By Josh Wester
This will come as no surprise, but sometimes nurturing a spiritual life is hard, even for a leader.
Especially for a leader.
It won’t surprise you because it’s true for all of us—whether you’re a lead pastor, paid church staff, or a ministry volunteer.
As I’ve been walking down this path for over two decades, more than once I’ve found myself in the desert or the wilderness.
Here are a few tips for breaking through those more difficult seasons, whether you’re fighting through apathy or something more serious like doubt or unbelief.
1. Return to the familiar.
Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time can recall rich seasons of spiritual growth in their life. I’ve learned that those seasons almost always have certain features that defined them.
So if you are struggling for inspiration, try going back to what was most meaningful during those seasons.
When I need this, I usually start by returning to the passages of Scripture that were catalysts for growth in more fruitful seasons. For me, that means reading through Romans or Ephesians or Psalms or the Gospels.
Many times, simply flipping over to these familiar passages is enough to rekindle the flames of spiritual fervor within me.
As I look at them, thoughts and memories rush to mind about all that I’ve learned through these inspired words about God’s goodness and faithfulness.
As I’m reminded of His character and His love for me, my heart is warmed and my affections are stirred. If you know where you’d go for this kind of recharge, grab your Bible and do it.
But for some of you, it might not be a Bible verse or a passage at all. It might be listening to a certain artist or album. It might mean returning to a certain location.
I don’t know what kind of hole you might be in, but when I was in North Carolina, I wasn’t above driving a couple hours to the lake or to the beach to stare out at the water and talk to God.
Something about the stillness of the lake or the vastness of the ocean helped me see with spiritual eyes.
If you’re struggling, returning to the patterns of your most fruitful seasons can sometimes be really valuable.
2. Buy a new Bible.
That might sound trite when you read it, but I’m serious.
You’re aware of the psychological effects of receiving or purchasing something new. Sometimes the incentives of enjoying something new, even a Bible, can help you overcome the inertia of taking up the Scriptures. It has worked for me more than once.
But it doesn’t have to be a Bible. Maybe you should purchase a new journal or book to use alongside your Bible reading.
Some of the richest seasons of my life have come from pairing Desiring God by John Piper or Knowing God by J.I. Packer or even John Stott’s commentary on Ephesians with my daily time in the Word.
3. Tell a friend.
This is hardly revelatory. You’re likely a leader in the home and/or in the local church. It can be embarrassing to talk about your struggles with faith.
But guess what? They know.
The people in our lives know we struggle, and the better they know us the more they see that we are finite and frail. Don’t be afraid to open up to the people around you to let them know that your spiritual life isn’t exactly thriving right now.
Besides, you aren’t doing them any favors by hiding the fact that the Christian life isn’t a peaceful ascent up the escalator to heaven.
One of the most painful things for me over the past couple of years has been watching so many I’ve respected wreck their ministries due to moral failure.
One of the worst things about those seasons of dryness is definitely the sins that creep into our lives while our hearts and affections are misaligned.
As I think back on each case where these leaders were overcome by sin, I can’t help but wonder how no one around them spotted it or was able to help them before they blew up their lives and ministries.
Telling a friend or friends about your struggles can help ensure accountability—and usually renewal. Keeping your struggles all to yourself is a great way to end up unemployed—at least in ministry.
The best times of spiritual growth happened in the midst of a community of friends as we gathered together to read through the Scriptures or to discuss the passages from our reading plan or simply for accountability.
No Christian—leader or not—is meant to walk alone, and living in community requires you to be known.
4. Get on your face.
The truth is, if you are trusting in Jesus the Spirit lives inside you. As you wander, which we know we’re prone to do, the Spirit is within you, calling you back to Jesus.
Hebrews warns us five times not to resist the Spirit’s invitation. Get on your face and cry out to God.
There’s something about a humble posture that reflects a humble heart. It isn’t magic. But if you’re desperate for the Spirit to fill your heart and breath new life into you, calling out to God in a posture of humility is a powerful way to show it.
So if you find yourself in the desert or roaming in the wilderness, don’t wait. Get on your face.
Whatever it takes
We can take a cue from our Presbyterian brothers and sisters by practicing what they call “availing ourselves of grace.”
Think of God’s grace like a train: you don’t have to know how to control a train in order to get hit by one. And that’s the whole point. When we find ourselves far from God, remember that God never moved.
You know exactly where He is and how to find him (James 4:8). So do whatever it takes.
A colleague of mine once talked about reducing drag in order to ensure he nails his morning routine by doing things the night before—like setting out his clothes, putting his Bible in the right spot, and preparing the coffee to brew.
Spiritual preparation is a lot like that. There are multiple reasons every day to skip reading your Bibles or time with the Lord to compensate for everything you have on your ministry plate.
But we must deal with the sin that settles in our hearts. Our holiness depends on it, and those we lead depend on our holiness.
We know this is worth doing because Jesus is the only place that true life is found. Do whatever it takes to get to Him.
Joshua is director of ministries at Redemption City Church in Franklin, Tennessee, and serves as the chair of research in Christian ethics for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.