Get out of your spiritual rut!
Revitalizing your faith, refocusing your purpose
Every Christian has days when the joy of following Christ seems elusive. Associate Editors Scott Harrup and Kirk Noonan spoke with three pastors about some of the factors that can land believers in spiritual ruts, and steps to regaining the high ground in oneÕs walk of faith.
David Goerzen is senior pastor of Parker Christian Center near Denver. Chris Lewis is senior associate pastor of James River Assembly of God in Ozark, Mo. Alex Bryant is director of student ministries at First Assembly of God in Fort Myers, Fla.
tpe: What is a spiritual rut?
LEWIS: A spiritual rut would be those moments of stagnation in our spiritual walk. We feel like we canÕt break through to God. ItÕs that heavens-are-brass syndrome.
GOERZEN: ThereÕs a section of the Oregon Trail near Guernsey, Wyo. In places, the ruts from wagon wheels from 150 years ago are more than 5 feet deep. I think of that trail as an analogy of our spiritual lives. Sometimes, as we follow those who went before us, we wind up in ruts because we come to a spiritual plateau and, for whatever reason, decide to stay there.
tpe: So a spiritual plateau leads us into ruts. What makes people plateau?
BRYANT: I believe all of us have two reasons to live: to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, first and foremost, and then to help as many people as possible to have that same relationship.
People forget the second part of that. ItÕs easy to do. We get distracted and sidetracked by the things of this world. Sometimes itÕs sin. Sometimes itÕs other things that get out of proportion.
Christians say to themselves, ÒI have my happy family. I have a good life. I go to church each week. I give money to the church.Ó And they forget our passion in life should be to help as many people as possible get that relationship with Christ.
GOERZEN: Some people get into a spiritual rut by being lazy and complacent when it comes to their spiritual life. Others stop growing because the routine of their lives consumes them. Some even fall into a rut because they have a false sense of guilt and shame for not living up to the ideal they have of what it means to be a Christian. Bottom line, when we focus on ourselves rather than on God we fall into a rut. ItÕs like going bowling and focusing on the gutter rather than on the pins.
LEWIS: There can be a physical element to it. ItÕs been said that our physical, spiritual and emotional characteristics are so interconnected that one catches the othersÕ diseases. People can get to running around and working and taking the kids to soccer, and get completely worn out. They wonder why their spiritual life is going nowhere, and itÕs because theyÕve made no margin within their life for that to happen. TheyÕre physically and emotionally exhausted, and it impacts them spiritually.
tpe: Can some ruts be good?
GOERZEN: Sure. Because they show us the way earlier generations have gone. But if we rest solely on the path those who went before us traveled, weÕre eventually going to fall into a destructive rut. Sometimes we have to blaze our own trail so we get back to counting on God rather than just the trail before us.
BRYANT: I believe God created us to be individuals. But sometimes when weÕre younger or less-mature Christians, those ÒrutsÓ or that consistency of others can be really good.
LEWIS: There are certainly routine behaviors that are good. The disciplines of reading your Bible and getting out of bed to begin your day with prayer, for example.
tpe: If IÕm having devotions daily, praying, sharing my faith and serving my church regularly, do I ever have to worry about falling into a rut?
LEWIS: Yes, because those items can too easily become things you check off a list. But God would say to us, ÒHey, I donÕt want it to become some meaningless act, or just going through a motion. I want that to be filled with meaning.Ó
GOERZEN: Sometimes we get so busy checking things off our checklists that even our devotions and Christian service can become routine. When that happens, we fall into a rut because we havenÕt really taken the time to sit at the feet of Jesus, rest in His presence and be refreshed.
tpe: Is it easy to get out of a rut?
GOERZEN: To get out of a rut takes change, strength and perseverance. The person who is living in brokenness and is deep in a rut should start by saying, ÒNo matter how long it takes, God, I am committed to the process.Ó
BRYANT: I believe too many people say, ÒOK, God, IÕm going to try this thing. IÕm going to try to be happy. IÕm going to try to read Your Word. IÕm going to try to think positively.Ó Then after six months, they say, ÒSee, I tried and it didnÕt work.Ó
You canÕt do that. Getting out of a rut and getting back on track is a continual process. GodÕs will is going to be done in your life, but He never said it was going to be easy.
tpe: What are some Scripture verses a person can apply when wanting to get out of a rut?
LEWIS: I was just reading 2 Chronicles 15 where the prophet Azariah gave a promise to King Asa of Judah. He told the king that the more faithfully he followed after God, the more God would be with him. God responds when we continually press in with Him.
If you want a warning against ruts, just read Isaiah 1:10-20. God says, ÒYou know what? Stop your worship, because you donÕt do it with any heart; you do it because it is a routine act. It has no meaning to Me.
ÒHey, wash your hands,Ó God says to His people. ÒCleanse yourselves, come on out, let us reason together. Though your sins are scarlet, theyÕll be white as snow. I want you to enter into this act of worship and let it be more meaningful than just what happens on a Sunday morning. Let it be more meaningful than what you do for 30 minutes at the beginning of your day.Ó
BRYANT: I was just talking to a group of students the other day about NoahÕs faith. Think how long it took him to build the ark — 120 years. After year 50, wouldnÕt it be time to go, ÒOK, God, IÕm tired of this mess. ThereÕs no rain coming.Ó
The whole thing I get from this is you can get out of your rut, but the timeframe isnÕt going to be crystal clear. When you live by faith, itÕs a matter of living in the immediate and also in the not-quite-yet.
tpe: What are some practical things to keep in mind in avoiding ruts?
GOERZEN: First off, remember what it was that made you feel so alive when you first met Christ. I believe that feeling/sensation comes from a life-giving relationship with Him. To get back to that feeling, you must get back to that relationship. Stay spiritually disciplined, but donÕt make that just a practice, make it a daily passion. God wants us to be passionate in our pursuit of Him. He wants us to be hungry, thirsty and desperate for Him.
BRYANT: When we realize what our purpose is, then follow that purpose, our lives are going to be easier. As Christians, we need to realize itÕs not our purpose to be rich or successful. To whatever degree God chooses that for us, let it be. But itÕs not our purpose.
ItÕs not really our purpose in life to be happy. God gives us joy, but weÕre not always going to walk around happy and without worries.
Our purpose is to relate to God through Jesus Christ, and bring others into that relationship. That means we stay close to God ourselves. When we know His heart, when we spend time with Him, we learn to trust Him more. When we get to know Him better, we get to see Him better.
LEWIS: There is a vibrancy that comes to our lives when we reflect on what weÕre thankful for — when we remind ourselves of what God did here and here and here in our lives.
Maintaining a thankful posture toward God keeps us humble and reminds us God is actively and dynamically at work in our lives every day. When you know that, the ruts are a little easier to avoid.
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