When the World Feels Like a Dumpster Fire — Growing Spiritually
We live in difficult times.
As we head into our third year of this pandemic, there’s still so much anxiety and uncertainty, racial and political tension, injustices and suffering. And now we are also grieved by the horrific war in Ukraine. Our own personal struggles and concerns for our loved ones haven’t gone away either.
In a season like this, it can seem hard to believe that spiritual growth is possible. But this is when we need it the most, when we most need to be refreshed and encouraged by the real hope we have in Jesus.
Connect with God
Spiritual growth starts — as always — with connecting with God. Reflect on how you connect meaningfully with God in worship, Scripture, reflection, and prayer. Set aside a specific time of day and place without distractions for those spiritual practices, to spend time alone with God. It often helps to start by listening to a few worship songs to center yourself and focus on God’s presence.
If you don’t have a regular way to reflect on Scripture, try an app. Pray as You Go is a helpful way to focus on God each day for about 10 minutes as you listen. There are also devotionals on the You Version Bible app covering topics like “Grieving with Hope,” “How to Stop Worrying,” “Anxiety,” “Forgiveness Brings Healing,” and devotionals on different books of the Bible.
The apostle Peter reminds us to “give all your worries and cares to God for he cares about what happens to you” (1 Pet 5:7). We are not alone. God is concerned about all the things that we care about. We can be honest with God even when it seems unpleasant. He doesn’t want us to worry but instead to pray about everything (Phil 4:6-7). Writing out prayers in a journal can help us focus.
As you take time to share what’s on your heart with God, ask him to speak to you. Write down what he says and key Scriptures that he brings to you. Throughout the day, you can continue to take time to listen to worship songs, be honest with God, and listen to him. You can also focus on something in creation and ask God to speak to you as you consider it.
God invites us to mourn and grieve as we need (Mt 5:4), and he will restore us with his joy and presence, like we see in Isaiah 61:3: “To all who mourn in Israel, he will give beauty for ashes, joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.” As we look to God, he promises to give us his presence, hope, and strength.
Connect with Christian Community
Pain can easily overwhelm us in this season. Isolation only adds to it. We need both God and others when we feel alone and discouraged.
All throughout Scripture, we see how essential community is, like with the example of the early church in the book of Acts or in James 5:16: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results.”
Who can you begin to share your heart with? If you don’t know where to start, you can ask for some guidance from one of your small group leaders or pastors. It’s important to not only find people who will care about you and listen. We also need people who will point us back to God as the source of our hope and renewal.
A weekly prayer partner can be helpful for consistency. It’s important to have mutual relationships where you can both give and receive. Are you part of a small group that studies Scripture and prays together? If not, you can look for one in InterVarsity or your church.
Our emotions go up and down, so it’s helpful to be in some relationships or groups that are scheduled regularly. This helps us connect with others when we may prefer to be alone.
Where is God Leading You to Step Out in Faith?
Hebrews 10:24-25 reminds us: “Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of Jesus’ coming back again is drawing near.” We are fulfilled and grow when we love God, others, and ourselves.
Here are some thoughts to help guide you in seeing more opportunities to show love:
Who in your life could benefit just from a simple conversation, prayer, or hangout?
Is there a service project that you could do with your prayer partner or small group?
What are you passionate about? Is there some practical way you can serve others through this?
Our Hawai`i justice ministry realized that COVID was affecting Hawaiians and Polynesians disproportionately, so we started a weekly prayer meeting. We extended our prayer time to include other needs and have been encouraged by God answering many prayers. It has been a significant place to express faith and call out to God together.
Life’s challenges are still difficult for us when we are connected to God’s love, hope, and power. Can you imagine how hard it is for those who don’t know God? Pray for opportunities to share your hope and relationship with God and his community. Offer to pray for others if they share their needs. Invite others who don’t know Jesus to join you in your small group or a service project.
Growing spiritually — especially when life feels like a dumpster fire — can change everything! Not just for us. It can also bring great hope and encouragement to others as they see us grow!
Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.
Brenda has spent over 44 years leading, discipling, and developing InterVarsity students and staff in San Francisco and Hawai`i. You can support her ministry at https://donate.intervarsity.org/donate#17.
COVID, a lack of in-person relationships, the ongoing realities of racism, patriarchy, income disparity, and climate change — the world can feel like a dumpster fire. Scary to watch from a distance but devastating when you’re standing in the middle of it.
Psalm 131 invites us out of life as a tug-of-war with God into one where his desires, wants, longings for us (and the world) are not competing against ours but are grander, better, simply more. There is indeed a desire asymmetry between us and God, but not like we think — we can’t out-want God.