one yes at a time.
Posted in focus on faith

Majestic and Wild

Majestic and WildWhen you love stories and nature like I do a subtitle like TRUE STORIES OF FAITH AND ADVENTURE IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS is almost irresistible. I have read several of Murray Pura’s books, mostly fiction, and have been carried away by his storytelling mastery. So when I got my hands on this book, a non-fiction, I was eager to read it because this was the author’s real life, not his imaginings. Like most avid readers I am always a bit curious about an author’s real life.

Each chapter stands alone and has an un-preachy devotional feel. I could see the sunsets, hear the elk’s call, feel the cold shock of river water and smell the campfires in Pura’s backcountry adventures. I fell in love with his loyal dogs and I don’t even like dogs! I read this book slowly, over several weeks; savouring it like fine chocolate that I will squirrel away and nibble on over several months.

While the chapter that blew the cover on Pura’s wife Linda’s nocturnal imaginings was amusing, without a doubt, my favorite chapter was the second to last where he describes encountering a bear in Waterton National Park. My husband Gerry and I have holidayed in that very place for more than a dozen years. I have been on the hike he described and several others and his description of the breathtaking beauty there is entirely accurate.

But it was Pura’s final anecdote in the final chapter that touched my soul. Because I was once in spiritual wilderness for a long time, his description of walking into the real wilderness to heal his hurting soul was particularly poignant:

Once, I went into the wild a dead man. Death had broken my heart and I grieved. I had nothing left for wife or family or the church where I pastored. I sat among the trees and read the Bible and gave God my pain and anger and hopelessness. One by one the stars came out. At dawn, the sun rose clear of the mountains and hills. The birds moved swiftly from branch to branch. Whitetail drank at the green river. I walked with the dogs to a marshland and jumped when a bull moose with a full rack roared and splashed through the water away from us. The sun set in red and purple, the moon came back with the stars, fire warmed my face and hands, stew bubbled in a cast-iron pot. I slept in a dark as thick as a wool blanket. In the morning a breeze stirred the ashes of my fire pit and a flame shot up.

God’s words in God’s pages made more sense to me in God’s wild. After a few days I was a new man. God was as close to me as the sweet air I took into my lungs. In fact, he had never left my heart. Or left me without strength. It was just that I knew that better now. And lived again. (pp 234, 235)

If you feel like the walking dead, like God is no nearer than the Milky Way, I encourage you to step outside and take a look at the night sky — get out on your balcony or walk to a nearby park on a starry night. Just drink in the majesty of God’s handiwork. He has never left you. Let the breeze on your face be the feel of His gentle touch, let the sound of wind in the trees be His whisper as He says, “I’m right here. Call out to Me in your time of trouble and I will heal your soul.” When you step back inside, pick up His Word and read Psalm 139 as if you had written it yourself. Let the truth of His Word comfort you and give you hope.

 

Posted in focus on faith

It’s all Greek to me

IMG_3324Have you ever said, “It’s all Greek to me”? What does that mean? How many Greek words do you know? Moussaka and spanakopita don’t count. None? Me too. And things aren’t likely to change on that front since I am losing brain cells faster than fat cells.

For most of my Christian life, I blindly supported the false narrative of a Christian Caste System. The people I placed at the top of the heap (the Brahmins or priestly caste) were the Bible teachers and scholars. They were closest to God. They had earned the right to have a voice. They had a message worth listening to. They were the experts.

I have never felt like an expert when it comes to spirituality. In regards to my personal journey, 10 years of spiritual wilderness took the shine right off my halo!

However, my “problem” was my call to ministry and the constant invitations to speak and write. But God! I’m not a scholar! I can’t pronounce or translate one single Greek WORD! All I have are my hands, my humor and a heart that wants to serve You. How can You use me?

His answer? Connie, most people are just like you. They don’t know Greek either! And they never will. But they have gifts – gifts I have given them. And they need encouragement to use those gifts for My sake.

  • Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different ministries, but the   same Lord. And there are different activities, but the same God is active in everyone and everything. (I Corinthians 12: 4-6)

In God’s eyes, there is no difference between the man who preaches to thousands and the one who leads a small group during lunch hour at his office. There is no difference between the woman with the television ministry and the woman who brings a meal to her neighbor after she has had a baby. There is no difference between the Bible Study author who sells millions and the young mom who blogs to bring hope to her friends. All are using the gifts God gave them to be the hands and feet and voice of His Son Jesus.

What gifts has God given you? Two good hands? A sense of humor? A heart that notices the needy? Eyes that see beauty in unlikely places? Ears that hear the cries of lonely people? A nose that does not turn up in disgust for the homeless, the hapless, the helpless, the horribly disfigured? You have a voice. Don’t let false narratives silence it. Join me in saying there’s hope for the rest of us. Let’s take the message of authentic spirituality by encouraging everyday people, just like us, to keep it real.

 What do I mean, keep it real?

  • Recognize and dismantle your idols: anybody need a slightly worn “What Would Beth Moore Do?” bracelet?
  • Realize that all God-given gifts are spiritual and worthy: stop apologizing for being “just” funny or handy or creative or strong or energetic and accept that God made you that way and whatever He created, he declared to be “very good”.
  • Refuse to pretend you are something you are not: if I have a spare moment, I do not run to my desk; I run to my garden or my kitchen or the home of family or friends who need help. “Doing” feeds my soul. God made me that way. It’s okay!
  • Reject guilt that you are not a carbon copy of the saints you idolize: I love to read and listen to scholarly teachers and preachers. I admire their passion for study and their ability to gain insight from that study and their skill in conveying that insight in engaging ways. But I’m not them. And that’s okay!
    • But now God has placed the parts, each one of them, in the body just as He wanted. And if they were all the same part, where would the body be? Now there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12: 18-20)
  • Rejoice in who you are and let others see Jesus in your joy:The best Christian witness you or I will ever have is to be happy in Jesus. In 2004, in Surrey BC, I heard Beth Moore say, “I am happy!” Even though I have done many of her wonderful Bible studies, that is the one statement that stands out from everything else. That alone, was enough for me. I am going to go out on a limb here…I daresay the biggest reason Beth Moore is happy is because she is doing what God created her to do. She is being who God created her to be. Humans clone; God makes originals. Be the “original” God made you to be and let others see His joy in you.

Posted in focus on faith

Help for your Spiritual Wilderness

Mavis Peters showed up at a weekend retreat where I was speaking last year. We soon realized may have met decades ago but we can’t remember it. However, we both know many of the same people. We embarked on a faraway friendship — the only kind I seem to be able to sustain!

Mavis let me know she was in a season of spiritual dryness. My own prolonged wilderness experience and subsequent reconnection with living faith has been an encouragement to her. And our ongoing dialogue has been a boost to me.

Mavis offers the following book review as a help to others who also struggle with spiritual dryness:

51wmEIqGiML._AA160_

This 74 page booklet begins by quoting Churchill, “If you’re going through hell, keep going!”  Daniel Kolenda then comments, “Adversity does not have to become our destination.  It can be a pathway to something greater.” (p5)

This positive, forward-facing attitude permeates “Surviving Your Wilderness”.  Showing a striking parallel, Kolenda takes the six recommendations for surviving a physical wilderness and applies them with clarity, insight and succinct examples, to surviving a spiritual wilderness.  The overall structure is simple and easy to follow; each chapter contains helpful tools.

Tip #1 – Don’t Panic:

Lies from the enemy bring fear.  We need to hold on to our beliefs that God is real and He is good.  Remembering who we are, as His children, we can resolve to keep our heart steadfast, and not give into the tendency to give up.

Tip #2 – Assess Your Situation:

Taking stock of your resources, and understanding your surroundings, are essential physically and spiritually. “The resources for spiritual life are always precious, but in the wilderness we must rediscover them and cling to them like never before.” (p 13)  Our greatest resource is the Word of God; it can give new perspective.  The fellowship of the saints is another, for “once isolated in a spiritual desert, we become especially vulnerable to discouragement and deception.” (p 17)  The comfort of the Holy Spirit is discussed by Kolenda through the story of Joseph, who experiences our wildnerness from within us, present with us through it all.

Personally, the second half of this chapter was extremely helpful.  Kolenda describes what kind of wilderness we are in, and describes two: 1) The Wilderness of Opposition comes to us as a result of sin.  The mercy of Christ and His forgiveness are proclaimed clearly; the need for repentance as turning not just from  sin but to Christ is powerful and well articulated!  2) The Wilderness of Promotion – We are each called to become “like Jesus”, and the wilderness can be the necessary training grounds, preparatory for the calling on our lives.  “You can’t get such results quickly.  You can’t get them cheaply….Before promotion there must be process; before resurrection there must be death.” (p32)

Tip #3 – Find Shelter

“…the way a child of God finds or builds a shelter is by seeking God all the more diligently as a haven..”(p38)  “The wilderness is not the place of God’s absence.  It is the place where He establishes His presence in a fresh way.” (p 39)  We can experience Him in this way, but we must rouse ourselves to seek Him.

Tip #4 – Build a Fire

In Israel’s 40 year wilderness, they did not start their own fire – God did.  Teaching them how to worship Him, He established sacrifice as the centre – fire, sacrifice.  It is our job to maintain that fire, to “stoke the flames by worshipping Him during hard times.” (p47)  God set the Israelites on fire before they reached the promised land – they emerged from the wilderness already ablaze.  “God brings us into the wilderness to set us on fire.  Then He can bring people into their destiny who have learned to worship – truly worship – Him with loyal, fervent hearts.” (p 47)

Tip #5 – Drink water

“Survival experts warn us not to wait till we feel thirsty, but to drink as much as possible.  Likewise, it si critical that those in a spiritual wilderness constantly be filled with God’s Spirit.” (p 51)  Praying in the Spirit is how we can keep ourselves hydrated.  “We pray ini the Spirit when we connect with His presence, partner with His leading, and permit Him to empower our prayers.” (p 53) Note: some may not agree with Kolenda’s brief reference also to praying in tongues, but much is offered in this chapter re prayer.

Tip #6 – Find Nourishment

It will be no surprise to the reader, that the “nourishment” we find, as Christians, is  the Word of God.  Kolenda suggests two ways to live by the Word: feasting on it, and obeying it.  The latter closes out this booklet with a powerful challenge to those in the wilderness, to “…continue to believe (God’s) promises even if they seem contradicted, for the moment.” (p 66).”The reason God took us down the route of hard places is to see if we would still believe His Word while there.  That’s when it counts….Those who are proven to be people of ‘spirit’ may not enjoy everything about the wilderness, but they are willing to embrace it.” (p 69)

The underlying tone of encouragement is maintained throughout this very readable booklet.  We have been provided with all the tools necessary for survival.  Personally, I benefited most from the realization that God has a GOOD PLAN for me, coming out the other side of my wilderness; that my being there is actually PART of His good plan.  To sense a purpose in this period of my life gives me strength to fight through it. “So take courage.  Keep moving forward.  The pain of the wilderness may be great, but greater still is its significance for your life.  The Promised Land awaits you…” (p 7)