3 Directions to Help You Navigate the Spiritual Desert
“I’m in a spiritual desert.”
“I feel numb to God and his presence.”
“My spiritual life feels like I’m perpetually driving through Kansas.”
These are things I regularly hear from people (yes, even the Kansas comment, which I particularly appreciate . . . no offense to Kansas) to describe the sense of being distant from God. These statements come from all kinds of people: students and parents, those looking for jobs and those at the top of their sales team, those enduring overwhelming circumstances, and those who feel “fine,” yet wrestle with a subtle malaise in their relationship with God.
The three statements above could be—and probably are—felt by all of us at some point. And they’re always followed with a question: “Where do I go from here?”
We ask that question assuming there’s one, singular direction we can take to alleviate our sense of spiritual numbness. We feel weighed down by the pressure to find the right direction when God feels distant—as if there’s an invisible path that’ll take us to immediate flourishing with Jesus if we can somehow find it.
And if we don’t? We sense the dread of being stuck on the road through Kansas forever.
The good news is that there isn’t one direction or path to pursue when you want to reconnect with God in the spiritual desert. In fact, there are at least three directions you can pursue at the same time when God feels distant.
Two Big Clarifiers…
Let’s clear the air with two vital truths about how directions in the desert work:
1. These directions aren’t formulaic.
They’re not some kind of spiritual algebraic equation for your faith. You can’t plug and chug them into your life and expect immediate results. But while they aren’t formulaic, they are formative. Like a set of new habits, they will shape you over time.
2. These directions aren’t spiritual currency to earn favor with God.
We don’t have an account with him that needs to be balanced. Your status with God isn’t based on your feelings for him at any one moment in time (or season of life), but on the finished work of Jesus.
Three Directions to Pursue in a Spiritual Desert
1. Pursue an honest conversation.
I am continually blown away by how lonely most of us feel. Even (maybe even especially) those of us with full calendars and plenty of incoming texts. The spiritual desert is exponentially exacerbated when we’re isolated from others.
Our need for connection is amplified when we’re spiritually numb. So, head in the direction of one honest conversation with someone you trust—your spouse, friend, or mentor. There’s no pressure for that conversation to change everything (it’s formative, not formulaic), but there is potential to take one step in the direction of connection.
Share how you’re feeling and resist the temptation to achieve resolution and closure at the end of the conversation. The next step may simply be scheduling another honest conversation, and that’s okay.
Know that this honest conversation isn’t a burden to others. We all come to the body of Christ as people who are needy and needed (Romans 12:4-5). Your honest conversation is a powerful way for God to weave you into the fabric of community so that the whole body can be built up in love (Ephesians 4:16).
2. Pursue a new practice.
Sometimes, the spiritual desert can open your eyes to the ways you’ve been on autopilot in your relationship with God. In this way, driving through spiritual Kansas is an invitation to know God in new and deeper ways. Respond to your new awareness by trying new things in your spiritual practices.
Here are two formative ideas:
- Try listening to the Bible on your phone instead of reading it. You’ll be surprised how much you catch with your ears that you’d miss with your eyes. God’s people have regularly engaged with Scripture via listening over the course of redemptive history—if you try this and like it, you’re in good company.
- Take a prayer walk break at some point during the day. It can be on a picturesque trail, but it doesn’t have to be. A prayer walk can happen in your office parking lot or around the house while kids are napping. Talk to God about your day, or pray through a portion of Scripture that reminds you of God’s presence (Psalm 23 is a good place to start).
There are countless ways you can head in the direction of a new spiritual practice in the desert. In fact, this is a great topic to explore when you’re heading in the direction of an honest conversation!
3. Pursue a cultivation mindset.
This direction is less of a tangible thing to do, and more of a perspective to adopt.
Consider ways you can reframe the spiritual desert in the journey of faith.
Sometimes we live with a comfort mindset in the Christian life, presupposing that a comfortable existence with God is both the goal and the indicator of spiritual health.
But what if the goal is less about our comfort and more about God cultivating gospel transformation? What if the desert reveals a deeper thirst that we have for Jesus, leading to greater satisfaction in him? (John 7:37)
There’s a reason Jesus loves to use agricultural metaphors to describe the movement of God’s kingdom. The fruit may not be evident immediately, yet formation is happening nonetheless. Sometimes our experience of spiritual stagnation cultivates the important process of long-term transformation.
We can spend a lot of time looking for a trap door that provides a shortcut out of the spiritual desert. But there is no trap door. And that’s good news, because God is in the business of cultivating a kind of growth that leads us through the desert into places of greater dependence on and delight in him.
When you head in these three directions (imperfectly, over time), you’ll come to find that they are not roads that lead to God. Instead, they’ll open your eyes to the reality that he’s been with you in the desert the whole time.
God’s presence and steadfast love are persistent in all seasons of life. Your Creator is not impatiently waiting for you on the other side of the spiritual desert. He’s with you in it, and he’s leading you through it.
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