Here are some symptoms of a backslidden heart, some tangible tests by which you can examine yourself. Ask yourself:
1) Is there a decrease in my personal devotion to Jesus? This will be evidenced by a decreased desire for intimate and private times with the Lord (especially in prayer and worship) and decreased hunger and passion for the Word.
When you were hot, Jesus was everything. You couldn't wait to spend time with Him. Praising Him—even with the simplest little choruses—was pure joy.
If there was a prayer meeting, you were there. You devoured the Word. You could relate to the words of Paul: "I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ" (Phil. 3:8, NKJV).
You might still enjoy the forms of worship—good music, singing, dancing, being part of the exciting corporate experience—but what about the object of worship? What about the Lord?
2) Is there a decrease in my personal satisfaction in God? This will be reflected in the need for other things to gain fulfillment, an increased social orientation in place of private devotions, and an increased desire for recognition and acceptance by flesh and blood.
The Word says that "if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15). What do you desire? What brings you satisfaction? Do you love God, or do you love the world?
3) Is there a decrease in my passion for spiritual work? This will be reflected in a decreased burden for the lost, a decreased burden for revival and visitation (often replaced by good works, and more subtly, by good spiritual programs), and a penchant for respectability in place of radicality.
How often do you share your testimony? You used to seek opportunities to talk about Jesus. Witnessing used to come naturally. But now, you almost avoid the subject.
And what about revival and visitation? How would you feel if the Spirit fell in power? Are you hungry anymore for a real move of God?
4) Have I lowered my standards of holiness? Do you permit things in your life, family, or congregation that would have been unthinkable when you were on fire and felt compelled to avoid certain activities, movies and other forms of entertainment?
Beware! This type of backsliding is often done in the name of spiritual maturity. I warn you as one who once fell into this very error: It is a trap and a lie! Absence of divine conviction does not mean absence of divine displeasure. It may actually point to a withdrawing of His presence.
5) Am I backsliding in my spiritual authority and personal victory? This will be reflected by a lack of victory over the flesh, falling back into old habits and lusts, and the inability to resist and drive out the devil from strongholds in your life or the lives of those to whom you minister.
You can fool others, but you can't fool the flesh and you can't fool the devil. As Leonard Ravenhill often asked, "Are you known in hell?"
Are you moving from victory to victory, or do you find yourself more and more entangled every day (or month or year)? Peter taught that "a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him" (2 Pet. 2:19, NIV).
Ask yourself if Jesus is your Master or if you are mastered by sin. Are you an overcomer, or are you overcome? Is Jesus your Lord, or are you ruled by your belly, your sexual lust, your temper, your greed, your bitterness? Who or what governs you?
You once chased the devil; now you tremble at his shadow. You once cast off fear like a dog shakes off water; now you are paralyzed by anxiety and dread. You once forgave from the heart instantly; now you remember and hold a grudge.
My friend, you are backsliding.
You once made effective inroads into the devil's kingdom. Now he's making inroads into you.
What has become of your victory? You are backsliding from the place of spiritual authority. How tragic that Satan has paralyzed you, be it with theological questions or fear of failure or massive self-doubt.
Press back in to Jesus. He is as victorious today as He ever has been. He will restore your faith.
At one time in my walk (in the late 1970s and early 1980s) I began to backslide, all the while claiming to be growing and maturing. My prayer times decreased; my devotional reading of the Word decreased. My fasting all but stopped; my witnessing dropped off.
I became more interested in social action than in spiritual action. I had less and less control over the flesh. I virtually never took authority over the devil. I fell in areas I had never fallen in before. I even became addicted to video games.
I felt the presence and joy of the Lord less frequently and less abundantly, yet I was an active leader in the church, I taught the Word with conviction, I preached with fervor (and even some anointing), I ministered actively, I sought to keep a pure testimony before the world, I was considered by many to be zealous, and I was engaged in many good and even sacrificial works.
I will be eternally grateful to my sister-in-law who, without my knowledge, helped to pray me back on fire.
How I praise God for His miraculous intervention, planting the first seeds on New Year's morning 1982, lovingly rebuking me in March of that year, awakening me with a vision of a spiritual outpouring in May, showing me how far away I was drifting in September, calling me to lay everything on the altar in October, and then sending a visitation November 21, 1982. I have not been the same since then.
I encourage you in the words of Psalms and Hebrews, "'Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts'" (Ps 95:7-8; Heb. 4:7, NKJV).
Respond fully to the Lord today. Pour out your heart to Him. Pray through. Allow His Spirit to move freely.
Don't be ashamed. He can—and will—fully restore. Obey whatever He speaks to you. Set a new pattern for your life beginning now. And then, every day, whenever you can, take another step closer to the Lord, one step at a time.
Pray more (and with more focus and direction), read His Word more, speak His Word more, share your faith more. Listen to tapes, watch videos and read books that will help keep the fire burning.
Keep your conscience clear. If you know something is displeasing in God's sight, don't do it. Be sensitive. He understands your weakness, and He will give sufficient grace.
But He will not put up with determined and willful hardness. Bow your knee to the Lord, and He will lift you up. Your future can be just as bright as the promises of God.
Michael Brown is author of The Real Kosher Jesus and host of the nationally syndicated talk radio show The Line of Fire on the Salem Radio Network. He is also president of FIRE School of Ministry and director of the Coalition of Conscience. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.