Christian Counseling: Understanding Spiritual Stagnation

Sometimes spiritual life can feel stagnant, even dead, which can be the result of several emotional or physical influences, such as: fatigue, stress, anxiety, physical pain, difficulty concentrating, emotional detachment from oneself or depression.

Other critical reasons for stagnation are of spiritual origin, such as: prayers of obligation, redundant teachings and not giving needed time and energy to explore the depth of Scripture. However, there is one particular spiritual reason for stagnation that I want to address—distancing oneself from God. I want to focus on three primary ways in which people purposeful distance themselves from Him.

First, repeatedly giving in to invitations to engage in wrong behavior can leave a person with an overpowering and prolonged guilt. Guilt separates relationships. It leaves the door open to thinking and feeling one doesn’t deserve the goodness of God, like blessings, grace or forgiveness. If it persists, it often leads to some depression, thereby adding to the sense of separation with God and spiritual things.

A second distancing from God occurs when great disappointment and/or anger are felt as a result of God not being or doing what we expect. An example could be when God “allows” or “permits” or “creates” a heartbreaking circumstance, such as the premature, painful and seemingly unnecessary death of a beloved and needed family member or close friend to which one responds by suppressing or repressing anger or grief. That person might also feel betrayed, but, inevitably, those unresolved feelings lead to a schism with and feeling distant from God. Some might discover those remaining feelings are expressed by an obvious or very subtle decision to move away from God because they can no longer trust Him or even to punish Him with distance for His failure to protect.

Third, is a distancing, often connected to the second, which is due to a theology or beliefs which don’t match one’s experience or values. By that I mean distancing from God happens because of avoidance of spiritual doubts, questions, and troubling Scriptures. Examples include questions, like: Why would God give Satan entrance into heaven and then entertain and follow Satan’s suggestion to tragically grieve a good and faithful man like Job? Why would God of the O.T., who is supposed to be the same, unchanged God of the N.T. seem so different—kill babies and animals in the O.T. and love your enemies in the N.T.? Or how is it that parents who trained their children in spiritual matters find they departed from God for the remainder of their lives? Or how is it that God says things like we find in Psalm 91:5, “…you will not be afraid of the terror by night” (some Christians experience the feeling of terror) and “no evil will befall you” in Psalm 91:10 (Christians are not always saved from the evil in the world or even from their own household)?

For sure, there are hard and tough life experiences and Scriptures that challenge the best of strong, faith-minded people. To ignore these spiritual influences that can cause stagnation and to fail to understand and take into account the emotional and physical ones as well will harm one’s faith, or at least stymie growth. I believe, contrary to some people’s belief that facing these issues, especially doubts and questions, will lead to further separation from God or entrench one in a permanent separation from God, that a person will eventually find a goodly amount of answers, which would bring peace and a deeper, fearless relationship with God.

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