We often meet with those who complain of dryness and deadness in their worship. They are very unlike the Psalmist’s picture of the “blessed man”: “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither.” (Psalm 1:3) This is a true picture of the Christian life. The soul should be as a watered garden—fresh and green and sparkling. It should be a springtime. You have seen a garden in the spring or one that is well-watered. All is beauty, freshness, and vigor. Such a garden is used by the prophet to symbolize the Spirit-filled soul. He says, “And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones; and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” (Isaiah 58:11)
In order to have such a happy experience, however, the children of God must meet certain conditions. The context says, “If thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul.” (Isaiah 58:10) If our souls are not drawn out in pity for the hungry and we fail to do what we can to relieve them, we need not expect anything other than a spiritual drought in our own cases.
Spiritual dryness is sometimes the result of attachment to the world. “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Colossians 3:2) Unless we live by the Bible, we cannot be spiritual. A little affection for the things of earth robs the soul of spiritual life. In this matter Satan is an excellent reasoner. He will suggest that your desires are only for the glory of God; that you have no affection for the worldly object, but desire it only for God’s glory. A young lady to whom I gave warning said that her desires were pure and that she had no affection for the object, but sought only to please the Lord. Very soon, however, she came to the realization that her soul was a desert place, and all because she had believed the falsehood of Satan. Beware how you desire earthly things for God’s glory. Underneath may be a desire for self-gratification, ease, or luxury. If you are troubled by a lack of sensible devotion in worship, examine your affections. Possibly you may find some tiny roots twining around something of this world.
Spiritual dryness may be the result of sloth. “Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep.” (Proverbs 19:15) Spiritual idleness soon results in spiritual dryness. That sophism of Satan’s, “No time for prayer,” is very dangerous. Any neglect of spiritual devotion must result in lukewarmness. Oh, how unreasonable is man and how easily the desires of the flesh deceive! If you neglected to water your garden, you would not wonder for a moment why it was drying up. Then, when you are neglecting to water the soul in vigorous, spiritual exercises, why do you wonder at your being so spiritually dull? “Awake, thou that sleepest” (Ephesians 5:14)! Up and away to the hill of the Lord. Be the frequent witness of a sunrise scene from the mount of prayer.
The San Jose scale1 works imperceptibly at first. Oftentimes its presence will be detected only by the experienced. Its presence will perhaps be known first by the fruit. If your spiritual fruit is not as beautiful, well-flavored, and fully developed as it should be, look for the presence of sloth in the soul. The poison of sloth will get into the soul little by little. First there will be a momentary delay of spiritual duties. Satan is too wise to suggest an entire abandonment of them, but he will suggest a little postponement. One delay will soon be followed by another and then by another. These delays are an opiate that dulls the spiritual senses, and thus they will yield more readily to postponements and finally find pleasure in them.
[A very destructive scale insect (Aspidiotus perniciosus) that infests the apple, pear, and other fruit trees.]
Let me make this still more simple, for some may need it made very easy to understand. When the soul is like a watered garden, it will be drawn to God in prayer in the early morning. Any delay will cause uneasiness and restlessness. The soul longs to hasten away to the presence of God. But one little delay after another brings on a morbid condition. The soul loses its keen relish; its senses become deadened, so that there is no uneasiness; while the senses of the self-life will find pleasure in sloth.
When the soul once gets into the habit of idleness, it experiences no little difficulty in getting out. On becoming aware of his state, the individual may acknowledge his inactivity and make half-formed resolves to be more earnest and diligent, only very soon to relapse into the same former sluggishness. This virus of sloth inoculates the entire spiritual being, poisoning the will and making spiritual activity most disagreeable. Not only does it destroy the will of the soul, but it also blindfolds the eyes so that the individual can see no necessity for great fervency in spirit or for diligence in spiritual exercise. In a half-dazed manner he acknowledges that the “watchings often” and “fastings often” (2 Corinthians 11:27) and “praying always” (Ephesians 6:18) of the apostle Paul were very consistent in him, but does not realize that such would be as desirable in his own Christian profession. He wonders why he is not healed as people were in the days of Paul. Why wonder? He does not wonder why the flowers wither when it does not rain. It is the fervent, earnest prayer that God hears.
Nothing but the greatest diligence and determination and strong laying hold upon God will ever put spiritual sloth to death. In this respect it is like the South American animal called the sloth. Though one species of the sloth is only the size of a cat, and is extremely slow on the ground, its highest rate of speed there being not more than ten feet an hour, yet it is difficult to exterminate.
One reason why so many are slothful is that they do not realize the true worth of prayer. Oh, I would to God that men rightly valued communion with God or a few thoughts of Him! The lifting of the heart to God in praise or adoration is of greater value than the wealth of worlds. It is not enough to know much about the doctrine of the Bible, to be acquainted with this present reform, and to live a fair outward life; we must be filled with the Spirit. We must be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, whose leaf does not wither. Take plenty of time to gain heaven. Take time to be spiritual. A home in heaven is worth laboring for. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Spiritual dryness is the result of spiritual indolence. Be active and you will not be unfruitful.