When I think of Lent, I think of the wilderness experience of Jesus. He is alone in the desert and being tempted by the enemy. The desert is a dry and dusty place where we might sense that God has forsaken us, but remember that we will never understand the joy of God’s presence until we experience the dryness of his absence. We truly do not know what we have until it is gone.
Many people at times express what can be called spiritual dryness in their lives. Some have said that they lack the desire to pray. Others have felt an inability to focus fully on God when they are in prayer. I suppose that we all face some degree of spiritual dryness in our lives from time to time. I looked in the Bible for an answer and found the words of the prophet Ezekiel both incredibly prophetic and comforting.
This is how Ezekiel records his experience.
“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ I said, ‘O sovereign Lord, you alone know.’ Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones and say to them: dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.'” (Ezekiel 37:1-5)
At times we all have felt like a dry bone in the desert. We all have felt disconnected from God and desperately in need of the living water that only Jesus Christ can offer. In these incredibly descriptive words of Ezekiel, there is both a hauntingly candid view of the reality of our separation from God and at the same time the revelation of God’s promise to fill our parched bones with the refreshing truth of his Word.
As Ezekiel goes on to explain, writing as the voice of the Lord:
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you.” (Ezekiel 36:25-26)
Ezekiel knew that God would reveal his Word, and that God’s Word, which would provide you and me with the truth of God’s love, was the only remedy to our dry bones. Several thousand years later, God sent Jesus Christ to this earth as “living water” (John 4:10), to renew our spirits and give us the possibility of new life in Him. As Jesus himself has said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
I am reminded of the writings of Madam Guyon, who was a French mystic who died in 1717. She writes on the subject of spiritual “dry spells.” She says that we must realize that times of dryness await us.
We must realize that God has only one desire. Certainly we can never understand a dry spell unless we understand what He desires. His desire is to give Himself to the soul that really loves Him and to that soul which earnestly seeks Him. And it is true that this God who desires to give Himself to us will often conceal Himself from us—from the very ones who seeks Him!
So why would God do that? Perhaps we need to learn the ways of God. Our God often hides Himself, but for a purpose. Why? His purpose is to rouse us from spiritual laziness. His purpose in removing Himself from us is to cause us to pursue Him.
I love Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.” A casual glance to see if he is there is not enough, we must search with all our hearts.
The Lord Jesus is looking everywhere for believers who will remain faithful and loving even when He has withdrawn Himself. If the Lord finds such a faithful follower, when He does return, He rewards the faithfulness of His child. He pours out abundant goodness and love.
Here, then, is something we must understand. We will have times of spiritual dryness. It is part of the Lord’s way.
But the fact we will have spiritual dry spells is not the issue. The important question is, “What you will do in times of spiritual dryness?” We must learn something about our natural tendencies. It will be the natural thing to try and prove our love to the Lord. During a spiritually dry season we try to prove to the Lord our faithfulness toward Him; we do this by exerting our strength. We will hope that such self effort would persuade Him to return more quickly.
This is not the way to respond to the Lord in seasons of dryness. So, what shall we do?
We must wait the return of God with patient love, self denial and humiliation. Even though the Lord has hidden Himself, remain constantly before Him.
Spend time with Him in worship and in respectful silence.
By waiting upon the Lord, we will demonstrate to Him that it is He alone we are seeking. We then demonstrate that it is not the selfish enjoyment and blessing we receive from being in His presence that causes us to love Him. We will be showing Him that it is not the pleasure which we experience, but our love that motivates us. We follow Him because it is the right thing to do and He deserves it, not because what we get out of it in the end.
So, be patient in your prayer during those seasons of dryness.
Let me ask you a question. What if the Lord called you to spend your whole life waiting for His return to you? How would you live if this were the fate the Lord had for you for the rest of your life? What would you do?
Wait upon Him in a spirit of humility, in a spirit of abandonment, with contentment and resignation. Spend time in prayer. Come before Him quietly and peacefully, recalling His presence even though His presence may evade you.
I would guess that if you would conduct yourself in this way, it will please the heart of God and compel Him to return to you much more quickly than any other.
Dryness. Dry bones. Parched deserts. Let’s go to the New Testament (John 4:1-42).
Jesus met a Samaritan woman at a well and asked for a refreshing drink of water. Jesus chose to spread the gospel by stretching the cultural norms of his day. The Samaritan woman openly questions Jesus’ statement about “living water.” It is only when He addresses her pain that she comes to believe:
“Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her. “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied. Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!” “Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. (John 4:16-19).
Jesus names the things that have alienated her from participation in her community, and she eventually comes to believe that He is the Messiah.
There are times in life when we feel as if we are in a waiting room, unable to define what it is that causes our pain. Other times we know what the pain is, but no one acknowledges it. When I have experienced pain in my life, I have discovered that naming it is the first step in the healing process. Jesus provides help for us in identifying and treating our hurts, but often it is hard to see His grace on our own. God uses people in our community — family, friends and church to identify the sources of pain in our lives.
After this woman’s encounter with Jesus, she proclaimed the good news to her community. They believed in Jesus as a result of her witness, but she was only a messenger of the gospel. Their interaction with the woman led them to seek Jesus out for themselves. Members of our community can help us to see God’s healing work, but like the Samaritan woman they are only messengers. God knows our pain and always is waiting to help bring healing.
Earnestly seek God’s presence. Remain faithful in the dry places. Drink from the well as He provides refreshment for your soul. “Can these bones live,” O Son of Man? God only knows. (Ezekiel 37:3).