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Posts tagged ‘Dark Night of the Soul’

Enough, Lord. It is too much.

SOURCE:  Michele Cushatt, from Relentless

A Cleft in a Rock

When You Reach the End of Yourself, God Is Still There

Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.” ~ C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. ~ Henri Nouwen, Eternal Seasons

 

I’ve spent more than my share of dark nights curled up and alone, screaming at a storm raging outside the window of my life, knowing I could do nothing to bring it to a stop.

But still I waited for someone to find me rocking and weeping, to lift me up, to hold me close and tell me everything was going to be okay.

There was a time I doubted the validity of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Until I went to the dentist a few months after cancer. One moment I was sitting down in a chair for a replacement filling and cap, and the next moment I was hyperventilating in a near panic. The dentist and hygienist looked bewildered, confused by my reaction to a routine procedure. Not only would it be over in a handful of minutes, I’d done it before. My reaction didn’t reflect my circumstances. And although I knew this intellectually, I couldn’t do anything about my physical response to it. I was at the mercy of memory.

Somehow, I managed to get through the appointment, as well as several other dental visits since. But after surviving head and neck cancer, I no longer respond to medical appointments with nonchalance. I now must dig deep for emotional resilience and allow space for recovery. Each time, I return home exhausted, hands shaking and tears brimming. Even when I know everything is okay.

Signs of my trauma show up in other ways. Each year, during the months of November through March, I struggle to sleep. Those are the months when cancer showed up — in 2010, in 2013, and again in 2014. I often have nightmares during the holidays, either reliving my almost dying or enduring a new diagnosis that requires the same suffering. Each time, I wake up in a sweat. And it takes me a full day to convince myself it was only a dream.

And then there are the random encounters, online or in person, with people who bear the same scars that I do. And while my heart wants to connect with them, my body rebels against it, as if their proximity stirs up too many memories. I find myself either on the verge of anger or tears, or fighting an urge to run away as fast as possible.

A few weeks ago, while I was getting blood drawn for yet another blood test, the phlebotomist told me a story of her son. In early childhood, he endured a freak accident that nearly killed him. She spent months next to his bedside, helping him through multiple surgeries and hospitalizations and nursing him back to health. He’s now in his late twenties, married and with children, and his medical trauma sits two long decades in the past. Even so, he told her about a recent routine physical and blood workup. When the nurse ripped open a packet containing an alcohol swab to clean his skin, the smell sent him into a panic. He experienced a rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, and an overwhelming sense of terror. All because of the familiar smell of alcohol. Twenty years later and his body remembers.

It took my own experience with PTSD — first with my youngest children and then with myself — to recognize that traumatic responses aren’t reserved only for Vietnam veterans and victims of violent abuse. Neglect, accidents, a family death, and significant medical crises can all mark a body. Then gender, biology, personality, and various other hidden factors can individualize the traumatic experience. This means several individuals who experience the same circumstance may respond in different ways. Regardless, one response doesn’t make any other less valid.

Ignoring or minimizing trauma and responses to it does nothing to help a person heal. I know this now. Within three months of almost dying, I resumed all of my responsibilities at home and dove back into traveling, writing, and working. My compulsion baffles me, why I thought I needed to bootstrap my way through each day, stuffing my feelings so deep within I could pretend, temporarily, that they didn’t wound me as they did. And although this determination to move forward saved me in one regard, the trauma of what had happened would not be ignored. Like cancer, it only grew with my lack of sober attention.

One of the most dangerous Christian practices (and expectations) is the compulsion to present a put-together, unflappable faith.

On the whole, we haven’t done a very good job of making space for a struggle that lasts longer than we think it should. We may give the struggler grace for a day, a week, a month, a year. But sooner than later, we decide it’s high time she pulled it together. This pressure — whether spoken or unspoken — only pushes the sufferer to hide and neglect the long, hard process of healing.

The night in the basement, holding the pain reliever while wondering if suicide would be my only real relief, was the result, in part, of this pressure to perform. For months I had tried to stay strong, keep myself together, present a tough, faith-filled front. But eventually, I ran out of fight. I could no longer muscle my way through my reality.

In the years since, I’ve experienced too many other dark nights when the thought of death seemed to be my only out. But how could I tell those close to me about the black hole that swallowed me? How could I let them know how desperately I wanted it all to end? Good Christian girls aren’t supposed to toy with such thoughts. To reveal the truth would invite more disappointment and shame. And I’d already had enough of both. The pressure I felt came from within and without, but the result was the same. I felt alone in my nightmare, too embarrassed and ashamed to admit I needed help.

Although it was painful, I feel a measure of gratitude for my descent into the dark, because it helped me to see what I needed to see. There was no pretending anymore. No muscling through the losses. Instead, I needed to honor the pain by telling the truth about it, to myself and to others. I needed to see my circumstances for what they were and validate my experience of them.

And I needed to admit, after years of pushing hard through too many impossible circumstances, that I’d finally reached the end of myself.

There’s an oft-used cliche that goes something like this: “God will never give you more than you can handle.” I have a few things to say about this claim, but I’ll begin with this: It’s a load of garbage. It may roll off the tongue reeeeaaal niiiiiice, but it is a big, fat lie.

In spite of the number of times I’ve been the unwilling recipient of that mantra, I’ve experienced more than I can handle more than once. Each time, in spite of my extraordinary efforts, I had nothing left to give. No tools, no insights, no solutions, no strength. My characteristic sleeve-rolling, hard-work-and-determination grit dissolved. Struggle and suffering had taken me under. I was flat-faced on the ground. Period.

But don’t take my word for it. The Bible is filled with stories of those bent in two under the weight of hard circumstances.

Take Elijah for example.

Elijah was a prophet, a devout one. In an age of paganism, rebellion, and persecution, Elijah served God with passion and fearlessness. Determined and obedient, he delivered God’s words to a stubborn horde of Israelites again and again, urging them to turn back to God. He even dared to confront King Ahab and his wicked wife, Jezebel, something that required not a little amount of courage considering their penchant for murdering God’s prophets. They turned their sights on Elijah, the “troubler of Israel” (1 Kings 18:17).

Rather than cower, Elijah challenges Ahab and his false prophets to a duel — a showdown between their god, Baal, and Elijah’s God. When the day arrives, 450 prophets of Baal stand against a lone Elijah, the last of God’s prophets. The 450 prophets of Baal pray like champs. No god replies from the skies. But when Elijah prays a single, sincere prayer, God comes down in a consuming fire (1 Kings 18).

I’d call that a decisive victory. Score.

At this point, Elijah expects Ahab, Jezebel, and the Israelites to come to their senses, to turn from their wickedness and once again follow God. But that’s not what happens.

Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, ‘May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them’. — 1 Kings 19:1-2

Terrified, Elijah runs for his life (1 Kings 19:3) all the way from Jezreel to Beersheba, a distance of about a hundred miles. Then leaving his servant behind, he continues another full day’s journey into the wilderness alone. Because some disappointments don’t allow space for company.

There, collapsed under a broom bush, Elijah reaches the end of himself.
‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
— 1 Kings 19:4-5

Elijah’s bush wasn’t all that different from my basement. Despair. Frustration. Disappointment. Exhaustion.

Enough, Lord.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve said similar words.

The doctors’ appointments. The therapy appointments. The conflicts and chronic pain, the headaches and heartaches. The praying, praying, praying and trying, trying, trying only to experience more obstacles, more pain, more confusion.

Enough, Lord. Please. Take my life.

Life often feels like a series of one-hundred-mile days. While I’ve never had a price on my head, I know what it feels like to pay a high price to live. Like Elijah, there are days when my enthusiasm over my mighty God is tempered by the reality that He doesn’t always behave the way I expect Him to.

He doesn’t always take the pain away.
He doesn’t always cure the illness.
He doesn’t always restore the relationship, resolve the conflict, deliver peace and rest.

Buried in frustration and defeat, I collapse into despair, questioning myself even more than I question Him. Surely I’ve done something wrong. I’m not the faith giant I’d hoped I’d be. Instead, I’m no better than any other struggler, weary and flat-faced.

At this point someone invariably offers me the load-of-garbage maxim. God will never give you more than you can handle. The irony? They throw it as a life preserver, hoping to save me from drowning in my circumstances. Instead, the cliche lands like a two-ton weight, finishing me off.

Which is why it matters to me how God responds to Elijah’s despair. Rather than a worthless cliche, He offers Elijah comfort.
All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’ So he got up and ate and drank. — 1 Kings 19:5-8

What does God do?
He doesn’t rebuke him.
He doesn’t quote Scripture at him.
He doesn’t tell him to get his act together or his butt in church. He doesn’t tell him how much worse it could be.
And He doesn’t tell him that He will never give him more than he can handle.
There is no bootstrapping, guilt-tripping, manhandling, heavy-load-throwing.
Instead, God touches him. And feeds him. Twice.
Skin to skin, a tangible acknowledgment of presence.
And bread hot out of the oven. Comfort food. Maybe a casserole with extra cheese. Likely a pan of double-chocolate brownies. Nourishment of body and soul.
Why?

Because the journey is too much for you.

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Excerpted from Relentless by Michele Cushatt, copyright Michele Cushatt.

MY EASTER TESTIMONY

SOURCE:  DR. BILL BELLICAN

In my home growing up (the early 1950s), there was not much talk about religion.  My father was building a career in the burgeoning hospitality/hotel industry. He had a Presbyterian background but not any church connection to speak of.  My mom had a Baptist upbringing and would periodically take me to a small Baptist church. Dad’s job kept him busy 24/7. Mom helped Dad a lot.  My young life was spent growing up in the hotels my Dad managed as was the business practice of that time.

Around age 13, Mom and I went to church one Sunday.  The pastor’s message caught my attention and grabbed my heart.  It was the message of salvation.  As God would have it, my mind and heart were quickened, and I went forward to accept Christ as my personal Lord and Savior later being baptized.  But, there was not much conversation at home about this important event I had experienced.

Sadly, my Dad died unexpectedly very soon thereafter of a massive heart attack, and my Mom became very emotionally needy and concerned about making a living. There were no other adults in my life at that time to model this new life in Christ for me or even to talk to about it.  Church attendance became much more sporadic as my grandmother (with dementia) came to live with us and needed much care.

As the years passed and I finished high school and went to college, my faith was still muted for the most part.  However, when I met the one who was to become my wife (Susan), things changed.  Susan grew up in Central Church-Memphis, TN and that’s where she was attending.  So, I started going to Central, too.  Upon my first visit, the Word preached penetrated my heart and mind in such a way that my faith came alive within me.  My dormant faith and life in Christ began to flourish.  In 1975, Susan and I married, and I began my career in the hospitality/hotel industry which was growing very rapidly.

Similar to my Dad, this career grew and demanded such time that it overtook the attention necessary for my faith to continue to grow. I was progressing up the “corporate ladder” quickly. My worldly life was working very well.  In essence, my spiritual life could be characterized as the “seed that fell among the thorns” (Luke 8:14).  The cares, worries, and successes of life overtook my focus on Christ.  I think my attitude became something like, “Thank you, Lord, for your blessings. I will call you if I need you.”

However, a life-change was coming.

In 1989, I was presented with the annual “Leadership Award.”  The corporation I worked for conveyed to me that I was one of their most valuable employees. By 1991, this same corporation was bought out by an international company, downsized, and relocated meaning I was out of a job.  God was beginning a loving, transformative process in my life, but I wasn’t aware of it, yet.

I expected that God would allow me to take advantage of my numerous business contacts and years of experience so I could simply step into another corporate job. However, God loved me too much to allow me to continue in my spiritual dysfunction with my eyes fixed on anything else but Him (Heb 12:2).  Nothing seemed to work out about another position.  Doors seemed to be closed for one reason or another.  Life began to get more desperate.  Benefits were running out.  My golden parachute developed holes.  Stresses in the home were mounting.  Savings were depleted.  Retirement funds were used to survive.  We were on the verge of losing everything.  I had entered into what St. John of the Cross referred to in his writings as “The Dark Night of the Soul.”  God was going to use this “dark night” to wisely and lovingly strip away everything that I had wrongly grown to put my faith in and depend upon.

As I was trying to understand what was happening, I turned to God helplessly and without any hope in anything else.  Strangely, my heart was drawn to the Word, to prayer in a most intimate way.  My relationship with Christ, my hunger for Him, my experience of His presence deepened like never before.  I didn’t have solutions to my problems, but I had the fullness of Christ with me.  Christ was disciplining me for my good, like a son, painfully, so I might desire and seek His holiness and righteousness for my life (Heb 12: 4-13).

With more clarity and counsel from others, in time I started to graduate school to finish my counseling education for licensure and worked as an independent business consultant to provide for my family. God kept enlarging my faith and trust in Him during this time. Later, I began working part-time for Central Church in the Counseling Ministry.  As I completed my graduate degree, I was allowed to direct the Counseling Ministry.  The Lord used all of these life events to get me where He wanted me to be that I might love Him and serve Him in a spiritually healthy way.

Like the author of Psalm 119, I found comfort in what God was doing in my life:

“Before I was afflicted I went astray but now I obey your word.

You are good and what you do is good.

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.

I know, O Lord, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness, you have afflicted me.”

[Psalm 119: 67-68, 71, 75]

8 LESSONS LEARNED FROM A LONG BATTLE WITH SPIRITUAL DEPRESSION

SOURCE:  Derek J. Brown/The Gospel Coalition

When I came to Christ during college in the winter of 1998, the months following my conversion were a time of spiritual bliss. The glory of God was visible everywhere, Jesus Christ was precious, God’s people were a delight, and personal holiness was a new passion.

In his mysterious providence, however, God soon led me into a season of spiritual agony.

Although I was at a school known for its vibrant community and biblical fidelity, my tendency toward intense introspection and a growing concern over personal sin conspired to create the perfect storm. Only two years after I stepped on to campus, I opted for a semester off because I was convinced I had committed the unpardonable sin. I was in a spiritual tailspin that would last the next few years.

In his kindness, after approximately five years of intense struggle, God gradually drew me out of the mire. Often during this season I asked the Lord for immediate restoration, but that was not his plan. Instead, it became increasingly clear that God was teaching me a few vital lessons for the sake my stability in the faith. If you find yourself in a similar season, please receive these gentle yet earnest exhortations.

(1) Remain in the Bible

When the blackness of spiritual depression is heavy upon your soul, you may not sense a hearty appetite for Scripture, but you must sit yourself at the table anyway. While intentional Bible reading is not the only means God will use to lift the veil, it is indispensible, and it must be used together with other means. Remember that David, who more than once cried out to God in mind-numbing despair also confessed that God’s word “restores the soul” (Psalm 19:7). To pursue a way out of your spiritual woes apart from Scripture will either lead to greater trouble or set you on a trajectory of unstable experientialism. Remain in the Bible.

(2) Stay in the Church

While walking through the thick haze of spiritual depression I remember a brother who shared similar struggles informing me that he was planning a multi-week solo hike to get alone with God. Although it sounded good at the time, I can say with confidence today that this brother’s plan was wrongheaded and dangerous. Although time alone with Jesus is essential, our Savior does not intend to remedy our troubles by removing us from the community of believers. Rather, he has given our brothers and sisters and pastors for our joy and to help us persevere in the faith (Phil. 1:27; Heb. 3:12-15). Stay in the church.

(3) Immerse Yourself in the Gospel

When I say immerse yourself in the gospel, I mean primarily two things. First, do what you can to ground your mind and heart in the doctrine of justification. Dive into books like The Cross-Centered Life by CJ Mahaney or The God Who Justifies by James White. Read until you are convinced that your right standing with God is based on Christ’s righteousness alone and that God justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). Your spiritual troubles are likely to remain to the degree that you are not resting in this foundational truth.

Secondly, seek to understand the doctrine of indwelling sin. When I was first converted, the depth and pervasiveness of my sin often staggered me. Colossians 3:1-11 and some solid counsel from John Owen, however, brought lasting comfort to my soul. The truth I needed to hear was this: regeneration provides me with a new power to fight sin, not an instantaneous eradication of all my inward corruption. If you are unclear on this particular truth, you will be tossed to and fro by temptation and your many sinful inclinations.

(4) Seek Means, Not Just Breakthroughs

While I don’t think it is not wrong to ask God for immediate breakthroughs of light into our spiritual darkness, I am convinced it is far better to seek means of gradual restoration. This approach is preferred because the constant desire for existential breakthroughs can unseat us from sure rock of Scripture and draw us away from the disciplines that God typically uses to grow and sustain our faith. Most often God will use the unheralded means of adequate sleep, exercise, a reasonable diet, regular worship and fellowship, Bible reading, good books, time outdoors, faithfulness in our responsibilities, and profitable ministry to pull us out of the throes of spiritual depression.

(5) Pursue Obedience, Not Just Introspection

Those who tend toward spiritual depression are often those who ruminate incessantly over the condition of their hearts. Some self-examination is good and biblical (2 Corinthians 13:5), but if we are not careful, self-examination can turn into morbid introspection where we relentlessly appraise our motives and evaluate our affections. And, although our introspection may appear super-spiritual, it might become a substitute for obedience. Instead of deleting that troublesome iPhone app and confessing your sin to a trusted friend, you look inside and ask, “Am I really repentant over that recent indulgence in pornography?” But God grants assurance not through introspection, but through obedience. As you actively repent from known sin, you will find far more assurance and relief from depression than if you merely look inward for conclusive evidence that you really love Jesus.

(6) Keep Working

There were many times during my struggle when I was convinced that time alone reading Scripture, praying, and pouring over books was the sole answer to my misery. Because of this, I often approached work as a hindrance to my spiritual health instead of what it really was: a God-given means of renewal and stability. I would even ask my employer to grant me early leave from my workday so I could retreat to my home, close the door, and ponder over the Puritans. It wasn’t until I was forced into work situations that didn’t allow withdrawals into my theological fantasyland that I started to see some break in the clouds. That I found significant help in the simple means of a profitable workday is no coincidence, however. God made us to work, and he intends that we find much physical and spiritual refreshment in attending diligently to our responsibilities.

(7) Fulfill Your Ministry

The weight of spiritual depression will often tempt us to fold in on ourselves. The remedy to our plight, however, is not more turning inward, but turning outward: first with faith to Jesus and the gospel, then to others in good works. You might feel that you are unqualified to serve in ministry in light of your own spiritual troubles. But let your pastor make these decisions as you submit to his leadership, and commit to fulfill your ministry. God has given you a spiritual gift to use for the good of the church (1 Corinthians 12:7) and you might be surprised by how the consistent use of your gift will set you on the path toward renewed joy and steadiness in the faith (see Paul’s description of the faithful deacon in 1 Timothy 3:13).

(8) Don’t Stop Moving

Those of us who tend toward spiritual depression may begin look for a remedy that removes the need for further action on our part. We may also conclude that the slowness of our recovery is reason for more despair. But both of these tendencies obscure the truth that our Christian life is best likened to a marathon. Occasionally we may sense that we’ve hit our stride, but often we will enter stretches where the weight of our burden is enough to bring us to a crawl. But continue we must, for God has set along our course all the refreshment we need to remain in the race. Don’t stop moving.

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Derek J. Brown (PhD, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is adjunct professor of Christian theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and pastoral assistant at Grace Bible Fellowship of Silicon Valley. You can visit his blog at DerekJamesBrown.com.

Anything Becomes an IDOL When It Keeps Me Away From God

SOURCE: Charles Spurgeon

WITH THEE IS THE FOUNTAIN OF LIFE

There are times in our spiritual experience when human counsel or sympathy, or religious ordinances, fail to comfort or help us. Why does our gracious God permit this?

Perhaps it is because we have been living too much without him, and he therefore takes away everything upon which we have been in the habit of depending, that he may drive us to himself.

It is a blessed thing to live at the fountain head. While our skin- bottles are full, we are content, like Hagar and Ishmael, to go into the wilderness; but when those are dry, nothing will serve us but “Thou God seest me.” We are like the prodigal, we love the swine-troughs and forget our Father’s house. Remember, we can make swine-troughs and husks even out of the forms of religion; they are blessed things, but we may put them in God’s place, and then they are of no value.

Anything becomes an idol when it keeps us away from God: even the brazen serpent is to be despised as “Nehushtan,” if we worship it instead of God. The prodigal was never safer than when he was driven to his father’s bosom, because he could find sustenance nowhere else.

Our Lord favours us with a famine in the land that it may make us seek after himself the more.

The best position for a Christian is living wholly and directly on God’s grace—still abiding where he stood at first—“Having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” Let us never for a moment think that our standing is in our sanctification, our mortification, our graces, or our feelings, but know that because Christ offered a full atonement, therefore we are saved; for we are complete in him. Having nothing of our own to trust to, but resting upon the merits of Jesus—his passion and holy life furnish us with the only sure ground of confidence.

Beloved, when we are brought to a thirsting condition, we are sure to turn to the fountain of life with eagerness.

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Spurgeon, C. H. (2006). Morning and evening : Daily readings (Complete and unabridged; New modern edition.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.

Listen to Jesus’ Voice in the Storm

SOURCE:  Octavius Winslow/A Puritan At Heart

“Take courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.” Mark 6:50

Listen, then, to the voice of Jesus in the storm!

It is I who raised the tempest in your soul — and will control it.
It is I who sent your affliction — and will be with you in it.
It is I who kindled the furnace — and will watch the flames, and bring you through it.

It is I who formed your burden, who carved your cross — and who will strengthen you to bear it.
It is I who mixed your cup of grief — and will enable you to drink it with meek submission to your Father’s will.

It is I who took from you worldly substance, who bereft you of your child, of the wife of your bosom, of the husband of your youth — and will be infinitely better to you than husband, wife, or child.

It is I who has done it ALL!

I make the clouds My chariot, and clothe Myself with the tempest as with a garment. The night hour is My time of coming, and the dark, surging waves are the pavement upon which I walk.

Take courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.

It is I — your Friend, your Brother, your Savior! I am causing all the circumstances of your life to work together for your good.

It is I who permitted . . .
the enemy to assail you,
the slander to blast you,
the unkindness to wound you,
the need to press you!

Your affliction did not spring out of the ground, but came down from above — a heaven-sent blessing disguised as an angel of light, clad in a robe of ebony.
I have sent all in love!

This sickness is not unto death — but for the glory of God.
This bereavement shall not always bow you to the earth, nor drape in changeless gloom your life.

It is I who ordered, arranged, and controlled it all!

In every stormy wind,
in every darksome night,
in every lonesome hour,
in every rising fear,

— the voice of Jesus shall be heard, saying, “Take courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.”

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Octavius Winslow (1808 – 1878), also known as “The Pilgrim’s Companion”, stood out as one of the foremost evangelical preachers of the 19th Century in England and America.

Do I Thirst for more Thirst for God? I Must!

SOURCE:  Based on an article by Tim Challies

Every soul thirsts. This thirst may not be obvious in every moment, but at some point and to some degree every soul thirsts after something, something it does not have. We are rarely content in our current condition, rarely content just the way we are. But while we all thirst, we do not all thirst in the same way. Donald Whitney’s book Ten Questions To Diagnose Your Spiritual Healthhas much to say about this. Whitney identifies 3 ways in which our souls thirst.

The Thirst of the Empty Soul

The soul of the unbeliever is empty toward the things of God. Until the Spirit fills the soul with his presence, it is devoid of any love for God. Without God, the unbeliever is constantly looking for something, anything. But he is unable to fill the emptiness. This is something many people do not understand, but something the Bible teaches clearly: While the believer’s soul is empty because he does not know God, he does not and cannot seek to fill it with God. Many people believe that unbelievers are truly seeking after God but unable to find him. The Bible tells us, though, that the empty soul is unable to understand or satisfy this thirst. Not only that, but the empty soul does not want to understand this thirst, and would not, even if it were possible. The empty soul is completely and fully opposed to God; it is deceitful and desperately wicked. As Paul writes in Romans 3:11, quoting David, “no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Psalm 14:2).

Thus the empty soul is left seeking to be satisfied by other things, fleeting things, good things and bad things. It seeks satisfaction in work, family, love, sex, money and everything else the world has to offer. It may seek satisfaction in religion and even the Christian faith, but it never truly seeks God and thus never truly finds him. Until the Holy Spirit enables that soul to understand the source of his thirst and enables him to see the One who can satisfy, he will continue to look in vain. “Just because a man longs for something that can be found in God alone doesn’t mean he’s looking for God,” says Whitney, “Many who claim they are questing for God are not thirsting for God as he has revealed himself in Scripture, but only for God as they want him to be, or a God who will give them what they want.”

The Thirst of the Dry Soul

There is a second type of spiritual thirst, and it is the thirst of the dry soul. This is a thirst that is felt only by those who believe. It does not indicate that he has fallen away from the Lord, but that he is in a dry place spiritually and that his soul is in need of refreshment. There are three ways a Christian can become spiritually arid:

The first is by drinking too deeply from the fountains of the world and too little from the river of God. When a believer drinks too much of what the world has to offer and too little of what God offers, his soul becomes parched. Giving himself over to his sin means he has turned his back on God, even if only for a while. He has allowed his soul to run dry.

The second way a believer can become arid is what the Puritans referred to as “God’s desertions.” There are times in life when God’s presence is very real to and other times where the Christian feels only his absence. The Christian knows that God’s absence is merely a matter of perception and that there is never a time where he actually withdraws. However, there are seasons in which he removes from his children a conscious knowledge of his presence.

The third way a believer becomes arid is fatigue, either mental or physical. Becoming burned-out by the cares and concerns of the world will cause a believer to focus too much on himself, thus turning his thoughts away from God.

The dry soul yearns for God and nothing else will satisfy. This soul has tasted God, it has seen God, and it wants nothing more than to return to being close to him. And when the soul is dry, God is faithful and good to provide the nourishment the soul desires. He fills, he restores and he satisfies.

The Thirst of the Satisfied Soul

The final type of spiritual thirst is the thirst of the satisfied soul. The satisfied soul desires God precisely because he is satisfied in him. There are many biblical examples of this, but perhaps one of the clearest is the apostle Paul who, in Philippians 3, went to great lengths to describe the depth of his relationship with Christ, but then added the words “that I may know him.” His satisfaction in Christ and the deep love and affection he felt for God only stimulated his desire to know him more. Paul wanted nothing more than to know and love God. His satisfaction made him thirsty for more. Thomas Shepard wrote “There is in true grace an infinite circle; a man by thirsting receives, and receiving thirsts for more.” This is not a cycle of frustration, where the Christian continually laments that he does not know more, but a cycle of satisfaction and earnest desire.

So…Thirst!

Let me close with a prayer of A.W. Tozer. “O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made thirsty still.” Amen! It is my desire, and the desire of all who believe and thirst after God, that we may be filled with longing to long after God, and to thirst that we may be thirsty still. God grant that we may be men and women who, being satisfied, thirst for him!

Out Of The Darkness: How can you pray when your heart is broken?

SOURCE:  Taken from an article in Discipleship Journal/Robert Boardman

Pain!

Sometimes it feels like you’re drowning in it.

No matter how much we try to fight it, suffering is a part of life. It may be in the form of a broken body or a broken heart but, sooner or later, it will come.

Pain can make us or break us; When it hits full force we have two choices: to blame and reject the God who could have prevented it, or to trust that it is part of His perfect plan for our lives. Pain is the crucible in which real faith is formed.

In Psalm 77, Asaph shows us how personal anguish can lead to growth. His pilgrimage shows us four crucial steps that lead from despair to joy.

Asaph had an exceptional ability to be honest about spiritual struggles. His honesty shows in each of the eleven psalms he wrote (73–83), whether he is confessing his own failures (Ps. 73:2–3) or admitting his confusion over God’s strange ways (Ps. 74:1). He knows us. He understands our innermost struggles, our abject hearts. He puts words to our wretched feelings. Yet he perseveres by faith to praise, and from his perseverance we can take hope.

STEP ONE FOCUSING ON OURSELVES

It’s natural, when we suffer difficulty, to think first of ourselves, to pray first about our personal needs. And Asaph was no exception. In Psalm 77 he wrote,

1 I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. 2 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. 3 I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint. 4 You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak.

Notice Asaph’s focus in these first four verses:   I cried out, I was in distress, I sought the Lord, stretched out untiring hands, my soul refused to be comforted, I remembered you, I groaned, I mused, my spirit grew faint, I was troubled. Some people condemn this kind of preoccupation with one’s own feelings as selfish, yet it can be the first step toward healing—if it leads us to seek help beyond ourselves. After all, God is thinking about us, too. He loves us. He desires our greatest good.

While God cares about our suffering, He is more concerned with molding our lives so that we will bring Him more honor, glory, and praise. But our private pain, at least at first, prevents our understanding that.

It is never easy to turn to God for help. By nature we are proud. We would rather maintain our independence, even as failures, than acknowledge our dependence on God. We will cast all our cares on God only when we are honest enough to admit that we are overwhelmed by them (1 Pet. 5:7). If we try to cover up the pain, or pretend it is not there, we are really relying on our own efforts to deal with it. So looking first within ourselves and becoming aware of the pain that is there is the first step toward growth.

In 1945, I had returned from war in the Pacific with a serious injury and a new hope: life in Christ. In the U.S. Naval Hospital in Farragut, Idaho, my spiritual life was beginning to grow as my body slowly mended. Then I met Jean. Her beauty, her personality, and her godly character captured my heart, and I was in love.

Then one day in 1947 a thick letter came. Even before I opened it, I knew instinctively that it was a “Dear John.” The heart I had given her, Jean had returned smashed, crushed seemingly beyond repair.

I cried out to God in anguish. And as I poured out my pain, confusion, and fear before His throne, over time, He began to collect the broken pieces and painstakingly accomplish His skilled repair work. (Interestingly, when God did finally give me a wife, her name was Jean, too.)

God is our refuge. He waits eagerly to take us in, to listen to our heart’s cry, to care, to comfort, to mend. But first we must admit that we are hurting. The feelings we attempt to hold within will someday burst like the walls of a dam, sending raging waters upon the unsuspecting in the peaceful valleys below and causing inestimable damage.

STEP TWO: ASKING QUESTIONS

Now Asaph shifts focus. No longer does he look only at himself and his troubles. He looks at God. And what he sees, he doesn’t like.

Shaken by what, from all appearances, is a failure of God’s love and faithfulness, he assails God with questions:

7 “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? 8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time?  9 Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

Asaph is in such turmoil that he questions the very character of God. Yet God does not destroy him. He recognizes the desperate cry of a wounded heart, a confused heart, and sees it as a necessary step toward faith. God is never angry or upset over a person’s honest questions.

In 1970 in Seoul, Korea, God saw best to take to himself the small daughter of our friends Paul and Sukja Yoo. During a severe water shortage in one of Seoul’s steamy, humid summers, the Yoos kept their tile bathtub filled with water in order to have a minimal supply. In an unattended moment, little Hiju, intrigued by the prospect of playing in the water, tumbled in and drowned.

Paul and Sukja asked God, “Why?” God understood and welcomed the question. In His own time and way, He answered their anxious hearts.

The cry of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross echoed Ps. 22:1:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?”  He questioned the Father, but trusted Him for the answers.

The glorious resurrection was an answer to His impassioned plea. And in time there came multitudes from every tribe, kindred, tongue, and nation whose sins were washed away in His sacrifice on Calvary.

For every believer, there are times of darkness when we do not have answers to our questions. But during those times we can and should ask God honest questions about ourselves, our circumstances, our ministry, our loved ones, family, enemies, our future . . . end then believe Him for amazing and wonderful assurances. “Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God” (Is. 50:10).  He teaches us to wait after asking our questions in order that we might learn to trust Him wholly, even without answers.

STEP THREE: REFLECTING ON THE PAST

Until this point, Asaph has been involved in a great struggle. He has wrestled with the deep problems of his own soul and the hard circumstances around him.

God’s seeming inactivity in response to the psalmist’s prayer brings bewilderment, but it does not prevent him from making a very important decision. He says,

10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.” 11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. 12 I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.

Beginning from verse 10, Asaph begins to come out of the darkness. Now the tempo of his outlook begins to change. Notice the “I will’s” in these three verses. Asaph is choosing to reflect on God despite his suffering, overwhelming circumstances, and the bewilderment of God’s silence. He is no longer carried along by the circumstances of his trial and his questions.

Asaph’s willingness to do this reveals a meek and lowly disposition. He stops fighting against God and opens his heart to His answers. His struggles in prayer begin to cease.

God honors this kind of humility; He responds to one who will think upon His mighty acts. “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word” (Is. 66:2).

And as Asaph begins to focus on the power and faithfulness of God throughout history—and perhaps even earlier in his own life—he gains the perspective he needs. He begins to see his own struggles in the context of a longer, larger work of God through history. He begins to anchor himself in the immovable foundation that will counterbalance present appearances.

Surely God brought salvation then, if He showed compassion then, if He fulfilled His promise then—surely He can do so now, for me, in the midst of my torment.  Such might have been Asaph’s thoughts as he clung to the reassuring facts of God’s dealings in history. He may not have had an explanation of his own sufferings yet; he may not have seen their outcome yet. But this he knew: God had delivered His people before; He could deliver him now.

So it is with us. Reflecting on the past faithfulness of God brings spiritual equilibrium to our lives. When we remember what God has done for us in the past, we know that once again, even in the midst of a great test, He could lift us up, bring solutions, and reveal Himself to us. Looking back gives us perspective on the needs of the present and the possibilities of the future.

STEP FOUR: FOCUSING ON GOD

Now, in answer to his own doubts and complaints, Asaph sets forth in praise the specific things God has done that give him hope:

13 Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God? 14 You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. 15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.  16 The waters saw you, O God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths were convulsed.  17 The clouds poured down water, the skies resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth. 18 Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked. 19 Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.  20 You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Remember how self-centered the first section of this psalm was? Sixteen times in six verses Asaph had spoken of himself—”I,” “me,” “my.” Contrast that with his words in this last section. Not once in eight verses does he refer to himself. His focus is entirely on God: on God’s holiness, power, redemption, faithfulness, and tender mercy. Meditating on these things delivers Asaph from the bondage of depression and self-pity and ushers him into the liberty of exultant praise.

Warren and Ruth Myers say this about praise:

Prayer has been called the slender nerve that moves the mighty hand of God. Any form of sincere, believing prayer channels God’s power into our lives and situations, but the prayer of praise especially releases His power. Praise is “faith in action”—and faith brings victory that changes circumstances or victory in circumstances as they are.

One of the most dramatic stories of the power of praise is found in 2 Chronicles 20. When King Jehoshaphat of Judah learned that Moabite and Ammonite troops were advancing on Jerusalem, he stood before the people and acknowledged his powerlessness before God. God promised that He would deliver them.

So sure was Jehoshaphat of God’s faithfulness that he appointed a group of men to march in front of his army “to sing to the LORD and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness.” And “as they began to sing and praise,” God caused the enemy armies to turn upon each other. Every soldier of Moab and Ammon was dead before Jehoshaphat’s troops reached the battlefield.

Praise is the ultimate weapon against the forces that would defeat us, as well. If we would only praise God by faith, as Asaph did, it could lead us to amazing victories, both in our personal lives and in our ministries.

Taking our eyes off ourselves and choosing to praise God is the final step toward growth in the midst of suffering. Praise proves we are “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). Our spirits rise, God regains His place at the center of our lives, and we become “transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Cor. 3:18).

C. M. Hanson wrote, “Praise is like a plow set to go deep into the soil of believers’ hearts. It lets the glory of God into the details of daily living.” Let us say with the psalmist, “I will praise God’s lame in song and glorify Him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hoofs” (Ps. 69:30–31).

FOUR STEPS TO GROWTH

What worked for Asaph can work for us, too. In the midst of our greatest difficulties, we can be transformed from despair to adoration if we will be honest about our own feelings, ask the questions that haunt us, remember how God has worked in the past, and praise His holiness, faithfulness, and love.

We must not bury our feelings. Hiding them merely lets them fester end spread. Instead, we must expose them to the healing air of communion with God.

Neither must we hide our doubt inspired questions, however impertinent they might seem. They’ll be no surprise to God. We might as well get them out in the open where they can be objectified and answered.

But when we’ve asked our questions, we must be honest enough to listen for answers, too. And we will find those answers in the miraculous works of God recorded in Scripture, in history, and in our own past.

Finally, as we are reminded of God’s faithfulness and steadfast love, let us praise Him. And as we focus our hearts on God’s power to work on our behalf instead of on our own suffering, we will be freed from the bondage of despair.

In our deepest distress, when we cannot see the path down which God leads us, we can be sure that, as our Good Shepherd, He leads us by the hand. The reasons for our trials may not yet be revealed—may never be this side of eternity. But we know who goes before us, and by what He has done we can be sure of what He will yet do.

Ever tried manipulative praying? I have…

Adpated from an article at Counseling Solutions

A true story: once upon a time God allowed me the privilege of entering into what I called the “dark night of the soul.” What really happened is that my loving and merciful Heavenly Father escorted me into the crucible of suffering.

It was a time in my life that lasted over nine years.

Though it’s a hokey cliche, I must say, “It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.”

What I mean is that there has never been a time in my life where I felt more in tune to God and there has never been a time in my life where I wanted the unrelenting pain to go away more than then.

I was hurting, angry, bitter, and hopeless, but I knew the Lord was mercifully and incrementally helping me to die to myself.

You see the juxtaposition of the fear/faith tension in John Donne’s Holy Sonnet, where he pleaded with the Father this way:

Batter my heart, three person’d God; for, you As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee,’and bend
Your force, to breake, blow, burn and make me new.

Has God ever “battered your heart?” What began as knocking, breathing, and shining soon turned into breaking, blowing, and burning?

The beginning of woes for me was 1988. That was 23-years ago. I can look back on it now with more clarity and understanding.

The day God began battering my heart

One of [my] favorite Broadway plays is Les Miserables. One of the characters in the play is Fantine, who lives a mostly miserable life and ends up dying too soon. Her “song” in the play is called “I Dreamed a Dream.” Here is a portion:

I had a dream my life would be So different from this hell I’m living,
So different now from what it seemed…
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed…

I understand. During the season of my crucible I was extremely bitter about where my life was and where it seemed to be going. My desire and God’s desire were colliding and I was not one bit happy about the story He was writing for me.

The first four years of my dark night of the soul was spent studying the Book of Job. During that time I read, meditated, prayed, and cried through Job’s struggle. I’ll never forget the day when I arrived at chapter 23 and read these words:

But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does. For he will complete what he appoints for me, and many such things are in his mind. Therefore I am terrified at his presence; when I consider, I am in dread of him. – Job 23:13-15 (ESV)

The words above stunned me. God is changeless, even when suffering is appointed for me! Are you kidding? Are you saying I cannot turn Him back from the course He has me on? Correct. Are you really serious that He is thinking about a few other things for me too? Yes. Then what else is in His mind?

I wonder if I can fake God out?

As I meditated on these thoughts that were really more than I could process, it occurred to me that God released Job from the crucible of suffering and wonderfully blessed him in due time. (Job 42:10) At that point I began to think that He would release me too.

I concluded that all I needed to do was let God know that I had learned the life lessons He was teaching me and that I was not bitter or angry anymore. He needed to know that I was ready to move on to the blessing He had prepared for me. This is how I prayed:

Thank you Father for the privilege of suffering. You have taught me many things and I am grateful for the life lessons. You are merciful. Your work in me has accomplished many things and I am now ready to go to the next thing. I’m ready to be released from this suffering and look forward to much fruitful ministry that I know will grow because of this season you have spent in my life. Amen!

I knew in my heart of hearts this was “manipulative praying.” I was desperate and hurting. I was the one deciding when enough was enough and was unwittingly (okay, wittingly) trying to manipulate God with the hope that the suffering would end. Then I read this verse again:

But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does. – Job 23:13 (ESV)

At some level of my heart I knew what I hoped through this kind of praying would not happen. I also knew He was not through with me yet. God sees in the dark and He most certainly knew what I needed then and now. In fact, He knows  more of what I need than I do. The real issue for me was whether I would trust Him as He did surgery on my soul, regardless of how long the surgery would take.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. –Hebrews 4:12-13 (ESV)

It took nine years for that operation…and, thankfully, He is still relentless in His pursuit of me.

What he desires, that he does. – Job 23:13 (ESV)

Your Healing Is Coming: Perhaps Sooner, Perhaps Later

When God Doesn’t Heal: How do you respond when prayers for healing seem to be ignored?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Sheridan Voysey

“I’ve been in the church for 20 years, but in just a few minutes of prayer my decade-long marriage problem has been healed,” Patricia told me. “Why didn’t this happen sooner?”

Patricia had just returned from a conference on prayer and healing. Going forward during one of the altar calls, she received prayer from a member of the conference team who asked God to release her from past relational sins. The results were powerful. After those few minutes of focused prayer, Pat felt she’d been released into new intimacy with her husband. The two of them are now starting their relationship “from scratch” with long talks and regular date nights. As a reunited couple, Pat and her husband even pray for others’ wholeness.

Patricia’s newfound freedom raised questions. For years she had prayed faithfully with others, sought godly counsel, and received marriage counseling from professionals. Why had God waited so long to answer? And why was it this person’s prayer that succeeded?

The mystery over the miraculous remains. One infertile couple conceives while another remains in grief. One cancer patient receives the all-clear while another continues to suffer. When miraculous relief does come, the rejoicing of the blessed leads to mourning for the unchanged as they ask, Why hasn’t God healed me like He healed her?

Why God heals some and not others has perplexed His people throughout history. I continue to be baffled by it, and as much as I’d like to offer an answer, I cannot. But through listening to stories of those who seek healing, I have noticed three principles about how we might respond while we wait and pray. The first came from a personal wrestle of faith.

Responsible Change

My wife and I were completing a trip across Australia and had begun the three-day drive back to Brisbane, our home city. The trip had been filled with excitement. I had met with a Christian radio station and agreed to join them as their morning announcer. The prospect meant leaving family and friends within weeks to live thousands of miles away. It was a giant move, but I marveled at how God had opened a door to full-time Christian broadcasting—a calling I’d felt for years.

Then, on that drive back, I felt a strange itching in my throat. At first I thought it was due to thirst. Throughout the interstate trek, I drank often but found no relief. At home, I returned to the radio station where I worked and settled into my four-hour show. About halfway through the shift, it happened. Midsentence, with thousands listening, my voice broke. As I gasped and coughed, I reached in panic for the button that played the commercials. I struggled through the rest of the show, thoroughly embarrassed and fearful I’d done irreversible damage.

In the weeks that followed, speaking above a whisper was painful. My voice would crack like a pubescent teenager’s when I reached a certain volume. I grew fearful and confused. I was about to travel to the other side of the earth (or so it felt) to do a job that required me to use my voice—a voice that now resembled a raspy wheeze. Was this God’s way of saying I was to stay in Brisbane? Was it the enemy trying to stop a season of fruitful ministry?

I began to pray for healing—long and often. I also saw a speech therapist every morning before driving to work and struggling through my four-hour show.

Desperation set in after weeks of pain. Tired, sore, and in anguish, I went to my study one night and opened my Bible to Psalm 77. The psalm’s deep pathos connected with my confused heart:

I cried out to God for help. . . . I stretched out untiring hands. . . . My soul refused to be comforted. . . . My spirit grew faint. . . . I was too troubled to speak. —vv. 1–4

My questions were intense. Without a voice, how could I do the ministry I felt called to? What else could I do? Was preaching also over for me?

I, a man who has shed tears perhaps three times in the last 10 years, began to cry. The sobs carried my pent-up emotions as watery prayers to God. Another prayer for healing, for the confusion to end, and then I went to bed.

Describing the following morning is difficult. A dramatic change had taken place. I was able to speak with more freedom and less pain. The improvement continued throughout the day (my voice normally deteriorated as the day wore on). My voice was still prone to fatigue and strain, but the threshold had lifted markedly. God had touched me.

My partial healing allowed me to work on-air, but my costly speech therapy continued—and here is where the lessons came. My therapist showed me that I’d been forcing my voice into an unnatural pitch. Unsatisfied with my God-given sound, I had been trying to use a deeper voice. I also hadn’t been doing warm-up exercises or drinking any water during an entire four-hour show. In short, for six years I had been abusing my voice.

The experience taught me a powerful lesson. Had God healed me when I first asked Him to, I would have continued my voice-destroying habits. Like feeding sugar to a child with rotten teeth, the healing would have harmed me in the long run. What loving father gives his children a stone when they’ve asked for bread, or a snake when they’ve asked for fish (Mt. 7:9–10)? Yet, sometimes without realizing it, we ask for the stone or the serpent when we pray for instant healing. God wants to provide solutions that will nourish and sustain, not shatter and sting.

The complete restoration of my voice required change: new speaking habits, silly-sounding vocal exercises, an acceptance of my natural tone and timbre. These changes took time and effort. In fact, it took a couple of years for my voice to return to its full strength.

Since then, when I pray for healing, I consider what part of the healing God may be calling me to. Is my lifestyle involved? Is my illness due to poor diet or exercise? Am I seeking a supernatural shortcut when God wants a character-building personality adjustment? When God doesn’t heal, it may be that He’s asking us to make some practical changes. But we are called to spiritual action as well.

Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. —Jas. 5:14–15

Seeking healing prayer takes humility. We become vulnerable, exposing ourselves to others. We have to wrestle with our sense of self-sufficiency. Some Christians (myself included) have needed the gentle nudge of God to take up this offer of healing prayer by church eldership. Yet this scripture makes it clear who is to do the asking. Will we respond?

Patient Waiting

Perhaps you’ve taken responsibility, made lifestyle changes, and called the elders to pray for you as Scripture teaches. Or perhaps your infirmity is beyond any lifestyle choice. Multiple sclerosis can strike at random, and someone paralyzed by a drunk driver’s actions has little to take responsibility for. What sustains us in these circumstances?

One man’s story has helped me see a second principle related to our journey toward healing: God has arranged for us all to be made whole—in His special timing.

In 1997, accountant David McKenzie’s life came to an abrupt halt when he was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease (MND). This degenerative terminal illness affects the cells in the spinal cord that send messages to the body’s muscles. The muscles cease to respond as the neurons mysteriously die off, leaving patients increasingly paralyzed, affecting their ability to speak and reducing their capacity to swallow. Eventually, breathing stops and the darkness of death pervades. A slow and agonizing illness, MND has been dubbed the “thief of dignity” and is often used as an example by lobbyists for legalized euthanasia.

David was just 45 years old when the diagnosis came. He had a devoted wife and young family. When I spoke to him for a radio interview, he’d just “celebrated” his fifth anniversary since the diagnosis—two years longer than the doctor’s initial prognosis. Yet the effects of the disease were significant. By then he could not eat, get dressed, bathe, or go to the toilet without his wife’s assistance. When I telephoned, David propped the handset on a table so he could talk to me from his wheelchair. His voice in decay, he spoke as though his mouth were full of gravel.

David and I talked about a number of things, including the numbness he felt walking from the doctor’s office that day in 1997, and the fear and embarrassment victims feel throughout their wrestle with MND. We also talked about his quest for healing.

Like many suffering a chronic disease, David tried anything to find freedom. He experimented with wonder diets and special supplements. He considered the possibility that a curse had been put on him and wondered whether deliverance was required. Visiting Israel on a holiday, David was sprinkled with water from the River Jordan. He prayed at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, prayed again at the supposed site of Jesus’ crucifixion and while sailing on the Sea of Galilee. (The lack of results confirmed to David that should a miracle come, it would be through God’s power and not some geographical location.)

Some friends told David that if he just had faith, healing would come. On another occasion, he emailed a prayer request for healing to a well-known evangelist and healer. At a church meeting, a visiting minister foretold that David would be healed and would administer healing to others. While David acknowledges that he has experienced some emotional and spiritual healing through prayer, no physical change has come. He remains very ill.

Some, having gone through such experiences, would denounce God’s healing activity all together. David doesn’t. “I really don’t know what the future holds,” he told me. “Perhaps there is a cure, perhaps God will heal me miraculously, I don’t know. I’ve prayed for it, and there are hundreds of people who are praying for it. Some people have prayed every day since I was diagnosed.” David remains prayerful yet grounded in a certain hope. “I still dream of the future; there is some promise. But overall, I always take hope in the eternal life that I know will come my way.”

If we consider our lives as a pencil line on a page, our earthly years are quite brief, a momentary span in the larger time line of history (Jas. 4:13–15). For one person, physical healing may come at age 20, perhaps at age 40 for another. God may bring David’s healing at the 54-year point. Yet, as others blow his nose for him and wipe up food dropped in his attempt to bring fork to mouth, David McKenzie takes comfort that, whether it comes in this lifetime or not, total healing is planned into his destiny when he is ushered into eternity.

If you’re still plagued with pain and awaiting wholeness, there’s hope. Your healing is coming; perhaps later, perhaps sooner. God has a special moment, a season for everything (Ecclesiastes 3). Our lives are cupped in His hands without a day unaccounted for (Ps. 31:14–15). In the meantime, like the persistent widow, we persevere in prayer and continue in loyalty (Lk. 18:1–8). Like King David, we remain confident in God’s promised salvation as we experience our trials (Ps. 27:3). Like Isaiah, we wait patiently for our God:

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! —Is. 30:18

Faith-filled Expectation

God is going to do something on this healing journey of ours. If it’s healing in this life, He will bring it. If a season of suffering is to be withstood, He will use it for our ultimate good (Ro. 5:3–5), and He will help us toward the blessing that comes through ministering to others (2 Cor. 1:3–4). In fact, our suffering could be the very sign that God is using us in His redemptive plan. Thus, we watch and listen in faith-filled expectation.

I once spoke to Harry Leasement, a returned missionary who’d spent a good portion of his ministry working in Estonia. Harry shared a remarkable story of the gospel’s spread among Estonia’s hearing-impaired community. It all began when two young men applied for Leasement’s newly established Bible college. One had partial hearing; the other was completely deaf. Hesitant, but sensing the Lord’s guidance, Harry enrolled the eager students and began the lengthy process of adapting the curriculum to their unique needs.

From these small beginnings—just two obedient, deaf disciples—came a tremendous harvest for God’s kingdom. Within two years, more than 300 of Estonia’s deaf had converted. They began their own school and have since established a college especially for training deaf missionaries. The movement has spread into Russia, Mongolia, and the Ukraine. The number of deaf Christians now reaches into the tens of thousands.

Intrigued by the story, I asked Harry the obvious question: What about healing? He must have thought that through, I suggested. Harry smiled and replied, “We more than thought it through. Being Pentecostal in our leanings, we prayed it through, and we preached it! In fact, both of these guys are skinny from fasting and seeking God. They sought the Lord [for their healing] for several years.” Yet God didn’t heal.

Through this seeming silence from God comes another lesson about waiting for God’s healing. “Actually,” Harry continued, “one of our interpreters was healed of her deafness. Yet when she was healed, she found herself on the outs with the profoundly deaf. The two men received a grace from God to recognize their deafness as the key to reaching the deaf community.”

Harry quoted the statistics: There are 8.7 million profoundly deaf people in Russia and 75.2 million in China. “When the men received the concept that deafness could be a key to reach people no one else could reach, a joy came into their lives.”

The walk of faith is a life of expectation. We believe that God rewards those who seek Him (Heb. 11:6), and so we expect to see results. But sometimes our suffering has a redemptive benefit for others. The Estonian men remain deaf to reach their hearing-impaired brethren, the Apostle Paul suffered his “thorn in the flesh” so that God’s power would propel his missionary endeavors (2 Cor. 12:7–10), and Jesus Christ died so that we might live forever. Suffering is a bit easier to endure when we can see God’s purpose in it. Through such redemptive pain, we can experience an unusual joy. Joy came to the Estonians when they saw their deafness as a gift, Paul said that because of God’s grace he delighted in his difficulties, and Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before him” (Heb. 12:2).

I still have many questions about miraculous healing. I don’t know why God chose to touch Patricia’s marital problem after such a long time while leaving others unhealed. Yet, when our problems continue, I sense that our calling is to live in responsible, patient, faith-filled expectation.

Where Are You, Lord? What’s really going on when God seems absent?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Tom Eisenman

I knew right away that Josh had called with the bad news we’d hoped never to hear: Jada, our 14-month-old granddaughter, had succumbed to the genetic disorder she’d battled so bravely throughout her brief life.

After hanging up the phone, Judie and I were too numb with grief to cry. We just held each other for what seemed an eternity.

That day was the final crushing blow in a long season of trauma and pain. In the months before, we had lost one of our best friends in a tragic automobile accident. The day after his funeral, I received word that my mother had suffered a massive stroke. The following day she was gone. Just prior to these heartbreaking losses, I’d had to resign from a long-term ministry position. Under financial stress, we sold the home we loved; then we were forced to move twice in less than a year. Now our beautiful grandbaby was dead. On occasions, we wondered if our grief would consume us.

This period was also spiritually confusing. Judie and I both struggled to relate to God. At times we felt as if He didn’t care.

“God, where are You?” we’d pray. “What are You doing?”

Too often there would just be silence.

God’s strange absence was one of the most jarring things we’d ever experienced. We were confident God was there. We knew He was at work in our lives. But He was not there and working in the ways we had come to expect.

I remembered at one point how King David had also experienced painful times when God seemed distant to him. We began to take some comfort in knowing we were not the first children of God to endure confusing periods of spiritual darkness.

The 16th-century priest John of the Cross wrote extensively about these wilderness journeys. He called them “dark nights of the soul.” John testified that these prolonged and painful periods of dryness—when received in faith rather than resisted—would eventually result in a truer, more profound intimacy with God.

The Soul at Midnight

If you look for “dark night of the soul” in your concordance, you won’t find it. But even if that phrase doesn’t come directly from the Bible, it’s clear that many people depicted there experienced what I’ve been describing. Few enjoyed as close a relationship with God as David, “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). Yet David often struggled to find God’s presence in the midst of painful circumstances.

In the Psalms we encounter his descriptions of the common dark-night feelings of suffering in isolation, losing one’s bearings, and having no solid place to stand.

 Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

—10:1

Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold.…I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God.

—69:1–3

David knew what it’s like to feel God withdraw His presence. Confronted with his sin of adultery and murder, David pleads,

 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

—51:11–12

 Painful, Yet Fruitful

The “willing spirit” David prayed for usually comes at a great price. The Bible makes it absolutely clear that God is for us and that nothing can separate us from His love (Ro. 8:31–39). But God is also deeply committed to our growth. The Scriptures describe three painful processes that God will use—often during dark-night periods—to remove from our lives that which does not honor Him.

Pruning.   Jesus teaches that pruning is at the heart of His Father’s transforming work: “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be more fruitful” (Jn. 15:2). In the California wine country where I live, we constantly see pruning’s effects. Grapevines look like dead stumps after they’ve been pruned. You wouldn’t believe anything good could again come from these gnarly hunks of wood. But by late summer the vines are flourishing, bending low under the weight of a healthy and abundant crop.

Refining. Another process is refining through fire. “See, I have refined you…,” God says. “I have tested you in the furnace of affliction” (Is. 48:10). And the Apostle Peter, no stranger to suffering, writes,

These [trials] have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.—1 Pet. 1:7

Shaking. Finally, the writer of Hebrews describes a process of shaking, telling us that God is removing…what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.…For our “God is a consuming fire.”

—Heb. 12:27, 29

At the heart of the dark-night journey is this place of reduction and humiliation where every twig marked “self rule” must be cut off and thrown in the fire. God’s fire burns away deadwood but also refines our characters, drawing the impurities from our souls. And where we have tried to rest our lives on pillars that do not reach bedrock, there will be a shaking, a divine demolition, until only that which cannot be shaken remains. Yet even then God promises,

Fear not, for I have redeemed you.…When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze [or, consume you].—Is. 43:1–2

When we encounter this work of God, we feel lost and out of control. We grope around, trying to find our bearings, confused by the upheaval in our souls. Yet God is profoundly shaping our faith. We are being dismantled at our core, then gracefully reconstructed from the inside out.

Road Signs

It is good to know when you might be entering a dark night. It is a comfort to know that this tough time is a work of God in progress, not some senseless series of ugly events. Here are some signs that I believe can help us recognize when we are experiencing this unique work of God.

A perceived change in God’s presence.  During the painful period Judie and I went through, we experienced God maintaining a more distant posture toward us than we had come to expect. I believe this is a classic sign of a dark night in progress. It can catch us off guard, because the shift will often follow a period during which we have felt close to God, dancing in His blessings. Then life suddenly changes. When we, like David, cry out to the Lord, He can seem unresponsive, indifferent, and aloof.

One subtle but significant clue that this is an authentic dark night is that, even though it appears God might have abandoned us, it’s common to have a still deeper sense that this unusual experience is a work of God. He may be absent in the ways that we have come to expect, but He is present in new ways. A shaking is going on; God is in the shaking.

Diminished ego.  Another clue is when we become aware that our egos are undergoing a major adjustment. The dark-night experience always disempowers us. The manipulative, possessive, controlling self must be broken down.

We may recognize this first in our prayer lives. We do everything we have always done to engage God in prayer, but nothing works. The harder we try to touch the face of God, the more we work at it, the less we seem able to achieve the experience of God for which we long. The key words here are try, work, andachieve. We are learning who is really in control. There is no way we can force God’s presence; it is always a gift.

What starts with prayer often bubbles over into other areas. During dark-night experiences we become keenly aware of our limitations. In this past year of brokenness and searching, I was surprised to find myself slipping at times into thinking the unthinkable: angry thoughts, sexual fantasies, strange doubts, even obsessive ruminating about who I really was. I struggled against temptations I had been certain were dead and gone.

We can begin to wonder whether we’ve really made any progress with God. It feels like regressing. Our Christian self-images may become part of God’s demolition and reconstruction. We may have become too attached to ideas of our effectiveness in religious work or of our strength of character. How quickly pride enters into every area! As God diminishes our egos, a more authentic humility grows in us. When we emerge, we will have new spiritual energy and fresh thinking that could not have come about if we had stayed where we were, with everything organized and securely in place under our old regime.

Distorted images of God.  Another area in which God works involves our worship of false images of Him. A common experience is to realize more fully how self-serving and immature many of our previously held concepts of God have been.

Letting go of favorite images of God is painful and can shatter our comfortable religious world. If we are attentive to God’s work here, the result will be a more authentic relationship with the one true God who has been waiting for us in the darkness from which we have likely been fleeing.

The Apostle Paul experienced this radical religious transformation. Paul was blinded by God on the road to Damascus; that’s darkness. After the return of his sight, believing brothers sent him off to Tarsus for several years of self-imposed exile (Acts 9:1–30). God set Paul aside until his entire set of images of God could be dismantled and then reconstructed on the solid foundation of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone.

Other signs.  In the dark night of the soul, God is teaching us utter dependence upon Him. For this reason, every aspect of our lives that we turn to for fulfillment, satisfaction, or security may be challenged.

Even physical illness or limitation can become part of the dark-night experience. I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s repeated plea for God to remove the thorn in his flesh. Paul finally learned that the thorn kept him from becoming conceited and taught him complete dependence upon the grace of God (2 Cor. 12:7–10).

Often our dark-night experiences will involve some of what Jesus suffered. We may have to endure acts of injustice or betrayal—even by close friends—that can bring profound disillusionment. Experiences such as these deepen our intimacy with the Lord and grow our compassion for what He did for us. A purification takes place when we cannot count on others; we are driven back to the Lord as the true and trustworthy friend.

A Willing Soul

Once we’ve identified what we’re experiencing as a dark night of the soul, the question remains: How do we position ourselves to grow from it? There are some important ways we can cooperate with God during this unique spiritual transition.

Honestly express your emotions to God.  Dark-night seasons are painful and disorienting. We may be hesitant to talk with God about what we’re really feeling, especially what we may be feeling toward Him.But this is no time for pretending. God can handle our honesty. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7).

Fight the temptation to run from your distress.  You may have been a goal-oriented, self-assured, and efficient Christian. Now, however, God has allowed a spiritual earthquake to occur. The temptation will be to recreate what you had before, much like the Israelites who wanted to return to slavery in Egypt rather than face future uncertainties with God.

During our recent testing, a wise friend said to me, “Tom, let it burn.” This was solid advice. A dark night is not just some emotional tremor after which you can get back to life as usual. God is transforming your entire being. You will eventually enjoy a whole new way of seeing, believing, and living. Open yourself to the new life the Lord is birthing in you.

Resist trying harder.  God may remove you from activity during the dark night. Perhaps you have been too busy, too results-oriented, too much in control. You have a sense that it is OK to withdraw from previous commitments and involvements. When you finally let go, you may have to battle feeling lazy or guilty. Concerned friends and family may also suggest that you get busy again: “Try harder,” they’ll seem to say, “and you can pull yourself out of this.”

Rushing back into a life of frantic activity, however, is likely the opposite of what God would want you to do. Give yourself space to experience God differently. Rest, solitude, and silence are your best friends.

Seek companions.  All change represents loss. Anytime we experience loss, we enter into grief. The emotions of grieving can include loneliness, self doubt, and anger—even anger at God for seeming inscrutable and uncaring in the face of our agony. This is a good time to reach out to spiritually mature friends who are good and patient listeners. You want people who will hear you without trying to fix you, who will listen long and hard with you for the true voice of God. These caring friends can offer encouragement and perspective as you endure the unpredictable emotions of the dark night.

Be faithful, but release your expectations.  When our experiences of God change, we may become anxious as we desperately seek the touch from God to which we’ve become accustomed. It’s good to remain faithful to our spiritual disciplines, but we need to let go of our expectations regarding how God may or may not respond to us.

Be patient with yourself and with God.  Dark-night periods can last for months, a year, or even longer. The deeper changes at which God may be aiming take time. You may see little progress according to previous patterns of God’s work in your life. This is new territory, new ground being plowed. Wait patiently, and pray for eyes to see inklings of the stronger future God is bringing about.

Call to mind God’s faithfulness.  Even though we’re not sure what God is up to in the present, recalling His provision and leading in the past can steady us in disorienting times. Hold on to the truth you know: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

TOUCHING BEDROCK
The dark night ultimately teaches us that we cannot control God, nor would it benefit us to do so. We need to die to ourselves in order to be transformed into people who can fully participate in the new order the whole creation is groaning toward (Ro. 8:19–22). So we give ourselves wholeheartedly to God who, in His goodness to us, often acts in ways that are surprising and unpredictable.

I’ve come to see, as John of the Cross did, that if we can stay open and spiritually aware during these unusual, searching times we learn truths about ourselves that we might never have discovered while living contentedly within our carefully constructed religious comfort zones.

Many times during our dark period, Judie and I cried out to God in pain, wondering what He was doing. We knew that God was not bringing these calamities into our lives. Nor was He punishing us. But now we see that He was using these hard circumstances to accomplish His deeper work of humility in us.

We had much to learn and to let go of before we could finally and fully rest where we are today: on the solid bedrock of God’s love. Now that we are emerging from this prolonged and painful time, we feel most fortunate. We have gotten all the way down to this richest place, a place where all that’s left is all we will ever need—God’s great faithfulness.

When My Companions Are Darkness And Silence From God

Editor’s Note:  Silence is deafening and darkness is uncomfortable.  We long for the feeling of God’s close presence, security, and enough light and wisdom to know how to navigate the course of life we are on.  The below article gives more insight about the reality of God’s loving work in our lives even when we can’t sense His presence.

SOURCE:  Taken from an article at Counseling Solutions

When your companion is darkness rather than light and your circumstances are overwhelming you in a season of acute need, there is no more of an important time in life for God to reveal Himself to you.

But sometimes your answer to that kind of praying is more darkness. This is the story of the Psalmist in Psalm 88. This Psalm, unlike others, does not end with the God of victory breaking through to save the day. According to the Hebrew rendering of the text, the last word of the Psalm is the word “darkness.”

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

This Psalm helps us understand something about darkness and pain like no other Psalm. This is a messy, chaotic, and confusing Psalm that was intentionally left in the sacred writ. This is an anti-American Psalm, in that the American culture has a generally weak understanding of suffering in a fallen world. The overriding implication of this Psalm is that God may choose to leave you in darkness for a season. But that does not mean that the darkness you are experiencing is void of God’s presence or awareness. You just can’t see Him in the dark. Isn’t this what our old friend Job said:

Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold. – Job 23:8-10 (ESV)

God is There

This text does not teach that God is away, distant or disinterested in the sufferer. We cannot say that He was not aware of what was going on because He did inspire the chapter to be written. The fact that God included this Psalm in His Word tells us that He knows and understands what is going on in our hearts and lives, even when we are unsure if God is real and relevant in our lives.

God is there and through this Psalm He is teaching us something about life. Yes, it is possible for a Christian to go through dark times is what our friend is describing in Psalm 88. There are times when our lives take twists and turns that are much different than what we read in Psalm 40:

I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. – Psalm 40:1-2 (ESV)

But in this Psalm, the person cries to God and He “does not” hear; He has prayed and prayed and prayed and God is not listening, so it seems. God is not only silent, but He has hidden his face from the crier. It is one thing to be rejected by man, but to feel rejected by God is the most desperate of all life’s circumstances. When my only friend is the darkness I experience, the question becomes,

Can this really be true that a believer can get to the place where there is no practical help or functional hope? It seems that if God can do all things, then most assuredly He would be able to fix this. Right?

Safety Expectations

Being in a relationship with God does not mean I will escape the problems of life. At one level I know this: becoming old is an obvious example of the potential for suffering. I also get sick. I experience abuse and injustice just like everyone else. I have lost jobs and at other times I have lost friends. Being a Christian does not mean problem-free or smooth sailing.

The tension that I can create in my soul is when I think that God works in my salvation and my sanctification identically. The God of my salvation is the conquering Victor who secured me for eternity. In order for Him to do this, He had to crush His Son. This is the Gospel.

The God of my sanctification is a different kind of conquering Friend. It is not just what God is doing for me, but it is also what He is doing in me and through me. The person He is crushing through my sanctification is me. Once He secured my salvation, through the death of His Son on the cross, He began a process of sanctification: He is progressively mortifying (making dead) me for a greater usefulness in His world.

Christ’s death led to victory. My “death” leads to victory. The more I can understand and apply this Gospel truth to my life, the more I can not only experience and love the One who died for me, but I can find a victory that is more significant than these temporary terrestrial comforts. Sadly at times I will try to smuggle into my progressive sanctification this idea of “safety expectations” as though I will go through life unscathed.

When you are in your darkness, what do you hear God whispering over the noise of your darkness?

  1. Do you really believe that God is there?
  2. Do you really believe that God is listening?
  3. Do you really believe that God cares for you?
  4. Do you really believe God?

Your expectations have a lot to do with what happens to you. – Tim Keller

God’s Silence: What Do I Do With It?

SOURCE: Based on an article from Discipleship Journal/Garrett Deweese

Have you ever gone through a time when it seemed you couldn’t hear God—and couldn’t make yourself heard by Him? Why do these “dark nights of the soul” happen? What can you do about them?

OUR FIRST TERM as missionaries in France was hard, as all first terms are for new missionaries. But we had enjoyed a great furlough, and had been refreshed physically and spiritually, and were eager to return to our adopted home and pick up the vital work we had left. We had packed everything except our last suitcases and were nearing the day when we would board the plane for Paris.

We had everything we needed to return, except our French temporary resident visas. The Lord stepped in and kept our visas from arriving, and we had to cancel our airline reservations. The ensuing days, which turned into weeks and finally into months were filled with frustration as we waited for the French diplomatic courier to make his weekly run, only to be told week after week that our visas were not in that pouch.

Those were days spent waiting, looking for reasons, for answers, for clear guidance from God. The frustration of not being able to do anything to hurry the French Foreign Ministry was coupled with the frustration of trying to find something profitable to fill the time, which still could be dropped at once as soon as we were able to leave.

But as I look back, I’d have to say that in all honesty the most difficult part was not the waiting, but the silence of God while we waited.

Yes, the silence of God.

I’m not sure that I ever acknowledged it in so many words—at least during the day. It was at night that the silence weighed so heavily. I would lie awake at night with questions, thinking about my questions and about lying awake.

But it seemed God was somewhere else. To say He is omnipresent, He is everywhere, sounded hollow: He most certainly was not there —where I could hear, sense, or feel Him.

I think my wife shared much the same feelings I had, but we didn’t talk about it in this way. After all, we were missionaries, therefore spiritual. And how could I, as spiritual leader of the family, admit I wasn’t experiencing the presence of God?

Such an admission would fall on evangelical ears as an open confession of sin. For we all know the doctrine that sins breaks our fellowship with God, but confession restores it. I guess unconsciously I dreaded opening myself to Job’s comforters. Obviously I was in sin, and God was withholding the visas until I got my life straightened out. And as for the “silence of God,” it was really the “stubbornness of Garry,” and if I’d confess, the silence would be broken with words of forgiveness and acceptance.

I did examine my life at that time, and soberly concluded that there was no known unconfessed sin which was responsible for the experience.

EVERY DAY ISN’T SWEETER

At that time I had never heard anyone talk about experiencing the feeling that God was silent. But as I read the Bible—especially the Psalms—I am convinced that it is not uncommon for believers to pass through such experiences.

And I’m equally convinced that many who will read this have experienced the silence of God—or are experiencing it right now. You may not have called it that, but if you’re honest you will identify with what I’m describing.

The Bible is totally honest, but we have created a false standard in our evangelical circles that keeps us from being so. Afraid to admit what we see as a failure, we smile and sing, “Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before,” and all the while we’re empty, groping, bewildered.

In the last scene of the last act of King Lear, after death, madness, and the storm have swallowed the noble as well as the evil characters, Shakespeare has a broken but surviving Edgar bring down the final curtain with these words: “The weight of this sad time we must obey / Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.”

We would probably all be healthier mentally if we made it a habit to speak what we feel, not what we think we ought to say, in sad times, in hard times, in times of heartbreaking grief or stomach-wrenching fear, as well as in times of bubbling joy and richly satisfying peace. We’ve fallen out of the habit of truthfulness and are mired in the fear of other Christians’ reactions. Afraid of saying something we ought not to say, we skirt truthful acknowledgement of our deep feelings when we speak what we think we ought to say.

But in Ps. 13—and in a good many others as well—David candidly revealed his deepest feelings. David, the man after God’s own heart, in a piece of poetry inspired by the Holy Spirit Himself, admits his own experience of the silence of God.

BE HONEST WITH FEELINGS

Just here, I think, is where we must begin in understanding, enduring, and surmounting this experience in our own lives. We need to confront and acknowledge our feelings honestly.

Psychologists and counselors tell us that unacknowledged and therefore unresolved feelings lie at the heart of a vast array of behavioral problems, even among Christians. But the scriptural examples teach us to confront honestly how we feel. We see Elijah crushed in self-pity and despair. We hear Jonah lash out in anger at God. Habakkuk expresses impatience, Jeremiah grieves over his city, and Hosea’s heart breaks over his wife’s unfaithfulness.

Acknowledging how we feel, then, is not wrong. It is the place to start.

“But,” you might object, “what if I am bitter, jealous, angry with God?” Those may be unhelpful feelings leading to wrong behavior, but until we’re willing to admit we feel them, we cannot deal with them and we run the risk that suppressing those feelings will do even more damage, possibly resulting in mental and behavioral dysfunctions.

So the first step in dealing with the experience of the silence of God is to acknowledge it. This David does in Ps. 13:1-2

PSALM 13

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

How tong must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?

How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;

my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I foil.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing to the LORD,
for he has been good to me.

The four-time repeated cry, “How long?” shows us the depth of David’s feelings. It seemed God had forgotten—abandoned— him. The experience of God’s presence was far from David’s life. He lay in bed with only his thoughts to wrestle with, and the lack of spiritual victory in his life led David to believe, whether literally or figuratively, that his enemy gloated in his defeat.

This is the experience of God’s silence. Not the self-imposed exile of unconfessed sin. Not simply the feeling of lack of guidance; not even the experience of waiting months or even years before seeing a specific prayer answered. No, this is the feeling that God is totally absent from all areas of your life. Your prayers bounce off the ceiling and fall impotently on the floor. You force yourself to read the Bible, but it is about as meaningful and relevant as a three-month-old issue of Newsweek in the doctor’s waiting room. Christian music seems like insipid platitudes; Christian books like so much pabulum, and Christian fellowship about as helpful as a convention of mannequins.

It feels better during the day, although it seems as though a dusty pall has settled over everything, dulling colors and dimming the sun. At night, wrestling with your thoughts, the silence of God is so real it aches and sleep comes hard. It feels like a vast sorrow with no cause, a deep fear of an unknown threat. And all we can do is cry, “How long?”

C.S. Lewis married late in life, and after just a couple of years his wife Joy died of cancer. Her death plunged Lewis deep into grief, and during those days he kept a brutally honest record of his thoughts and feelings. That journal, published under the title A Grief Observed, records Lewis’s experience of the silence of God:

Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be—or so it feels—welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double-bolting on the inside. After that, silence . . .. Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?1

This is the same question reflected in the title of Philip Yancey’s excellent book, Where is God When it Hurts?2 The experience of the silence of God is not unique to us. Others—giants of the faith—have stood here before us. And so the first step to take in dealing with the experience is to acknowledge it.

KEEP ON PRAYING

In verses 3 and 4 we see David making a specific request to God:

Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.

Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

“Look on me, answer me,” he pleads. In this idiom David asks that God take care of him, and do it in such a way that David can see evidence of that care. David offers two reasons for his request: First, he is so depressed in the silence that he feels sick unto death. Second, David fears his enemy’s exultant claims of victory, the dreaded sound, “I told you so!”

David’s prayer—look on me and answer—is not very specific as prayers go. But in it we can see a second phase of response to the situation. If the first thing we must do to work through the experience of the silence of God is to admit it honestly, the second thing is to keep on praying. Even when it seems futile, even when it seems our prayers hang limp in the stale air around us, never coming close to heaven, even then we must go on, continue to pray. Pray without ceasing, Paul said, not just when you feel like it (1 Thess. 5:17).

We must keep asking God to make Himself real in our experience, to meet us in our need. No need for oratorical excellence in this prayer—anguished honesty is more eloquent. What we need is to feel God Himself really present in our lives, not some sanitized Sunday school-booklet portrait of Him. As Frederick Buechner says in his excellent book Telling the Truth, “It is out of the absence of God that God makes himself present . . .. God himself does not give answers. He gives himself.”3 And so even in the awful silence we must continue to pray.

REASSERT FAITH

The last two verses of the Psalm take us one step further. In these verses David reasserts his faith:

But I trust in your unfailing love;

my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing to the LORD,

For he has been good to me.

If the first two stanzas of the Psalm are spoken through clenched teeth and salty tears, in this final stanza the shadow of a smile flickers. Silence isn’t yet turned to symphony; the joy of full fellowship with God isn’t yet restored. But in reasserting his faith David finds the strength to get up and face just one more day.

David’s expression of faith rests on two pillars: God’s unfailing love, and David’s past experience of God’s goodness. He knows God’s love is loyal, always faithful. He would nod agreement to Paul’s conclusion that nothing in all creation “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ro. 8:39).

And he can remember many times in the past when the goodness of God was overwhelmingly real. And so David proclaims his joy in God’s salvation—an expression that I believe refers to the deliverance God will yet bring to David. He knows the silence of God won’t last forever, and so answers his own question of verse one. God will deliver him because He loves him and has been good to him in the past. Based on this faith, David will yet sing to the Lord. Not just now, maybe, but someday. Silence will be turned to song.

LOOK TO A HIDDEN REALITY

Now this might easily be dismissed as a shallow appeal to the power of positive thinking. It might be, that is, if it were not true.

Just because David feels abandoned does not mean God is not really there. Just because he cannot hear God’s voice does not mean he will never hear it again, or that he is not even now speaking, or that help is not already on the way. It may be that concentrating on statements of trust in God’s love and goodness is the power of positive thinking, but it will keep us from surrendering to the power of negative thinking.4

In the last stanza of Ps. 13, then, on the basis of his faith, David asserts that what he feels, real though those feelings are to him, is not really the way things are. And we must say the same. Yes, we must confront and acknowledge our feelings. But then we must lay those feelings alongside reality and see how they measure up. You see, if you have made a faith commitment to God, you have faith in His love and have seen His goodness to you in the past. And so in spite of how you feel, you know God will bring deliverance.

Thinking back on my experience of God’s silence while waiting for those visas, I believe the feelings lasted eight to ten weeks. I went that long living, so it felt, in a vacuum. I came to church, smiled, even preached. But one day my wife and I left the children with some friends and drove up in the mountains to talk and pray. And when we returned, God had spoken. I can’t really say He broke His silence; rather, He broke into my silence. By opening our eyes to certain, particular needs of our own family, God made it quite clear that we should not return to France.

Maybe I had not been ready to hear that word two months earlier. Certainly it brought some disappointments and regrets. We had worked hard learning the language and the culture, and now would not use those skills. We had made plans that now we would never see fulfilled. We had developed relationships that now we could never continue. But in that time, God’s grace and peace were real. He was again there for me. And out of the experience we gained a deeper understanding of God.

Right now are you perhaps feeling the silence of God in your life? You might be in circumstances where you deeply need God, but just can’t seem to feel Him in your life. Perhaps you’ve lost a job, or lost a loved one through death. Perhaps the anguish has been brought on by a total inability to communicate with your spouse or your children. It might be caused by physical pain, or doubts, or unjustified personal attacks. And just when you need God the most, He seems most absent from your life.

Don’t yield to despair. Others have been there before you. You need not let that feeling of abandonment lead you down the wrong path. You could, you see, try one of many ways of covering up for the silence of God in our lives. You could try to mask the silence through a frantic pace at work, or a whirlwind social schedule, as if being active and surrounded by people can fill the void left by the absence of God. You might hide behind overeating, or perhaps overexercising. You could seek escape through drinking or drugs, or the enticing finality of the escape offered in a handful of pills.

But that doesn’t have to be your pathway. Keep praying. Even if you feel it’s doing no good, keep it up. And then in faith reflect on God’s unfailing love and all the ways that His goodness has enriched your life in the past. Have confidence based on that faith that He will bring deliverance to you. Remember, it’s out of God’s absence that God makes Himself present.

Wait patiently in faith for that new, deeper experience of God Himself that will be yours when the silence is broken. David’s pathway led not to despair, but back to joy and song.

Yours can, too.

1. C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (New York: Bantam, 1961), pp. 4-5.
2. Philip Yancey, Where Is God When It Hurts? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1977).
3. Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1977), p.43.
4. See Job 23:8-12 for another clear biblica example of a man who, even while agonizing over the silence of God in his experience, still reaffirmed his faith.  Paul puts this idea of “positive thinking” on a doctrinal level in Phil. 4:4-9.

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