A spiritual low is a time when a person feels distant from Jesus and might doubt that God is good. Virtually all Christians experience spiritual lows. Fritz Chery wrote, “I’ve noticed that in my own prayer life God allows Himself to be found by me. We are the ones who don’t seek Him with all our hearts. Often there is something that is holding us back from seeking the Lord.” But beauty can and often does emerge from these dry times if we take them to the Lord in prayer.
How Can We Be So Sure?
Scripture represents spiritual lows as either corporate or personal, sometimes both. The Israelites whined in the desert when they were hungry and doubted the goodness of God. Abraham pretended Sara was his sister, not his wife because he was afraid and did not trust God fully.
In Psalm 27, David begged the Lord “hide not your face from me; turn not your servant away in anger.” This Psalm alternates between courage and fear; uncertainty and confidence in The Almighty.
The implication of David’s prayer is that there had been times where he wondered if God had forsaken him, and his honesty is our reassurance today that we can also be honest and cry out to God. “When not in crisis, it is easy to trust in the Lord, but in the midst of hard times, those promises can seem far away, or even impossible.”
But God acted, and Scripture shows us this. He fed the people of Israel with manna and led them to the land he promised them. The Lord made Abraham a great nation through his descendants.
Almighty God cut off David’s enemies and made his name great. If we were unsure how God would treat his people when they felt he was distant from them, the Bible demonstrates that he can and does answer their doubts in beautiful ways.
The Beautiful Sadness of Scripture
God’s response to those spiritual lows is often tender and lovely. “When the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground.” (Exodus 16:14).
Instead of throwing loaves out of the sky, The Lord created a visibly glorious spectacle, announcing Israel’s rescue from starvation and his magnificence at the same time.
In answer to Abraham’s plea that God give him offspring, The Lord “brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be’” (Genesis 15:5).
The Father of Lights compared his son’s offspring to the enormity and elegant splendor of space. This was a gracious and personal touch.
The Book of Psalms in their poetry and honesty is a wonder of beauty, much of it filled with agonized pleading, weeping, or lamenting. Yet, of all the books of the Bible, this is often the one most accessible to believers and unbelievers living through the day-by-day hurdles of life.
How did God use David’s doubts and fears to create beautiful art? Through David, he created verses, which speak poignantly to the average person and virtually every type of struggle, even the undramatic daily kinds.
These real, historical men and women of the Bible believed God’s promises were too difficult to fulfill, or they must have misunderstood his instructions, or they lost the Lord’s favor and he (understandably) abandoned his promises because of their continual sin.
But they did what we all do: transpose human limitations onto the character of the one true, righteous, dependable God. “It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17).
His willingness and ability to restore and revive his people, even to resurrect their fainting spirits, has always emanated from his own goodness and glory. We cannot earn or lose them by our own strength or weakness.
This is the beautiful reality of Christian faith, that we can echo with Paul “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
Since the entire Bible is God-breathed, each word, each scene, is meant to be there. That means the Lord wants us to know that he loves us and will redeem his people even when they forget the gospel. The refrain of doubt followed by discipline and redemption is a glorious reminder that nothing can separate us from him, not even our spiritual lows.
Stephen J. Cole teaches that “when God graciously disciplines us for our doubting hearts, we can either grumble and chafe under it, or we can thankfully submit to His chastening. If, like Zacharias, we submit, we will grow stronger in faith and be filled with joyful, thankful hearts.”
Isaiah Brought Good News
Out of the Lord’s discipline, we can emerge humbled like Zacharias or slowly grow more distant from God, or embittered. Only a posture of humble repentance stops this downward trend and gives way to the beauty of joy.
Between that spiritual low and the beauty we seek, we might be convicted of sin if we are indeed sinning. Sometimes we are low for no apparent reason, perhaps because of persistent depression or consistent disappointment.
Either way, the Lord spoke through Isaiah to bring good news to the “brokenhearted,” the “captives,” and the “poor” (Isaiah 61:1). In verse 3, Isaiah declares that God has come to “grant to those who mourn in Zion — to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes.” Mourning is deep grief at the cost of our sin, leading to repentance.
Jesus said in Matthew 5:3-4, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The spiritually poor are mourners; they grieve the cost of their sin and are humbled before God.
But this is not just mourning over big, dramatic sins but against the slow simmering separation, which comes when we take our eyes off of Christ. Billy Graham explained, “When we come to God, we must realize our own sin and our spiritual emptiness and poverty. We must not be self-satisfied or proud in our hearts, thinking we don’t really need God.”
God wants us to come to him to receive hope; to receive his grace even when we feel spiritually depleted and unworthy. This is the beauty of hope given to us by the risen Christ. Even when one does not feel hopeful, he can know intellectually there is good reason to hold on and expect his heart to be resurrected to new life.
Weary of the Battle for Beauty
Christians tire of the ridicule and disinterest they face from skeptical friends. We are weighed down by temptation and ashamed of our sin. Spiritual lows come from our willingness to be distracted away from the Word of God and Christ’s example, but also partly because we get tired of waiting for Christ to lead our friends to salvation.
Although we are invited to bring our fatigue and sin to the cross to ask forgiveness as often as necessary, the way we have to repeat this cycle frustrates us. Even when we honestly repent and wish to be changed, we grow tired of constantly doing the wrong we wish not to do.
Paul wrote, “I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Romans 7:22-23).
The soldier in this battle is not splendid or valorous but ordinary and relatable. Yet, ordinariness does not disqualify us from the King’s table. His grace is positioned in contrast to the squalor of our hearts into which he has reached in order to restore us to a proper sense of awe at his mercy and grace.
If we have lost our sense of wonder at the cross of Christ, when he extends an invitation to break bread, we are moved to joy in his very presence as if for the first time all over again.
Our joy grows into renewed zeal for the gospel and an evident change takes place, which pours out in front of others, thereby increasing our witness and magnifying the beauty, which arises from our spiritual low.
Why Bring Beauty from Spiritual Lows?
The Lord never leaves, it is we who must return to him. Yet, as Scripture demonstrates, God will sometimes restore our hearts in creative and splendid ways, which fill the believer with joy and demonstrate the personal love of a Father for his child.
It is in his nature to be good and to be glorified. If he heeds the call, the Christian’s obvious change in posture towards the Lord and towards others around him offers powerful evidence of God’s glory made personal in the believer’s relationships.
In Isaiah 61:3, God promises to lift up Israel from their mourning “that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.” (61:3, my emphasis) The Lord does not promise relief from the chill of shadow and loneliness primarily for our benefit but for the sake of his great name.
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.