There are many things that come at our faith and tempt us to walk away. There are many dangers, many hurdles, and many trials. But I wonder if we look past a subtle and more dangerous problem: spiritual boredom. Normal, everyday boredom where we aren’t entertained and stimulated is a modern problem, but I’m talking about a more ancient problem. Spiritual boredom has poked and tripped up our mothers and fathers in the faith since the early parts of the biblical story. What I mean by spiritual boredom is the feeling of that void, that lack of experiences that so filled our early season of faith.

Can you remember when you began to believe the gospel for the first time? Can you remember the sense of relief? “I’ve been rescued! I’ve been snatched from the kingdom of darkness—a kingdom of slavery! I’ve been pulled from the pit, the quicksand of the soul!” And immediately you experience a heart expansion that continues for an indeterminate period of time. The power of sin seems hamstrung, and new insights from the Bible and spiritual truth seem to pour in. What will happen next?

Those are sweet times, and many new believers aren’t aware of the spiritual dangers that lie ahead, just around the corner.

Think of what the Israelites must have felt after they were delivered from slavery, having just reached the other side of the Red Sea. God had miraculously freed them from slavery. There was no denying it. They had all experienced it. Before their very eyes, the mighty Nile turned red with blood, the frogs invaded, the hail fell, the locusts consumed, and the firstborn of the enemy were slaughtered while their children were kept safe. They had been delivered through the blood of the first Passover lamb. They had just passed through the Red Sea safely and heard the sound of their enemies drowning in their judgment. Now they were on their way to a new country with the promise that God would be with them until they arrived in that new home.

What confidence they must have had. The songs they sang on the other side of the Red Sea must have been joyous. The experience of a great salvation was fresh in their hearts.

But the wilderness awaited them. From Egypt to Canaan was a one-year journey, which God turned into a forty-year pilgrimage because of Israel’s disobedience. The months and years that followed the Red Sea departure were filled with spiritual boredom.

Consider a scene from Israel’s stay at Sinai. Moses had been gone a long time on top of the mountain to receive instruction on how they were to live as a new people (Ex. 24–31). There was a lot to communicate, for a lot of change is needed for a people to live free when they’ve known only slavery. Moses climbed the mountain and left the people to their restlessness and desert boredom, wherein they asked, what are we supposed to do?

What happened next didn’t result from a charlatan entering the camp, selling and promoting foreign gods, diverting the trust of the people from the Lord. It just took the people experiencing boredom. They wanted something—anything—to happen. But Moses wouldn’t come down, and they were left with their questions and boredom.

I wonder if you’ve ever experienced the questions after the rush of salvation and growth. “What’s going on with my life? I remember when things use to be so sweet. So much fruit, so much joy, so much life. Now there’s nothing but mundane life. My prayer life doesn’t erupt with cannons. I feel like my parenting is getting in the way of my evangelism. My neighbors are testing my patience. Is something wrong with me?”

Spiritual maturity and deep joy come when we learn to teach our souls to wait.

When nothing seems to be happening to us spiritually and we are left to our restlessness, the key question comes: Has God forgotten me? Maybe I need to make something happen? At such times, we aren’t sad, depressed, or even persecuted. Just nothing. Wilderness and void are all we feel, when we used to feel so much.

Maybe you’ve never articulated those questions or concerns. But it’s in such boredom that we reach for our idols. Something to give us something—anything. The Israelites needed something. “Make us gods, Aaron!” And they put together an ad hoc god (Ex. 32). Sure, that god might not have been beautiful or majestic, but it was a god on their terms. I can imagine them thinking: “The God of Moses seems to do things at His own pace and on His own terms. We need a god to work for us.” It didn’t matter to them that the god they made seemed to be jury-rigged with pieces here and there. We can put up with a lot of dissatisfaction with our idols as long as they are working on our terms.

Have you ever noticed that? We can have idols and small gods and little indulgences that aren’t all that satisfying, but what they have going for them is that we control when they satisfy us. It’s on our terms. The God of Moses seems to do as He pleases and comes and goes when He wants. We are at His mercy. The idols, though they are ridiculous, ugly, and thrown-together golden-calf gods, are our gods and do as we please. We are tired of a God whose Spirit blows where He wishes (John 3:8). We are tired of waiting. We are tired of nothing, day after day. In our own way, even we cry out, “Make us gods, Aaron!”

Yet, the wilderness of spiritual life is where maturity begins to take root. Psalm 92 gives us an image to consider. “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar of Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age” (Ps. 92:12–14). Here’s what mature Christians are like: they are planted, they flourish, grow, and bear fruit—even in old age. The remarkable thing about a tree growing, flourishing, and bearing fruit is that there are a lot of settled, still, and quiet moments, quiet days, and quiet years of fruitfulness. Otherwise, the tree would be uprooted, weak, and unfruitful. Waiting is boring, but it’s where depth takes root.

The wilderness of spiritual boredom is a dangerous terrain, full of temptations to remember old lusts. We get nostalgic for old slave masters. “Remember how good it was!” But a new kind of growth and spiritual strength comes when we wait amid the boredom. We pray and long, looking and waiting for God, as the watchman waits for the morning. A watchman has nothing else to do but wait and watch. But he’s the first to see the light. Spiritual maturity and deep joy come when we learn to teach our souls to wait.

The Israelites hadn’t learned how to wait for the God of Moses to come down the mountain. Quickly, they assumed they had been abandoned, left to die in the wilderness. And so, they took their joy and lives into their own hands. Christians, however, learn to remember and say to ourselves: “No. We will wait here. Remember, O soul, all that God has done. He will come down the mountain into the valley with us again.”

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