Having pastored my church for over 20 yrs a common complaint is the feeling of spiritual dryness. It is something I see over and over again in the lives of many people in my church.
No doubt it’s a problem experienced by many, not only in my church, but in so many churches around the world. Is it any wonder there is a plethora of books on the subject. Many of these books have, might I say “alternative’ approaches – more spiritual music, mediation, mountain retreats, special prayers, more fasting, more holier than thouh buildings, quietness. Others go down the charismatic route. Some sadly abandon the evangelical faith altogether finding that it really had nothing to offer to address the spiritual dryness people feel.
But I wonder if the solution is a lot more simpler than that. I’m not saying it is easy. However I just wonder whether we’re making this more difficult than it really is.
I was reading Colossians 1: 3-8 and here Paul gives us a good clue to dealing with spiritual dryness. He begins by thanking God for their faith in the Lord jesus and their love for all the saints. So far so good. Faith and Love – two key characteristics of the Christian person. What struck me however was what follows.
“3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints– 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel” Colossians 1:3-5, NIV.
The thing that really hit me was that this faith and love comes from something else. It comes from the hope which we have. In other words the thing which gives life to faith in Jesus and love for all the saints is the hope we have stored up in heaven. Paul reminds us that the root of the Christian life, the fuel that gives birth to faith and love is the hope we have. This hope, Paul tells us, is in heaven and we can hear about in the gospel.
Here I think Paul highlights something that so many of us have forgotten or not understood. The gospel we preach is the gospel about hope. But too often Christianity has been reduced down, not to a message of hope, but a message of what we need to keep doing. Christianity becomes, not so much about God’s love for us in the Cross, but of our love for God. And because of this our focus turns on living the Christian life, on ministry, on holiness, on obeying his word, on bible reading, prayer, mission, loving each other, resisting sin, fighting the devil, being faithful etc. All this is good and right and proper. But with this focus on what we need to do we have forgotten in a very very major way the hope from which all this must flow. We need to remember that the gospel means ‘good news’. It is not good advice.
Therefore it stands to reason that it is only as we know the hope we have and grow in this hope that it will both ignite and strengthen our faith in the Lord Jesus and our love for each other. In other words it is not simply about telling people to have more and more faith and to love each other more. No doubt we do need to do this. But we need to do this within the context of a firm and deep grasp of the hope we have in the gospel. Failing to do this Christianity becomes nothing more than legalism at worse and moralism.
It is amazing how much this hope lies in the centre of so much of the bible extortions.
“3 We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 1:3, NIV.
“13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14, NIV.
“11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” Titus 2:11-14, NIV.
“23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:23-25, NIV.
“3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” 1 Peter 1:3, NIV.
“15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” 1 Peter 3:15, NIV.
“13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” 2 Peter 3:13, 14, NIV.
“2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” 1 John 3:2, 3, NIV.
I could go on and on but when you scan through these passages and so many other passages in the bible you begin to see that the hope we have in the gospel strengthens us to live holy and pure lives. it strengthens our faith in the Lord Jesus. This hope motivates us to greater service for him. But this service not driven by guilt but flows from a deep joy because of the hope we have in Christ. You see a similar scenario in the four gospel. He we discover that this hope will cause people to give up all they have because of the far greater treasure they have in heaven. (See Matt 13:44-46)
Unfortunately, while many people know this, at the same time they don’t. I was talking to a guy I’m discipling. We went through this passage and as we read it he turned to me and said straight to me “He doesn’t know what this hope is!” I’m not saying he is not a Christian. I’m saying that he does not understand all that God has done for him in the Cross of Christ. But even here I wonder if we’ve short changed the glory of the Cross. We talk about the death of Christ bringing forgiveness however the cross brings so much more. We need to also understand that forgiveness and reconciliation is the open door to all the spiritual blessings of God to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ephesians 1)
Is it any wonder that, after having spelt out the great hope that God has given us in the gospel (Ephesians 1:1-14) that Paul wraps the section with a prayer that we might understand more and more of this Hope which God has called us to.
“18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,” Ephesians 1:18, NIV.
Spiritual dryness is a real problem ,but like I said, I wonder if we’ve made the problem more complicated that what it should be. It seems to me that the key lies in preaching the gospel again. But the gospel we preach is the gospel of HOPE from beginning to end.
However a word of caution. I’ve observed that most believers understand that we have a hope. What they don’t understand is what this hope is. To preach the gospel of hope is to take people on a journey, a guided tour of the landscape of this hope which God has placed before us. And when we do this, by God’s grace, we pray that what will spring up will be a renewed faith in the Lord Jesus and a deeper, more Christ like love for each other.