Dry spells, spiritual funk, apathy, dark nights of the soul, all of us will go through periods of feeling distant from God, even wondering if he is there at all, or worse, wondering if we even care. My advice when going through a desert season is first to remember that God does not change even when you do. He is not afraid of your doubts or your indifference. He loves you because of what Jesus has done for you; never did he love you because of your spiritual sharpness. Still, these dry times, while they do not change God, they do affect us, and even more they tend to take us off course from the direction of our lives. Often, the greatest casualty of these heartless times is the people we don’t reach, love or serve. Perhaps the defining commonality of these times we have is self-centeredness. When we lose God we lose the will to love, the strength for true sacrifice. People will worry about you in these times, but maybe for the wrong reasons. The real tragedy is that your life no longer points toward Jesus.
One of my favorite movies is Good Will Hunting, and one of my favorite scenes in that movie is when Will’s best friend Chucky is challenging him not to waste his life and his genius by underachieving in the old neighborhood. Will says something like “I know, I know, I owe it to myself…” And Chucky replies (something like), “Forget you, you don’t owe it to yourself, you owe it to me; because I would do anything to have what you got. It would be an insult to us if you’re still here in 20 years.”
It is not so much that you owe it to yourself to get your heart right again; it is that you owe it to the rest of us, particularly the people who have never heard that Jesus loves them. People that are alone in their own mental universe and unlike us, impossibly lost without God. We owe it to them to do what we can to awaken our souls and our hearts to remember the truth about God’s lavish grace and calling on our lives.
Some years ago, I wrote this list of 9 things you can do to change your heart. If you find yourself in a dark, dry or apathetic state, but wish you weren’t; give these 9 things a try.
(In no particular order)
Find a rhythm. Spiritual life is like dancing with a partner, it requires rhythm. Without it, it can be ugly but with it the dance can be both fun and beautiful. The rhythm that the Bible offers is 6 to 1. That is, we work for six days and then stop to contemplate the work of God. To rest from our labor does not mean sleeping (although that may be a part of it) it means taking time to stop what we are doing so we can appreciate what he is doing. Try praying every 6 hours. Many monastic movements like the Trappists would pray through 4 prayer watches (every 6 hours), you could do the same thing, set a clock to go pray every 6 hours and let your heart return to God.
Take a prayer retreat. Spiritual retreats have been a part of Christian tradition for almost 2000 years. Jesus himself made a retreat into the desert (lead by the Holy Spirit in fact). Try to take a two-day period to get away for prayer and solitude. This is not a vacation but it should be time set aside for hearing God and being restored by him.
Keep a 30-day journal. Take a month and look for God each day, for the ways he is teaching you and setting you up and for the ways that the kingdom is unfolding before you. Then, jot down what you see each day. Even if you do not like to write you will find that reflection and the simple discipline of remembering will help you see how deeply God is involved in your life.
Look for God in something new. At work or at play, in all the places we do not listen for him; begin a conscious effort to try and see your everyday world a little differently and to hear his voice in those circumstances. Let the boundaries of your compartmentalized life begin to blur—just let it happen. Surprise yourself. Invite a colleague who you barely know over for dinner. Take one of your kids to work with you. Pray for fresh insight into your life, God’s view of what you find ordinary. Stand on your desk, take a ride in the back seat of your car, watch the sunset from your rooftop, if you wear briefs, wear boxers one day; vary your routine in hopes of awakening your soul and improving your hearing.
Share your faith. Strike up a spiritual conversation with a family member, co-worker or neighbor. Try the direct approach. “What do you think about God?” And see if your own faith is not awakened as you talk.
Fast. Take a break from something good, something that you have a right to and that you really like. It does not have to be food. Be creative. The point is not to deprive yourself for depravity’s sake but it is to say no to something good to remind your soul that you want something better. Food is good but God is better. I would suggest fasting from something for a month, something you will notice when it is gone (maybe coffee, or TV or sarcasm, etc.)
Love a stranger. Just meet someone and share yourself with them. Try to give them the better gifts of time, relationship and Jesus.
Read one book of the Bible. After you have read it, try to find one thing to put into practice, and then not only do it but also try to convince everyone you know to do it with you.
Affirm someone. Take some time to really make a list of some of the best qualities of a friend or family member and then just blow them away with your sincere and clear appraisal of them at their best.