The Doldrums of Christianity
Words by Ethan Jago
Are you familiar with the word, "doldrums?" I first learned this word when I taught an open water survival course for the U.S. Air Force. My students learned how to use the current and wind to travel in a life raft should an in-flight emergency cause them to abandon their aircraft and parachute into water as a means of escape. I taught about how the winds and currents move differently depending on their latitude and longitude, but they should also know that there is a section five degrees north and south of the equator that is known as the “doldrums.” This is an area where the trade winds usually do not reach, so there is almost no wind in this section, making traveling by wind nearly impossible. As I reflected on a passage of Scripture, this illustration of the doldrums came to mind: many of us experience seasons when we might feel like we are in the doldrums of our Christian walk. It may seem that there is no spiritual wind blowing us one way or another. We may not desire to go to church, read the Bible, engage in Christian fellowship, or even pray. We might feel hopeless and wonder how we can get out of the doldrums to move back into the trade winds of spiritual growth and energy.
Maybe you can relate to the following statements:
“I want to spend more time in the Bible, but I just don’t know how.”
“I start reading, but then I get distracted or am just not getting anything out of it.”
“I don’t feel as though I am spending enough in devotional time, or don’t know how much time is enough.”
These are just a few concerns I hear from young adults today, but consider your own personal experience as it relates to your time in God’s Word, prayer, church, fellowship, or discipleship. The fact of the matter is this: we all come to a time every now and then when we feel as though we are in the spiritual doldrums. Both our mindset and our response toward these feelings are critical. How many of us have opened our Bibles with great intention, only to find ourselves staring blankly and recognizing our efforts haven’t gone much further than simply reading words? One could say it is no different than reading the advertisement signs on the shuttle trains, at airports, or on billboards. We might see and read the words, but the words don’t change us or affect us.
We understand the problem, but how do we fix it? Whenever I feel as though I am in the spiritual doldrums, I look to the Bible for answers. My go-to is the Apostle Peter. Why? His life was one of rapid transformation and he had numerous ups and downs as the lead disciple who spent three years with Christ. In John 1:40-42, Peter is first identified as Simon the son of John. In this instance Jesus changes his name from Simon to Peter, and he is one of the first Apostles called into the ministry with Jesus. The Gospels share many different interactions between Peter and Jesus, but I want to identify a consistent theme throughout. In Mark 8:33, Jesus openly and publicly rebuked Peter in front of the disciples and even said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” This immediately followed Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah. In the next section Peter was openly rebuked and embarrassed because he allowed his feelings and emotions to control what he thought about Christ and his mission. Here is the point: Peter’s emotions dictated his thoughts.
We cannot allow our emotions to control our perception of our relationship with Christ. Our emotional state is not an accurate portrayal of how Christ views us.
If we have given our lives to him, we are now his children, his people. If you find yourself being controlled by your emotions, recognize that the negative feelings you feel are from the flesh. The source of these negative feelings is not of God, but your emotional state. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Christ does not condemn you when you feel as though you are not doing it the “right way.”
Let’s examine another situation in which Peter finds himself. Matthew 14:22-33 is one of my favorite miracles. The disciples were out on the water after Jesus taught and fed the five thousand, and a storm was brewing over the Mediterranean. In the middle of the storm, they looked out and saw a figure walking on the water, which was Jesus. In verse 28, Peter stepped out onto the water and walked on the water toward Jesus; however, in verse 30, Peter began to sink and needed rescue from Jesus. What occurred from the time he stepped out of the boat and walked on water toward Christ? Verse 30 reveals that Peter was distracted by his current fear of the wind and the waves, so he took his eyes off Christ.
Peter saw his immediate situation and did what we all do— we try to fix it ourselves and stop looking to the One who can fix it.
Peter was distracted by what seems like insurmountable problems that he had to address because it directly affected him despite Jesus (who empowered him in the first place) being right there. Here is the second principle for us: we assume that there is a specific means or method necessary for our spiritual walk with Christ. We start out on the walk with the best intentions, and then after a few days or weeks, or maybe even minutes, we get distracted with something in our lives that takes our focus away from our time with Christ. One simple way we can help ourselves with distraction is to turn our phone off and go somewhere where there is no distraction.
We can also waste time or become distracted by mimicking other Christians on social media. Please do not think that fruitful devotion time equates to waking up at 5:00 a.m. with your Bible, a cup of coffee, and candle for two hours. If that is what your time alone with the Lord is like, that is fantastic, but that is by no means the standard that Christians everywhere must adopt as their own. Let us consider the global church, where many brothers and sisters may not have certain luxuries. Is Scripture still effective in those settings? Finding a distraction free place will be unique to each person. For example, I love to surf and be out on the water. I drive to the beach, open my Bible, and read a passage of Scripture. I am currently reading through the book of John. I read a few lines or a section then go out on my surfboard. Even if the waves are flat, I enjoy my time in creation and reflect on what I just read. I think about the passage, meditate on what God is doing in my life, and pray. I then wrap up my session to head back to my truck, shower, and head into work. Psalm 37:3-4 says, “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
What is something that you like to do alone? For me it is surfing, fishing, or sitting on the beach. For you it may be painting, hiking, or simply sitting under the stars after you’ve put your kids to bed. That practice is something that God placed inside you and allows you to do because when we seek after him, our will lines up with his, and he gives us the desire of our heart. The next time you do that activity, incorporate Scripture and alone time with God into that passion you already have. You most likely already practice that activity regularly, and you can add Christ and personal time with Him into it. This allows the habit to form easier and provides a distraction-free method to focus and meditate on God’s Word as you are doing the activity. Peter got distracted from doing what he loved to do the most, which was being physically close to Jesus. We must learn from his example and remove the hindrances that distract us.
There are many other principles we can learn from Peter, but I want to conclude this article with 1 Peter 2:2-3 which says, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” We must be needy for Christ like newborns. We must desire and crave the pure spiritual milk so that we may grow spiritually because the Lord is good.
If you desire to escape the spiritual doldrums, now is the time. Do not wait for something to change or for someone else to come alongside you and force you to do it. Start right now knowing that you are not alone and without help. Scripture is always there, and the spiritual treasure is waiting for you to mine it.
As 1 Peter 4:2 says, “so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions, but for the will of God.” God’s will is for you to spend time in his Word and to abide in him. Time at church is critical, but so is your personal time with him. Don’t compare your time in God’s Word to others. Do not quit because someone else appears to be doing more or better than you. Romans 8:37-39 tells us that we are more than conquers, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God. So, incorporate your alone time with God into your everyday life, and reject the unwritten standard about what devotional time looks like. If you only have five minutes, perfect! If you can carve out 2 hours, even better. Better to start moving somewhere rather than staying nowhere. When we remove distractions and incorporate our own unique, intentional alone time with the Lord, we will see the winds move us from spiritual doldrums pushing us into a deeper, more intimate relationship with Christ.