Occasionally the Lord leads us into a time of isolation and solitude that can only be described, in the words of St. John of the Cross, as a “dark night of the soul.” We may feel dry, in despair, or lost. God may seem absent, His voice silent. The prophet Isaiah declared, “Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God” (Isa. 50:10).
Such dark times can be pregnant with God’s purpose; they can be times in which we are stripped of our overdependence on the emotional life, on things of this world, and on ourselves. “The dark night” is one of the ways the Spirit slows our pace, even bringing us to a halt, so that He can work an inner transformation of the heart and soul.
Those who are hungry for God can expect to be drawn or driven into times of dryness or confusion, where faith and dependence on God are tested and deepened.
A. W. Tozer describes this process as the “ministry of the night.” In these times, God seems to be at work to take away from our hearts everything we love most. Everything we trust in seems lost to us. Our most precious treasures turn to piles of ashes.
In times like these, says Tozer:
Slowly you will discover God’s love in your suffering. Your heart will begin to approve the whole thing. You will learn from yourself what all the schools in the world could not teach you – the healing action of faith without supporting pleasure. You will feel and understand the ministry of the night; its power to purify, to detach, to humble, to destroy the fear of death, and what is more important to you at the moment, the fear of life. And you will learn that sometimes pain can do what even joy cannot, such as exposing the vanity of earth’s trifles and filling your heart with longing for the peace of heaven.
As we seek to draw near to God, we can expect to have times in our lives when we too experience the “ministry of the night.” Our best response during these seasons is to wait upon God, trust Him, be still, and pray.