From spiritual boredom to spiritual hunger, through times of intimacy and times of silence, my Christian life has changed quite a bit in the past 20 or so years. And recently, I was in a real spiritual battle for its very foundation.
“If this is all there is to the Christian life, I can’t imagine several more decades just on repeat of this.”
It was sometime in the early 2000s. My life, by all appearances, was in a sweet, sweet spot. Yet, as I stepped into the shower one morning, my own thoughts betrayed me. They exposed me to myself in a way I had never expected.
After all, what could possibly be wrong with my Christian life? What could I possibly have to complain about if it continued as-is for several more decades?
It was boring, that was what. It was so small that I could see all the way to the edges of it.
Looking back now, I can see that that event was like one of those first small rumbles that sometimes come before an earthquake. It was the work of the Holy Spirit, preparing me to discover that there is more, much more, to the Christian life—and to experience it.
A New Development
Shortly after my unsolicited shower confession of spiritual boredom, I became very intentional about daily Bible reading. At least two things happened: I fell in love with Scripture, and the Spirit of God began speaking to me in my spirit through Scripture and at other times. When I asked God questions, he went out of his way to answer.
Like the time I told him I didn’t understand at all how it could be true that the persecuted were blessed (Matthew 5:10), and he sent me on a trip to meet Christians in a country so hostile to Christianity that Christians were routinely imprisoned and tortured. There I saw with my own eyes how blessed the persecuted really are.
And the time I told him I didn’t understand what the Scripture meant when it said the heavens and skies pour forth speech day after day (Psalm 19:1-2), and he answered by having me turn on the car radio just in time to hear an NPR report about scientists discovering such sound waves. (I can’t find an audio recording of the original report I heard, but here’s a more recent National Geographic article that refers to the discovery in 2007.)
There was another time when I recorded some question in my journal about something I’d read in Scripture, only to have a nature magazine arrive at my house shortly thereafter containing an article—obviously produced weeks before I had even asked my question—that specifically answered my query.
I got in the habit of asking God questions, and of God answering me. We were tight, God and I.
Far from boring, it was exciting.
A Different Season
Later, my spiritual life entered a different season. It contained less sweet spot, and more tough spot. This part of my Christian life wasn’t boring either. It was more like survival.
I continued to pour out my heart and my questions to God, but his responses now weren’t delivered via the radio or in a magazine, or even on a trip to the other side of the world. His messages were often more complex—arriving in parts requiring synthesis. Sometimes his responses were much delayed, and sometimes he seemed not to answer at all—not at all what I had grown accustomed to.
I think of Job, with all of his questions, first getting no response, and then, when God did respond, getting direct answers to none of his questions. I think of John the Baptist, posing the only question that mattered to him (Matthew 11:3; Luke 7:20), and receiving the unusual response Christ gave him (Matthew 11:4-6; Luke 7:21-23). I think of Joseph waiting in a jail for years, then thinking he saw his way out, then waiting in jail even longer.
From these accounts, I understand that I’m not ignored when God is silent. I know I’ve been heard by God even when I’ve framed my petition to him in a certain way, and he seems to look right past it and direct me to something else. And although it’s hard to accept when God isn’t forthcoming the way I would like him to be, I know I’m not unseen or alone or forgotten when I wait to hear from him or to see him act.
And so I determined to trust God anyway. I knew he was there. I knew he was hearing me. Even when he was choosing not to answer or to explain himself—or whatever he was doing—he must have good reason.
A Hungry Place
Our relationship is in a new place these days—God’s and mine. I don’t even know yet what to name this new place. I hope that in a few years, I’ll be able to look back and call it the precipice of a spiritual breakthrough. But that’s not really something one can know until after it’s happened.
But in this place, whatever it is, I am hungry for God. I’m sure he’s working in my life, because Philippians 1:6 promises that, and also because I’ve seen evidence of his handiwork. But he has been uncharacteristically quiet. Not totally quiet. Just very quiet about some things in particular.
His silence has made me hungry to hear his voice. He has made me hungry to see him in an indigo bunting, in a rose. He has made me hungry to see the working of his power and to read testimonies of miracles. He has made me hungry to see my life bear the fruit that a Christian life in the vine should produce (John 15:1-8).
He has made me hungry for my words to reach the people for whom he intended them, and for their faith—and therefore the kingdom—to be strengthened. He has made me hungry to love him better, and to know his love in a new way.
I am trying to discipline myself to think and pray in such a way that God’s expressed will for all of humanity (1 Timothy 2:3-4)—instead of just my own will for my one life—fills the frame of my perspective: “God our Savior wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.”
And I have begun to ask new kinds of questions lately, questions that would not have occurred to me before—questions like What do I need to do to position myself to be used by God to do what Jesus prescribed that anyone who believes in him would do (John 14:12)?
I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me
will do the same works I have done, and even greater works,
because I am going to be with the Father.
John 14:12 (NLT)
I think it would have been easy for me to misinterpret some of what’s gone on in these more recent seasons. These seasons when the things I ask him for—which would be so simple for him to grant—don’t come at all, or come only partially, or come at a glacial pace.
When God is silent on questions on which I think I desperately need to hear him speak.
Sometimes I have been tempted to look at my life and hear his silence and think the love of God was separated from what he was allowing in my life. That what I was experiencing wasn’t God’s love. That God’s love was apart from, outside of, my situation. That God wasn’t for me, and he wasn’t even against me—he just wasn’t engaged. Of course, the crux of the matter was seldom crystallized in my thoughts in such stark terms as that at the time, but that’s what it boiled down to. And that was a lie.
At last I can see the lie for what it was, and I have overcome it by believing the truth. The truth is that God’s intentions toward me are always love.
That is a short summation of a spiritual battle that took place over a period of years. If you’re in a similar battle, you already know that it’s not quite as cut and dried as these few sentences make it sound. It was hard, and it was spiritually perilous. In fact, I can now see that it was a very specific and cleverly cloaked spiritual attack to try to get me to align with the Enemy’s lie that God’s dealings with me have not been loving.
But the decision is made now. I have determined not to paint God with any brush other than love. The truth is that I am in God’s love. I was saved by God’s love when I accepted Christ’s laying down of his life for mine. And nothing ever has separated me from it or ever can separate me from it (Romans 8:38-39).
Although the decision is made, I still have to specifically remind myself at times, God’s intentions toward me are loving. When certain parts of my life don’t look to me like God is love, I tell myself I must believe the Scripture that says he is love (1 John 4:8), and that I must walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).
God is love.
1 John 4:8
Part of a Bigger Story
I also need to consider my life in its larger context. I need to trust not just that all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28), but that that means God is using those “all things” to make me more like Christ. That is God’s intention toward me (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18). It is God’s intention toward me when he allows tough things that don’t go away. It is his intention toward me when he is silent for a long time. It is a loving intention from a God who has already proven his love (1 John 4:10). His love for me is a fact already in evidence.
That isn’t the whole of it, though. There is an even larger context.
We humans are living inside a big, big story. Sometimes I like to ponder how many stories are nested inside other stories: an undercover rescue (Christ coming to earth as a baby to save mankind) inside a love story (God creating humankind to love us) that sparked a war (Lucifer and his minions versus God and his children), filled with high-stakes attacks and battles (just look at your own life for exhibit A). And the story could be even larger. After all, there are so many clues to that effect sprinkled within the Bible—mysteries like the Nephilim, and Melchizedek’s parentage, and Ezekiel’s vision of the winged creatures—so many breadcrumb trails that point to other races and other places—both in the past and outside of time.
I may not know the outlines of the largest story in which God has placed humanity, but I have come to realize that it is only when I attempt to grasp my existence in relation to God’s eternal story—not my temporal one—that I will not be tempted to ungrateful misunderstanding of God’s intentions toward me (Matthew 10:29-31; Romans 8:28-29; Romans 8:38-39; Ephesians 1:4-5; John 3:16; John 14:2-3).
I’m Not Bored
I’m a difference person now than I was a couple of decades ago when I privately bemoaned the then-static nature of my Christian experience. This Christian life isn’t a static thing. It’s not like a recipe that you follow every day and it turns out the same way every time unless you mess up. It’s a relationship with a living God who is dedicated to making all of his children more like his firstborn, Christ.
There are seasons. There is growth. There is the work of the Holy Spirit. There is always more to the Christian life.
And there is no room for boredom.