I live in an old bungalow built in the 1930s. Our beloved home has all the charm (high ceilings, wide trim, hardwood floors) and challenges (no storage, tiny kitchen, constant maintenance) of old houses. One of the previous owners of our house planted azalea bushes in the front flower beds, and all these years later, we reap the rewards of very mature azaleas that blaze with pink, red, and white blossoms every spring. Even with regular trimming, the bushes stand much taller than us.
One afternoon this spring, my young son broke off a large blossoming branch from one of the azalea bushes. When he realized what he’d done, he tried to put the branch back on the bush. Dismayed, he tried several times to reattach the severed branch. “It won’t grow separated from the bush,” I told him. “That branch will die.”
In John 15, Jesus calls Himself “the Vine” that believers must remain attached to for growth and nourishment. Like the branch that my four-year-old snapped off the bush, we cannot grow and bear fruit if we are not firmly attached to Christ. He said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (v. 4). He goes on to tell us how to abide in Him: by keeping His commandments. Standing on this side of the gospel story, we can hold the entirety of His commands in our hands. The Bible has what we need to remain attached to Jesus. We can’t grow and flourish in fruitfulness apart from the words of the Lord and the help of the Spirit.
What about Dry Spells?
But what about the days when you just don’t want to open your Bible? Or maybe it’s more than a day—maybe it’s months and months of apathy or disinterest in anything spiritual?
Spiritual dry spells are difficult to understand and even harder to endure. Sometimes we experience them because we haven’t regularly nourished our souls with Scripture, prayer, or fellowship with the Church. When we haven’t fed our faithfulness, our affection for Christ shrivels, and our growth is stunted.
But sometimes we find ourselves slogging through our Bible reading or prayer with no explanation for the lack of affection we feel. We just want to want the Lord, let alone find joy in Scripture meditation. We’d love to have a vibrant prayer life again, but during a dry spell it would be nice just to desire to pray.
However you arrived at your dry spell, you might think the cure is to push your disciplines aside until you feel more inspired to pick them up again. What’s the point of praying when you don’t feel like it, right? Why read the Bible when you’re not absorbing anything? And surely there’s no point in warming the pew on Sundays when you haven’t read your Bible in weeks! Maybe you just need a break.
Severing the Branch Won’t Help
While disengaging from our spiritual disciplines during a spiritual dry spell might feel like the right answer, we are unlikely to rekindle our affections for Christ apart from Christ. Abandoning your Bible, prayer time, and church involvement won’t shorten your dry spell; likely, that course of action will extend it.
The tricky thing about dry spells is that the practices we are resistant to are the ones we need the most. The Word, prayer, and the Church are the means of grace God has given us to hold fast to Him and to grow in maturity (see Heb. 10:19–25). Rather than looking for new ways to abide in Christ, we must cling to the God-ordained means of growth even—and especially—when our hearts feel cold.
A broken azalea branch has no hope of putting out new blossoms or green leaves if it’s severed from the bush. And our hearts will not bear the fruit of godliness and perseverance if we are not firmly attached to Jesus, our true Vine. He is the source of our growth, joy, peace, and steadfastness. When you don’t feel like staying attached to the Vine through the means He’s given us, do it anyway. Severing the branch won’t help you escape your dry spell. Obedience is the way out.
Obey and Pray for Joy
Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Obedience matters when you don’t want to read the Word. Obedience matters when you can’t imagine sitting through a sermon or singing with your church family. Obedience matters when your prayers are clogging up your heart. You might not feel that keeping these practices is doing any good, but the cumulative effect of feeding your faithfulness in a dry spell will produce that joy you’ve been longing for. The Bible is no empty word but rather your very life (see Deut. 32:47). It won’t return void but will work like a scalpel on your hardened affections, working out the Lord’s good purposes in you (see Isa. 55:11, Heb. 4:12). It probably won’t happen overnight, but joy will seep into your dry heart as you feed it with the Bread of Life and saturate it with the Living Water. Turn your face toward Christ when you don’t want to. Resist your resistance. He will renew and refresh your affection for Him.
It feels a little awkward to ask the Lord to help you love Him, but David did! He prayed,
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Ps. 51:12)
When our spirits aren’t willing, we can pray with David, “Lord, uphold me with a willing spirit.” In other words, “sustain me with an obedient heart.” You can ask God to renew your affection and help you obey. God isn’t waiting angrily with His arms folded across His chest while you crawl your way back to Him. He is a Father who loves His children and is pleased to restore your praise and love for Him, even if it takes time.
Dry Spells Are for Perseverance
One of the more troublesome problems with spiritual dry spells is the loneliness that accompanies them. Watching other believers grow and thrive in their relationship with Christ while you waffle with indifference can make you question why you’re facing this particular struggle. The good news is that you aren’t alone in any challenging season of faith, and God can wring good things from that dry, twisted-up feeling of spiritual apathy.
Jesus did link obedience with love for Him, but He also promised that we’d have help in obeying Him. He said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever. . . . You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:15–17). And again, Jesus promised, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit . . . he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit dwells in all who are in Christ, even when we struggle to find joy or affection for Him, even when we don’t want to pick up our dusty Bibles, even when prayer feels like a cumbersome duty. The Spirit is in you, helping you to obey when you don’t feel like it, bringing the words of the Lord to mind and heart. It will feel like work, but it’s good work with long-term benefits.
According to Philippians 1:6, the Lord will finish the work He began in you, and He might use a dry season to teach perseverance. Perhaps you’re looking ahead at a numberless stretch of days and fear that your dry spell will last forever. Don’t fear, sister! The Lord is with you, He loves you, and He will bring about fruit and growth as you remain attached to Him through a desperately dry season. He’ll use the perseverance you learn in a dry spell to prepare you to persevere through future suffering. Don’t resist the Vine when your heart is dry. Hold fast to Him, for He is holding fast to you.
Editor’s note: Did this post resonate with you? If so, check out Glenna’s new book on endurance, Everyday Faithfulness: The Beauty of Ordinary Perseverance in a Demanding World. It may have just the encouragement you need.