Psalm 69:1-3, 13-18
Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God. But I pray to you, O LORD, in the time of your favor; in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation…. Rescue me from the mire, do not let me sink; deliver me from those who hate me, from the deep waters. Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up or the pit close its mouth over me. Answer me, O LORD, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me. Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble. Come near and rescue me; redeem me because of my foes. (Psalm 69:1-3, 13-18)
How many of us have not felt with David that despair that comes when hopes and expectations are dashed, when our joy has been sucked dry, when God seems distant or even absent, when time with God alone is a struggle and often abandoned?
Gordon MacDonald writes that, “On the western banks of the Hudson River a few miles north of NYC is an anchorage where dozens of WWII liberty ships are tied side by side. They float lifelessly, silently, in – as they say – mothballs. These are ships that once sailed the wartime oceans filled with fuel, munitions, supplies and troops that would launch the assault on the heart of the Axis Empire. They faced incredible dangers from German U-boats and Luftwaffe. They braved 30 foot waves and dangerous storms on the northern Atlantic. It had been an era of bravery and valor, of action and accomplishment. But now, here on the Hudson, the holds are empty, the decks stripped of their guns and armor. The engines are silent, the crews are scattered, the paint is peeling, the metal is rusting. They are like floating tombs in a graveyard for ships.” (Gordon MacDonald, Restoring Your Spiritual Passion)
Have you ever felt that way? Even the great men of faith have experienced that kind of spiritual depression: David, Elijah, Peter.
This spiritual depression doesn’t just mysteriously happen. There are factors that bring it about:
The prophet Elijah expected that he would be the hero – that he would turn the country around – that his victory on Mt. Carmel would be the turning point that Israel needed to shake them out of their spiritual lethargy and back to serving God.
Then Queen Jezebel sent word, “you will surely die.” It shook him to the core, and Elijah fled into the desert and when he finally drops from exhaustion, he tells God, “I’d rather die.”
Few things live up to our expectations: cars, houses, jobs, kids, marriage (men marry women thinking they won’t change, women marry men, believing they will – and both are disappointed.)
Our faith can suffer from the same dilemma.
We become new Christians, and our enthusiasm for the Lord is sky-high, our energy for serving seems limitless. New life, forgiveness, clear purpose, idealism – Why isn’t everyone as excited as I am? No one is baptized thinking, “I’ll get this out of my system and settle into a life of routine spiritual drudgery. But it happens all too often.
A church can suffer the same way. New minister, new program, a building campaign – excitement and enthusiasm – finally things are looking up, things are going to be different!
But then a let down from the expectations. Hey! This minister is human too. This program takes work. This is just a building – it hasn’t saved the church! Reality rarely equals expectations, and when our expectations come crashing down, it can really do a number on our spiritual vitality.
No Deposits – No Withdrawals
A second factor that brings about spiritual depression:
Have you ever tried to get a couple extra miles out of a car with the gas gauge on empty? There is no more sinking sound than that sputter. It’s been a while since I did it, but I remember coming to a stop sign on the way to taking the kids to school one morning, and the engine started sputtering and coughing and suddenly it died. Cars behind me, impatient for me to get out of the way, the kids saying, “Dad, we’re going to be late for school,” and the nearest gas station was a half a mile away. You have to fill up gas tank or you wind up on side of road.
Right up there is getting a notice from the bank that you have bounced a check – and the check comes back with those three magical letters stamped in red across the face – ISF.
Have you ever felt like your spiritual life had ISF stamped all over it? It may not have happened overnight – but gradually, you found yourself stepping out of activities, out of ministry, out of attendance, out of energy.
You look back five or ten years ago, and you were really involved – a Life Group leader or a Bible class teacher, you never missed church, were always in Bible class, you even came on Wednesday nights. But now you’re doing good to make it just on Sunday mornings to worship two or three times a month. What happened?
There’s a rule about bank accounts – you can’t make withdrawals with making deposits.
Several years ago, when we were newly married, Diana had a savings account in her hometown credit union. I think it had $34 in it, and every month we’d get a statement from the CU showing us the balance. But every month, the balance would drop a dollar because they charged a $1 service fee on savings accounts. So, after about 34 months we started getting statements telling us there were zero dollars in that account. It was a good lesson in economics.
You have to put money in the bank in order to take money out – just because you have a book full of checks doesn’t mean you have money to spend.
Our spiritual lives run on the same principal – you have to make deposits to make withdrawals and when you don’t your faith ends up depleted. When you don’t fill up your gas tank you end up off in the ditch. You have to fill up your spiritual tank pretty often, or you run out of energy.
Our problem is that we over-extend our schedules, we invest ourselves in so many and such time-consuming activities, we run fast and furious during the week, and then even harder over the weekends. And then we come and sit exhausted through worship. We let other priorities crowd our entire spiritual life into one hour on a Sunday morning. And then we wonder why there’s nothing there spiritually.
Passion cools into routine
A third factor that brings about spiritual depression:
Illust. -- Reuel Lemmons – the ox at the treadmill
The day in, day out weekly routine turns into habit, loses its novelty, the excitement turns into tedium.
When we let passion become routine, we become survivors. Habit sucks the life out of our spiritual intensity. We lose our sense of purpose and find ourselves running on a spiritual treadmill.
One of the most difficult and paralyzing contributors to spiritual depression is loneliness. And I don’t at all mean by that “aloneness” because there are times when we need to retreat from the world to pray and meditate with God – Jesus was often found going off by himself to pray – so aloneness can be a good thing.
What is not good is when that aloneness becomes isolation – when we distance ourselves from other believers for extended periods and isolate ourselves from the body of Christ. The Hebrews writer talked about the dangers of exempting ourselves from the life of the church: 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. (Heb 10:25)
See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. (Heb 3:12-14)
The danger is that we aren’t relationally connected to anybody in the body, and so we begin thinking and acting independently – and not in a good way. We think we don’t need the body and the body doesn’t need us – and both of those thoughts are dead wrong.
We are at out greatest danger when Satan gets us separated from the body and has us by ourselves. When we don’t have that encouraging and supporting presence of brothers and sisters in Christ.
A fifth factor leading to spiritual depression is sin. Sin can be subtle – Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Eph. 4:26-27. We don’t think of anger as that big of a deal, but when we let it simmer and fester into resentment, it gives Satan a foothold in our lives and that sin starts working like a spiritual cancer. We may not even realize it is at work, but we begin to compromise, we start to tolerate, we let sin have its little niche and Satan establishes his base.
And we may think, “It’s not that big of a sin! I can keep it under control.” But sin always separates us from God. It always affects our spiritual lives. We never control sin.
Sin brings about spiritual lethargy because it creates a dissonance in our lives – a conflict that must be resolved.
And sin should cause conflict. It should bring a sorrow into our lives that is overwhelming until we seek and accept the only cure.
David wrote: When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”— and you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Ps 32:3-5)
Paul had written to the Corinthians, rebuking them of their sin, and they had been hurt by his indictment: Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (2 Cor. 7:8-11)
When we boldly step into a sinful lifestyle, God’s only remedy is to bring us to our knees - so that he can lift us up from the depths.
There are so many things that suck the life and the joy out of our spiritual lives.
Are you running on empty? Are you struggling with a spiritual life that just doesn’t bring you any joy – that has long since lost its passion? Has it been a while since you really got excited about being a follower of Jesus?
One common current I’ve heard in conversations with people lately is “I’m just not as excited about my faith as I used to be. I just feel like I’m going through the motions.” That may be you. Let me first give you a word of encouragement – you are not alone. I don’t know a single man or woman of God who has not experienced that emotion at one time or another. There are times we all go through the barren wilderness. You may be there now. If you’re not you have been or will be at some point in your life. What you need is perspective. When you are there, it won’t last forever if you don’t let it.
Don’t panic when you find yourself in the wilderness, but don’t settle for staying there. Don’t let Satan claim that kind of victory in your life – keeping you spiritually sedated – walking through the routine – but not claiming any power.
You deserve better – God created you for more. Listen to the words of Isaiah:
Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:27-31)
Over the next two weeks we’re going to explore some ways to restore our spiritual passion. It begins with a simple decision that is voiced in the song: “My heart has no desire to stay where doubts arise and fears dismay; though some may dwell where these abound, my prayer, my aim is higher ground.”