Does it ever feel like God has stopped talking to you? How do you react to that? Do you panic? Do you pray louder? Are you tempted to quit believing altogether? This time of silence is very common, but rarely talked about. Some refer to it as a “wilderness experience.” Others call it the winter season of life. The best descriptive term I have heard is “The Dark Night of the Soul.” It can last days, months, or even years. It is often misdiagnosed as depression, but it goes much deeper because it doesn’t just affect your mind or your emotions; it affects your soul. Here are some of the symptoms:
1. What used to work doesn’t work anymore
When I was a young Christian, I felt God’s presence all the time. If at any time I didn’t feel His presence when I thought I should, I would just pray harder or read my favorite passage of Scripture or listen to Christian music or anything else that gave me goose bumps and helped me feel God again.
One day I realized that I had not felt God’s presence in quite a while. I tried all of the remedies that used to work, but I felt nothing. During this time, God taught me that I can’t press a button and find God; that would make ME God.
2. Basic disciplines like prayer, reading the Bible, and going to church actually make you feel worse
I have heard people complain that they “can’t hear God” or “it feels like God is far away.” Often well-meaning people advise them to pray more or read the Psalms or go to a soup kitchen. Though this is generally good advice, during the Dark Night these things might actually make you feel worse. That doesn’t mean you should stop praying; it just means that it has become an act of faith just to pray because it no longer energizes you and you don’t feel like God is listening. God is letting you mature by holding back that conditioned response that used to motivate you to do spiritual things.
Think about it. As a child, you had to be bribed to eat your vegetables. As an adult, hopefully you learned to eat broccoli even if it looks and tastes like tiny trees. Or maybe as a child you would only drink your medicine if it tasted like bubblegum. As an adult, you take your medicine even if it tastes like, well, medicine. You do these things because they are good for you – even if it might even hurt a little. It is the same thing for your spiritual health. There comes a point in time when you don’t like doing spiritual exercises, but know you need to in order to become stronger.
3. One or more “Christians” have told you that you have lost your faith
“I haven’t seen you at church in a while. Did you backslide?” “God never stops talking; you just stopped listening.” “Turn that frown upside down. Today is the day the Lord has made!” Christians can say the stupidest things or the right things at the wrong moments. If it bothers you at all that God might have stopped talking to you, then that proves you care. You’re still saved, but you’re going through something that some Christians can’t relate to. Don’t worry about it. Sooner or later, they’ll go through something similar.
4. You have begun questioning everything you believe in – even the basics like “Does God exist?” “Are all my sins forgiven?” “Does God really have a plan for me or has He forgotten about me?”
Though many experience it in different ways, the Dark Night of the Soul is nothing new. Peter wrote about it to the persecuted church in 1 Peter. While many were wondering whether they should give up and abandon their faith, Peter said it was actually through their faith that God’s power was shielding them. (1:5) To drop their shield of faith would not only lead to their destruction here and now, but they would also be giving up their inheritance (heaven). He encouraged them not to give up “the living hope” that they had from Jesus’ resurrection – not a wishful hope like “I hope it doesn’t rain today” but a living hope that since God already raised Jesus from the dead, we can be sure that He will raise us from the dead to be with Him forever in heaven. Peter then explains,
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These 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.
Notice three things about this passage.
If you are going through the Dark Night, know that you are not going through it alone. God walks with you and only lets your hand go so your faith can grow as He leads you through the stormy valley silently. Though you cannot touch Him or hear Him to know for sure that He is there, know that He is by your side protecting you the whole time while your faith is proven genuine and grows like it only could during such an experience. Remember Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (Psalm 23:4)
You would think only so much can go wrong
But our Hope endures the worst of conditions
How do we comprehend peace within pain?
But our Hope endures the worst of conditions
Emmanuel, God is with us
(“Our Hope Endures” performed by Natalie Grant)
“Cast your care on Jesus today,Leave your worry and fear;
Burdens are lifted @ Calvary. Jesus is very near.
Troubled soul, the Saviour can see,Ev’ry heartache and tear;
Burdens are lifted @ Calvary. Jesus is very near.”
Burdens are lifted at Calvary,
Burdens are lifted at Calvary,
Jesus is very near.
6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time,
7 casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.
8 Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion,seeking someone to devour.
9 But resist him, firm in your faith knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.
10 After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect,
Every hardship that you encounter is evidence of God’s mighty hand at work on your life. Trials are God’s designs on your life to shape you, mold you, designate you as a child of God fit for the presence of His Spirit at work in you so that you can arrive at the good works that God has prepared in advance for you with His power and might. When you realize that path, all of the hardships – losses, fears, insecurities, spiritual battles, trauma, infirmities, rejections, uncertainties……… – were necessary to get you to realize that He deserves ALL the praise, glory and honor for all of the “good” that He allows. And you are responsible for an awareness of His goodness because that’s how you can experience joy and thanksgiving during hardship.
The potter picks up a piece of clay and prepares it for molding. There is a distinct plan in mind from the time he chooses the clay type and all the way through the various steps to prepare the clay to become a beautiful, distinct, desirable piece of pottery that someone will NEED to possess. I will never forget being on vacation in the Bahamas years ago. There was a large display of pottery in the marketplace and there was a lady making a fuss over the “distinction” of a particular vase. It was large in stature and totally unattractive to my eye. However, this woman was enamored by it’s appeal so much so that she let everyone around her know – she found this piece. She was loud, energetic and loaded with joy. She had to have a specific need for it that she was unable to fulfill before her discovery that day.Her joy infected that market. That’s what God’s designs on us are for.
He knows his people and He knows the plan. His mighty hand is CONSTANTLY at work on His creation. So burdens are the training ground for our faith muscles. When I was in my teens and 20’s I was in marvelous physical shape. My training ground for building and maintaining my physique was the gym, the track and the courts.
I loved to lift weights to keep my natural definition toned and shaped. I ran 2-3 miles a day 5 days a week at my peek so as to keep my legs and my core lean. I would play racquetball and tennis to engage in competitive athletics. That shaped my body, mind and spirit.
Then it happened. I learned over time that my body, that used to respond to exercise and sport so well, was not able to keep up with my spirit for working out because of a defective spine. 2 decades later I am not able to exercise my body at all like I used to. Yet my faith is lifting weights I never, ever thought I would need to try. All of the burdens -heartache, pain, misery, ego-bursting, loss, disappointments, guilt, regrets, failures, etc. – were teaching me how to use my faith muscles. The process of conditioning began when I became willing to trust the “finished work at Calvary” as a sufficient source of God’s power in my life. The cross serves us so much goodness that we just take for granted. Trials give us a more defined aptitude for all of the work Christ “finished.” James put it best when he wrote in 1:2-3
2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,
Get happy when you come across a trial that God designed for you just like I used to get happy when I was leaving the ins/outs of my daily life and escaping to the gym,track or court. When I engaged those activities everything else was on hold until I was done. So it is with the Cross. You can let everything go when you take all of your anxieties, fears, temptations, and life issues to Calvary and “Leave Them There.” Don’t get caught up in a pity party along the way. You have plenty of examples in this world to know that you are not the only one who has to endure hardship. Instead, get to the place in you where you realize that you have the best remedy for hardships – Christ. All the good comes through- AS YOU COME THROUGH -the suffering, the trial, the hardship because burdens are lifted at Calvary.