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Posts tagged ‘spiritual growth’

Suffering: A Suffering Savior Has Suffering Disciples

SOURCE:  Tolle Lege/J.C. Ryle

“Suffering is the diet of the Lord’s family” 

“All the sons of God take part in suffering with Christ. What says the Scripture? ‘If children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if so be that we suffer with Him.’ (Rom. 8:17.) All the children of God have a cross to carry.

They have trials, troubles, and afflictions to go through for the Gospel’s sake. They have trials from the world,—trials from the flesh,—and trials from the devil. They have trials of feeling from relations and friends,—hard words, hard treatment, and hard judgment.

They have trials in the matter of character;—slander, misrepresentation, mockery, insinuation of false motives,—all these often rain thick upon them. They have trials in the matter of worldly interests.

They have often to choose whether they will please man and lose glory, or gain glory and offend man. They have trials from their own hearts. They have each generally their own thorn in the flesh,—their own home-devil, who is their worst foe. This is the experience of the sons of God.

Some of them suffer more, and some less. Some of them suffer in one way, and some in another. God measures out their portions like a wise physician, and cannot err. But never, I believe, was there one child of God who reached paradise without a cross.

Suffering is the diet of the Lord’s family. ‘Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.’—’If ye are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then ye are illegitimate children and not sons.’—’Through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom of God.’—’All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.’ (Heb. 12:6, 8; Acts 14:22; 2 Tim. 3:12.)

Suffering is a part of the process by which the sons of God are sanctified. They are chastened to wean them from the world, and make them partakers of God’s holiness. The Captain of their salvation was ‘made perfect through suffering,’ and so are they. (Heb. 2:10; 12:10.)

Let us try to settle this down into our hearts also. The sons of God have all to bear a cross. A suffering Saviour generally has suffering disciples.

The Bridegroom was a man of sorrows. The Bride must not be a woman of pleasures and unacquainted with grief. Blessed are they that mourn! Let us not murmur at the cross. This also is a sign of sonship.”

–J.C. Ryle, Practical Religion: Being Plain Papers on the Daily Duties, Experience, Dangers, and Privileges of Professing Christians (London: Charles Murray, 1900), 418-419.

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I Am Afflicted

SOURCE: Taken from a sermon by  Pastor Mark Driscoll

I Am Afflicted: Sermon Recap

1. A third of the Psalms are laments. All of the Old Testament prophets except one include a lament. The Bible doesn’t avoid suffering. You won’t avoid suffering.

2. Don’t believe false teaching that says you won’t suffer if you really love Jesus. Jesus will end all suffering eventually, but on earth he suffered more than anyone.

3. When it comes to suffering, don’t ask “Why” ask “Who am I in Christ?” Your affliction doesn’t establish your identity, but your identity can get you through your affliction, if your identity is in Christ.

4. Suffering will cost you a lot of time and energy, so I encourage you to invest it. If you’ve suffered, you have powerful credibility to lead others to the genuine hope found in Jesus.

5. It’s not wonderful that suffering happens, but it’s wonderful that God can use it to help, bless, and encourage others.

6. How are you suffering? What is God teaching you? How can you use it to bless others?

7. If one of the great goals of your life is to be more like Jesus, the most horrible seasons can also be wonderful opportunities for growth.

8. God can use the most painful parts of our story to be the most encouraging to others.

9. Addiction, self-medication, debt…much of life is spent trying to figure out how to go on after we have lost heart. Jesus says, “Take heart!”

10. Some don’t talk about their suffering because it somehow feels more righteous to bear it quietly and avoid burdening others. But the apostle Paul was open about his suffering, and none of us are more godly than him.

11. God usually doesn’t give us an answer for our suffering, but he provides us with his presence: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

12. If you minister to hurting people you will have a growing ministry.

This “try, try again” approach will ruin you.

SOURCE:  Jan Johnson

Try, Try Again?  No.

Maybe it starts when you make a mistake: yelling at someone you love or not doing what you promised to do.

Or it starts when you see someone who seems light-years ahead of you: they grin at people who dismiss them; they praise someone who beats them out of a job. You feel so far behind! Your lack of character really shows.

Then we think: When am I going to get it? When am I going to stop being lazy, stop showing off, quit being depressed, no longer withdraw from the people I love, stop worrying over something that didn’t happen or cease trying to control my co-workers or family members? It’s easy to sink deeper into it: Why can’t I overcome this? Especially if our shortcoming is considered a “big” sin among the people we hang out with.

These questions keep our thoughts spinning and often lead to despair and hopelessness. We believe the answer is: Try harder. We’ve heard the saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try – try again!” No. If I’ve lost my way back to my car, I don’t keep going back to the same space, thinking my car will magically appear. I pause. I stop and think. The saying should be: If at first you don’t succeed, ask God for help. I consider that God will show me a wiser, (usually) gentler approach.

First, we ask God for a “next step,” which doesn’t have to be huge. In fact, a smaller next step usually works better and leads to many more. A wise friend or spiritual director might suggest a better and different next step we haven’t thought of.

But we also look deeper. We ask the Spirit to show us the source of the problem (anger, exhaustion, boredom)? What am I afraid of? What (perhaps wise) caution is blocking me? These questions usually have to percolate with the help of the Spirit. Out of these questions may come a few small “next steps.”

This “try, try again” approach will ruin you.

Such spinning of thoughts is (I believe) a favorite method of the enemy to divert our attention from focusing on the Indwelling Christ. Going over and over our performance (How am I doing?) focuses us on ourselves, not God. When we focus on ourselves this way, we make ourselves the “star” of our spirituality instead of letting God be the “star” of our spirituality. Instead of asking, How am I doing? we ask, What, O God, are you leading me to be? To think? To do? Show me. Walk with me.

True humility involves relying on God all day long, moment by moment. “I can do all things through Christ who strengths me” . . . for the next ten minutes (Philippians 4;13, altered).

My inadequacy in this situation or my character flaw is clear to me and I’m not disturbed by it. I can’t overcome sin. “I do nothing on my own,” said Jesus (John 5:30). So I ask god, What are you leading me to be? To think? To do? Show me. Walk with me.

In humility we accept that growth is about progress, not perfection. Abraham journeyed on by stages (Genesis 12:9; 13:3). Israel was led “day by day continually” (Exodus 29:38). As we also do this, we can embrace the One who accompanies us on this journey, who loves being with us, who invites us to abide in Christ as Christ abides in us.

An Intimate, Honest, Personal Conversation (With God)

SOURCE:  Randall Johnsonthimblefulloftheology

Ephesians 4:12-16 – Conversations with God

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Some people can be very protective of their place and position, making it difficult, if not impossible, for someone else to gain their knowledge or experience.  But not You, Lord Jesus.  You have purposely given Your church gifted individuals for the express goal of equipping us to be replicas of You.  Whereas some might see this as just another form of pride, we, Your followers, know it is the expression of Your deepest love for us.

Your heart is to build us up, to help us attain to the full stature of Your character because you know this is what makes us the most happy and fulfilled.  When we are loving like You love, when we are making a powerful contribution to the welfare of another like You do, we are operating at our “factory” best.

I want to be everything You are, Lord.  You want me to be everything You are.  There is nothing better to be.  So equip me, equip me, equip me.  Let me never tire of gaining more knowledge and skill to minister to my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.  Help me maintain absolute unity in the faith with them.  Make me worthy of Your gifts.

Passages Of Faith: Confusion, Doubt, Disillusionment, Trust

When life disappoints us and nothing is turning out the way we’d planned, our faith has a chance to grow up.

SOURCE:   Paula Rinehart/Discipleship Journal

For the first time in my life I was up against a situation over which I had no control. No amount of effort could change the outcome. No seminar or book could help. Even the doctors, those white-coated wonders, just shook their heads and said, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Rinehart, these things just take their own course. There’s not much we can do.”

Perhaps my feeling of uncertainty was magnified by the days I lay in bed, waiting to see if I could keep this small life growing inside of me. Maybe I just had too much time to think. But when I eventually miscarried, I felt as if I had lost more than a baby. The awareness that my life was turning out much differently than I’d ever imagined thrust me outside the protective bubble I’d been living in for years.

That small death was the first of a series of stinging losses in my mid-thirties. Within a few months my parents’ marriage dissolved, we found that our son had significant learning disabilities, and the book I was writing bit the dust. Like so many people in their thirties, I had discovered that I was not the one directing the traffic of my life. I was not in control. That clear-eyed awakening was frightening.

Do you remember how you felt as a child when someone would take you by the arms and swing you round and round until you begged them to stop? Afterward, you’d lie on the ground gasping for breath, then stagger forth too dizzy to see straight. That’s the way I felt—shaken, off-balance, trying desperately to regain my footing—when I was blindsided by unexpected circumstances.

Almost nothing in my life seemed sure and certain anymore. Inside I was a bundle of questions and doubts. I, who had begun this spiritual journey on the trumpet call, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” began to edge toward skepticism. “Really?” I wanted to say. How was it that the abundant life that promised so much more—more intimacy, more impact, more satisfaction—was mysteriously turning out to be less? How, I wondered, had this wonderful plan come to include marriages beyond repair or saying goodbye to a gaunt little boy born with his eyes sealed shut?

Somewhere during this time I picked up Gail Sheehy’s book Passages, which explores the stages of adult development. I found myself intrigued with the idea that being an adult wasn’t a matter of climbing some steep hill and then sitting on the top waiting passively for the end. Each “passage” of adulthood is marked by particular crises or turning points that hold the potential for new growth. Could it be, I wondered, that growing up spiritually is patterned in passages or phases, too? Maybe I had come to a critical juncture and I didn’t know it. Maybe real spiritual growth was more like a story of a pilgrim on his way toward home. If so, periods of doubt and disappointment were part of that process.

I began to see the lives of New Testament men and women in a new light. For the first time they seemed like real people. In their stories lay the outline of a basic cycle of spiritual passages that moved in ever-deepening spirals from illusion to disappointment to real hope. Here were people a lot like myself—incomplete, not yet-fixed, with their own set of questions and doubts. What bumbling failures they were at times, yet they continued to follow Jesus.

As I found my story among their stories, I dared to wonder if my own disillusionment would dissolve into a different and deeper trust than I had ever known. But first I needed to look back at the beginning of my faith-journey.

A Faith That Insists

If you asked me for a word to describe the most rudimentary form of faith, I would choose predictability. Early faith hopes against hope that God will move in our lives in predictable ways. We seem to think God’s promises are connected by an invisible string to the dreams and expectations in our own minds. “If I do this then God will  . . .”

Faith, at this point, is a manageable belief system where our faithfulness or obedience obligates God to bring about our desires. At its heart, it’s a faith that insists.

The disciples started out with this kind of faith. Jesus told them over and over that He must suffer and die, and if they followed Him they would encounter their own measure of the same. But Christ’s words fell outside the boundaries of the disciples’ expectations and understanding. When Jesus was crucified, the disciples were stunned—unprepared to have life turned on its head.

I believe this demand for certainty, for predictability, is where faith starts for all of us. I’ve spent the bulk of my life as a Christian in this passage of “predictable faith.” Some part of me has longed to believe that faith is like a vending machine—you put your coins in at the top and the drink rolls out below. I was afraid to entertain the reality of trusting a God who was beyond my control, because it left me feeling too unsure, unsafe.

Although faith of this sort may suffice for a time, it cannot bear the full weight of life. It is a subtle form of trying to conform God to our own image of Him.

One of my husband’s seminary professors used to begin his fall semester freshman class with this question: “Students, I have one question for you. What is God like?” His students would get out their pencils, hem and haw, and wait for the professor to dispense the prescribed answer. But he outwaited them. In desperation, one student after another would attempt to fill the awkward pause. “God is love, God is just, God is like this, God is like that.” The professor would just sit there, unimpressed.

Finally, after they had exhausted everything they knew or had ever heard about what God was like, He would lean over and say, “Men and women, let me tell you something. God is not like anything. He is His own standard. And the tragedy is that you are going to build your little theological boxes around what you think God is like. Someday when you really need Him, you’re going to race to your box and open the lid, and He won’t be in there.”

God does not allow us to continue to reduce Him to a size and shape we can manage. He moves in our lives in ways that burst our categories and overwhelm our finiteness. When we realize He’s bigger than anything we can get our minds around, we can begin to relax and trust Him.

Ironically, the crisis of disillusionment is what shakes our preconceived notions and beckons us to deeper faith.

Disillusionment

The disappointment that leads to this second passage of faith is usually quite unexpected. To think that faith would turn to disappointment appears contradictory, as though God were defeating His own purposes. Yet, we rarely see the extent of our expectations until, for one reason or another, they are not fulfilled.

At this point, many reactions are possible. Confusion and doubt are two of the most common ones. As John the Baptist sat in prison toward the end of his life—his disciples disbanded and his future uncertain—he felt the need to send a friend to question Jesus. “Are you truly the Christ, the One we’ve been waiting for?” Christ assured him that He was. And He did not rebuke him for needing that reassurance.

When the rest of the disciples watched their dreams die with Jesus’ death, they began to fade into the surrounding landscape. No doubt they were filled with a sense of failure and defeat. Peter and John must have returned to fishing. You can almost hear them asking each other, “What now? Where do we go from here?”

For some, disillusionment leads to cynicism and apathy, a kind of dead-in-the road state, as though someone has let the air out of your tires. But it doesn’t have to be that way. What feels like the end of faith actually holds the potential for its true beginning. When we let go of our determination to make God conform in safe, predictable ways, it is possible to receive something better in its place.

One of disappointment’s hidden benefits is that it moves you out of your head— your cognitive understanding—into some of the messy, broken places in your heart.

I remember one summer when I felt defeated. The Bible became like a dead book to me. I went for weeks with almost no thought of prayer. And then one morning I woke up and the first thought that came to my mind was, “Paula, you’re an angry woman.”

You would have to grow up in the South to understand how repugnant such an idea was to me. It was the opposite of the “good girl” image I had of myself. Anger? Nice girls don’t get angry.

Yet the moment I admitted the truth, a strange thing happened. I sensed God almost asking my permission, as it were, to be invited into the muck and mire of my struggle. Would I let Him lead me into some of the sealed-off compartments of my heart? Not the polished, presentable places, but the rooms where unacknowledged grief and fear and bitterness had been incubating for years. There were parts of me, He seemed to insist, that had yet to hear the gospel.

This was my first gut-level identification with those words of David I had memorized years before: “If I make my bed in the depths, you are there  . . . even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (Ps. 139:3, Ps. 139:10). I was amazed to think that God would not turn away from me when I didn’t even want to be with myself—when I was so inclined to turn my back on Him. I had not realized, on a deeper, more emotional level, that He cared that much.

Disillusionment showed me how thin my loyalties were. I was not the “good girl who God was lucky to have on His team. And God was much different from I had thought. I found He was both more exacting and more merciful than I could imagine. It’s precisely because God transcends my understanding—and my control—that I can dare to trust Him.

A True Hope

Recently, a friend asked me, “How is faith that comes on the far side of disappointment better than faith that precedes it?” She was saying, “Tell me how loss adds up to gain and how your relationship with God is different.”

Hmmm  . . . I thought. How can I put this into words that make sense? In my early Christian life, answers came quickly for me. I saw faith as a set of propositions to be defended, a body of knowledge to learn and pass on, a storehouse of sure answers.

But the faith that emerges out of broken dreams is different and harder to describe. There is room for mystery—for not knowing all the answers. The passage of faith that follows disillusionment begins when there is no experiential reason to believe. It is born in the fearlessness that comes when you’ve already lost a good portion of what you were so afraid of losing in the first place.

Somehow, you know God is there in the midst of this passage—in ways you didn’t expect. He makes His presence known by the pain of His seeming absence. He doesn’t necessarily change the circumstances; He gives you the courage to face and move through them.

In one of his later plays, T.S. Eliot describes faith on the far side of disappointment as a “kind of faith that issues from despair. The destination cannot be described; you will know very little until you get there; you will journey blind. But the way leads toward possession of what you have sought for in the wrong place.” Journeying blind is perhaps another way of reminding us that we really do walk by faith, not by sight.

I am convinced that Peter’s courage in the book of Acts is the fruit of having waded through a heaping measure of failure and disappointment. There wasn’t much some angry synagogue official could tell him about himself that he didn’t already know. Without Jesus he was just another visionary, a common coward. And Christ who, by all rights, should have left him fishing by the sea of Galilee not only welcomed his return, He entrusted him with the care of His people.

Faith that withstands its own demise is free of the need to control life. It moves beyond the safe confines of predictability to a place where we begin to enjoy a relationship with a Person—a relationship that is often elliptical, full of ebb and flow, desert and garden.

In his book on prayer, Richard Foster says that one of the greatest things he learned in his own spiritual journey was “the intimate and ultimate awareness that I could not manage God. God refused to jump when I said, ‘Jump!’ Neither by theological acumen nor technique could I conquer God. God was, in fact, to conquer me.” The focus of our faith shifts from discovering ways to get a fix on God to experiencing the reality that He is the One who has hold of us.

That inner shift of surrender must happen over and over throughout our lives, in ever-deepening ways.

The process of letting go of learning to trust—is never a small or inconsequential thing. As Henri Nonwen once said, “[This] is the great conversion in our life: to recognize and believe that the many unexpected events are not just disturbing interruptions of our projects, but the way in which God molds our hearts and prepares us for his return.”

Somehow it helps me to realize—when my life takes unforeseen turns—that it’s all part of the process. There are many passages to a deepening faith, and I’m just smack in the middle of another one. In the meantime, I catch glimpses of God. But one day I will see Him with unhindered gaze and completed understanding. According to the Apostle John, in that Day “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn. 3:2).

Some days I can hardly wait.

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.

Disciplines of the Holy Spirit: Connecting to THE Power

SOURCE:  BILL BELLICAN

The disciplines (or tools) of the Holy Spirit provide us with practical and realistic means by which we become more like Jesus.  The Holy Spirit draws us to God through these different disciplines that enable us to better tune into and cooperate with what the Holy Spirit longs to do in our lives.   According to Dr. S.Y. Tan in Disciplines of the Holy Spirit, these disciplines include:

Solitude and silence. With these disciplines, we deepen our fellowship with God by drawing close to God in intimacy and vulnerability.

Listening and guidance. These disciplines become vital practices as we grow to love and trust God.

Prayer and intercession. Through times of prayer and intercession, the Holy Spirit works to grow us up into the very heart of Christ.

Study and meditation. Utilizing especially Scripture, these disciplines bring us into intimate knowledge of God’s character and purpose.

Repentance and confession. These strengthen God’s authority and Lordship in our lives.

Yielding and submission. Willingly giving up areas of our lives to the Holy Spirit’s control includes actively yielding areas that hold us back from the fullness of the Spirit.

Fasting. Surrendering our appetites for food and other things we hold too close or take for granted sets us free to experience more self-control and to take joy in our experience with God.

Worship. This is our deepest act of surrender to God where the Holy Spirit helps us to focus on God instead of ourselves.

Fellowship. Gathering together with other believers connects us with the power of the Holy Spirit and allows us to grow in faith, hope, and love.

Simplicity. Practicing a lifestyle that is increasingly free of excess, greed, covetousness, and other forms of dependence, the Holy Spirit works to release spiritual gifts such as hospitality, mercy, and giving.

Service.   Giving ourselves to God and others in different ways, this discipline leads us into sacrificial service for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom.

Witness.  The power to evangelize unbelievers and bring them to Christ also comes from the Holy Spirit.

In and of themselves, the spiritual disciplines are nothing.  Remember, they only help to connect us to the Source of all spiritual power—the Holy Spirit, Himself.  The disciplines are not a means of influencing God or winning His favor, but rather they are God’s gifts to us through which He can minister His grace and mercy.

Ephesians 5:18   Luke 11:10, 13   John 3:1-8  Romans 8:26-27

 

 

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