Soul-Care Articles: Christ-centered, Spirit-led, Biblically-based, Clinically-sound, Truth-oriented

Posts tagged ‘distress’

“God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Really!?

SOURCE:   Sue Birdseye/AACC

 

Just Enough Too Much

There was a time when I thought I knew stress. Golly, was I mistaken!

That was before adultery, divorce and single parenting. Now I believe I can safely say, “My life is stressful” without fear of later thinking I was naïve.

Thankfully, this divorced, single parent life, although tough, has revealed God’s faithfulness, love and strength to me in ways I wouldn’t trade for nothin’. And believe me there are definitely lots of things I’d be willing to trade for a long nap!

I’ve been told a bazillion times in the last 4 years that, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Really!? Because it certainly feels like He just did! But I’ve discovered that He gives me just enough too much so that I have to turn to Him. He takes me to the point of having nothing left of myself, so He can give me Himself.

When my husband revealed his betrayal to me, my world tilted dramatically, but God didn’t let it crash. He provided me grace and strength to fight for my marriage, and friends who prayed and fought alongside me.

When my divorce was finalized and my husband married his mistress, my world again seemed on the verge of collapse, but God held it together for me. He revealed His love through His word and His people, and gave me a vision for my future – one filled with hope.

When life as a single parent to five children seems beyond challenging, God continues to strengthen me and love on me. He shows me every day that His grace is sufficient. And believe me, with 5 children grace is an absolute necessity.

I’ve spent many late nights crying out to God for help and many days grumbling about this life. I’ve struggled mightily with the hurt my sweet children have suffered.

Through it all God has been my constant.

He constantly loves me through His word, His presence, and His people.

He’s constantly faithful even when I‘m less than stellar in my faithfulness to Him.

He’s constantly forgiving when I struggle with anger, bitterness and trust.

He’s constantly providing for my family even when I see no way.

I’d think those were mere Christian platitudes if I weren’t experiencing God’s profound love and faithfulness daily. My life’s challenges are just enough too much so that I completely understand that I can indeed do all things through Christ who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)

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Written by Sue Birdseye, author of  When Happily Ever After Shatters.

A Prayer Upon Receiving Troubling News

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. (John 14:1)

In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Dear Lord Jesus….

Last evening’s troubling stories shape today’s morning prayer. I went to bed last night, wearied with woes of friends. I arise today hungry with hope in you, our great and gracious Savior.

Thank you for being honest with us about life this side of the new heaven and new earth. You’re not an on-demand panacea, promising the elimination hardships and heartaches. You’re not a miracle-computer, passively waiting to be programmed, as we exercise the right formula.

You’re so much more; so much better. You’re a very present help, pledging your presence in every circumstance and trial—committed to working in all things, for our good and your glory. Troubling news doesn’t have to cripple our hearts. Indeed, may it carry our hearts to you today, for you are ever so trustworthy, Lord Jesus.

For our friends stunned with breath-taking health news, we declare our trust in you, Jesus. How we long for the day when words like cancer, dementia and heart disease will no longer appear in our vocabulary. Until that Day, we unabashedly and earnestly pray for healing, and we trust you for all-surpassing peace and more-than-sufficient grace.

For friends saddened with heart-ripping issues with their children, we declare our trust in you, Jesus. Few reports carry more power to dishearten us than those related to our children.

Whether they’ve been vandalized by others’ darkness, or victimized by their own foolish choices, it hurts real bad and real deep. We appeal to your covenant faithfulness and your powerful reach: capture the hearts of our children, Jesus, and help us love them well in the chaos and the crisis.

For friends waking up to pink slips, financial burdens and no apparent options, we declare our trust in you, Lord Jesus. Things impossible with man are possible with you. We pray, not only for your provision, but also for our generosity with one another. May the law of love be fulfilled as we bear one another’s burdens—spiritually and emotionally, physically and fiscally.

Lord Jesus, we can “trust in you as we trust in God,” for you are God—the Son of God and God the Son. We can “take heart” because you took our sin, and have already overcome the world for us.

In the world we will have tribulation and broken stories, but in you we are given all the grace, peace, and hope we need.

So very Amen we pray in your kind and overcoming Name.

Suffering: Struggle In Gethsemane

SOURCE:  John MacArthur/Grace to You

“Then He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.’”
– Matthew 26:38

In His time of greatest distress, Jesus realized His human weakness and His need to depend on the Father.

As Jesus entered the Garden of Gethsemane with Peter, James, and John, He experienced a more profound anguish over sin and death than ever before. His deep and desolate distress was made more severe when He considered the many personal disappointments that confronted Him. First, there was the betrayal by Judas, one of His own disciples. Then there would be the desertion by the Eleven and Peter’s threefold denial of his Master. Jesus would also be rejected by His own people, Israel, whose leaders would subject Him to all kinds of injustices before His death.

It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that Christ tells His three trusted disciples, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death.” A person can die from such heavy sorrow, which in God’s providence did not happen to Jesus. However, the magnitude of Jesus’ sorrow apparently caused the blood capillaries right under His skin to burst. As more and more capillaries burst from the extreme emotional pressures Jesus endured, blood escaped through His pores, “and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground” (Luke 22:44). Such sweating was just one outward result of what our Lord felt at the excruciating prospect of His having to become sin for us. His holiness was completely repulsed by such a thought.

It was because Jesus did keep watch and look to His Father in prayer that He endured and passed this test in the Garden. Right up to the end, Christ lived His earthly life in total, sinless submission to the Father. As a believer, you also will face times of severe testing and trial when only direct communion with God will give you the strength to prevail. And you also have the added encouragement of Jesus’ example in Gethsemane, the climax of His experiences through which He became a High Priest who can fully “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb. 4:15).

What Controls Your Attitude?

SOURCE:  Lighthouse Network/Stepping Stones

Do you ever have one of those weeks? You know, where life seems to always be one step ahead of you. You can never catch your breath and feel like you are constantly choking. No break in sight. Just when it seems like life can’t get any worse … it does.

I recently had one of those weeks. My wife and I weren’t connecting and tension was in the air. Discussions about the upcoming holidays were pending. The kids’ attitudes were affected by household chores and difficulties at school and with peers. At work there was one curve-ball after another. Accounts weren’t paid on time, some contractors gave us some bad news, others weren’t producing, friends were really struggling, plans for a mission trip were not going smoothly. Then, with so much work to catch up on, a storm blew in and we lost power for 48 hours.

In the past, these kinds of weeks would have caused so much distress, prompting poor decisions that would have led to even worse circumstances and consequences. This vicious cycle would spiral so quickly and last longer because of the poor way I handled a set of circumstances.

My life took a dramatic turn when I learned that no matter what you do, you will never stop life’s bad turns.  We are all going to be tested, to be sifted, purified, and refined.

Traffic jams will cause you to miss that important appointment. You’ll lose a job or promotion. Someone will be rude or hurtful, or cheat on you. Regardless of the situation, remember, God is the one who allows all things to happen. We don’t know why, but He does, and He has a plan.

You can live happily each day despite life’s ups and downs, but it can only be done through daily dependence on Jesus Christ and trust in God’s sovereignty and plan. The Apostle Paul tells us that he learned the secret of being content in every situation: that he could do everything through Him that gives me strength.

Today, remember it’s not what happens to you that counts. How you choose to react to each situation reflects your attitude, your heart, and is the fruit of your life.

It just comes down to who’s in control of your attitude. When you feel uncomfortable today, stop and assess your reaction to the day’s events. What kind of lenses are you using, your me-centered ones, or your God-centered ones? Your decision, choose well.

 Prayer

Dear Father God, I invite You to be in me and at work with me. Help me grow, Father, so that I may have the same attitude and mind as Jesus Christ. I know peace doesn’t come from the outside, but comes only from You inside me. Help me look inward for peace and not wait for my circumstances to settle down for me to be at peace. I do not want to be ruled by the circumstances around me … I want to be ruled and guided by Your Holy Spirit. I pray in the name of the Prince of Peace, Jesus – AMEN!

The Truth

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Philippians 2:5

 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:12-13

When we can’t count on anything else

SOURCE:  Ray Ortlund

What do you have going for you when everything is against you?  What will not fail you when what you thought was true and solid and real collapses beneath you?  Who will stand by you when friends forsake you and enemies see their opportunity?  What works when everything is on the line but nothing else is working?

This experience is inevitable.

We don’t have to go looking for it.  It will come find us.

God himself wrote it into our scripts.  But when this happens, we are forced to ask the basic question: What can I count on when I can’t count on anything else?

Psalm 139 is where to go for the answer.  When David found himself in that catastrophic place, he dug down into the foundations of his very existence.  This is the unchanging bedrock he found there:

God, you know me (verses 1-6).

God, you are with me (verses 7-12).

God, you made me (verses 13-18).

The psalm then turns on the hinge of verse 18b: “I awake, and I am still with you.”  David wakes up from his contemplations, lost for a while in his thoughts, and he is still with God as he returns mentally to “the real world” where nothing has changed.  But he has changed.  He has been renewed by meditating on God’s intensely personal care for him.  His boldness returns:

God, I am wholeheartedly for you (verses 19-24).

“How precious to me are your thoughts, O God” (Psalm 139:17).

What Believers Ought To Do And Pray In Time Of Trouble


SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Ligon Duncan [First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, MS] 

Luke 22:39-46 [reveals] Jesus, on the Mount of Olives, in the Garden of Gethsemane.

J.C. Ryle’s words about two aspects of this passage are rich. He says: “The verses before us contain Luke’s account of our Lord’s agony in the garden. It is a passage of Scripture which we should always approach with peculiar reverence. The history which it records is one of the ‘deep things of God.’ While we read it, the words of Exodus should come across our minds, ‘Put off your shoes from off your feet; the place where on you stand is holy ground.’ (Exod. 3:5)

“We see, firstly, in this passage, an example of what believers ought to do in time of trouble. 

The great Head of the Church Himself supplies the pattern. We are told that when He came to the Mount of Olives, the night before He was crucified, ‘He knelt down and prayed.’

“It is a striking fact, that both the Old and New Testaments give one and the same receipt for bearing trouble.

What does the book of Psalms say? ‘Call upon me in the time of trouble-I will deliver you.’ (Psalm 50:15) What does the apostle James say? ‘Is any afflicted? let him pray.’ (James v. 13) Prayer is the remedy which Jacob used, when he feared his brother Esau. Prayer is the remedy which Job used when property and children were suddenly taken from him. Prayer is the remedy which Hezekiah used when Sennacherib’s threatening letter arrived. And prayer is the remedy which the Son of God Himself was not ashamed to use in the days of His flesh. In the hour of His mysterious agony He ‘prayed.’

“Let us take care that we use our Master’s remedy, if we want comfort in affliction. Whatever other means of relief we use, let us pray. The first Friend we should turn to ought to be God. The first message we should send ought to be to the throne of grace. No depression of spirits must prevent us. No crushing weight of sorrow must make us speechless. It is a prime device of Satan, to supply the afflicted man with false reasons for keeping silence before God. Let us beware of the temptation to brood sullenly over our wounds. If we can say nothing else, we can say, ‘I am oppressed-undertake for me.’ (Isaiah. 38:14)

“We see, secondly, in these verses, what kind of prayers a believer ought to make to God in time of trouble.

Once more the Lord Jesus Himself affords a model to His people. We are told that He said, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me-nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.’ He who spoke these words, we must remember, had two distinct natures in one Person. He had a human will as well as a divine. When He said, ‘Not my will be done,’ He meant that will which He had as a man, with a body, flesh and blood, like our own.

“The language used by our blessed Master in this place shows exactly what should be the spirit of a believer’s prayer in his distress. Like Jesus, he should tell his desires openly to his heavenly Father, and spread his wishes unreservedly before Him. But like Jesus, he should do it all with an entire submission of will to the will of God. He should never forget that there may be wise and good reasons for His affliction. He should carefully qualify every petition for the removal of crosses with the saving clause, ‘If you are willing.’ He should wind up all with the meek confession, ‘Not my will, but yours be done.’

“Submission of will like this is one of the brightest graces which can adorn the Christian character. It is one which a child of God ought to aim at in everything, if he desires to be like Christ. But at no time is such submission of will so needful as in the day of sorrow, and in nothing does it shine so brightly as in a believer’s prayers for relief. He who can say from his heart, when a bitter cup is before him, ‘Not my will, but yours be done,’ has reached a high position in the school of God.” (J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke)

 

How Can I Pray In The Midst of PAIN?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Stacey S. Padrick

1. “Save me, O God… I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched” (Ps. 69:1, 3).

When you are having difficulty formulating words to pray, read through the psalms and pray along with David and the other psalmists. I have found the following psalms especially helpful during times of pain and darkness: 6, 10, 13, 22, 30, 31, 40, 42, 55, 56, 69, 84, 88, 118, and 145.

2. “Pour out your hearts to him” (Ps. 62:8).

Be completely honest with God about your feelings, struggles, and pain.

3. Be assured that God’s purpose, even in times of testing, is “to do good for you in the end” (Dt. 8:16,NASB).

Surrender your suffering to God daily. Pray that His purposes would be accomplished and that He would be glorified through your suffering. Believe that He works all adversity both for His glory and our good as we accept all from His hand.

4. “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” (Ps. 19:7).

Ask God to guide you to specific promises in His Word that will speak to your pain and sustain you during this time.

5. “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mk. 9:24).

Confess areas in which you are doubting God and His promises. Ask for faith to believe His Word.

6. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Ro. 8:26).

When you are at a loss for words but heavy in heart, ask the Holy Spirit to pray for you in ways you are unable to pray.

7. “He always lives to intercede for them” (Heb. 7:25).

Take time to intercede for others as Jesus is doing for you.

8. “I am in pain and distress… I will praise God’s name in song” (Ps. 69:29–30).

Listen to and sing worship music that will remind you of God’s love and power, even in the midst of sadness and pain.

9. “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).

Though you may have many unanswered questions about your suffering, begin praising the Lord for what you do know: that He is good (Ps. 119:68), that He is in control (1 Chron. 29:11), and that nothing can separate you from His love (Ro. 8:38–39).

ABBA, FATHER

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors

In Mark 14, we find Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He is in deep distress as he looks ahead to the Cross.  Usually, Jesus referred to God as “Father”.  With his soul grieved to the point of death, Jesus prays, Abba, Father, all things are possible for you…” (Vs. 36 ESV).  The word “Abba” can be easily translated as “daddy”.  It is a very intimate term that Jesus uses at a point of incredible anxiety, dismay and fear.

Most often, we conceptualize God as distant and far away.  He is God — Holy… Magnificent… Powerful… Almighty.  It somehow goes against our nature to think of Him with such a depth of affectionate that we can call him “dad” or “daddy”.  After all, Jesus is His only begotten son. He has a relationship with His Father that we simply do not believe is possible for us to have.

In Romans 8:15, Paul turns this upside down when he says, “…you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’”. (ESV)  Again in Galatians 4:6 Paul confirms this line of thought.  “And because you are sons, God has sent the spirit of His son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father’”. (ESV)  Remember the Garden where we found Jesus?  He went from the garden, to Golgotha, and there drank the bitter cup of the “cross” that God had prepared for Him — for us.   A cup that Jesus drank out of obedience to His “Abba Father”.

“For our sake He (God) made Him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)

For what?  So that we could become the sons and daughters of God.  Joint heirs with Christ.  And so that your Heavenly Father, especially in the distresses of life, can be found. (Psalm 46:1)   Yes, He is there for you… even now.   Waiting to turn your life around.

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.

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