After over two years of sharing the series, Faith in the Night Seasons, this will be my final article on this critical subject. I have been so blessed by your wonderful letters saying how much the articles have helped you weather your own night seasons. And for that, I praise God! You might also be interested to know that we have now completed the Faith in the Night Seasons video and audio series, so you can begin your own personal or corporate Bible study. Having "faith in the night seasons" is such a vital subject in these last alarming days.
In this last article, let's explore the critical importance of remaining in the Lord's presence, once we have attained an entrance. All of us have, at one time or another, experienced intimacy with God. The question is: How do we remain there? It's one thing to experience His presence, it's quite another, however, to be able to remain there.
As one girl pleaded with me in her letter recently, "The Lord did a miracle in my life a little while ago and, Nancy, I 'saw' Him, but I've lost it and I don't know how to get back there and find Him! How do I find Him again?"
This is the question we want to address here: How do we stay steadfast and immovable in the presence of the Lord?Remain Abandoned to His Will
Jesus, of course, is our example. And, all throughout the Scriptures He shows us that, the whole secret of the Christian walk is simply to be detached from sin and self and be abandoned to God's will. I believe this is the only way we will be able to remain in the Lord's presence - (Psalm 15:1-5).
Abandonment to God's will means a kind of weightless floating, having released all of our personal clutching for emotional and intellectual security, all of our personal needs to know and understand, all of our personal disturbances about being right, all of our personal humiliations at being wrong, making mistakes and looking stupid, and all of our personal frustrations over being denied what we thought God promised. It's being completely dead to all of our own "self" interests, passions, prejudices, pleasures and reputation and choosing, instead, to leave everything in God's hands.
Abraham is an incredible example of total submission to God. To me, the ultimate test of his abandonment to God's will came when God asked him to offer his own son, Isaac. Genesis 22 tells us that Abraham amazingly did not even fight God. He simply obeyed and trusted that God would somehow "provide Himself a lamb" (v. 8).
In verse 10, Abraham actually stretches out his hand to slay Isaac as God had told him to do, when an angel calls out to him (verse 12): "Now I know that thou fearest God seeing thou hast not withheld thine only son from Me." Ask yourself, could you have done that? Do you trust God enough that you could make that supreme sacrifice? I'm not sure I could have.
Now God, obviously, doesn't go around asking us to sacrifice our children, but He does want us to look at our hearts and see for ourselves just how far we would go in doing His will. Abraham passed his test with flying colors. Could we?
Fenelon, the great 16th century author and saint, expresses it this way: "Inward peace comes [only] with absolute surrender to the will of God. ...The reason you feel so agitated is that you do not accept everything that happens to you with complete trust in God. Put everything in His hand, and offer yourself to Him as a sacrifice. ...Until you reach this point of surrender, your life will be full of trouble and aggravation. ...So give your heart wholly to God and you will find peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."1Be Surrendered, Not Passive
The abandonment to God's will that I am speaking about is not passivity or ceasing to resist altogether. It's not lying back and doing nothing. The abandonment to God that I am talking about is actively seeking to carry out God's will, and yet willingly accepting all that He sends our way. This kind of submission is not apathy, indifference or immobility, but simply a yieldedness and a relinquishment to all that God allows in our lives as if we were resting like a baby in His arms. While we are resting, however, it's imperative that we continue to take up the offensive in our battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil by actively making "faith choices"- choices to love God, choices to love others, choices to put on the armor of God and choices to fight the enemy.
The greater our abandonment to God, the more we will progress in our spiritual walk. In other words, the more we learn not to fight what God is doing in our lives, but simply to resign ourselves to His workings, the faster we will progress towards experiential intimacy with Him. Had I understood this principle at the beginning of my dark night years ago, it might not have taken me so long to get through it!
Abandonment to God's will means we are so completely yielded to Him that He is free to do in and through us all that He needs to, in order to accomplish His will. In other words, there has been a complete exchange of energy! We have given God our all and He has given us His. A person who is truly abandoned to God's will, will not be moved away when "bad" things occur in his life. He might be troubled, perplexed, persecuted and cast down, like 2 Corinthians 4:8 says, but he will not be distressed, in despair, feel forsaken or destroyed.Let Go of Our Own Needs
Abandonment to God's will means casting all of our cares and all of our needs upon Him. It's letting go of all our own desires, our own abilities, our own understanding, our own reason, our own rights, our own feelings and our own likings, cleansing our hearts and giving ourselves unreservedly over to Him. Such abandonment requires us to forget about our past and to leave our future completely in His hands. Abandonment is present when we have His peace, love and freedom in spite of what is happening in our lives. The obstacle to abandonment and detachment to God, is "self." Thus, we must constantly learn, like Paul, to surrender ourselves and say, "He [God] must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). Of course, we must always remember that there is only One who was able to stay permanently abandoned to God's will and experience consistent oneness with Him, and that, of course, is Jesus. As long as we are in our human bodies, we will only be able to move in and out of that intimacy (but, hopefully, in an ever increasing frequency).Live for the Moment
The turning point in my own dark night experience occurred when I realized that abandonment to God's will and human expectation cannot coexist. Abandonment to God's will is getting to the point where we say, like Paul, "None of these things move me..." (Acts 20:24); whereas, human expectation is picking all of those things back up again and running around trying to fit them together.
God brought me to the place in my own walk with Him where I finally saw that I couldn't do both! I couldn't have human expectations and be abandoned to His will at the same time. Once I began to recognize this, and I chose to give God all my hopes and dreams, plans and purposes, my life began to change radically.
Living for the moment is being content with the "here and now," no matter what it contains. We must be satisfied with the present, because we know that somehow it contains God's plan for us. It's His will for our lives, at that moment. Years ago, I remember picking up a little book, Practicing the Presence of Jesus, by Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence was a lay brother at one of the Carmelite monasteries in France in the mid-1600s. While doing only the most menial jobs-washing, cleaning and cooking-he continually enjoyed the "presence of Jesus." His only desire in life was to commune with God. He could worship the Lord anywhere: in a magnificent gold and silver cathedral or while washing dishes in a dreary kitchen. He used to tell his brothers, "I live my life as if there is only He and I in the world." He felt that his only satisfaction in life would come from fulfilling God's will. Thus, he needed that unbroken fellowship with Him, in order to hear what that will was.
The key to Brother Lawrence's intimacy with Christ was that he believed no matter what happened, God would never deceive him, but would only allow such things into his life that were good for him. "Living for the moment" was not only his daily motto, but also the reason he was able to "know" the fullness of God. At the time I read Brother Lawrence's book, I didn't understand this principle of "living for the moment," so I missed his whole point. I could see what Brother Lawrence experienced was wonderful, but I didn't have the slightest idea of how to get there or how to remain there. Now I see.
Living for the moment is coming to a place in your walk with God where you are not striving, reaching or pushing for anything. You're completely abandoned to God and His will, therefore, there's no room for expectations other than from Him. Living for the moment is relinquishing yourself to God's hidden guidance and accepting everything that comes your way as being from Him. It's not that we need to understand all that He is doing in our life, but only to accept what He is doing. Living for the moment is accepting what we cannot change, and enduring (with love and resignation) the things that would normally cause us weariness and disgust.
Seeing God's hand in the apparent trivialities of the moment will bring us closer to the Lord. The final stage of this interior life is where we finally enter the "promised land" of fruits and nuts and honey. There, we can finally enjoy the vineyards that we did not plant, the wells that we did not dig and the houses that we did not fill. (See Deuteronomy 6:10-11.)Trust and Obey Him
Finally, in order to stay in this spiritual union, we must develop an unfaltering trust in and obedience to God. We mustn't listen to the voice of our natural reasoning, but simply put all our reliance upon Him, "hoping against hope," as Romans 4:18 says. Again, we'll be like a baby in his father's arms sleeping without fear, with unreserved trust and a willingness to go anywhere with him. The more resigned to His care that we can become, the more indifferent we'll become to the conditions around us. "Perfect trust simply means turning our backs on ourselves."
Jesus, again, is our example. He not only chose to be abandoned to His Father's will, He also laid down His life to the Father, so His Father could perform that will through Him. Thus, He enjoyed His Father's uninterrupted communion and intimacy. As we, too, surrender our wills and our lives at the cross, along with all our fears, doubts, unbelief, presumptions and expectations, the result will be an unshakable trust in God's provision. We'll have come to the place where we have allowed God to possess us without holding anything back. We'll have stopped "preserving ourselves," which was the cause of our suffering in the first place, and we'll be seeking to speak, act and live under the complete guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Merely, saying with our words, "I trust you," is not enough; we must daily prove this trust in our lives. Matthew 16:24 tells us that, "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."
To pick up our cross and follow Jesus means to relinquish everything to Him, even the things that we don't understand, and to develop a "naked" trust. It means to enter into a commitment with Him that, regardless of our circumstances, feelings or others' actions, we will face the future without fear because we know that He will be there with us.
The bottom line is: In order to have "faith in the night seasons," we must learn to stand still, submit to the darkness and trust God anyway (Isaiah 50:10-11), because at the end of the long, dark tunnel is an intimacy and a oneness with Christ that we have never before experienced. Once we reach the Light at the end of the tunnel, it will make the journey there all worth while. The indescribable union that awaits us there with Christ will cause us to proclaim with every fibre of our being, "There is none upon the earth that [we] desire more than You" (Psalm 73:25).
* * *
This article has been excerpted in part from our book, Faith in the Night Seasons. Next month: We'll begin a new series called "The Key" -the secret that has impacted my Christian life more than anything else.