Are You Spiritually Tired?
This past summer, I was able to take eight weeks of rest from my normal responsibilities of church ministry. “Sabbatical” is the fancy word, but the idea is plain: rest and recharge. (Far from doing nothing, rest is actually doing something.) Having this gift of time, I fully expected to be able to rest physically and mentally. I did not expect to discover that there were other kinds of fatigue going on.
By about week three, it seemed that I had slowed down enough to begin feeling rested physically and mentally. So why did I still feel so drained? I began to understand something that I had read about, but had never really noticed in myself—there are different kinds of tired. Tiredness seemed like a simple equation:
lots of work + not enough sleep = tired
But that equation is too simplistic. Mental, emotional, and spiritual fatigue play a part in the equation, and for some they are harder to discern. Could it be that learning to discern the sources of our fatigue and the kind of rest we need is a life skill? Could these issues of heart, mind, and emotion be like deep water, needing to be explored?
“The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” (Proverbs 20:5)
Fatigue is a huge topic, but in this post, I want to address briefly how spiritual fatigue creeps into my life. Perhaps some will recognize a similar pattern in their own lives. Perhaps your tiredness is partially related to spiritual fatigue.
Do you try to make habit of reading your Bible? Do you attempt to pray? Why?
Because it’s the right thing to do? You want to be a good Christian? These disciplines will make you grow?
There are many good-sounding answers that merely focus on my efforts. What I am learning, however, is that the efforts of spiritual disciplines can sometimes feel like discouraging and tiring work. The activities may be correct and well-intentioned, but the posture is wrong. You want to get up early and have devotions, and you want to build rhythms of spiritual growth into your life. You are serious about it. But under the surface, you carry a burden of discouragement and self-evaluation which makes it impossible for you to rest in God’s presence and his knowledge of you.
This posture is exhausting and misses a most foundational truth of spiritual transformation:
The work of spiritual transformation is a work of God, empowered by his Spirit.
Consider just a few verses:
- Romans 12:2 says “be transformed” not “transform yourself.”
- The spiritual fruit of Galatians 5:22 is fruit of the Spirit.
- The “good work” begun in us in Philippians 1:6 is a work of God, that he finishes.
I’m not suggesting by any means that we be lazy and completely passive, waiting for God to change us. That would be unBiblical. We should certainly pursue spiritual disciplines. What I am suggesting is that the process of spiritual transformation begins with our posture, not our doing. An overly anxious posture that is focused on the perfection of our disciplines and how we are doing ignores the way spiritual transformation works. Don’t read your Bible, and pray, and go to church, as if you checking those boxes are accomplishing the work.
James 4 has really helped me to find some spiritual rest. It addresses my posture before God and the resulting grace that God wants to give. James says “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” James talks about inner passions and struggles that seem powerful for us (1-3). He reminds us that that God yearns for our sanctification more than we do (5). So, he tells us to humbly come before God (10). This posture of humility is one that confesses sin and weakness (8b-9).
Can you do that? Isn’t that simple? Isn’t it freeing? It’s a posture of hands that are empty and desperate (yet hopeful) to receive. The result? God gives grace (6). Do you know anyone who prays with their hands open towards heaven? I love this physical expression that images so simply what James is saying. Why is it so hard for us to be transparent before God with everything, and then hope for his grace?
I wonder if many of us are tired spiritually, because we have not learned how to rest in God’s work of spiritual transformation. When Jesus invited weary and heavily burdened people to himself and promised to give them rest, he wasn’t calling them to a posture of spiritual stress. He was calling them to be with Him! Sometimes we approach our walk with God like Fred Flintstone propelling the car along, rather than allowing the engine of God’s grace to move us towards his destination!
Are you spiritually tired? Don’t give up spiritual disciplines, but don’t live as if those disciplines have the power to change you. Relax into the grace that God promises when we come near to Him. Tell God what is true about you and your life—that you are powerless to reverse your brokenness, overcome your weakness, and eradicate your sin. As you talk to Him, listen for His voice in the Word. Expect Him to be present in your life. Ask God to help you notice ways He is changing you.
I love the Old Testament benediction for the people of God.
“The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord makes face to shine upon you and give you peace.”
Have you ever thought about the fact that God (not a man) composed this prayer of blessing for his people? It’s his idea to be bless us with his presence and peace. Perhaps we need to posture ourselves like we really believe this!