What is God's basic will for our lives as Christians?
If I asked you this question, what would your answer be? In this third article in our series, entitled Faith in the Night Seasons, I would like to explore the answer to this question, and also, how God implements it in our lives. I believe Romans 8:29 tells us that God's basic will for each of us, as Christians, is to be conformed into the image of His Son. Once this transformation begins to occur in our lives, we not only will experience God's abundant Life in our soul, but we'll also enjoy intimate fellowship with Him in our spirit. In other words, we'll begin to "know" the fullness of Christ.
God wants us to know Him so intimately and so completely that we won't be moved away from Him when difficulties arise in our lives. As David said, "I foresaw the Lord always before my face; for He is on my right hand, that I should not be moved [away]." (Acts 2:25)
Kingdom of God
If you have longed, as I have, for greater intimacy with the Lord and to see Him always before your face, the journey you must take is an inward one. As believers, we don't have to travel far to find the kingdom of God, because Luke 17:21 tells us that it lies "within" us. This is where God now makes His dwelling. "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God." (1 John 4:15)
Thus, in order to really experience intimacy with God and His moment-by-moment presence, we must learn to live in that inner chamber of our spirit where God now dwells. This is the place where God teaches us, guides us and communes with us, and also, the place where we worship, praise and love Him. In other words, it's only through our spirit that God's presence can be known.
Now, when I say "inward journey," I do not mean a "self-ward" journey, or detachment and flight from the world, but rather a process of sanctification by which we can meet with God in our spirit and experience His fullness. However, because this realm of the spirit operates outside the reach of our human understanding, those of us who want this deeper relationship with God will find the inward journey towards intimacy much different than any other spiritual path we have ever been on. And, because of our ignorance, our journey inward can often turn out to be a night of confusion and darkness.
We cannot approach God's presence logically or emotionally. There is no introspective technique we can use, no seminar we can attend, and no instruction manual we can study in order to reach this place of spiritual intimacy. We cannot see, hear, smell, taste or feel our way along this narrow path, thus the journey inward can sometimes be dark and confusing. We must learn to walk purely by "faith" and through the eyes of our spirit, not by our feelings or the eyes of our own understanding.
Most of us (even as mature Christians) still walk by the "flesh"-by our own feelings and through the eyes of our own natural understanding. This is why so many of us don't know God intimately and why we have such a "lukewarm" relationship with him. God, on the other hand, loves us too much to allow us to remain in this neutral or middle of the road state. He knows that the only way we will ever attain immovable intimacy with Him is by our learning to walk in naked faith-a faith that is not dependent upon sight, feelings or experience, but on Him alone. Thus, the classroom He uses to teach us this lesson is called the "dark night" or "night seasons."
What are "Night Seasons?"
Trials come to all Christians. They come because of personal sin, the sins of others, the schemes of the devil and the fallen state of the human race.
According to the Bible, a true "night season" is none of these! A true Biblical night season is a God-sent, Father-filtered period of time where He specifically strengthens our faith and teaches us to walk only by His Spirit, not by our flesh. It's a time where God lovingly removes all our natural and comfortable "support systems" (inside and out) in order to replace them with total and unshakable faith in Him.
It's a time where He leads us away from depending upon "self," to depending totally upon Him. It's a time where He allows circumstances into our lives that darken our understanding, that negate our feelings and that put to confusion all our own plans and purposes. Listen to how Madame Guyon describes this period of time in her book Final Steps in Christian Maturity:
"There comes a time in the believer's life when the Lord withdraws the joy. He will seemingly withdraw the graces. At the same time, the Christian may also find himself in a period of persecution-persecution, no less, than that coming from Christians in religious authority. Further, he may find much difficulty in his home or private life. He may also be experiencing great difficulties with his health. Somewhere there will be a great deal of pain or other losses too numerous to mention.
"The believer may also be undergoing experiences which he feels are totally unique to himself. Other Christians, in whom he has put his trust, may forsake him and mistreat him. He may feel that he has been very unjustly treated. He will feel this toward men and he will feel it toward his God, for-in the midst of all this other pain and confusion-it will seem that God, too, has left him!
"Even more believers give up the journey when the Lord seems to have forsaken them in the spirit and left their spirit dead-while the world and all else is crashing in on them, friends forsaking them, and great suffering and pain abounding everywhere in their lives. But, the true land of promise always lies beyond a vast wasteland. Promise is found only on the far side of a desert.
"When you can go beyond that place and, not seeing your Lord, believe He is there by the eyes of faith alone; when you can walk further and further into Christ when there are no senses, no feelings, not even the slightest registration of the presence of God; when you can sit before Him when everything around you and within you seems to be either falling apart or dead; and when you can come before your Lord without question and without demand, serene in faith alone, and there, before Him, worship Him without distraction, without a great deal of consciousness of self and with no spiritual sense of Him, then will the test of commitment begin to be established. Then will begin the true journey of the Christian life."
Trusting God in the Darkness
Since most of us are unable to learn these lessons though our reason, our intellect or our emotions, God must teach us these things by darkening these areas of our soul and forcing us to rely totally upon our faith and the eyes of our spirit. Thus, the name The Dark Night.
Remember Isaiah 50:10, "Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of His servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light?" Notice something important here: this person not only fears the Lord, but he also obeys His voice. In other words, there is no disobedience or sin involved, and yet, this person still walks in darkness.
Although it's hard for us to imagine that God, who is light, could ever dwell in darkness, the Bible tells us that at times God does dwell in the dark. This is His "secret place." (Psalm 18:11) In 1 Kings 8:12, it says, "The Lord said that He would dwell in the thick darkness." And in Exodus 20:21, Moses approached "the thick darkness where God was." The Bible tells us that God not only "forms the light," but He also "creates the darkness." (Isaiah 45:7) Darkness and light are the same to Him.
This is simply saying that the "things of God" are far beyond the human eye and the human ear. They are "dark" to us, because they are beyond our human understanding. Thus, if we are to continue our inward journey towards intimacy with God and experience His fullness, we must choose to walk purely by faith in the darkness, clinging to the assurance that God has allowed whatever is happening in our life for a purpose and that His will is being accomplished. Being able to unconditionally trust God in the darkness is essential, because if we give in to doubting His Love and care at this time, we can easily lose our way. (This is what almost happened to me, as I shared in last month's UPDATE.)
Many of us will struggle in this new realm of faith, just as a swimmer fights the powerful current that draws him into deeper water. The swimmer will drown unless he quiets his fear and calmly rests in the water. The believer, likewise, will drown in this dark time unless he learns to be still and to quiet his soul. God is simply using the darkness to accomplish His will: to form Christ in us so that we might enjoy not only His abundant Life, but also intimate fellowship.
Yet, many of us completely misunderstand this aspect of discipleship. And because we cannot grasp God's mysterious ways, we often distrust His motives. When God allows painful circumstances into our lives, we hastily assume that He is punishing us or that He has forsaken us, yet nothing could be further from the truth. He is simply attempting to "free us" from our "soulish" limitations and lead us into the wider realm of His Spirit. But, because so many of us lack understanding of this spiritual discipline, we naturally assume the darkness has come forth from the enemy, and that it is intended for our destruction.
As Alan Redpath, the notable English writer, assures us, "The devil has nothing to do with (these dark times). God has brought us to this experience. He wants [simply] to replace us with Himself." I love that! God uses these dark times to simply "replace us with Himself." This is the whole Christian life in a nutshell! This is God's will: to empty us of ourselves so He can simply replace us with Himself.
Even though we all long to have the kind of intimacy that Jesus had with His Father, many of us have instead settled for a pale imitation of Christianity. We have become imprisoned by our "soulish" (and emotional) understanding of God. We declare that we are willing to pay the price for a deeper relationship with Him, yet we writhe in agony when He begins to rearrange our lives. Until we are willing to let our precious alabaster boxes be completely broken and Jesus' Life formed in us, we will never fully experience the intimacy, the fullness and the oneness with God that He desires.
As I travel around the country, speaking and sharing with other believers, I hear about so many devastating situations that God has allowed. I receive hundreds of letters and phone calls from Christians all over the country who are in night seasons. As these precious people attempt to sort through the wreckage of their broken dreams, hopes and plans, they feel weighted down by bitter disappointment, doubt and even a sense of abandonment. They feel much like Job when he uttered in pain and ignorance, "What have I done to Thee, O watcher of men? Why hast Thou set me as Thy target?" (7:20 nas) "Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps..." (Psalm 88:6)
The following are a few examples of the confusion and the desperation that these people are feeling. Are we somehow missing God? Are we hearing Him incorrectly? Are we jumping to conclusions, or are the "night seasons" that God allows into our lives truly part of His will towards us?
First of all, there is the story of a dear friend who had fallen in love with a beautiful young woman. This man had not only prayed consistently about the relationship, but he also had searched the Scriptures and sought counsel from other believers. When he was absolutely convinced the Lord was in it, he asked the young woman to marry him. She readily accepted, but the night before the wedding, she unexpectedly walked out on him. Our friend was totally devastated and, as a result, he went into a spiritual and emotional tailspin. Did this man somehow take a wrong turn, or was God's will at work in these painful circumstances?
Then, there was the situation of our friends who'd spent their life savings to buy a restaurant. It had been their lifelong dream to own a diner, and after praying and seeking the Lord, they felt sure He was prompting them to move ahead. However, a year and a half after putting everything they owned into that restaurant to make it succeed, it went bankrupt. Was God in this situation?
Next, there is the letter I received from a gentleman who told me about the lucrative job offer he'd accepted in another state. After the Lord confirmed the move in many ways, he and his wife confidently sold their home and took the kids out of school. After buying a new house and even relocating their in-laws, the "job of promise" suddenly fell through and this man was unable to find work for months. Again, did this man somehow miss God's voice?
Then, there is the incident of the devout Christian parents whose teenage son, afflicted with cerebral palsy from birth, was suffering with severe pain in his back. After several medical opinions and months of constant prayer, these parents felt God directing them towards a specific surgical procedure for their son. Instead of relieving the pain, however, this surgery only compounded the problem and even created physical complications that hadn't existed before. Thus, the parents were left emotionally "shell-shocked" by this unexpected turn of events. Did they somehow not hear God correctly?
And finally, there is the woman who prayed for and wanted, more than anything else in the world, to have children. She loved God with all her heart and yet, after the miscarriage of three babies, she was left devastated and feeling totally abandoned by Him. Listen, as she expresses her disappointment, "...when you have been a Christian for 15 years, where do you go? (Who do you turn to?) You know that everything else is false, intellectually and experientially, and yet the God you thought you knew was not who He turned out to be...After our heartfelt pleadings were met with stony silence and a closed door, I had to face the fact that God could, but was choosing not to, act."
Why It's So Important to Know God's Will
Are we somehow missing God? Was He in all of these tragedies? Would a loving Father really allow situations so devastating? Are these events truly part of God's will towards us?
Ten years ago, I would have said, "No way!" But, as I search the Scriptures for understanding, I find passages like Job 30:26, "When I looked for [or expected] good, then evil came unto me." And, Lamentations 3 says, "He hath led me, and brought me into darkness, [but] not into light...He hath broken my bones...He hath set me in dark places...He hath hedged me about, that I cannot get out...He hath enclosed my ways with hewn stone; He hath made my paths crooked." (verses 2, 4, 6-7, 9)
And Isaiah 59:9-10, "...We wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness. We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes; we stumble at noonday as in the night..." And finally, Job 19:8, "He hath fenced up my way that I cannot pass, and He hath set darkness in my paths." (In the back of our book, Faith in the Night Seasons, we have listed over 200 such Scriptures.)
All of the people in the above personal examples were absolutely convinced that God had been involved in their decisions. They had prayed the whole way and felt assured that He had given them specific direction to step out in faith. Yet in the end, many of them were left with emotional (and often financial) heartbreak and chaos...
Are you also one of these people?
I cannot answer for all the people listed above, I can only answer for Chuck and me. But, I can say for us that all the devastating things that God allowed in our lives over the last seven years (as I shared in detail in last month's Personal UPDATE) have turned out, like Job said, to open our eyes and enable us to intimately see Him in ways we never had before. "[We] had heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now [our] eyes seeth Thee." (Job 42:5)
"Seeing Jesus" means sensing His presence continually-knowing He is always there beside you, no matter what is going on in your life (Acts 2:25); it's constantly fellow-shipping, talking and communing with Him; it's hearing His still, small voice and even His correction when a thought or motive is not of Him; it's seeing Him lead and guide you and give you supernatural discernment in things you never would see on your own; it's experiencing continual worship and praise flowing from your inner being as never before; and, it's knowing, without a shadow of doubt, that He will never leave you or forsake you, no matter what you see, hear, think, feel or experience.
God loves each of us so much that He will do whatever is necessary in each of our lives to accomplish His will-to replace us with Himself, so we might experience this kind of unshakable intimacy. If we can understand what God is trying to accomplish in our lives and if we can "see" our circumstances as sent directly from Him in order to implement His will, then we can, at least, receive them as part of His plan, find the faith we need to get through them and remain at rest in them.
God is teaching us all to have "faith" like Job: "Though You slay me, yet will I trust You." (Job 13:15) He wants each of us to be able to say and mean (by faith, not feelings), "Though everything in my life is upside-down and I don't understand a thing You are doing, I still choose by faith to unconditionally abandon myself to You and trust You."
This is the kind of faith that overcomes the world and this is the kind of faith that brings with it a "peace that passes all understanding.
* * *