Last month we began a series of articles on the dark night of the spirit - what it is, how it differs from the dark night of the soul and what we must do to get through it.
We shared that in the dark night of the soul, there is a death to sin, but in this dark night, there is an even deeper death to self. It's an interior crucifixion of self-love, self-confidence, self-reliance, self-trust, self-will, self-pity, self-grasping and any other self-interest, self-seeking, self-preservation and self-esteem that God sees. Many of the aforementioned things are often not conscious to us, but God knows about them and He knows the quenching effect they have on His Spirit and His Life in us. Therefore, He wants us to see these things for ourselves. In order to accomplish this, God begins to uncover things that He knows about, but that we desperately want kept hidden and covered. Thus, in the dark night of the spirit, God not only wants to show us things about Himself, He also wants to show us things about ourselves. Until we see ourselves through God's eyes, we really don't know ourselves.
Remember what Isaiah said in Isaiah 6:5, when he sees God in all His glory. His first response was, "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips [a sinful man]." And Peter does the very same thing. In Luke 5:8, "...he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord."
Under all other circumstances, our human nature can hide, but in this dark night it all comes out in blazing color. God wants us to see our true inner motives and see that many of the qualities we possess in the natural are really contrary to what He wants for us and, thus, must be eradicated. God wants us to see how much we still are in love with ourselves, that we don't have that persistent, on-going faith that we thought we did. The more God enables us to "see" ourselves (and our own incapacity), the more we'll realize we cannot live without Him.
The truth is, we cannot intimately come to know the One we love, except as we come to know ourselves as we really are. We must see our own nothingness next to His everything. Our soul needs to be completely undone, in order for God to instill "naked faith" - faith that is built on nothing else but Christ Himself. This undoing is exactly what the dark night of the spirit is all about.
Examples of Our Self-Centered Ways
Even though some of our self-centered "ways" are not considered sin in themselves, they must be rooted out because they are the belief systems upon which we build our lives. And, if not crucified, they will not only quench God's Spirit in us, they will also prevent us from having intimacy with Him.Lamentations 3:40 encourages us to, "...Search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord."
God wants all our self-interest, pettiness, spite, revenge, cruelty, foolishness, egotism, possessiveness, addictions and selfishness removed. These self-centered ways not only affect our communication with God, they also affect our communication with others. Until these things are purged from our soul, we cannot have the union with Him that we so long for. We must become detached from all our self-centered thoughts, hopes, plans, preferences, sorrows, successes, failures and comforts, and dead to all desires but those of God.
Some of our natural, self-centered ways are:
Presumption. Presumption is a preconceived belief about certain things, events or people. It's taking something for granted or assuming something is true in the absence of proof to the contrary. In itself, presumption is obviously not sin. It's a behavior common to all of us. However, presumption can often be based on falsehoods that, if not dealt with, can lead us to disillusionment and bitterness, which is sin and will quench God's Spirit.
For example: A woman may presume that her husband will treat her in the affectionate and kind way that her father treated her mother. When this proves not to be the case, the wife can easily become embittered and resentful. She had presumed something based on her previous experience, which turned out not to be the case. She must recognize that presumption, take it to the Cross, let God replace it with His Wisdom and Love and respond to her husband as God directs.
Expectation. Expectation is very closely related to presumption. Expectation is a future hope in either things, events or people. Again, we all have expectations; it's characteristic of our own self-centered human nature. In itself, expectation is not sin. However, if our expectations are not fulfilled in the way we think they should be, they can lead to disappointment and doubt, which again, can end up quenching God's Spirit in us.
For instance, have you ever noticed that other people don't react to situations in the same way that you do? For example, say you had an argument with someone and you finally realize that you are the one at fault. Your response would be to go to the other person, confess your mistake and ask his forgiveness. That's the normal and proper reaction right? Well, not necessarily! Just because you would do that, does not mean that that's the same way someone else is going to respond. And, yet, if you examine your thoughts carefully, you'll see that you expect them to, because that's what you would do! When the other person doesn't respond that way, you'll find that you get upset, which, of course, does hinder God's Spirit.
Again, we need to take all our expectations to the Cross and allow the other person to respond as he will. God then, will direct us as to what we are to do.
Disappointment. Disappointment is the failure to satisfy our own self-centered presumptions and expectations. Again, disappointment in itself is not sin. But if not caught and given to God, it, too, can lead to bitterness, resentment and depression which, of course, will again block God's Spirit in us.
Disappointment is one of the emotions that I struggled with the most in my own night season. Nothing seemed to bring me down faster than allowing discouragement and disappointment into my soul. When we become disappointed, it not only strengthens our flesh, it also impedes what God wants to do in us. We must be careful not to allow discouragement to push us into the mode of self-pity or wanting sympathy from others. Be assured, we won't get it that way. When we are filled with self-pity, we not only push people away from us, we will also end up deeper in the pit than when we started.
Our greatest failure during our difficult times is in allowing our interior agitation and depression to affect our choices and, thus, all our actions. If we allow our negative thinking to go unchecked, it will not only quench God's Spirit and deprive us of hearing His voice, it will also become an obstacle to our union with Him.
Comparing. Another characteristic of our human, self-centered nature is making comparisons. This, too, is one of man's inbred, natural ways and, in itself, is not sin. However, if not caught and given over to God, it, too, can open our senses (our soul) up to hurt, envy and jealousy. And these self-centered things will quench God's Spirit in us.
Only God Knows Our True Motivations
Thus, there are impurities inside of us that rule us without our knowledge. These ambitions, hopes, dreams, desires, expectations and presumptions are preconceived belief systems upon which we build our lives. Therefore, it's vital that we allow God to reveal them to us, so that we can recognize them and surrender them to Him. This is the only way that our spirit can be freed, sanctified and enabled to lead, direct and guide us in God's ways. "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; And see if there be any wicked way in me, and [then] lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:23-24)
Now, we might be able to fool others by externally doing "good works," but if our spirit is tainted by any self-centeredness or self-love, then it's really going to be "wood, hay [and] stubble" in God's eyes. "Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but [only] the Lord weigheth the hearts [or ponders the heart]." (Proverbs 21:2) In other words, only God can see and know our hearts and only He knows our true motives and intents. And, His view is all that matters!
An Example: Meditated for Six Hours
Here's a great example:
George Muller was an incredible young man who answered the call of God to help poor children in Bristol, England. He was solely responsible for beginning three orphanages, feeding and housing almost 2,000 orphans, running six day schools and giving away 6,600 Bibles. All these things were accomplished because of Muller's tremendous faith and trust in God alone.
Muller tells the story of a time when he was preaching and, all of a sudden, he realized that he was speaking in his own wisdom and strength and not God's. Now, no one in the audience was aware of this. They thought his sermon was absolutely wonderful. Muller, however, was so sensitive and so in tune with his Lord, that it was obvious to him he had somehow quenched God's Spirit. Listen to what he did...
"One day before preaching at Teignmouth, I had more time than usual, so I prayed and meditated for six hours in preparation for the evening meeting. After I had spoken a little while, I felt that I was speaking in my own strength rather than God's power. I told the brethren that I felt as though I was not preaching under the anointing and asked them to pray. After I continued a little longer, I felt the same and therefore ended my sermon and proposed that we have a meeting for prayer. We did so, and I was particularly assisted by the Holy Spirit the next time I preached."
Can you imagine! He had already prayed for six hours in preparation for that meeting and yet, he still knew that his words and the power he was operating on were not of the Lord. And, because He loved the Lord more than anything else (including himself), he stopped the meeting, told the audience the truth and adjourned so that they could pray some more.
Incredible. This is exactly what God desires for us. To be so sensitive to His Spirit in us and so in love with Jesus, that we too, when He prompts us, will stop whatever we are saying or doing, be honest with ourselves and go to where we can pray and cleanse ourselves.
Life Comes Only From the Cross
God is desirous not only of making us holy by removing all the sin in our lives (the dark night of the soul), He also wants to conform us into His image by removing any character flaws, any belief systems, any habits or any thought patterns that prevent His Life from flowing through us (dark night of the spirit). Both of these purposes are accomplished by the Cross.
Life comes only from the Cross. The whole purpose of the Cross is to purge the soulish things in our lives (empty us out), so that God can fill us back up with His abundant Life. The Cross, however, must cut deeply in order to rid us of the things that prevent our fellowship and our life with Him. Of course, this surgery hurts. But, if we don't "feel" the Cross, then we really haven't suffered or barred ourselves from sin. Feeling pain is part of suffering, and suffering is a major part of the sanctification process. Without pain, there is no Cross; and without the Cross, there is no exchange of life.
Throughout the Bible, the principle that "life only comes through death" is apparent. John 12:24, for example, says: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth [hangs on to] his life shall lose it; and he that hateth [is willing to surrender it] his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal."
Just as Christ was raised from the dead after the Cross, we too can "walk in newness of Life," after being conformed to His death. (Philippians 3:10) As we allow God not only to deal with our sinful acts, but also all our self-centered ways, we too can experience His resurrection Life. As Jesse Penn Lewis, the renown Christian author, puts it, "Just as Calvary preceded Pentecost, so death with Christ precedes the fulness of Christ [or intimacy]."1
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To be continued next month: How We "Feel" in the Dark Night of the Spirit.