Henry David Thoreau is frequently quoted as saying, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Slumping Christians sense this quiet desperation deep in their soul. They feel their best discipleship days are in the past with the Carmen and Sandi Patty cassettes, DC Talk and Petra CDs, or Relient K, Lecrae, and Switchfoot MP3s. They are not necessarily reverting back to Little League discipleship, but they are not loving God at a major league level either. They are meandering in minor league. They are still in Christ and haven’t lost their salvation, but something’s off. Their spiritual lives are in limbo, a sort of purgatory between the hell of their past and the heaven of their future.
I know from pastoral experience that even good, church-going people can get stuck in a spiritual slump. Compromise here, neglect there, and—voilà—slump! Some still have an ounce of hope that they will get back on a streak again. Others conclude with quiet desperation that they will never become the slugger they envisioned. They imagine a horrific headline hanging over their head like: “the thing David had done displeased the Lord” (2 Sam. 11:27b). Maybe your self-designated horrific headline is: “Just an Average Christian Stuck in a Perpetual Slump” or “Destined for Spiritual Mediocrity.” Part of the battle in overcoming the spiritual slump is recognizing and remediating warped self-perceptions.
The Three Slump Starters
There are several slump starters—past regret, present sin, and future fear. Each one has the power to throw us into acedia. All of them together can suffocate the soul.
1. Past regret does present damage.
All of us likely have something in our past that nags at us. Maybe it was an embarrassing moment that humiliated you. Maybe it was a bad decision that hurt you or a loved one. You neglected an important relationship you can’t repair. You said destructive words you can’t take back. You lied and forfeited your integrity. You had an abortion. You committed adultery. You didn’t tell a friend about Christ before she died. You got divorced. You became addicted. You can’t undo what you did. You can’t go back in time and make things right. You can’t get your relationship back, your job back, your dignity back, your reputation back, or your opportunity back. Your absolute inability to undo the past leaves you in a spiritual slump of regret. The past can be a prison that prohibits present progress.
Sarah was an outstanding wife and mom to her two kids. When she hit midlife she had, in her words, “a nervous breakdown.” She started abusing drugs, which eventually abused her. She would shoplift and steal money from her family to get high. This incredible mom was undone by drugs right before the eyes of her kids. Shame hung around her neck like a ball and chain.
Miraculously, she went into rehab, found Christ, and got clean. But deep inside she carried the shame of past regrets. There was no way to undo the damage to her kids, no way to get those years back when she was strung out. While she loved God, she saw herself as a mediocre disciple at best. In her mind, she was destined for minor league Christian living because of her regretful past. She was engaged in self-flagellation because of her past.
2. Present sin can cause a spiritual slump.
Most sins these days can be traced back to the tongue and technology, or “TNT.” They are dynamite, the bad kind. “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body” (James 3:6a). Now the fiery tongue has a large platform, thanks to technological advances. As a society we have become ruthlessly loose with the tongue via social media. Envious put-downs, harsh one-sided criticism, boasting, gossiping, and myopic meanness are easy to locate on social media. The subtle sins of social media can consume a person over time and thrust them into a spiritual slump. Technology is a testing ground of temptation.
Your particular struggles might not intersect with technology, but all of us encounter temptations. When a disciple consistently surrenders to the sins of pride, anger, or lust, to name a few, he or she will feel stuck like a bug to a fly strip.
Jason had zeal for God and aspirations to be a preacher. He struggled with pornography, another sin made very accessible via technology. He battled porn for a while before finally putting down his sword. Surrendering to the same sin over and over and over again will put one in a spiritual slump. What is more, repeated surrender to one sin made my friend vulnerable to all sorts of other temptations he never thought would be tempting. In his slump, he started sexting back and forth with someone at work. He cheated on his wife several times. Eventually, he left her and his kids for another woman. It all started with a present sin that repeatedly got the best of him.
3. Future fear can welcome a spiritual slump.
Fearful anxiety about the future saps spiritual strength. This is, no doubt, why Jesus commands “do not worry about your life” (Matt. 6:25a). This slump starter is subtle, stalking and sneaking up on you like a mountain lion. Once fear of the future has you, it’s hard to get out of its grip. Anxiety concerning the future feels like being trapped inside a cinder block room you have built around you one block at a time.
We tend to worry most about things we can’t control, manipulate, or influence. Battling future fear showcases our impotence and need for an omnipotent God. And if we lean more into self-reliance than God-dependence, fear, worry, and anxiety will sap our spiritual strength. Fearing the future is a failure of faith. I know that failure like the back of my hand.
One of our kids had a significant health issue surface when he was five years old. Eczema invaded his skin with ferocity. Sometimes it would flare up literally from head to toe. Though he rarely complained, the itch kept him from sleeping well and enjoying the quality of life we envisioned for him.
We took him to doctor after doctor. We tried all kinds of creams to give him relief, which seemed more traumatic for him than the itch! We were totally helpless when it came to helping him. I started to project the current struggle into the future. I imagined bullies poking fun at his eczema. I wondered if he would ever feel comfortable taking off his shirt to swim. Then, my mind wandered off into crazy land. Will eczema keep him from marrying the love of his life and getting the job of his dreams? Will his skin issues throw him into deep and dark depression? I was in an ultimate fight with future fear and ready to tap out. Thankfully, God showed up to remedy the illness, as he so often does, but not before I wasted so much of my time and energy in debilitating fear.
On our worst days, we feel the weight of worry heavy upon us, like we’re carrying a 150-pound barbell on our backs. The accumulative impact of worrying about tomorrow is a spiritual slump. How often do you worry? What do you worry about? Paying the bills, finishing the job, the approval of others, and the flourishing of your kid? If we don’t access the grace to faith our fears, we will slump our way out of major league discipleship.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14 NIV)
In baseball, there is one slump starter that sends a player out of the major league and into the minors: he can’t hit the ball. The three slump starters for Christians—past regrets, present sins, and future fears—is a three-headed monster that sucks the life out of the soul. We can’t get past the past or persist in the present. We say or sing, “I know God holds the future,” but do we really believe it? When we don’t, we lose our spiritual swing.
Grace is God’s way of disrupting our spiritual degeneration to get us out of a slump and back on a streak. You and I are not doomed to the mediocrity of minor league discipleship. God’s grace has the power to transform our story. But before we even slide into a spiritual slump, watching for these three things can help us stay in the game.
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.
- 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