Five Ways to Get Out of a Spiritual Rut
Let’s be honest, February is the worst month of the year, I’m not sure what they were thinking when they created it. There’s a reason it’s the shortest. If there’s something I’ve relearned since moving back to Minnesota, is that this time of year can add some extra bouts of depression and gloominess. And to add an extra insult, it’s a leap year! As I’m watching the rain outside wash away the snow, it doesn’t really look like a new creation is about to come back to life, it looks brown, dirty and lifeless. However, we all know what’s right around the corner… and for that there’s excitement.
No matter where you are on your road of faith, whether you’ve walked with God for a long time or still aren’t sure where to start, chances are you’ve struggled. Many times. But only if you’re normal. It’s part of the journey. And God not only understands it, but He expects it! Don’t beat yourself up. Keep moving forward, even when and if you’ve been so stagnant in your pursuit of God for a long time. Do you ever want that crazy, emotional excitement in your life and faith that you used to have back, but you just can’t seem to get there? Well, if you feel far from God, guess who moved?
There’s hope though, and it’s normal to experience a Spiritual Funk. As a pastor and even well before that, I’ve been there countless times. Here are five things that I truly believe can help you get back closer to where you long to be or to a place you never thought you’d go… I’ve seen them personally in my own life and have seen them transform the lives of many others.
READ IT AGAIN: The Bible is called the Living Word for a reason. I remember when I was little and I saw the movie “Little Monsters” with Howie Mandel and Fred Savage - probably 50 times! This was no easy feat since we used to have to rewind the VHS tape each time and that could take 10 extra minutes. I was in middle school and I wanted to live in that underground world. A few years ago, my wife and I started pulling out a bunch of old movies from our childhood. “Never-Ending Story”, “Labyrinth”, “The Ewoks Battle for Endor” etc. All are still amazing. However, what I learned while watching “Little Monsters” again, was that nothing made much sense anymore. I found myself getting much more annoyed that he left Doritos all over the floor than wanting to live in the underworld underneath his bed. I also noticed myself trying to figure out who the actual actors were. It was still hard to find Howie Mandel through all of that makeup, and the villain at the end was the neighbor, Ray from “The Burbs.” All this to say, the movie never changed. I did. My perspective and my life had changed.
How many of you grew up hearing the same Bible stories over and over since you were little and in Sunday School? You may very well still be able to recite those to your kids or friends, but when was the last time you read the real story of Jonah? As a kid, he was a dude in a fish, much like Pinocchio to me. But did you realize his struggle with obedience to God and how ultimately and reluctantly He followed through on the Will of God to save the people of Nineveh? The bottom line here is that Scripture reveals itself to us and speaks to us right where we are. So, go read it again.
DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT: I had a former student in California who was a solid leader in our youth program. By the time he had hit his senior year he was struggling to feel motivated to not only come to church, but to find the joy and excitement his faith once had. He was truly walking through the motions. Sound familiar?
We had a good conversation and he told me that he wanted to get close to God again, but it just wasn’t happening. I asked him what he’d been doing… He said “I’ve been trying to read my Bible every night and go to church regularly.” “Ok”, I said, “And how’s that been working?” He went on to tell me obviously not well, because nothing was changing. Sometimes it’s in our persistent discipline where we see that breakthrough, but other times we have to change something!
I told him to try to revamp and change up his entire routine. Sitting and forcing himself to open up his Bible 10 minutes before falling asleep wasn’t working. So I told him to maybe put the Bible down for a little while and just sit still. Maybe, (and ready for this) not go to church for a little while (gasp). I suggested that for a couple of weeks to try and go down to the beach and if Sunday morning had been his time set aside for connecting with God, keep the time and change the situation. You know what happened? He was renewed and refreshed after just sitting and being alone in the presence of God. God doesn’t have boundaries and speaks to each of us in unique ways. So do something different! This is especially important when seeking God for the first time. Maybe you’re someone who gets freaked out by singing worship songs or other traditional things you see Christians do. Start by simply sitting and seeking out God on your own time and comfort level. This leads well into #3…
DON’T COPY OTHERS: God made you uniquely you. One of the most profound things a mentor of mine has said to me is that God will speak to you in the way in which He created you to listen. That looks different for everyone.
Something we can get caught up in doing is looking at other people’s lives and faith and start desiring a faith like that. Man, if only I could be like ____________ or sing like ______________ or had a family like _______________ or look like _________________ or could speak like _____________ or a prayer life like _____________ ... then God could really use me. Then I would feel much closer to God. But that’s them. Not you. That same mentor said another thing to me that I’ll never forget. I was frustrated that every time I tried to sit down and pray, my mind would start wandering to something else within 20-30 seconds. I always felt guilty about that. What was wrong with me that I just couldn’t sit still and pray for one minute? I expressed that to him and he asked me, “Evan, how many times do you pray during the day?” I said, “I try, but hardly any.” The he said, “How many times do you think about God during the day? How often does He cross your mind?” I said, “All the time.”
That’s prayer. That’s me. Who did God create YOU to be and what are the ways He’s speaking to YOU and not someone else? If you spend too much time trying to live out someone else’s faith and relationship with God, you’re going to miss out on how He’s shaping you, and what He’s called you to be.
CREATE SOMETHING: My wife has recently gotten into the adult coloring book craze. And she’s really good at it. The other night, our entire island in the kitchen was full of colored pencils, paint and paint brushes. I’d had a pretty long day, and so for the first time in over 20 years, I picked up a paint brush and just started going for it! For fun, with no agenda. It was a small thing, but as I painted that picture of a goat dressed in human clothes, I felt a crazy rush of creativeness that I haven’t felt since I was a kid. Something happens to us when we allow ourselves to simply create, following in the path of the greatest Artist of all time. God is a creator and we are His masterpiece, Scripture says that. That’s why it feels so good and right to create.
Try this: Every time you step foot into a worship service, whether it’s a new church or the same one you’ve been attending for 30 or more years, ask God to create a new experience for you. It sounds simple, but how often do we do that? We’re creatures of habit and continuously sit in the same seats, park in the same spots, sing the same songs, without ever really asking God what’s new for me today? God has a purpose for each of our lives, that’s true. But the goal shouldn’t be to figure out what my life’s purpose is, but “God, what do you have for me today?” I want to be someone who experiences the supernatural on a daily basis. Imagine that every time you go to church or a Bible study or small group or somewhere routine, God is longing to make that a NEW experience for you!
REMEMBER THE TREASURE: Some of you have been walking the Christian life for so long that sometimes you might have even forgotten why you started doing it on the first place. Why did you fall in love with God to begin with? What was it in your life that sparked your surrender? And if you don’t know God, what was it that turned you away? Is that something that still haunts you? Is there a way to reconcile and try again?
God has placed eternity on our hearts. Every time Jesus was asked about heaven, He always responded with stories, nothing specific. It’s almost as if describing heaven isn’t possible to do with words. At one point He says it’s like a “treasure buried in a field.” Once you find that, He’s saying, you’ll give up everything to have it. It’s THAT good.
Remember that feeling. Remember why. Reach back and pull from that place but don’t stay in that spot. That’s what the power of the Gospel does, it meets us right where we are, but doesn’t leave us there!
I pray that you might have found a nugget of something useful in here. Our God isn’t a cookie cutter God and we can get into trouble and ruts when we try to place our faith and His call on our lives inside of a box. Be inspired, paint a picture, do something different, read it again or for the first time, and most importantly; remember that you are loved and thought about by the creator of the universe 24/7, regardless of how often we may not think about Him.