Have you ever felt spiritually lethargic? Have you experienced times when praying to Him and reading His Word seems unrewarding? Are there times when coming to church seems like a chore than a blessing? Do you sometimes struggle with joylessness in your Christian walk?
I had a wonderful time expounding and preaching on the book of Song of Songs late last year. I felt the Lord’s strong leading and inspiration while preparing the messages. It was truly a time of great spiritual feasting. However, right after the sermon series, I found myself battling with spiritual lethargy. It is as if the ecstatic experiences had left me drained and my emotion went dead. My devotional time with God became mechanical and ritualistic. I felt emotionally numb and dried up within. Soon waves of discouragement and disappointments hit me and I began to battle with negative emotions.
What a strange turn of events. From a mountaintop experience, I found myself dwelling in the valley overnight. In the valley, I struggled with finding joy to read His Word and to do the Lord’s work.
There were days when I just felt like going back home to sleep, hoping that the next day I would feel better.
Realizing I was in danger of losing a foothold in my discipleship walk, the Lord led me to adopt the following activities to keep me from falling into spiritual apathy and cynicism:
1. Choose to live by my convictions and not my emotions
I consciously choose to live and act by my convictions. I will not allow the lack of good emotions or the presence of negative ones to reign over me. I know that God and His Word remain true and steadfast regardless of how I feel each day. So I choose to raise my hand to worship Him, to read and meditate on His Word, and to serve Him even though my emotions may be found wanting.
2. Take time out from my daily routines
I would take half-day leaves to tear myself out of my daily routines and busyness to take stock of my life. I would journal, read and rest. I spent extended time with God in the airport. I reconsidered my priorities and retuned my spiritual disciplines for my devotion to Christ, Christ’s body and Christ’s mandate (see Discipleship Handbook 2017). I am inspired by Heb 12:13 (ESV) which says: “… make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.”
3. Returning to my first love
In Rev 2:1-7, our Lord Jesus Christ rebuked the church at Ephesus for abandoning the love (for Him) they had at first. The Lord also called upon Ephesus to “return to the works they did at first”.
Doug Sparks in his book “Starting Over” suggests that one way to return to our first love is to engage in spiritual activities which we used to do enthusiastically when we first come to faith in Christ Jesus. For me, it was leading worship. So I returned to my guitar and volunteered to lead worship for the six sessions of Lent Journey 101. My loving colleagues were concerned if I needed relief. The truth is, leading worship in those six weeks actually energized me and I never felt burdened by it!
4. I win prayer warriors for myself
Rather than giving stoic answers and responses, I decided to be honest and shared with my mentees, co-labourers, Small Group brothers and fellow pastors about the tiredness and discouragement I had been experiencing. I thought this would really help to win some prayer warriors for myself. I truly treasure times when they prayed for me. I think I can never walk through this valley without the support of the community of Christ.
5. Keep on keeping on
I kept on keeping on regardless of how I felt. It was hard keeping spiritual disciplines when emotions weren’t there to cheer me on. I failed many times. For example I struggled with keeping to my daily devotional time with God. But I refused to be discouraged and kept trying again and again, being creative in reworking my schedule, etc., to make it work. I was inspired by Paul’s example in 1 Cor 9:26-27: “So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should.” In so doing, I began to regain my spiritual disciplines one by one.
6. Wait patiently
Having followed all the above pointers, I learnt to wait for joy to return. I come to understand that Christian life is about steadfast devotion in the midst of testing and tribulations. It is about loving God even when feelings don’t go your way. It is about being faithful to Him even if things don’t look good on your side. It is all about being like Jesus.
I was reminded of what I shared regarding the dark nights in Song of Songs 3:1-5: “…God sometimes hide Himself from us in order to set our heart ablaze again and purify it for Him. We are comforted however, that God may be hiding, but He never leaves us. He is the faithful lover of our soul.”
Praise be to God for His wondrous ways!
By Rick Toh, Lead Pastor/Elder (YCKC Bulletin 22&23 April 2017)