Friday, April 8, 2011

Dry and Parched Land

I'm not sure if you have passed through a dry and parched land in your own adventure. You are leading a ministry in church and you've invited some people to become officers. You had to persistently ask people to accept the open positions. And finally when a number did, you had to push them to move and sometimes wait tirelessly for them to respond to your texts or emails. There just don't seem to have an oil that keeps the machine running on its own. You had to push and push.

Other times, you try to give your time, resources, energies to them and yet all your efforts seem to be in vain. Have you experienced these things? I haven't heard anyone who dare to talk about this matter openly, and so I dare you to think about this, read the bible about this, and be brave enough to rattle the comfortable status quo.

I got to experience this when I was heading a ministry. I spent resources and time to make the group happy, to make them want to attend the group meetings. I tried to create fun activities. I tried to talk to them individually, asked them how they were, told them I'd be there for them whenever they need me. But it seemed like I wasn't getting through to them. I felt the dryness and I somehow got tired. Dryness is a distressing condition of loneliness and pain which is caused by separation from God.

I only got to learn that there's such a thing as spiritual dryness in Jeremiah recently! One main cause of spiritual dryness is found is Jeremiah 17:5: when we depend on the human flesh. Depending on one's own strength may come in different shapes and sizes. It may be hidden under the achievements of different ministries or under the pile of your wisdom and knowledge. This self-dependence is not easily seen by the naked eye, although many times, it can be seen the in the local church's culture. If the culture tends to uphold people for the skills that they possess to perform certain ministries, then we diminish the value of Christ in the church.

There are two effects of depending on one's own strength: (1) You turn away from the Lord (Jeremiah 17:5); and (2) The whole land is desolate, and no one even cares (Jeremiah 12:11).

Now, why do we experience spiritual dryness when we depend on the flesh? It is because we do not see our need for (or if we do see, we do not completely believe that we need) JESUS CHRIST. This leave us little reason to appreciate the very big news that Jesus Christ died for our sins on the cross. And why don't we appreciate that good news? It is because we do not see ourselves as SINNERS.

Yes, sometimes we forget about our wretchedness, we do not experience the 'down' of being lowly pitiful sinners, and so we fail to experience the 'up' or the high of receiving God's grace and mercy. This entails more than a mere humble view of self. Knowing that we were (and still are) sinners, with only Jesus Christ to make us sinless before God, it entails an utter dependence on God, a desperate need for Him. That's why the first of Jesus' beatitudes is this, "Blessed are those who are poor in spirit and realize their need for Him for the Kingdom of heaven is theirs." God didn't say "They MUST be poor in spirit to be blessed." We are already poor in Spirit to begin with. It is just a matter of realizing it. As Lloyd Jones said, "Ultimately, the only thing which is going to drive a man to Christ and make him rely upon Christ alone, is a true conviction of sin." And it is through this conviction of sin that brings us to repentance, and allows us to turn back to God.

While I was walking to a meeting awhile ago, one quote suddenly popped in my head. I shared it with a group and I would also like to share it with you, "You do not need me, you need Christ." It is wonderful to feel needed, but in reality no one needs us. We can boast of nothing in us that is as important as Christ. Let's point to Him always.


Additional readings:

What are the Symptoms of Spiritual Dryness?

  1. We pursue ministry and not the presence of God. In sincerity we begin by ministering to the needs of others but along the way we forget to minister the gospel in our own lives (Eccl. 10:10). Perceived success in ministry feeds this proclivity to operate outside of God’s power and before long we are too busy to pray, to meditate on the Scriptures or to do good works out of a Spirit-responsive heart. We do these things to perform our weekly act.
  2. We are over-extended in our time, relationships and finances. Dry hearts always seek refreshment. Unrepentant hearts seek it by doing more stuff with people who can advance our goals and costing us money we can’t afford. But we do it in faith that God is opening doors and He will provide.
  3. We focus on the faults of others and we resort to cynicism, sarcasm and criticism. If we can “discern” the weaknesses of others, perhaps our spiritual dryness will not be revealed. And if we can do it in a way that is humorously mocking, we can hide our sin even more stealthily. Those people that we criticize the most are the ones who are radically devoted to a pursuit of God. It makes us feel better if we can marginalize those who could accentuate our dryness.
  4. We resort to creativity or knowledge or charisma to build a ministry. We watch other mega-church pastors online and we think they are ministering from human skills, so we try to emulate them. As I got to know many of these pastors, I discovered that their gifts are secondary to their passion for God. Some are even embarrassed by their rock-star status. Whenever I have lacked spiritual depth, I leaned into my talents and convinced myself that people in the church didn’t recognize my spiritual dryness.
  5. We distract ourselves with other interests—almost compulsively. When our joy and peace and satisfaction is not in God, we have to replace that with hobbies, sports, family, exercise, food, politics, social causes, social media and even ministry.
  6. We entertain sin in our minds and hearts to find relief from the demands and pressures of ministry. We may never sin with our hands—because we are proud of our “holiness”—but we often sin in our minds and in our hearts by lusting after bigger churches or opportunities or relationships. We sin in our hearts before we sin with our hands and giving in to temptation is inevitable over time if we do not repent.
  7. We promote self to impress man. John the Baptist said that he must decrease and Jesus must increase. The opposite seems true today. The Apostle Paul called himself “the very least of all saints”(Eph. 3:8). We justify this by believing that if we get our name out there, it will advance the gospel.

1 comment:

  1. It's nice to be able to talk with you last time regarding some matters and know that someone understands :) i know that efforts are not in vain when done for the Lord, even if people may seem indifferent about it :) one day, all will fall into place in God's time :)