Coming to Detest Our Spiritual Slump

Coming to Detest Our Spiritual Slump

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Detestation is being disgusted by what disgusts God. Learning to not only love what God loves but also to hate what he hates is a mark of Christian maturity. God hates the spiritual slump because it hurts us and keeps us from joy-filled holy living. If we don’t detest the slump with God-like detestation, we will stay stuck in it longer than we need to . . . maybe forever. The first step out of the slump, as the life of David highlights, is to detest it.

How can someone in a severe spiritual slump not see it? I wonder how many people in the church are in a slump and can’t discern its ugliness. “I only struck out four of five at bats today. I got a really nice hit ten games ago.” Sometimes the church makes it too easy for disciples to stay in the spiritual slump. The church communicates, with the best of intentions, “God doesn’t want you to hate yourself . . . he loves you just the way you are . . . you’re saved by God’s grace, not your goodness.” And all of this is true from my reading of Scripture. But the unintended interpretive spin that results is hazardous to our spiritual health.

God does love us as we are. We are saved by his grace. But God hates sin! He detests sin because it has a historical track record of dehumanizing us humans. Sin chips away at the image of God in us. God most definitely wants us to see the hideousness of sin. He knows that if we embrace or tolerate sin we will stay stuck in a perpetual spiritual slump, often not realizing we’re in one.

Repeated sin is like an overplayed song. Sometimes I become head-over-heels in love with a song, usually alternative rock. I play the song over and over and over again until, eventually, I become numb to its sound. When in the spiritual slump, we have a tendency to keep playing the same sins over and over again until we barely notice the sin song we’re singing. Habitual sin turns conviction into complacency. This is typical of the spiritual slump.

But God, as we discussed in the previous chapter, will find a way to graciously disrupt the sin song. He will expose its ugliness so that we detest our sin. God’s goal is not that we hate ourselves because we love sin, but that we hate our sin because we love God. When we embrace God’s grace most fully, we detest our sin most fiercely. That’s what King David discovered.

King David’s Complacency

You would think David knew better. But, somehow, he became so distant from God that conviction was ambushed by complacency. His detestation for sin was hijacked by his denial of sin. His batting average dipped lower and lower, it seems to the point at which he stopped caring. He just threw his hands up and accepted the spiritual slump, singing with Phil Collins, “I don’t care anymore.” And he did the unthinkable—committing adultery with Bathsheba and murder to cover up the pregnancy.

David was in a slump long before the unthinkable happened. The problem is not so much that he got into a slump; most of us will. The bigger problem was that he didn’t acknowledge the slump enough to detest it. So the slump went on and on and on, until he found himself in bed with a married woman not married to him.

I wonder if, before David committed adultery and murder, he said to himself or a friend, “I have never committed adultery or murder. I’m doing okay.” The Holy Spirit in us is like a carbon monoxide detector alerting us to dangers we can’t see but can kill us. In the same way that the carbon monoxide detector sounds an alarm to warn of colorless, odorless, and toxic gas in our home, the Holy Spirit sounds an alarm to expose the spiritual slump. That alarm is usually more subtle than an annoyingly loud beep. We find ways to ignore the Spirit’s alarm. That’s why there are so many spiritual fatalities.

Failure to heed the Spirit’s warning and detest the slump almost did David in. Almost.

Loving Detestation

For nearly nine months after his sin with Bathsheba and the murderous cover-up, David didn’t appear all that remorseful. How does someone who did what David did avoid guilt and remorse? He found ways to keep pushing his degeneration out of his mind. How does one simply get on with one’s life after that major debacle? But when the grace of God, through Nathan, divinely disrupted David, the king experienced remorseful disgust.

David wrote Psalm 51 after being confronted by the prophet Nathan. It’s a psalm of love and hate, or loving detestation. The gracious love of God is the starting point for Psalm 51. David began with a focus on God’s “unfailing love” (v. 1). The Hebrew word is chesed. It’s a love that goes beyond mere covenantal loyalty. This kind of love is resolute in being generously unconditional, a love that is based more on the character of the giver than that of the recipient. Chesed is the offer of unrestricted tenderness even and especially when it is least deserved. When David was stuck neck-deep in a slump, God was still bent on loving David. That’s chesed!

David continued the focus in Psalm 51 on God’s love, his “great compassion” (v. 1). Racham is the Hebrew word David used for “compassion.” It comes from the same root as the word for “womb.” Racham is not just a warm fuzzy, an empty emotion. It’s an emotion that has physical and relational consequences. Like a pregnant woman who experiences a tight bonding with the child growing inside of her, so God our Father has compassion on us. Think of the pain you feel in the pit of your stomach when you see your child suffer. You experience pain in your bowels, or womb, that moves you to act on your child’s behalf. That’s how God felt for David. That’s racham!

The more David reflected on God’s outrageous love, the more disgusted he was with his sin. Psalm 51:1 is all about God’s love. But the verses that immediately follow are all about hate. When David was most aware of God’s love, he hated his sin most. There was no longer denial of sin: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight. . . . Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (vv. 2–5). An acute awareness of God’s radical, incomparable love led David to detest his sinful lack of love for God. Sorrow for sin, though painful, leads to liberation from the guilt and shame that come from sweeping sin under the rug. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant by “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt. 5:4).

David did not detest sin simply because he got caught. Craig was leading a double life. He was a church deacon on Sundays and an adulterer on Fridays. The charade lasted for decades until his wife figured it out. He broke his wife’s heart and crushed his kids. Sadness overcame him; he wept often. But he barely offered a heartfelt apology to those he hurt most by his choices. It seemed like he was more sorry that he got caught than he was that he sinned. There’s a huge difference between the two.

As a pastor, I have often found myself with broken people trying to pick up the pieces caused by their moral failure. I offer grace, since any one of us can slide into a slump and make ridiculous, out-of-character choices. Every person in that situation is sorry. However, some are sorry that their sin was discovered and others that their sin was detestable. The latter are the ones who, more often than not, get back on the track of redemptive grace.

David didn’t detest sin because it damaged his good reputation among the people. What made all of the redemptive difference for David was the focus of his disgust. King David’s sorrow when confronted by the prophet Nathan was different from King Saul’s sorrow when confronted by the prophet Samuel. When Samuel confronted Saul in 1 Samuel 15, Saul responded: “I have sinned. But please honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord your God” (1 Sam. 15:30). Saul was trying to save face. He was more worried about losing his reputation than losing his soul. He wanted to be honored among the people even when he acted dishonorably.

One of Saul’s most disgusting qualities was his inability to be disgusted by his sin. One of David’s most endearing qualities was the unrestrained disgust he developed for his sinful slump. This, I think, was the major difference between these two leaders that made all the difference in the trajectory of their lives. Both royalties messed up royally. One sunk into the pages of history as a compromiser who never reached his potential, and the other left a legacy by writing poetic prayers to God called psalms. One seems to not even notice his slump and, therefore, stayed in it. The other was absolutely disgusted by his slump and, in time, overcame it.

So, if David did not detest his sin because he got caught or lost his good reputation, why did he detest his sin? David hated sin because he loved God. Plain and simple. Again, David did not hate himself because he loved sin. That would lead to the sort of shame that keeps one stuck in a sinful slump. Shame and self-condemnation don’t help anyone. The love of God does.

If we hate our sin for any other reason but love, we will become self-centered legalists. The only way out of the spiritual slump is to become so madly in love with the God who madly loves us that we deeply detest our sin. David hated sin because he loved God. And that’s the first step out of the slump after we encounter the disrupting grace of God.

Breaking Good

Honestly, denial is an easier, less painful road than disgust. When we begin to feel initial disgust, detesting our slump, we are tempted to run and numb the pain in the palace of pleasures. At first, that’s what King David did. We are tempted to look for any Bathsheba we can find to distract us from the brokenness we begin to sense. The Bathsheba can be eating, napping, shopping, viewing, scrolling, drinking, overworking—you name it! These escapes might provide short-term relief, but cause long-term destruction. If we access the grace to lean into the brokenness caused by disgust for the slump, we will “grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:15 NASB).

The more we glimpse the powerful beauty of God’s chesed (unfailing love) and racham (great compassion), the more likely we will overcome the slump and get back on a spiritual streak again. We need a Psalm 51 moment when we are simultaneously and acutely aware of God’s love and our sin. It’s a love-hate moment. Intensity of love from and for God fuels an intensity of hatred for our sin. This is brokenness.

Breaking Bad is not just a TV show about a chemistry teacher turned drug dealer; it’s a reality for many who, when broken, go off the deep end. But, when the love of God is central, there is such a thing as breaking good. In Psalm 51:17, David writes: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” The Hebrew word David used twice here for “broken” is shabar. The word picture in the ancient Hebrew mind is the grain in the millstone being crushed to burst out the seeds from the hulls. Brokenness brings new life that makes us whole again. Breaking is good!

Brokenness is the wilderness that transformed Hebrew slaves into a holy nation. Brokenness is the gap between crucifixion and resurrection: the three days of disappointment, denial, and disgust that transformed odorous fisherman into apostolic leaders. Brokenness is the act that turned common bread into Christ’s body. Brokenness has the potential to transform ordinary slumpers into extraordinary sluggers. That is, if we let the hands of Christ lovingly break us like bread.

No pain, no gain. If you feel sick in your stomach because of your sin, take heart, you are heading in the right direction, out of the slump. If the stench of your sin is nagging at you, so much that you are ready to make necessary changes to grow spiritually, you are heading out of the spiritual slump. If you find yourself so remorseful that you are beginning to have hypersensitivity to sin again, like you did when you first fell in love with Christ, then you are heading out of the slump.

Adam Dunn was a superb baseball player for ten years. He averaged thirty-five homeruns per season and hit at least forty homers in a season five years in a row. But then he dropped to eleven home runs, batted .159, and struck out 177 times. Dunn offered no explanation for his struggles. He didn’t quit or deny the slump. He detested it and tried everything to get out of his slump, but nothing seemed to work. Ozzie Guillen, who was Dunn’s manager with the White Sox, said the following year, “I love Adam Dunn. He was terrible last year. But he never gave an excuse. After every game, he stood at his locker and took it. I love Adam Dunn.”

When Perfect Love Steps In

If sin leads us to hate ourselves, we are in big trouble. Self-condemnation, sour introspection, self-absorption, and self-hatred will not help us to overcome the sinful slump. God’s loving kindness does not produce a legalistic guilt that leads to despair, but a holy disgust that leads to hope. The apostle Paul said it best: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Cor. 7:10).

I’m not at all against therapy. In fact, I benefitted greatly from counseling when I was in a slump. But if therapy euphemizes sin, it prevents remorse. “You’re okay. I’m okay. We’re all okay” is hardly a helpful perspective. A therapeutic culture explains away or excuses the sinful slump. Theological convictions, biblically informed and Spirit-inspired, remind us that sin is rather detestable because it does damage to humans. Theology must inform therapy.

Years ago, a friend of mine drove on the shoulder of a road to pass a turning car. When she did, she killed a kid riding his bike. Someone paid the penalty for her lawless act, and she was broken by it. There was no chance she would break that law again. Imagine that something you did literally killed someone. You broke the law, and someone else paid the price with their life. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Our law-breaking did kill someone. My sin and your sin put the God of love on a cross of shame. My sin and your sin have corrupted the cosmos. My sin and your sin is a slap in the face and a spit in the eye of the God who made, knows, and loves us. My sin and your sin put a thick wedge between us and God that nothing but God, through high personal cost, could overcome. My sin and your sin prevent the intimacy we crave with God and people. My sin and your sin chips away at the imago dei, the image of God, in each of us. My sin and your sin warp our perceptions of God, self, and others. My sin and your sin blur our vision so that we can’t see past the nose on our face to the needs of others and the glory of God.

When we are broken by love, our sin will lead us to say with Isaiah: “I am doomed, for I am a sinful [person]” (Isa. 6:5a NLT); with Paul: “What a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” (Rom. 7:24 NLT); and with David: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your [chesed] . . . your [racham] . . . blot out my transgressions. . . . Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:1–2, 7).

The way out of the slump is to view our sin theologically, not therapeutically. Bad therapy might lead us to deny sin while good theology can lead us to detest sin.

One of the problems in the church today is that we have anesthetized the pain of sin. We tend to put lipstick and mascara on sin, giving her a new hairstyle to hide her hideousness. If you pick up and read most any devotional classic written before, say, 1980, what you read will likely elicit disgust for sin that’s motivated by the love of God. I triple dog dare you to read Augustine’s Confessions, Madam Guyon’s Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, or Oswald Chambers’s My Utmost for His Highest. Here’s an example of what I mean from Chambers: “If we will surrender, submitting to His conviction of that particular sin, He will lead us down to where He can reveal the vast underlying nature of sin. That is the way God always deals with us when we are consciously aware of His presence.”

A minimalist view of human sin leads to a minimalist appreciation for God’s grace, which leads to minimalist Christian living. When we recognize the enormity of sin’s consequences, we will most appreciate the enormity of God’s grace. John Wesley believed, experienced, and taught that a deep love from and for God has the power to free us from willful sin. That’s perfect love. Love, not legalism or libertinism, pulls us out of the slump.

The Doors asked, “Who do you love?” That’s a good question, because who you love will determine what you hate! Because I love the Philadelphia Eagles, I hate when the Dallas Cowboys win. Because I love my grandmother, I hate cancer. Because I love quiet, I hate noise. Because I love the poor, I hate poverty. Because I love honesty, I hate cable news. If we love God, we will hate sin.

The more aware we are of God’s unconditional, eternal love for us, the more we will love God back. And the more we love God, the more we will hate what he hates. Because God loves us, he hates the sinful slump that keeps us stuck in minor league living. When we detest the slump because we love God, our bats will begin to make solid contact with the curveballs life throws our way.

Questions for Personal Reflection

What do you detest? What is disgusting to you? Have fun naming what grosses you out.

Is your sin as disgusting to you as the things you named?

Spend some time on your knees, if possible, slowly reading Psalm 51 aloud. During your first reading, focus mostly on the words and phrases that showcase God’s love for you. With God’s love for you as the foundation, read Psalm 51 a second time, mourning and detesting your sins because of God’s love.

Reflect on the ways God has loved you lately and throughout your life. What are the tangible expressions of love that God has demonstrated to you? Take your time recounting them.

Why do you think God hates sin? Of course, God hates sin because he loves us. But what does sin do to us that makes God detest sin so much?

The next step out of the slump, after God’s disrupting grace, is to detest the slump. Do you share God’s detestation for the sinful slump? On a scale from 1 to 10, how much do you hate sin? What is the evidence for that rating?

A Prayer to Help You Awaken to God

Lord, help us to love what you love and hate what you hate. We have become too comfortable with sin, even though we know it has a devastating, dehumanizing impact upon us. Love us out of our sin. Help us to overcome the shame that keeps us stuck in the slump. Liberate us from hating ourselves because we love sin. Convict us so that we hate sin because we love you. Amen.

A spiritual slump can deepen not destroy us, if we grab onto the rope of God’s grace and hold on for dear life. It has been said, “the same sun that melts the wax also hardens the clay.” Exploring the life of the Bible’s King David, this book and video series presents a process for overcoming the slump so we reach our potential for a faithful, fruitful, and fulfilled life in Christ.

Get the book + videos from our store here.

Perfect for:

  • Christians embarrassed or ashamed of being in a spiritual slump
  • Church leaders needing a guide or content to lead congregants through spiritual depression
  • Anyone who yearns to be awakened to God’s love for them
  • Focused group trainings around spiritual slumps (videos sold separately)

Preview the first week of content here.

In these pages you’ll:

  • Realize that God’s love for you is not contingent upon your spiritual condition
  • Overcome shame and stigma by discovering that many Christians experience times of spiritual apathy
  • Be encouraged to disclose your slump to people who can support you
  • Have language and tools not only to help you but to assist others in overcoming the spiritual slump


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