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Posts tagged ‘darkness’

Tan: DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL

SOURCE:  Taken from Disciplines of the Holy Spirit by S.Y. Tan

Occasionally the Lord leads us into a time of isolation and solitude that can only be described, in the words of St. John of the Cross, as a “dark night of the soul.”  We may feel dry, in despair, or lost.  God may seem absent, His voice silent.  The prophet Isaiah declared, “Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God” (Isa. 50:10).

Such dark times can be pregnant with God’s purpose; they can be times in which we are stripped of our overdependence on the emotional life, on things of this world, and on ourselves.  “The dark night” is one of the ways the Spirit slows our pace, even bringing us to a halt, so that He can work an inner transformation of the heart and soul.

Those who are hungry for God can expect to be drawn or driven into times of dryness or confusion, where faith and dependence on God are tested and deepened.

A. W. Tozer describes this process as the “ministry of the night.”  In these times, God seems to be at work to take away from our hearts everything we love most.  Everything we trust in seems lost to us.  Our most precious treasures turn to piles of ashes.

In times like these, says Tozer:

 

Slowly you will discover God’s love in your suffering.  Your heart will begin to approve the whole thing.  You will learn from yourself what all the schools in the world could not teach you – the healing action of faith without supporting pleasure. You will feel and understand the ministry of the night; its power to purify, to detach, to humble, to destroy the fear of death, and what is more important to you at the moment, the fear of life.  And you will learn that sometimes pain can do what even joy cannot, such as exposing the vanity of earth’s trifles and filling your heart with longing for the peace of heaven.

 

As we seek to draw near to God, we can expect to have times in our lives when we too experience the “ministry of the night.”  Our best response during these seasons is to wait upon God, trust Him, be still, and pray.

 

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Seeing God In The Dark

How do you find strength in God when your world is in ruins?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/J. I. Packer

The scene is familiar: You see it with heartbreaking regularity on TV.

A strong, rugged man stands beside a pile of burnt-out rubble that was once his home. He is in tears. He does not know where his family is or even if they are still alive. He has nowhere to turn for food or help. We find him pitiful and pathetic, but we are glad we are not in his shoes.

Where is this scene? Beirut? Baghdad? Dubrovnik? No, we are in Ziklag, a little Philistine town some forty miles southwest of Jerusalem. It is just over three thousand years ago, about 1015 B.C. The man is David, who later will be Israel’s king.  But at this point he is in his late twenties—a refugee, an outlaw, and a failed leader who seems doomed.

What has happened? The story is this. (See 1 Samuel 30:1–6.)

David, fleeing for his life from King Saul, had offered his services and those of his six hundred men to King Achish, a local Philistine potentate, as a kind of Foreign Legion. Achish had given them Ziklag for their home, and they had all brought their families and settled there. They had marched with the rest of Achish’s troops to a pan-Philistine muster against Israel. But Achish’s colleagues had refused to trust David and his men in a battle against their own people and had sent them packing.

Already depressed (for no army can be told it is not trusted without damage to its morale), they had trekked back to Ziklag and found it a smoking ruin. Desert raiders, Amalekites, had sacked it, burned it, and taken captive as slaves everyone they had found there. Six hundred homes and families were simply gone; hence, the tears of fury and pain. “David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep” (1 Sam. 30:4).

When people are smarting under an unexpected hurt, they want to relieve their feelings by finding a scapegoat, someone to blame. It was so here. David’s men got ugly and turned on their leader. They blamed him, one supposes, for being so preoccupied with pleasing Achish that he had marched every single able-bodied man to the muster, thus failing both them and their families by not leaving a guard to fend off raiders. Think of living in the old Wild West where Indians and bandits roamed; men went armed; and women and children never traveled save in the company of someone with a gun. It was that sort of world, and David’s error of judgment had been real. So we move to the point where “David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters” (v. 6).

Despair among the Ruins

We can see what was going through David’s mind as he stood, alone and tearful, by the ruins of his house. His great distress was compounded by several things.

There was personal loss: His own home and his own two wives were gone. But that was only the start of it.

There was, for sure, the recognition that through lack of forethought he had failed his men and their dependents. Nothing is more distressing to a good man or a real leader (David was both) than knowing you have let down those who trusted you.

There was his total isolation. Now not only Saul and the Philistines but his own men, too, had turned against him. Universal hostility, leaving you with no one to whom you can even talk on equal terms, is hard to bear.

There was the apparent hopelessness of the situation. The Amalekites had come on camels, and David and his men were on foot. They were already exhausted from their three-day, forty-mile march. What hope was there of catching the raiders, even if David could be sure where they had gone?

Also, there was, quite certainly, a crushing sense of God’s judgment. For David had played a double game with Achish. To curry favor with his Philistine patron, he had plundered villages, massacred their inhabitants, given Achish the booty, and told him the raids had been made in Israelite territory. In fact, the raids had been against people who had nothing to do with Israel, including—yes!—Amalekites (1 Sam. 27:8). While the deception prospered, David had doubtless assured himself that he was being super-smart and that killing Amalekites was the Lord’s business anyway (see Deut. 26:17–19). But deep down, he knew that this callous, Machiavellian banditry—for banditry is what it was—merited God’s vengeance. And when he saw what the Amalekites had done to Ziklag, his conscience told him that this poetic justice was in fact the vengeance he had provoked.

David, then, was in a state of distress of a kind that might well have destroyed him. The shock of disaster, grief at one’s loss, collapse of one’s life-strategy, and a sense of undergoing just retribution can each of them have paralyzing effects, and here they were all together. “Heartache crushes the spirit” (Prov. 15:13); “a crushed spirit who can bear?” (Prov. 18:14).

Misery is the natural consequence of calamity, and apathy is the natural child of misery. David’s surrender to grief was an entirely natural reaction to what had happened. In his shoes, we would have done the same, and many can testify that in similar circumstances they did exactly that.

Had David stopped there, however, it would have been the end of his career as a leader and probably of his life. But he did not stop there. Challenging and finally overcoming the paralysis that grief was generating, we now see in David the spiritual reaction of faith. “But”—it is one of the great Bible “buts”—”David found strength (RSV, “strengthened himself”) in the LORD his God” (v. 6).

How did he do it?

The Secret of Strength

“He prayed,” suggests someone. Yes, in due course, he did. But that, I am sure, was not what came first. When feelings of despair overwhelm you, rational prayer is beyond you. You are like a person being swept downstream towards the falls; you must recover your footing on the stream bed or you are lost. The secret of recovering your footing spiritually at such a time lies in the little word think, and that was undoubtedly where David began. He thought. He did not wait to feel better, but argued with the emotions that were telling him all was lost. He made himself recall what he knew of God and thought out how it all applied to him at that moment. Thus he “found strength” in the Lord; thus he calmed his soul; thus he prepared himself to pray.

“Strengthened by thought” is the formula that fits. The medievals would have called David’s action meditating, and the Puritans would have described it as preaching to oneself. Less important than deciding what to call it is learning to do it. It is a discipline we all need to master.

Every time we pray, it is wise first to remind ourselves, deliberately, of who and what God is and how we stand related to Him through His covenant love. Never is this more necessary than when we are reeling under the impact of some shock or being deafened by the inward screams of desire or panic or pain. David acted on this wisdom. Setting himself to think, he made his rational faith reassert itself over his runaway feelings. He let his faith tell him what to think, and when he knew what to think, he could see what to do. He was a model of godly wisdom.

Five Steps to Recovery

I now offer a reconstruction of the series of thoughts that he forced into his disoriented, despairing heart as he stood in lonely isolation in ruined Ziklag, surrounded by men who, he knew, had mutiny and murder in mind. It is, of course, guesswork, but it is not wild guesswork. The psalms show us the logic of David’s faith clearly enough to warrant every suggestion I shall make.

I believe that David ran before his mind five thoughts, as follows:

1. My God reigns.  He thought of God’s sovereign power. He reminded himself that God is in total control of all that happens on earth, and that having brought him into this extremity, God was certainly able to bring him out of it. Remembering God’s omnipotence was the first step in recovering his footing.

The psalms are strong on God’s sovereignty and dominion. “The LORD does whatever pleases Him” (Ps. 135:6; cf. 115:3). “The seas [emblem of chaos] have lifted up, O LORD  . . . their voice  . . . their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea—the LORD on high is mighty” (Ps. 93:3–4). Or, more simply, “The LORD reigns” (Ps. 93:1, Ps. 96:10, Ps. 97:1, Ps. 99:1, Ps. 146:10). All Scripture agrees that a God who is only in control of things half the time is a figment of a disordered imagination. The beginning of stability for us all is to know that God is on the throne, that His eye is on us and His hand over us all the time. Nothing comes our way apart from His will. In the deepest sense everything is under control.

2. My God forgives.  David thought of God’s pardoning mercy. He recalled that “with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.” In other words, right-minded reverence is rooted in a knowledge of God’s mercy in the remitting of one’s sins (Ps. 130:4). My guess is that David’s first breath of prayer was a plea for forgiveness for the callous killings involved in his bamboozling of Achish. Certainly, he dwelt on the truth that it is God’s glory to forgive the penitent and that no sin is too great to be forgiven. He knew that no chastened transgressor need ever forfeit his hope of restoration and a future with God. And as David thought along these lines, his footing grew firmer.

All Scripture confirms what David knew. “The blood of Jesus  . . . purifies us from all sin . . . If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just [in keeping His word both to us who sinned and to the Son who died to save us] and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness . . . He [Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn. 1:7, 1 Jn. 1:9; 1 Jn. 2:2). For any who feel themselves under God’s judgment, there is forgiveness just as soon as they confess and forsake the acts that provoked the judgment.

3. My God cares.  David thought, too, of God’s covenanted protection. “The LORD is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1). Himself a shepherd, David knew that the shepherd’s job is precisely to look after the sheep, keeping them well-fed and safe at all times. So he must not suppose that men’s alienation from Him meant that God had abandoned him. Even in ruined Ziklag, God was with him to love and bless him. As David dwelt on this, his despair (I am sure) dissolved like melting snow.

All Scripture confirms what the Shepherd Psalm proclaims, namely the covenant care of God for His servants. “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Ro. 8:28). God’s shaping of all that happens to believers so as to promote their “good”—that is, their holiness and joy—is a fact, even when it does not look or feel so. “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life” (Ps. 23:6). God’s commitment to me, to be my God who shepherds me home, guarantees that.

4. My God is consistent.  Having proved His love to me in the past, He will do so again. David thought of his previous experiences of God’s goodness and reasoned that, as John Newton puts it in his sublimely straightforward way,

His love in time past

Forbids me to think

He’ll leave me at last

In trouble to sink;

Each sweet Ebenezer

I have in review

Confirms his good pleasure

To help me right through.

David had reasoned this way before Saul—”the LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam. 17:37). So now he told himself that his God, who saved him from the lion, the bear, Goliath, and Saul’s spear (1 Sam. 19:9–10) would surely act again on his behalf in his present nightmare situation. For God does not lose interest in those He has once begun to love and bless.

Ebenezer was the name of a stone memorializing God’s past help (1 Sam. 7:12). Every Christian should live by the Ebenezer principle—storing up memories of past mercies and bringing them to mind whenever reassurance about God’s love is needed, as does the exile of Ps. 42:4–6 and the invalid of Ps. 77:4–12. In this way, David found strength to face the pressures of the present, and so may we.

5. My God is faithful.  He keeps His word. David thought of God’s explicit promises, such as (perhaps)Ps. 91:14–15:

“Because he loves me” says the LORD,

“I will rescue him;

I will protect him, for he acknowledges My name.

He will call upon Me, and I will answer him;

I will be with him in trouble,

I will deliver him and honor him.”

David found strength in trusting the fidelity of his promise-keeping God.

Mapping the Christian life in Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan pictures despair as a giant imprisoning believers in Doubting Castle; but the Christian gets out of despair by using “a key called Promise.” Exactly! Knowing that God’s promises to us in Scripture are certain of fulfillment frees us from doubt and gives us strength to face the future.

God My Strength

The strength (power) of God (Ps. 24:8, Ps. 31:2, Ps. 62:11) is what theologians call a communicable attribute—that is, a quality of God that in exercise imparts its own analogue or image to man. Thus, God’s wisdom makes us wise; God’s strength makes us strong. “The LORD gives strength to His servants” (Ps. 29:11, cf. 84:5). The strength given is a capacity “to do and to endure,” as the hymn puts it; a capacity that without God’s empowering we would not have. As Giver of this strength, God is called “my” or “our” strength (Ps. 28:7, Ps. 46:1, Ps. 59:17, Ps. 73:26, Ps. 118:14, cf. Is. 12:2).

We have been watching God give David strength at Ziklag by stirring him to the resolute thought through which he “found strength.” It was gratitude for such experiences that David was expressing when he declared, “I love you, O LORD, my strength” (Ps. 18:1). And one way in which we in 1992 learn to love God is through being strengthened at crisis times in this same manner.

Just for the record, after David had “found strength,” he got guidance that enabled him, against all expectations, to restore the situation completely (see the rest of 1 Samuel 30). God does not always resolve our crises this way, but He always gives strength to cope to those who will learn to think as David thought. And that, for us, is what really matters.

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

The Darkness Of Night Is Followed By The Morning

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Charles Stanley

Just as Christ once rested in the stern of a boat through a raging storm, He rested in the tomb as storms raged within His disciples. A day after Jesus’ death, fear, doubt, and grief must have cycled endlessly through their minds. Memories of their lives with Him must have played there too: how it felt to stand upon a rolling sea, to feed thousands with a few loaves of bread, or to see Lazarus’ burial clothes heaped in the dirt. No doubt their hearts grew sick with confusion as they contemplated these things.

The disciples’ feeble faith shouldn’t surprise us, because if we’re honest, we see it in ourselves. The “little of faith,” as Jesus often called them, failed to believe or remember things the Lord said of Himself—that He’d lay down His life and take it up again. Had His followers faithfully held these things in their hearts, that Sabbath day might have been a time of joyful anticipation.

At times in our lives, God may seem absent, but ultimately we know that He will never leave us (Heb. 13:5). And unlike the disciples, we’ll never experience the dark prospect of a failed Savior. But many times we forget the promises of God. In the face of uncertainty, how frequently do we turn to a “do-it-yourself” Christianity to fix our problems?

Too often we look no further than our own solutions, when what we need is the wonder-working power of Christ’s resurrection and a posture of humility as we wait on Him. If we are willing to wait through the darkness of night, we can rest in knowing that morning will surely come.

Strength In Weakness

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors

God is not wasting the pain in your life. He never wastes a wound. As you go through the dark, deep valleys in your life, remember that the great Apostle Paul was even pounded by the evil one. All hell seemed to be against him. In his moment of darkness he begs God to get rid of this thorn in his flesh, this messenger of satan that was harassing him. (II Corinthians 12:8)

What messenger of satan has come your way? Does it feel like there is a thorn deep in your flesh, and you can find no relief? Have you pleaded with God to just take it away? Paul did. He cried out to God not just once, but three times. And still God chose not to remove his thorn.

In all of this Paul learned something special. God simply spoke to him and said, “I have provided grace for you. Sufficient grace. Grace to remind you and reassure you that through this weakness, I will show My Power.” Paul got the message. He declared that he would be, not just “ok” with this, but that he would be most glad about it. He went on to say that he would not only be content with the “thorn” but also with insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities. He understood that you can’t control your life. God will be at work. He will use the “thorn”…the messenger of satan, to remind you that He is all you need. He is in control. Look around you. Can you see it? Grace… more and more grace…

“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for Righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6

Do You Recognize The Darkness?

(Source: Lighthouse Network Devotions — http://www.lighthousenetwork.org )

Transformational Thought

What is darkness? We all have really bright and shiny days when everything goes great and we feel on top of the world. But darker days, those are a lot tougher to describe and identify. You might be thinking, “What is he talking about? I know the dark days and can identify them pretty easily.”

Dark days can also be days that are “neutral” days. Nothing great, nothing earth-shattering, nothing memorable. Those are the days that Satan starts to play with our head, getting us to think or believe we are nothing special, that God doesn’t really love us, that God isn’t interested in our wellbeing, that God is really just waiting up there with a scorecard to keep track of our mistakes.

Why do we fall for Satan’s tricks?  Because, at our core, we are insecure, feel inadequate, and have a consistent and constant need for approval and to be important to someone. Noticed. To be making our mark on each day.

Growing in God’s grace is all about trusting Him above all else, particularly in the darkness, whether it is a for-all-the-marbles darkness, or those neutral days that set us up on the slippery slope for a big darkness. When you are in the dark, reach for His hand with confidence. Turn to Him. Resist the hollow earthly solutions and addictions. Reaching for His hand in the dark is a display of magnificent trust and greatly weakens the spiritual forces of evil, the very forces that have tricked you to pursue the darkness as a solution.

When your world is dark and you trust God, His light will shine brightly through you for all to see…for His light shines brightest in the darkness.

Today, if you are in the dark and feel on the brink of giving up, cry out for His assistance and pray: “Help me, Holy Spirit.” Really look for the hand that is reaching out for you….it is there. This brief prayer is a beautiful display of trust and a simple way to tap into His vast power. Learn to recognize the lies that take you from a neutral day to a dark day.

Prayer

Dear Father, I am completely in the dark today – scared, disoriented – don’t know which way to turn. Help me, God; help me, Holy Spirit.  You have designed me to seek light…I crave all kinds of light—sunlight, even artificial light—but especially the light of Your holy presence. I want to walk in Your light, Father.  It is easy for me to trust You when there is plenty of light in my world. But trusting You in my darkness is another matter. But I am desperate, Lord.  I am reaching for You in the dark. I know, Lord, that Your light shines brightest in the dark. I pray that even in times when I cannot see the illumination of Your light, that Your light shining through me is visible to those around me. I pray in need through Your Son, Jesus Christ;  AMEN!

The Truth

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin

1 John 1:7

Even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.

Psalm 139:10

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