In a Spiritual Ditch?
Drawing Close to God through His Means of Grace
Have you ever felt like you were in a spiritual ditch? Perhaps you feel that way right now. Your heart feels cold towards God, His Word, and His kingdom priorities. God seems distant. Your zeal for the Lord has waned. Your affections towards Christ have steadily declined. Your eyes have long been dry, and your love and concern for others feels strained and forced.
Spiritual dryness can be, in some cases, a complex spiritual condition. Dark episodes from the past may need to be carefully worked through with a trained biblical counselor. In the vast majority of cases, however, getting out of the spiritual ditch is simply a matter of abiding in Christ through the divinely appointed means of grace (Acts 2:42), and walking in Spirit-enabled obedience to the Word of God. Christians in our day are much too quick to shrug their shoulders at the means of grace and the spiritual disciplines. As with other things, we too often want growth and progress with little effort. But that’s not how it works.
In order to maintain a beautiful garden, one must diligently tend it. Everyone knows that without regular nurture plants and flowers wither, and unwelcome weeds take root. Of course, our lives are not so different. Without regular spiritual nurture, the dreadful weeds of sin tend to take root in our minds and hearts. Pride, lust, greed, selfishness, and worldliness overtake our souls. Once sin gets a foothold in our lives, it can put us in a nasty tailspin, eventually landing us in a spiritual ditch. Those in the spiritual ditch may pretend to have it all together on the outside, but their relationship with God is in the shambles.
So how does one get out of the spiritual ditch? Is there a way out, even for those who have been there for months or even years? The answer is yes. But the way of escape does not reside in a personal trainer, a life coach, a fresh challenge, or a new relationship. No, the answer resides in the Lord Jesus Christ. In order to get out of the spiritual ditch, we must abide in Christ. Apart from abiding in Him, we can do nothing (cf. John 15:1–5)! But what does it mean to abide in Him? Here are a couple of things to consider.
Renounce and Kill Sin
We cannot abide in Christ and simultaneously dwell in a cesspool of sin. A duplicitous life is displeasing to God and keeps us in the spiritual ditch. To abide in Christ, walk in the Spirit, and nurture godliness, we must go to war with sin. We must “put to death what is earthly” in us (Col. 3:5). We cannot allow sin to grow and fester in our lives. We must intentionally “put off the old self with its sinful practices” and “put on the new self” (Col. 3:9–10). This is a non-negotiable for the Christian life. A casual view of sin is deadly to our spiritual lives. We cannot have a vital and growing walk with the Lord and also maintain a pornography addiction or a pattern of lying. John Owen (d. 1683) once wrote, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you!”
Dear Christian, you cannot do this in your own strength. You must rely upon the power of God’s indwelling Spirit, the strength of Christ, and the wisdom and efficacy of God’s Word (Gal. 5:16–26; Col. 1:29; Ps. 119:105). To get out of the spiritual ditch you cannot have a light and breezy view of sin. The Christian must renounce and kill sin, two important aspects of our sanctification (Eph. 5:15–16). But getting out of the spiritual ditch is not just doing battle with sin; we also must actively abide in Christ.
Abide in Christ through the Means of Grace
A garden must have plenty of water and sunshine if it is going to grow and flourish. It also needs rich soil. Apart from our lives being deeply rooted in the rich soil of God’s Word we cannot grow and flourish spiritually. We cannot abide in Christ if we do not abide in His Word. Without the regular light and nutrients of God’s life-giving, life-transforming Word, we will wilt like unwatered flowers in a dark room. Without the light of God’s Word regularly shining into our hearts we stumble into a spiritual ditch. It is by the “living and abiding Word of God,” that “pure spiritual milk,” that we “grow up” or mature as His redeemed children (1 Pet. 1:23; 2:2). Again and again, the Word of God exposes our sin and drives us to abide in Christ by faith, the One who is “wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30).
Therefore, let us be diligent to hear, read, study, mark, learn, memorize, digest, and obey God’s Word. God promises to nurture our faith through His Word (Rom. 10:17). Let us begin our day by spending a few minutes in the Scriptures. There are several Bible reading plans to choose from online (e.g., click here).
In addition to personal Bible reading, let us conclude our days by reading God’s Word with our families (or spouse). Family worship is a lost treasure that needs to be rediscovered in our day. In addition, let us pay heed to the reading and preaching of God’s Word in morning and evening worship on the Lord’s Day (Heb. 10:24–25; John 17:17; Col. 3:16–17). Think about it: God has given us an entire day for spiritual growth, health, encouragement, and fellowship (Ex. 20:8; Rev. 1:10). Let us not waste it on the trivial. Rather, may we joyfully and faithfully receive all the spiritual blessings and benefits that God intends for us on the Christian Sabbath—the blessed market day of the soul.
Along with the audible Word (preaching) is the visible Word (sacraments). Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are God’s visible words of love for His people. Indeed, as the water, bread, and wine are faithfully set forth and received by sincere faith, the sacraments become instruments of divine grace, reminding the church that she is loved and kept by a loyal, merciful, covenant-keeping God in Christ. When we are faithfully remembering the meaning of our baptism and receiving the bread and wine at communion, we are actively renouncing sin and abiding in Christ our Savior.
Prayer is also a means of grace, a means of communing with God through the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit (Heb. 4:14–16). Prayer is talking to God—a humble and reverent pouring out of our praise, gratitude, desires, and requests. There are formal prayers and there are informal prayers. Both are important and necessary. To draw near to God is to pray. If we don’t pray, we are not drawing near to God, and our souls become cold. Prayerlessness is the pathway to godlessness, and to the spiritual ditch.
Dear believer, are you in a spiritual ditch? Do you feel like you are in a spiritual desert? Do not despair. Do not lose hope. By God’s grace, a way out has been provided. Renounce your secret sins and abide in Christ through the Word, sacraments, and prayer. As you draw close to God through His appointed means of grace, not only will the dark clouds begin to lift, but you will also feel a new freedom to show love, kindness, hospitality, and encouragement to others.
Train yourself for godliness;
for while bodily training is of some value,
godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise
for the present life and also for the life to come.