Knowing God's Will
God's primary goal and purpose for our lives as Christians is that Christ may be formed in us and lived out through us. "For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed into the image of His Son." (Romans 8:29) God knows that this transformation is the only thing that will lead us to an intimate relationship with Him and to the abundant Life that we all have been seeking (the "fulness of Christ").
I personally am convinced that ignorance of God's will in our lives is the origin of much of our troubles. Thus, one of the purposes of our new book Faith in the Night Seasons is to help us see and understand what God's basic will is and to help us recognize that "dark nights" are permitted by God in order to accomplish that will.
Remember, "night seasons" are not just ordinary trials or times of discipline. As we mentioned last month, trials and problems come to all Christians. They come because of personal sin; the sins of others; the devil's attacks; or, simply because God wants to strengthen our faith in order that we might know His "fulness." It doesn't matter where our trials come from, because our response should be the same: repent of any known sin; love others wisely with God's Love; put on the armor of God; and, keep on walking by faith through the eyes of our spirit.
The thing that makes a "night season" so unique and so different from other trials, is that heaven "seems" silent. No matter how much we pray, read the Word or fellowship with other believers, God does not "seem" to communicate with us as He once did. It's a time where we don't hear Him, see Him or feel Him as we used to. In other words, it's a series of trials where we "feel" that God has left us or abandoned us. Thus, we are completely confused and "in the dark" as to what is happening. Night seasons are simply Father-filtered periods of time where God teaches us by depriving us of our natural "light" (our own seeing, feeling and understanding) in order to forge "pure faith." It's time where God instructs us by "darkening" us. Thus, the term "night season" (or "dark night") is a very appropriate title. It's a time where God trains us to walk by naked faith - a faith that rests in Christ alone, not in our feelings, our sight or our experience. Most of us, even as older Christians, still walk by these things.
If we could view, just for a moment, our spiritual lives from God's perspective, we would see that this period of time truly is an act of His Love. This night of faith will not only produce a cleansing of our soul and a purifying of our spirit, but also a oneness and an intimacy with Him that we have never before known.
As David relates in Acts 2:25, "I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for He is on my right hand, that I should not be moved."
Don't read any further unless you are longing, as I am, to see "the Lord always before [your] face" because this way of faith is not easy. It will confound your logic, destroy your schedules, annihilate your religious attitudes, frustrate your patience and probably alienate some of your acquaintances. It's certainly not the kind of faith the world teaches. It's not even the kind of faith that some churches teach. This kind of faith demands all from us and requires great love for God. But, by learning to have faith in the night seasons, we will be headed for the summit of Life where we shall "see" our Beloved face to face.
God loves each of us so much and yearns to have this kind of intimate fellowship that He will do whatever is necessary in each of our lives to bring it about. The way He implements His will is by lovingly breaking our outward man and then separating the "soulish" things in our lives from the spiritual. If we understand what God is trying to accomplish, then the momentary confusion and darkness we might experience won't shake the certainty of our being loved and we won't crumble or lose our faith in the dark. Nothing really matters as long as we have that "foundation" of knowing (by faith) that we are loved. Then, we won't be "moved" away from His presence when difficult circumstances arise, just as Acts 2:25 tells us. (If you have not already done so, I would really recommend that you read The Way of Agape, particularly Chapter Seven, "Knowing God Loves Us.")
If we can see our circumstances as sent directly from God in order to accomplish His will, then we can, at least, receive them as part of His plan and remain at rest in them. If, however, we don't understand what God's will is, especially in our night seasons, we'll get wiped out even before we begin.
Loren Sandford has just written a good book on the dark night of the soul and in it, he says, "Scripture shows us a repeated pattern in which man receives a call, experiences success, is driven into exile (dark night) and then, finally returns to fulfill his destiny in the Lord."
A Scriptural Example: Joseph
A perfect Scriptural example of this is Joseph in the Old Testament. He received a call from God; was given special giftings (success); went through a night season of exile; and then, was eventually instilled as Prince of Egypt, his true destiny from the Lord. Joseph is an example of one who understood God's purposes for a night season, and thus, had the faith to get through it.
The story goes like this: God gave Joseph an incredible dream that contained some mind-boggling promises for the future, yet this dream left his brothers seething with jealousy. After throwing Joseph into a pit, they sold him to a caravan of Ishmaelites on their way to Egypt. Joseph eventually was bought by Potiphar, a high-ranking Egyptian official whose wife repeatedly tried to seduce the devout young Hebrew. When she finally accused the innocent Joseph of trying to molest her, Potiphar angrily threw the young man into prison, where he remained for years. When Joseph was finally released, as a result of divinely orchestrated circumstances, he had been in bondage for a total of thirteen years!
Questions that naturally come to our mind are: Had God really spoken to Joseph through that dream? What about all those incredible promises? Did God change his mind? Did He abandon Joseph during those thirteen years in prison?
I don't think so. I don't believe anything that happened to Joseph was a surprise to God. He knew exactly what Joseph would do and He also knew exactly what He wanted to accomplish through Joseph (i.e., fulfill his destiny by bringing the Israelites to Egypt). If you read the Scriptures about Joseph's imprisonment carefully, it says that all who saw Joseph during those thirteen years knew that "God was with him." Joseph somehow understood God's will and thus had the faith to allow God to work through him, even in his "night season."
God not only creates the brightness of day, He also creates the darkness of night. (Isaiah 45:7) Thus, He not only is the Author of our joy and gladness, He is also the Author of our night seasons. Too many Christians have chosen to recreate God in their own image. They logically tell themselves, "A loving father would never willingly allow his children to suffer hardship, and neither would a heavenly Father!" However, if we put God into a box built by our own human understanding, how will we ever survive the night seasons of our faith? How could Joseph have survived those thirteen years if not for his unwavering faith and belief in the goodness of God?
If we only believe in a God of easy comfort, how can our faith ever withstand the heat of harsh circumstances? Without roots that go deep into the soil, the grass will surely wither and die. And, the same is true with us. If our faith is not unconditionally rooted in God's Love, then we, too, will wither and die during our dark night.
Other Scriptural Examples
As we search the Scriptures, we find that almost every great man or woman of God experienced their own night season or dark night. On the very night God made His eternal covenant with Abraham, the Bible tells us that "a horror of great darkness fell upon him [Abraham]." (Genesis 15:12) David, still reeling from the sound of all Jerusalem singing his praises, had to flee to the wilderness and hide inside a cave like a common criminal. (Psalm 42:9) Just days after his incredible victory over the prophets of Baal, Elijah hid under a tree and begged God to kill him. (1 Kings 19:4) After being born a prince of Egypt, God allowed Moses to be stripped of his home, his privileges, his wealth, his power and his pride and made him to dwell 40 years in the desert as a common shepherd.
And even Jesus, with the "hosannas" still ringing in his ears, experienced an agony so intense that it caused him literally to sweat drops of blood. (Luke 22:44) However, after the crucifixion, there came the incredible story of Jesus' resurrection. And at the end of Moses' long night season, God ultimately exalted him and gave him the unique privilege of seeing God "face to face." (Exodus 33:11) When God called him from the burning bush, Moses couldn't even speak without stuttering, yet this was the man God ultimately chose to become His friend. And again Joseph, after thirteen years of learning humility, endurance and overcoming faith, was exalted to a position of incredible authority.
This seems to be God's pattern over and over again in the lives of His chosen vessels. A dark, emptying-out time and then, a full, infilling time of blessing, where they have the privilege of "seeing" (and experiencing) God as never before..
...according to all that He promised; there hath not failed one word of all His good promise, which He promised. (1 Kings 8:56)
Joseph, Abraham, David, Elijah and Moses were the kind of men spoken about in Isaiah 50:10, "Who...feareth the Lord [and] obeyeth [His] voice...[but, for a period of time] walketh in darkness, and hath no light." Yet, because these men went on and, "...trust[ed] in the name of the Lord, and stay[ed] upon [their] God" (verse 11) in their night seasons, God was able not only to accomplish His will, but also to fill them with His fulness.
God's will for each of our lives is not only doing what He asks, but also accepting with praise and thanksgiving all that He allows.
Night Seasons of Other Prominent People
Many theologians and saints throughout history have also experienced and written about their own "night seasons." You can find this recurring theme in the biographies of Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, Francis Schaeffer, John of the Cross, Madame Guyon, Oswald Chambers, Augustine, John Wesley, Watchman Nee, Catherine Marshall, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Brother Lawrence, Hudson Taylor, Charles Finney, George Fox, William Law, Jesse Penn Lewis, Francois Fenelon and many others.
These men and women eventually learned to "see" through the darkness with God's eyes and, as a result of their faithful endurance, they were able to boldly enter into His presence and find the peace and joy and rest they were looking for. Tozer called it "the ministry of the night" and Spurgeon "a child of light walking in darkness." Oswald Chambers even wrote a poem entitled "Dark Night of the Soul" in his book Abandoned to God.
Francois Fenelon (in the 1600s) describes the dark night in his book The Seeking Heart like this:
God will eventually test you in all areas of your life, but He will not let your trials become greater than you can bear. Let God use trials to help you grow. Do not measure your progress, your strength, or what God is doing. His work is not less efficient because what He is doing is invisible. Much of God's work is done in secret because you would not die to yourself if He always visibly stretched out His hand to save you. God does not transform you on a bed of light, life and grace. His transformation is done on the cross in darkness, poverty, and death.
The above believers were honest men and women like Job. They were praying servants who truly loved the Lord and had compassion for the poor. Like Job, they had a lifestyle of confession and repentance, and had faithfully raised their children in the fear of the Lord. Yet, after a long season of trials and tribulations, many of them, like Job, would confess that they never really "knew" God intimately. Yes, they had feared, worshiped and honored Him; they had believed in His holiness, His power and His character; they had written books about Him; and they had even counseled others. But, at the end of their long dark night, many would admit, just like Job, "I [had only] heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth [You]." (Job 42:5)
God longs to replace us with Himself so that we might intimately know and see Him! Not just know about Him from sermons we hear, books we read, or songs we sing, but truly experience a oneness with Him that we have never before known - an intimacy that brings with it a joy and a peace that passes all understanding.
Only "...in Thy presence is fulness of joy." (Psalm 16:11)
Joy in the Morning
All of God's promises in His Word are true. However, His way of accomplishing these promises in our lives is regulated by our faith and by our unconditional abandonment to His will.
As I am learning to stay unconditionally abandoned to God's will and allowing Him to do in my life all that He needs to do in order to reproduce Himself in me, He is radically changing my life from the inside out. I am beginning to experience all the incredible blessings of His abiding presence. There's a joy, a peace and a rest that is beyond my understanding. There is an intimacy with Jesus and an empowering of His Spirit - with new discernment and new revelation - that wasn't there before. There is an intimacy and a friendship and a closeness and a oneness with God that I've never had before. I have fallen so in love with my God, that I, too, am beginning to see Him "always before my face." (Jesus, of course, was the only One who was ever able to have perfect and consistent fellowship with God. As long as we are in our human bodies, there will always be more sin and self to be dealt with in us. But, as we daily allow God to show us what He wants us to surrender to Him, we will be able, in an ever-increasing way, to experience His presence and His fulness.)
It seems the more I learn to truly be abandoned to His will and live for the moment, the more I am witnessing God beginning to fulfill every one of those magnificent promises that He gave me up on that mountaintop in Big Bear so many years ago.
Truly, weeping does last for a "night," but oh what joy awaits us in the morning! (Psalm 30:5) As Jeremiah says, "There is hope in [the] end." (31:17)
How Much Do You Trust God?
The bottom line is: How much do we trust God?
We so often sing about His Love and His Mercy, but do we really believe it and do we really trust in it? A child trusts in the love of his mother, even though she must, at times, discipline him and take him to the doctor for shots. Real love involves trust. When someone really loves and cares for you, you trust that they have your best interests at heart, even though you don't always understand their expression of love. God asks us to do the same with Him. He asks us to unconditionally trust in His Love for us, no matter what we see, feel, experience or understand to be happening.
The God of the Bible is a loving and compassionate Father, who will use all the events in our lives to rid us of sin and self, so that He might replace us with Himself and, thereby, fill us with His fulness. He continually is stretching and shaping our faith so that we will be able to endure any circumstance that He allows, and so that we will be able to say with absolute conviction, "Though [You] slay me, yet will I trust [You]." This is the kind of faith that overcomes the world and that brings with it a peace that passes all understanding.
The inward life of the spirit can only be gained by a passionate and consuming love for God. How much do you love Him - enough to surrender everything to Him? This is a question each of us must answer for ourselves. The walk of faith towards experiencing His presence and His fulness is not easy. It means not only going through the narrow gate, but also walking along the hard path.
Straight is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:14)
How about you? Do you love God enough to open that narrow gate and to walk down that hard path?
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This article has been excerpted from Chuck and Nan's new book Faith in the Night Seasons. Next month: "Four Aspects of God's Will."