This is a nutshell statement of things that are scattered in various places on this website. Bringing them together in one place is prompted by a blog post by the Internet Monk on September 1, 2007. After almost five years of exposure to contemporary evangelicalism, many FAM's (former Assembly members) may agree with Michael Spencer's lament, that it is difficult to find the path of spiritual rootedness and fruitfulness. Here are some things that I have found most helpful. Don't give up if you can't do the first one. You can probably find a way to do the fourth, or maybe even the second.
***This News Flash Just In*** October 2008 Jeff VanVonderen's new book just came out, Soul Repair: Rebuilding Your Spiritual Life with Dale and Juanita Ryan. Forget reading this article, just get the book! As I read it I could identify the elements I mention in this article, but they are contextualized for people like us who have been in sick and twisted Christian systems. This book presents them in terms of steps that build on one another. It makes so much sense of what our spiritual problems really are, and how to begin to get past them. Okay, I need to quit babbling. Just go get the book and don't bother with this article.
Finding my way out of a patch of spiritual dryness or disorientation, as well as preventing one from overtaking me in the first place, always seems to involve the same ingredients.
First and foremost is keeping in mind forensic/penal view of justification. Daily believing the gospel, that Christ completely paid for my sins and brought me onto the ground of a loving relationship with God, gives me peace, allows me to find the joy in all the other "great and precious promises", and gives meaning to the everyday. (Contrary to popular opinion, this view doesn't in my experience foster worldly complacency - grace is a poignant prod to growth.)
Second is reading the Bible frequently, to keep in mind God's perspective on things. After more than 50 years on the Christian pilgrimage, I have to devise strategies to keep scripture actually feeding faith, not just sliding across my eyeballs. C. S. Lewis advises reading sometimes in a modern paraphrase. He enjoyed the J. B. Philips translation. We have newer ones such as The Living Bible and The Message. The Amplified Bible is great, too.
I also use reference tools like the ESV Study Bible, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, W. E. Vine and other references to try to dig further. Here is a webpage with some examples of how it works for me. Listening to the Bible on my iPod is great, too. The point is not quantity, but nourishment--taking hold of the revealed facts by faith so that growth in grace happens (be it ever so sloooowly).
Third is frequent communion, because it renews and refreshes the joy and peace of the gospel. It always brings me back to the beating heart of faith. But it's tricky. It's difficult to find, and if you do, it can become commonplace. The import of the Lord's table is that Jesus told us to do it because it nourishes faith. The more I've learned to understand it, the more meaningful it has become to me. I've found that the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer (the 1928 version is the one I'm familiar with) helps to unfold the many layers of meaning. Reading some of it before communion deepens the experience. The answers to the questions on communion in the various protestant catechisms (Heidelberg, Westminster, Lutheran) are also helpful. A recent discovery, N. T. Wright's little book, The Meal Jesus Gave Us, is fantastic.
Fourth is taking an hour or more once in awhile to be alone with God to take stock and take time in prayer. I have my Bible, my journal and a pen, my prayer lists, a hymnbook, maybe my iPod. I review what I've been seeing in scripture, and assess my life for areas that need to be brought more in line. I review answers to prayer--that is an amazing help to faith! I pray for all the requests on my lists that I don't frequently get to--that relieves my conscience immensely! I spend some time just talking with God. I always come away with renewed faith and some idea of how my life can contribute to the kingdom of God, at least to some extent.
Fifth is fellowship with at least one other believer, where we know and trust each other enough to be honest, where we can confess our failings, ask for prayer, and, best case scenario, actually pray together. This may not be too hard to find out there these days in evangelicalism. If you move in Reformed circles, you have to work at it.
Another aspect of fellowship has been getting input from many Christians past and present who have forged ahead of me on this journey. This includes the internet, such as the Internet Monk blog, as well as books, which keep the perspective before me that it's not just me and my struggles; there is a huge company of pilgrims of every stripe on this journey and their witness encourages my faith. If the spiritual dryness is deep, one-on-one is necessary with another believer I deeply respect.
Sixth is dealing realistically with depression. This should probably be first, actually, because depression is often a component of spiritual dryness. Depression is difficult to admit--Christians are supposed to have the joy of the Lord--but there is a physical component that is helped, for me, at times, with medication, proper rest, etc. When it lifts, voilá, suddenly faith is easier and dissatisfaction with one's church isn't quite so biting.
None of these things require chasing after something that is "out there somewhere". I've been there, done that. Tried different churches, done the "rededicate your life" altar call (many times), gone to conferences and retreats, jumped on this or that bandwagon. As Ewokgirl comments on Michael's blog, it's like "trying to play at Extreme Faith instead of simply being faithful."
The bottom line for me, is that spiritual renewal is more about faith than anything else. Being reminded, or finding out, what God has said and believing it. Music helps in that regard, if the spiritual dryness isn't too deep; it's great on an everyday basis. But the all-out "dark night of the soul" requires intensive treatment with the Gospel, the Bible, communion, fellowship with a few trusted individuals, reading about others' experience, at least one private spiritual "retreat", and probably the good old depression Rx again.
Comments from Readers
September 3, 2007, Dave Sable: "I appreciated you notes on 'Helps to Spiritual Renewal', especially since I have the day off and wanted to spend some time in prayer and reflection.
Having been involved in a recovery ministry for the past year, I had learned something about the devotional side of things. Alcoholics who are serious about getting better often go to AA meetings every day. My friend Jeff says, "There is something about thinking about recovery every single day that is very helpful". Relapsed alcoholics need to go to meetings every day for at least ninety days.
Though my issue was never alcoholism, I often find myself with the same need. I can have my mind settled on who God is and His gift of grace in my life. A few short hours later, the Dysfunctions Committee in my head has taken over and I am back to my old thought patterns and actions. Devotions (whether meditating on lofty themes of Scripture or one line in the serenity prayer) is centering myself upon God again. It is taking the time to slowly but surely appreciate, "Be still and know that I am God".
Devotions is not learning something new or "God giving me my marching orders for the day". Rather it is, as Eugene Peterson calls it, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. It is pulling my being back to where it should be before God, again and again and again.
Be refreshed with the Gospel here and
Michael Spencer has two posts on how to read the Bible:
A Conversation in God's Kitchen »»
Magic Books, Grocery Lists, and Silent Messiahs: How rightly approaching the Bible shapes the entire Christian life »»