James 1:2–8, 1 Peter 1:3–9 (read online ⧉)
“No pain; no gain.” It’s highly likely that you heard this phrase at some point in your life. Often the phrase was/is used in weight-lifting/-training. The understanding is that the resistance (lifting the weight for repetition) will hurt (especially the next day). The result is muscles that are better capable the next time to repeat the effort. When a muscle is “gained” this way, it is torn. We don’t think of improving our clothing by tearing it (yes, there is a fashion “sense” that does this, but it isn’t an improvement, per se).
Sometimes it isn’t physical pain that grows us. Mental pain improves us (think schooling). Emotional pain makes us resilient. Pain still isn’t any fun.
Spiritually, often the greatest growth is due to the greatest pain. Some have called it a time of being in a spiritual desert. Some have called it the long night of the soul. Some have called it being empty. Contrary to our usual emotional and intellectual response, this is when we need to lean most heavily upon God. This is also often when we don’t. We avoid God. We avoid talking to God. We avoid reading of God. We avoid all things about God. Then we wonder where God went, failing (or choosing not) to recognize that it is not God who left us, but we who left God.
On the other hand, if we instead develop practices that continue in prayer, reading, and worship, our foundation becomes firm. Often it is obedience to those practices during the dry time that produces the deepest growth as we exit the desert. The obedience learned in the desert prepare each of our steps so that we can see the Father’s love in the steps we take, follow Jesus’ path, and live by the Holy Spirit.
1) When was the last spiritual desert you experienced? What was the result? How did you make it through?
2) People often view spiritual things and practices as if they ought to be different than everything else. Why do you think that is?
3) “Going through the motions” often seems false, yet that is often when we are most deeply trained. Why is that? What spiritual practices are so ingrained that you cannot imagine not doing them?