As a Christian, have you ever felt abandoned by God or disappointed with Him? Have you ever asked, "Where is He when everything in my life is falling apart?"
Last month we began a series of articles on our new book Faith in the Night Seasons. This is a book for those who have obeyed, loved and served the Lord and yet continue to walk through periods of confusion and darkness. As Isaiah 50:10 says, "Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of His servant, [yet] that walketh in darkness, and hath no light."
God allows these "night seasons" into our lives for the purpose of bringing us into an intimacy with Him that we have never before known. As Job said, "I [had] heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth [intimately knows] Thee." (Job 42:5) Night seasons are not just a dry time or a temporary trial, but a "Father-filtered" period of time where God leads us away from depending upon our "self" to depending entirely upon Him. It's a time where He lovingly removes all our natural and comfortable support systems in order to replace them with a total and unshakable trust (and faith) in Him.
My own "night season" began like this:
My Shattered World
It was July of 1990. We had just found out that we owed the IRS several million dollars (yes, million!); that Chuck's company was about to go into bankruptcy; that we were going to lose our "dream" home; that our insurance was going to be canceled; and that our cars and other valuables were going to be repossessed.
My world was about to be shattered, and there was nothing at all that I could do about it! There was nowhere to run for comfort and no one I could turn to. I was alternating between numbness and total disbelief, and I kept thinking, "How could this be happening to us? Disasters like this happen to people in their 20s and 30s, not responsible adults in their 50s!"
I was so devastated by all that was occurring (especially since these were circumstances I personally had nothing at all to do with), that I decided to run to the only Person I knew where I could find help. And that was to God Himself.
Back in those days, we lived in Big Bear Lake in the mountains of Southern California, and my favorite place to go and seek God began right across the street from our house - a trail that led to the top of the mountain. So, I put on my old hiking clothes, grabbed my Bible and began my hike.
It was one of those perfect summer days. The sky was a brilliant blue and as a warm breeze blew gently at my back, I climbed higher and higher into the familiar hills. Through the beautiful pine trees, I could see glimpses every once in awhile of the shimmering lake far below.
We loved living in Big Bear. At this point, we had been there almost five years and it had been the most idyllic time we had had in our marriage. After twenty moves in thirty years, Chuck and I were more than ready to settle down. Our four very active, and now grown, children loved skiing, sailing and hiking, so they came often for weekends and holidays. We appreciated the little town of Big Bear so very much, with our wonderful church home and our many dear friends.
We lived in a spectacular home on the lake with a 180-degree view. What made it so special was that the house was built on huge boulders (the size of small cars and some even larger). The house was literally secured into the rocks themselves. We used to kid about living "on the rock." We had bought this piece of property intending to retire there. It was a little piece of heaven.
Although Chuck was still active in business, he'd arranged his schedule so that we could be in Big Bear five days a week, and then spend the other two days in our small Orange County apartment down the hill. It was the perfect answer while he was making the transition to retirement. We planned to live in that "dream home" for the rest of our lives.
The original house that we had bought five years earlier was too small for us on a permanent basis, so we had just spent two years doing extensive remodeling. We had spent hours and hours handpicking all the perfect colors for paint, carpets and wallcoverings. We had only just moved back into the house a few months earlier when all the traumatic events began.
Meeting with God
As I hiked up the hill, I could see the lake glittering in the sunlight between the trees. I found a perfect knoll where I could sit and see for miles around me. I was just happy to be there with Jesus, away from all my problems.
As I began to pray and read the Scriptures (Genesis 12) - which talks about Abram building an altar to the Lord - the Spirit moved me to build an altar. I gathered as many stones as I could find, piled them high on top of each other (about three feet tall) and called it my "Bethel." (I often wonder if that pillar is still there.)
I sat back, turned my eyes towards the sky and began to think about my life. Up until this point, our lives had been blessed (even though early on we had had a few marital and family problems). On the whole, however, we had had a wonderful life. We had been married a little over thirty years, we had four beautiful children, a beautiful home, a fantastic job and future and many, many friends. Now, so very abruptly - so very quickly - all that had changed.
We not only were experiencing the bankruptcy, the IRS mess and the loss of our home, cars and insurance, but also at this same time, many of our close friends turned their backs on us. As soon as the local media began broadcasting news of our bankruptcy, the rumor mills began. Although we fully expected to be given a cold shoulder by the secular world, we weren't prepared for the reaction we received from some of our dear Christian brothers and sisters, some of whom had invested in Chuck's company. These were our beloved Christian friends - ones that we had counseled through their own marital and family difficulties. So it was such a shock that at the time we needed their support and their love the most, they would forsake us. Within a few days of the announcement on the radio and in the newspapers, our reputation was virtually ruined.
For me, the loss of my Christian brothers and sisters was the most agonizing part of the whole ordeal. When we had millions of dollars, our friends were too numerous to count. But when we owed millions and were in desperate straits, many of these "friends" quickly disappeared. If it hadn't been for the encouragement of a few faithful families and a couple of people we barely knew, Chuck and I would have felt completely abandoned by the Body of Christ. It was an absolutely crushing experience!
Trying to pick up the pieces of our lives was like trying to sweep up after an explosion. My own ministry had by this time dwindled down to just a few speaking engagements and the books that I had so longed to write had been shelved because of all of our own personal problems. (This was way before The King's High Way Series.)
As I meditated on all these things that had just occurred in my life, God directed me to 1 Peter, which talks about a fiery trial of faith about ready to begin (1 Peter 1:7; 4:12) and Psalm 102:3, which says "My days are consumed like smoke and my bones are burned...." These Scriptures were not very encouraging, but they explained a little of what seemed to be taking place.
Even before the final crash of Chuck's company, when everyone else was saying, "Don't worry, it's going to be fine," every time I would pray, I seemed to receive Scriptures that indicated just the opposite - it wasn't going to be fine; we were going to go down in flames. So, God had already forewarned me. I just should have been better prepared for the crash.
God ministered many things to me on the mountaintop that day, but the most wonderful thing He did was to give me some incredible personal promises through His Word. As I listened carefully for His words of divine guidance and encouragement, I was stunned by a string of almost unbelievable promises. Through the Scriptures and His Spirit, God spoke to me of a future ministry far beyond my wildest dreams. As I marked each Scripture fast and furiously, I understood how young David must have felt when Samuel anointed him for a destiny he couldn't even imagine.
These were promises that I needed to hear at that time, in order to weather the coming storms. At first I was awed by what I read and heard God's Spirit say to my heart and mind. But, over the next several weeks as I prayed and read the Word over and over again, God continued to confirm what I had heard on that mountaintop.
Trial of My Faith
Yet as I waited and watched for the fulfillment of those promises over the next few years, I began to grow impatient. After walking with the Lord for over thirty years, I knew I had to rely on His perfect timing, but I was also a twentieth-century Christian, and this was one of those times when I was desperate for quick answers. My world had shattered almost overnight, so I naturally assumed that the Lord would move just as quickly to bring all these new promises to pass.
Because of this assumption, the hardest part for me over the next seven years was that those glorious promises God had given me up there on that mountaintop never came true. As I experienced God's Word coming true in all the circumstances surrounding the demise of Chuck's company and the loss of our home, etc., the personal promises did not. Not only did they not come true, my life experiences proved to be just the opposite - everything in my world crumbled and crashed. So, instead of blessings, more and more trials just kept coming. "...when I waited for light, there came darkness." (Job 30:26)
After the eventual loss of our home, we rented another house in Big Bear, not far from our daughter, Lisa. In 1992, a year and a half after the bankruptcy, that rented house turned out to be on the epicenter of a 6.8 earthquake, in which most of our furniture and valuables were destroyed. Actually, we were the lucky ones. Houses on both sides of us twisted off their foundations by as much as ten feet, and even though our house sustained a lot of damage, it was miraculously still standing. There were, however, huge cracks in the walls and the foundation and everything in the house that could break, broke.
It took Lisa and me eight hours to shovel our way from the kitchen door to the kitchen sink. We had to wade through a "knee-high" sea of broken china and glass, shattered appliances and unidentified pieces of the house. Most of our furniture and precious family momentos that had survived the bankruptcy were now reduced to rubble-in addition to all the goblets and china from our "millionaire" days. As I surveyed the buckling sidewalks and shattered windows, I couldn't even bear the thought of starting over again. As far as I was concerned, our life in Big Bear had finally come to an end.
After the earthquake and through a series of God-directed circumstances, we ended up moving to North Idaho. Although we loved the Northwest, we ended up having to move another six times before we were finally able to find a home where we could stay permanently. All of this moving and all of this devastation happened in less than two years and took a tremendous toll on me in every way. "...my strength and my hope is perished from the Lord." (Lamentations 3:18)
Even in our new situation in Idaho, God allowed all my hopes and dreams in every area of my life to be frustrated and destroyed. Every arrangement I tried to make blew up in my face. All my expectations went unmet and my plans were continually confounded.
While clinging steadfastly to the promises that God had given me on the mountaintop, I kept expecting things to get better, but they only got worse. I'd somehow survived the shaking of homes, our finances and our friends, but now I began to experience devastating circumstances through much-loved family members, through respected pastors and mentors, through trusted partners and long-time confidantes and in my own personal struggle for ministry. I am not at liberty to relate all the specific details of my darkest hours, because it would offend these beloved people. Suffice to say, the "test of fire" that had forever changed my life on the outside was now being turned up on the inside, causing incredible anguish and torment.
My world seemed to be crumbling on every side, and yet I still clutched at the memory of those glorious promises. I waited for the Lord's blessing, and yet that day never seemed to dawn for me. Each painful trial was followed by another trial, and as I waited... and waited ...and waited for a break in the clouds, I truly began to understand the meaning of the word "weary." Job 19:8-10 describes my feelings perfectly, "He hath fenced up my way that I cannot pass, and He hath set darkness in my paths. He hath stripped me of my glory... He hath destroyed me on every side, and I am gone..."
Had I Misunderstood God?
Had I somehow misunderstood God? Were those promises only meant to pertain to my spiritual life? No, the Scriptures I had received on the mountain top that day had been far too specific to be "spiritualized." Then, why the incredible delay? Why was I having to endure such a long season of sorrow and dryness? Would I ever again feel the joy of my salvation? I felt like the words of Ezekiel pertained directly to me: "[My] bones are dried [up], and [my] hope is lost: [I am] [completely] cut off..." (Ezekiel 37:11)
Up to this point, I had never heard of the "dark night" or "night seasons" as the Bible calls them (Job 30:17), nor did I fully understand the sanctification process or what God was trying to accomplish in my life. Thus, I fought Him every step of the way which, of course, only made matters worse and much more painful for me.
Every time something else "bad" would happen, I'd come out fighting. At times, I felt like God had set me as His mark. And, in a way, I guess He really had. Only, it was because He loved me and wanted me to experience His fulness and real abundant life!
I had always loved and served God faithfully. Why would He allow all this devastation in my life? What was happening to me? I knew that I was not in rebellion against God. I had not given in to self-pity, nor was I holding onto unforgiveness, yet there was so much confusion growing inside of me. Although I had faithfully practiced confession and repentance for many years, sharp pieces of doubt were beginning to rise up from the depths of my soul. There seemed to be no answer for what I was experiencing.
I'd made it through the bankruptcy and the earthquake, but when the heat of adversity started affecting all my intimate relationships, my ministry, my personal expectations and belief systems, I went into a tailspin. The candle of my faith was burning low, and doubt kept trying to rise up and take its place. I couldn't see or understand what God was doing or why. Had I done something to deserve all this and when was it all going to end?
The Need to Be Fully Persuaded
So often at the bottom of our struggles in the dark night is doubt and unbelief. It certainly was with me. We measure the validity of a promise by our own earthly standards which, of course, leaves us wide open for doubt. Doubt affects everything we think, say and do. How can we trust and have faith in God today, if we don't think He has been faithful to His promises of yesterday? We can't! Doubt in God's faithfulness not only causes us indescribable inner torment, it also prolongs our agony.
When I am totally honest with myself and I peel away all the garbage, I realized that I had trusted God, yes, but not to the point of abandoning all my earthly sources of comfort and security. I had faith in God, yes, but not to the point of setting aside all other supports and laying them at the cross. I had relied upon God, yes, but not to the point of accepting the fact that I didn't understand what God was doing, and trusting Him anyway. I still had my own human expectations, my own presumptions and my own ambitions, and when these "supports" began to be taken away, I crashed. Big time!Nothing reveals our true selves like the advent of hard times! In order to expose what is hidden below the surface of our pleasant religious exterior, God often must turn up the heat.
All of us want to be able to see and understand what God is doing in our lives; why He is doing it; what the outcome will be; and when exactly the end will occur! This, unfortunately, is not faith, but simply presumption on our part.
Real faith is not seeing, not understanding, not feeling and not knowing. Real faith is simply trusting, no matter what we see happening, no matter what we understand to be true, and no matter what we feel like, that God will be faithful to His Word and perform His promises to us in His timing and in His way.
This is the kind of faith that Abraham possessed, who "...staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform." (Romans 4:20-21 emphasis added)
Faith is allowing God to be God. Faith is allowing God to do in our lives all that He needs to do (good or bad from our point of view), in order to accomplish His perfect will. Faith is allowing God to strip, flay and crucify us, if that's what is needed to accomplish His will in us. Faith is simply accepting God's night seasons as part of His will towards us. Job came to know what true faith was all about when he said, "...though [You] slay me, yet will I trust [You]."
The turning point in my life came when I finally realized that abandonment to God's will and having human expectations cannot coexist in my soul. Abandonment to God's will is laying everything down at the foot of the cross and leaving it there, whereas, human expectation is picking it back up again and running with it.
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This article has been excerpted from Chuck and Nan's new book, Faith in the Night Seasons.