In the Spiritual Ditch?
In the Spiritual Ditch?
Have you ever felt like you were in a spiritual ditch? Perhaps you feel that way right now. Your heart feels cold towards God, His Word, and His kingdom priorities. God seems distant. Your zeal for the Lord has waned. Your affections towards Christ have steadily declined. Your eyes are dry, and your love and concern for others feels strained and forced.
Spiritual dryness can be, in some cases, a complex spiritual condition. Dark episodes from the past may need to be carefully worked through, sometimes with a trained biblical counselor. In the majority of cases, however, getting out of the spiritual ditch is simply a matter of abiding in Christ through the divinely appointed means of grace (Acts 2:42), and walking in Spirit-enabled obedience to the Word of God. Christians in our day are much too quick to shrug their shoulders at the means of grace and the spiritual disciplines. As with other things, we too often want growth and progress with little to no effort. But it doesn’t work like that, does it?
In order to maintain a beautiful garden one must be diligent to tend it. Everyone knows that without regular–– even daily–– nurture plants and flowers begin to wither and unwelcome weeds take root and thrive. Left unattended for weeks and a garden will be completely overtaken. Of course, our lives are not so different. Without regular spiritual nurture the weeds of sin easily take root in our minds and hearts. Pride, lust, greed, selfishness, and worldliness find a welcome home. Once sin gets a foothold, it can put Christians in a nasty tailspin, eventually landing them in a spiritual ditch–– a place of coldness, emptiness, and dryness. Those in the spiritual ditch may pretend to have it all together on the outside, but their personal piety is in the shambles.
So how does one get out of the spiritual ditch? Is there a way out, even for those who have been there for months or years? The answer is yes; but the way of escape does not reside in a personal trainer, a life coach, a fresh challenge, or a new relationship. No, the answer resides in Jesus Christ. In order to get out of the spiritual ditch we must abide in Christ. Apart from abiding in Him we can do nothing (cf Jn 15:1-5)! But what does it mean to abide in Him? Here are a few of the most important ways:
Renounce and Kill Sin
We cannot abide in Christ and simultaneously dwell in the cesspool of sin. A duplicitous life is displeasing to God and keeps us in a state of spiritual desolation. To abide in Christ, walk in the Spirit, and nurture godliness, we must go to war with sin. We must “put to death what is earthly” in us (Col. 3:5). We cannot allow sin to grow and fester in our lives. We must actively “put off the old self with its sinful practices” and “put on the new self” (Col. 3:9-10). This is a non-negotiable for the Christian life. A casual view of sin is deadly to our spiritual lives. For example, we cannot have a vital and growing walk with the Lord and also foster a pornography addiction or pride in possessions or a craving for status. John Owen (d. 1683) once wrote, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you!” Beloved, we cannot do this in our own strength. We must rely upon the power of God’s indwelling Spirit, the strength of Christ, and the wisdom and efficacy of God’s Word (Gal. 5:16-26; Col. 1:29; Ps. 119:105). To get out of the spiritual ditch one cannot have a light and breezy view of sin. The Christian must renounce and kill sin, two important aspects of our sanctification (Eph. 5:15-16). But getting out of the spiritual ditch is not just doing battle with external and internal sin. We must actively abide in Christ.
Abide in Christ through the Means of Grace
A garden must have plenty of water and sunshine if it is going to grow and flourish. It also needs rich soil. Apart from our lives being deeply rooted in the rich soil of God’s Word we cannot grow and flourish spiritually. We cannot abide in Christ if we do not abide in His Word. Without the regular light and nutrients of God’s life-giving, life-transforming Word, we will wilt like unwatered flowers in a dark room. Without the light of God’s Word regularly shining into our hearts we stumble into a spiritual ditch. It is by the “living and abiding Word of God,” that “pure spiritual milk,” that we “grow up” or mature as His redeemed children (I Peter 1:23; 2:2). Again and again the Word of God exposes our sin and drives us to abide in Christ by faith, the One who is “wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (I Cor. 1:30).
Therefore, Christ Church, let us by God’s grace be diligent to hear, read, study, mark, learn, memorize, digest, and obey God’s Word. God promises to nurture our faith through His Word (Rom. 10:17). Let us begin our day by spending a few minutes in the Scriptures. There are several Bible reading plans to choose from online. In addition to personal Bible reading, let us conclude our days by reading God’s Word with our families (or spouse). Family worship is an unknown treasure that needs to be rediscovered in our day. And let us pay heed to the reading and preaching of God’s Word in morning and evening worship on the Lord’s Day (Heb. 10:24-25; John 17:17; Col. 3:16-17). Think of it: God has given us an entire day for spiritual growth, health, encouragement, and fellowship (Ex. 20:8; Rev. 1:10). Let us not waste it on the trivial. Rather, let us joyfully and faithfully receive all the spiritual blessings and benefits that God intends for us on the Christian Sabbath–– the market day of the soul.
Along with the audible Word (i.e. preaching) is the visible Word (i.e. sacraments). Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are God’s visible words of love for His people. Indeed, as the water, bread, and wine are faithfully set forth and received by sincere faith, the sacraments become instruments of divine grace, reminding the church that she is loved and kept by a loyal, merciful, covenant-keeping God in Christ. When we remember the meaning of our baptism and receive the bread and wine at communion, we actively renounce sin and abide in Christ our Savior.
Prayer is also a means of grace, a means of communing with God through the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 4:14-16). Prayer is talking to God–– a humble and reverent pouring out of our praise, gratitude, desires, and requests. There are formal prayers and there are informal prayers. Both are important and necessary. To draw near to God is to pray. If we don’t pray, we are not drawing near to God, and our souls become cold. Prayerlessness is the pathway to godlessness, and to the spiritual ditch.
Dear believer, are you in a spiritual ditch? Do you feel like you are in a spiritual desert? Do not despair. Do not lose hope. By God’s grace, a way out has been provided. Renounce your secret sins and abide in Christ through the Word, sacraments, and prayer. As you draw close to God through His appointed means, not only will the dark clouds begin to lift, but you will also feel a new freedom to show love, kindness, hospitality, and encouragement to those around you.
Train yourself for godliness;
for while bodily training is of some value,
godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise
for the present life and also for the life to come.
- I Timothy 4:7b-8
- Pastor Jon