Surviving the Spiritual Desert

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When I moved to South Dakota the beginning of this summer I could feel the desert creeping in. The desert was disguised in a move to a new location with no friends and no community. I have made the mistake of isolating myself in the past and have never fallen deeper into a pit of despair, so this time I was determined to build a community around me. Every time I join a new bible study I doubt, get nervous and question if I really belong. Satan loves to get up in my business and harass me about my identity in Christ through this. But I could not help but long to be in this study because of the study itself. May I be honest? It was the book we were digging into that intrigued me more than the community.

About a year ago my home church in Denver was going to do this same study, but because of my job I couldn’t do it. Disappointed I promised myself that if it ever came along again I would do it. Here I was in a small South Dakota town and the study was here again. This time it fit.

The study we were doing was Here and Now…There and Then by Beth Moore, a lecture series on Revelation. I have always been intrigued by Revelation. Wide eyed as a child I read about things to come. At the time it seemed more like a fantasy novel to me. Honestly I didn’t understand anything but I was curious. Eagerly I joined the study hoping to learn a few things and at the very least feel connected to God again. Thankfully I received both and a community.
As I dug into the pages of Revelation, I began to feel the passion of studying God’s Word well inside of me again. It was a very small flame, but still there. I dug out my bibles and searched the words longing to find something that seemed to come straight from the Him to me. Upon studying the 7 churches I decided, with the prompting of a homework assignment, to figure out each church’s commendation, warning and promise. (if you want to follow along flip to Rev. 2-3).
Meticulously I went through each church hoping maybe I’d find something. When I came upon the church Sardis it hit me. God nudged my heart and opened my eyes to the place I was in. Revelation 3:1-5 says:

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things say He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: ‘I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things that remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will com upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” (NKJV)

Now before you high tail it out of here because of that passage let me give you insight into what I found. In my journal I wrote the commendation, warning and promise to overcomers. For Sardis it looked like this:

Commendation:

  • some have kept the faith
  • a few have not soiled their garments or are not defiled themselves

Warning:

  • the church is dead–>appears to have a good reputation but really is dead.
  • they need to be watchful and strengthen the things which remain
  • Christ has not found their works perfect
  • If they are not watching Christ will come like a thief in the night and they will no be ready

Promise to Overcomers:

  • Shall be clothed in white garments
  • Shall not blot their name out of the book of life but instead confess their name to the Father.

What really opened my eyes though was a commentary I was reading along side it called “Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible.” He says:
“This church had gained a great reputation; it had a name, and a very honourable one, for a flourishing church, a name for vital lively religion, for purity of doctrine, unity among themselves, uniformity in worship, decency and order. Every thing appeared well, as to what falls under the observation of men. This church was not what it was reputed to be. They had a name to live, but they were dead; there was a form of godlines, but not the power, a name to live but not a principle of life” (13492-13493).

This church looked okay on the outside but was dead on the inside. That’s how I felt. I was and have been going through the motions, serving in the place I was but yet felt dead. Possibly people looked at me and thought that I had it all together and had a vibrant spiritual life. But reality was I felt dried up inside, barely able to remember why I believed what I did. I wonder at times if this church felt it too? The spiritual desert creeping in killing what once was. So what do you do? Christ gives us the best advice in verse 2. “Be watchful, and strengthen the things that remain…” Matthew Henry says this:

“Whenever we are off our watch, we lose ground, and therefore must return to our watchfulness against sin, and Satan, and whatever is destructive to life and power of godliness” (13493).

There it is. That is when my spiritual blinders came of and I sighed with the relief that the cause of my spiritual desert had been exposed. I had been off my watch and because of it the enemy had advanced into sacred territory destroying what was not his. I lost ground, my fortress was weak and suddenly I looked around and said, “wait, where are the guards and why can’t I feel God?”

I stopped my watchfulness against the enemy. I allowed strongholds in my life to return and sinful natures and desires to creep back in. How did that happen you ask? Laziness. Lack of discipline. The prideful attitude that I had it under control. I wasn’t in the Word and wasn’t praying like I had been. I needed to return to my watchfulness. This would purify my heart and motives for doing things. It’s not that I don’t think that we shouldn’t go to church and do ministry when we don’t feel like it, it was that exact thing that allowed me to survive the spiritual desert. Rather He is cautioning against doing things just for the sake of doing things without the change of heart. Despite the fact that I could not “feel His presence” I continued to try to do things I knew would eventually cause me to walk out of the desert.

Upon returning to my watch, things are starting to feel more vibrant again. It’s not perfect yet. I’m fighting for ground that was lost. Warring over land in my heart that was stolen from me during that period of time when I was not on guard. It’s messy and painful but I know what happened. So now I am coming out of the desert and building a fortress. And so I am clinging to His promise in Revelation 3:5:

“He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”

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