If we follow a God of abundance and life, why does he so often allow us to feel empty and dry? How do we fill those dead hours when God seems to be gone?
A.W. Tozer mused in his book The Root of the Righteous, “A German philosopher many years ago said something to the effect that the more a man has in his own heart the less he will require from the outside; excessive need for support from without is proof of the bankruptcy of the inner man.”
He added that he felt a deep concern for many believers who seemed addicted to entertainment and amusements. That they often saw no harm in the hours upon hours where outside sources poured questionable ideology into their lives appalled Tozer. He saw people moving their dependence from God to various forms of media to quench their anxieties and fulfill their longings. Worst of all, he felt the church was bowing to these demands that echoed in ancient Rome, “Entertain us!”
“The average man has no central core of moral assurance,” Tozer mourned, “no spring within his own breast, no inner strength to place him above the need for repeated psychological shots to give him the courage to go on living.
“He has become a parasite on the world, drawing his life from his environment, unable to live a day apart from the stimulation which society affords him.”
If we were suddenly locked away from the world, how would we spend the hours? If we lost access to our televisions, computers and phones, what would we do instead? Even if we had company, what would we discuss, cut off from the most recent news and social media updates?
What Is Eating Away the Hours?
Certainly, people’s growing dependence on media to draw them away from their thoughts and emotions is no accident. We do nothing without some reason behind it, even if we’re not conscious of our own motivation at the time.
If we’re seeking to be amused, we might as well ask what we’re hoping to be distracted from. Aristotle claimed that nature hates a void, and in this case, it would seem to be true. When the abyss opens inside of us — heartache, loneliness, grief, existential dread, even simple boredom — we almost always begin shoveling something into that gaping space.
The easy question is “How often is that ‘something’ we turn to God?”
The harder question is “If the Holy Spirit lives inside me and God is always present, where did the emptiness come from in the first place?”
So often we find our own everyday lives dull, so why on earth would God be interested? As we plug along, we feel an absence of the Holy Spirit’s power and vitality. Maybe we even had a fantastic spiritual experience, saw a friend come to Christ or had a prayer for miraculous healing answered, but then it’s back to the same old day-to-day routines.
God suddenly feels like he’s in the other room or maybe out on a shopping trip or on vacation to a beach somewhere, and we weren’t invited.
David Wilkerson wrote at length about his own experiences with dry spells in his walk with God, commiserating with those who struggle with anxious doubts as a result. “Have you ever sat in church and watched those all around you getting blessed, while you feel nothing? They cry. They pray. They worship with tremendous feelings. But you are not moved upon at all.
“You begin to wonder if there is something wrong with your spiritual life. Christians all around you are telling these great stories about how God is blessing them and answering all their prayers. They seem to live on a mountaintop of happy experiences, while you just plod along, loving Jesus, but not setting the world on fire. Some of your prayers have still not been answered. You don't shout or put on an emotional display. You have no big stories to tell about some fantastic miracle you've witnessed.
“It almost makes you feel like a second-class believer.”
That emptiness demands to be filled, and nothing is more eager to clutter the silence than movies, music, video games, endless online forums, social media pictures and videos, phone calls with friends to catch up on all the latest gossip.
Just like that, the hours are eaten away.
The Danger of Many Distractions
Our days are full; the uncomfortable silences are filled; God’s quietness is covered with cat-ear filters and a steady stream of activities.
What are we left with, though?
“We’re becoming conditioned to distraction, and it’s harming our ability to listen and think carefully, to be still, to pray, and to meditate. Which means it is a spiritual danger, an evil from which we need God’s deliverance (Matthew 6:13),” Jon Bloom wrote on Desiring God.
The more we turn to God-alternatives to sooth ourselves, the harder it becomes to hear his voice. The more distant he seems, the more we tend to resort to other things. The vicious cycle tightens, and we feel emptier and emptier, increasingly less capable of dealing with the strain of sin or even the pressures of daily life.
We discover that we’ve lost that inner strength and spring, as Tozer called it, that God supplied but which we started to believe was our own.
Fortunately, God is highly adept at drawing us back, as Bloom is quick to point out. “Distraction is a frequent reminder of our frailty and limits, that we indeed are not God. And since we are given to such unjustifiable, and frankly ridiculous, levels of pride, this is very good for us. Distraction humbles us and forces us to ask God for the help we so desperately need.
“And it can build our faith. God is not nearly as interested in our efficiency as he is in our faith.”
If there are too many voices and clamor and hours packed with entertainment, we would do well to stop and listen for God’s voice. If all we hear is the silence, we would do better to listen longer and more intently. If we find that waiting makes us feel brittle, shrill or hollow, we would do best to start praying hard.
God gives us the ballast, the strength and endurance that we absolutely need to get through trials, and he often uses the dry spells in our lives’ weather to build this fortitude in us.
Watching for Life on Dry Ground
Reflecting back on his earlier dry periods, David Wilkerson wrote, “The Lord promises that out of our dry places, new life will spring up. He will turn our dry ground into springs of fresh water.
“’When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.
“’I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine, and the box tree together: that they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the Lord hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel created it’ (Isaiah 41:17–20, KJV).
“Dear saint, are you dry? God is telling you, ‘Soon you will see a harvest. Where there once was dry ground, life will spring up at your feet. And I have created it! Stand still, and see what I will do for you on dry ground.’”
We are easily distracted; it’s true. If we catch ourselves, though, and return to patiently listening, God will cultivate a resilient strength in our spirits, one that does not wilt when the dry winds blow.