Christians in Winter.....
All Christians - even highly committed ones - sometimes struggle to remain sufficiently close to God. Such Christians may refer to these periods as 'backsliding spells' or as 'spiritual winters.'
Now, truly called and converted Christians may go through such spiritual winters, but we must also face up to the problem that some who go through such phases were never truly 'reborn from above' or, 'born again' (however one wants to describe it). Sadly, if such a person is in that category, the spiritual winter will prove spiritually fatal and serious and incurable frostbite will set in. We must never forget that the bottom line in all this is "if any man love the world the love of the Father is not in him." For we must say this: a person who has really been saved, born again, regenerated by the Spirit, is spoiled for this world and is the most miserable creature on earth when away from God. Of course, we know that that is true, yet such Christians will indeed experience weaker spells. The difference being that during these weaker spells he or she will be like David: still loving God with all their heart but having to fight deep personal problems - yes, even possibly even emotional or sexual weaknesses.
So we must accept the fact that where 'spiritual winter' leads to incurable spiritual frostbite, then such a person was of the tares who live among true believers but are not truly called by God. When we note such people slip back into the world, or move on to another religion we should pray for them. We should pray that God will yet - at some point of His choosing - truly call them and truly open their eyes. And yet - having done that - we must leave these people to God.
For the remainder of this article I will confine myself to a consideration of the spiritual cold spell of those who are truly called and converted.
A spiritual winter commences with a 'cold snap' which is too persistent. For this, it is undoubtedly true, believers will only have themselves to blame. Backsliding often seems to take place by degrees. It could be compared to the freezing of ice on a pond; an almost unperceived process. During these periods former pre-conversion failings and weaknesses tend to again become more pronounced. Maybe a quick temper again becomes harder to contol, maybe one again (as in the days of one's youth)one tends to glance just a bit too long at highly attractive members of the opposite sex!
In his online article, Backsliding and Restoration, Lester Wilson gives a few interesting examples:
'The first one we will, mention is Lot. In Genesis 13:10 we see his first step when he beheld the well-watered plains of Jordan. Instead of letting God choose for him, he chose for himself. He had an eye on earthly possessions and wealth, and, like Eve, who saw the tree to be pleasant to the eyes, yielded, and thus departure from God resulted. Lot's second step was when he pitched his tent toward Sodom. Verse 12. When he got up in the morning and all during the day he was looking in the direction of Sodom. His first look led to practically a constant gaze, which paved the way for the third step, which is given us in Genesis 19:1. He sat in the gate of Sodom. He was a ruler in a wicked city which was under judgment. The result was that he lost all, for the judgment of God fell upon those cities, and Lot escaped with only his life. Beware, young Christian, of that first sin. If it is condoned, it will make the next one easier, and thus step by step you will get away from God, which means losing your joy as well as your influence and testimony for God. Beware of certain phases of this pleasure-seeking world, the underhanded business world, and the inconsistent religious world. If you have your eye on these instead of Christ, you are on the landslide to a wrecked life.'
The warnings offered here are sound, and yet today I want to reassure the true believer that - ultimately - God will not turn His back on His own true children, just as Israel were eventually brought back from captivity and again received the opportunity to walk before God in humility.
The greatest example of God's willing forgiveness of temporary backsliders is the story of the Prodigal Son. I am going to assume that we all know the story and I want to focus on what happened after the unwise son came to a place of repentance:
'"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you."'
His father was not bitter about his son's lapse but overflowed with mercy and compassion:
'"...But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.' (Luke 15:17-18, 20).
All of this is perfectly analagous to the Christian backslider who had started to put a separation between himself and his true father, but then comes to his senses and knows that he needs to revitalise the relationship!
"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. (notice no tendency here to justify sin), But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'..." (verses 21-24, NIV throughout).
While it is true to say that this is a picture of true Christian repentance, there is even stronger evidence to say that this is a picture of the Christian backslider who has just emerged from his 'spiritual winter,' for this son had already been close to his father and now wanted to restore that closeness.
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9).
"Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them." (Hebrews 7:25).
Notice that Jesus is always ready to intercede with His Father for His people. Some Christians a long time ago became fearful because they thought there was just one repentance, then nothing else. They were undoubtedly sincere, but sadly confused on this point and they seemed to see our God as the most impatient and intolerant of fathers who was prepared to eternally reject His very own children after their first stumble.
Spend time today and pray that God keeps you and yours from undergoing a 'spiritual winter' - be on fire for prayer and for Bible study and for loving others the way Christ loves you.
Robin A. Brace, 2006.