Faith in the Dark Night - Part 1
Faith in the Night Seasons:
It's Memorial Day weekend and I'm sitting in Mom's hospital room, watching her sleep. Life has become so very precious to our family over the last couple of years as we have seen so many of our loved ones make the transition "home."
God has clearly shown us that all that matters in life is our love relationships. Everything else can be replaced; those can never be! Please hold my beautiful mom up in your prayers.
"She look[ed] well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. Her children rise up, and call her blessed. Her husband [my dad] also, praise[d] her. Many daughters have done virtuously, but [she] excellest them all." (Proverbs 31: 27-29)
What Is "the Dark Night"?
After a four-month exploration of why faith is so important, we now want to move on to what happens to our faith in the night seasons. We've seen that faith is simply being fully persuaded that God will do all that He has promised to do in His timing and in His way. We have also seen that God continually pushes us to the limit in order to strengthen our faith and transform us into His image.
When we willingly allow Him to purge our souls of sin and self, He can then easily accomplish His will. However, when we block and prevent God from doing these things in our lives, either out of ignorance or disobedience, He sometimes will take matters into His own hands; i.e., the night seasons.
The dark night or the night season is simply the transition we make from depending upon our own sight and our own selves to a total dependence upon Christ and His faithfulness. This shift brings us into a new way of knowing God. During this time God moves us from simply "feeling good about Him" to a deeper awareness of Him and an intimacy never before known.
Although we already belong to Christ and we already love Him, our union with Him will be incomplete as long as our mind, our judgment, our desires, our habits and our ideas are still our own. God wants to rid us of our preoccupation with sight and feelings and bring us into a new freedom and liberty of faith. Unfortunately, this freeing process does not happen automatically.
Most of us do not jump for joy when faced with the prospect of brokenness. Naturally, most of us run the other direction. But God loves us so much that He doesn't let us get very far. The dark night is God's way of turning us around and forcing us to allow Him to do whatever is necessary in our lives to purge our souls and spirits so that we can have intimate fellowship with Him.
God is not a "mean" guy up in heaven waiting to send us bad things. He is a loving Father who knows exactly what we need in order to accomplish His will in our lives. He knows that we will never be content, never enjoy real freedom and never be truly fulfilled, until we are "experientially" one with Him.
This analogy was emailed to me recently. It's called The Moth and the Cocoon, and I believe it's by George MacDonald:1
A man found a cocoon of an emperor moth. He took it home so that he could watch the moth come out of the cocoon. On the day a small opening appeared, he sat and watched the moth for several hours as the moth struggled to force its body through that little hole.
Then, it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and it could go no farther. It just seemed to be stuck. The man, in his kindness, decided to help the moth. So he took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The moth then emerged easily. But, it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings.
The man continued to watch the moth because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would then contract. Neither happened! In fact, the little moth spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly.
What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand was that the restricting cocoon, and the struggle required for the moth to get through the tiny opening, were God's way of forcing fluid from the body of the moth into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon. Freedom and flight would come only after the struggle. By depriving the moth of this struggle, he deprived the moth of health.
Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our life in order to make us all that God desires. If God allowed us to go through our life without obstacles, it would cripple us.
Different Labels for the Dark Night
This night season has been given several names:
oThe Dark Night of the Soul
oThe Dark Night of the Spirit
oNight of Confusion
oA Secret Ladder
oThe Night Season
oThe Divine Darkness
oJourney into the Desert
oCloud of Unknowing
oGod's Fire of Love
A Night of Love
I like to call the dark night a "night of love."
The dark night is a night of love because it's a time in which we come to know and perceive our Beloved in a way we never have before. Our initial surrender to God usually comes before we understand what abandoning ourselves to His will really means. Before we understand that He must not only purge the sin from our souls, but also crucify our own self-centered ways. When we first come to Christ and are saved, we are positionally united with Him, but we really don't know Him intimately.
There is a deeper and more abiding union - an experiential oneness with Him - that He desires for every one of us where we can experience His presence and His joy and rest in the midst of any circumstance. This experiential union, as we have said before, does not happen automatically, but only as we become more and more sanctified or holy in body, soul and spirit. In other words, in order to enter into the Holy Place of our hearts where God dwells and enjoy intimacy with Him, we, too, must first become holy as He is holy. Holiness is the only "ticket" inward. God cannot commune and fellowship with anyone who is not holy and sanctified.
As we saw in our earlier articles, God often dwells in darkness and covers Himself with darkness. Psalm 18:11 tells us that darkness is His "secret place" and 1 Kings 8:12 says, "The Lord said that He would dwell in the thick darkness." This means that we, too, in our journey inward towards intimacy and experiential oneness with Jesus can encounter darkness. For us, this "darkness" can simply mean the absence of any understanding or knowledge as to what's happening to us or where we are going. It simply means being deprived of the light (the seeing, the feeling and the understanding) that we are so used to. In other words, we're unable to see through this kind of darkness with our own natural mind which, of course, is exactly what God intends. He is teaching us to walk by faith and not by feelings or sight. As our faith begins to grow, the light of understanding will also begin to form.
I'm finding this lesson to be so true. The more "faith" in Jesus that I can have during the dark times, the more I'm able to "see" Him and the more "understanding" He gives me.
"Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness." (Psalm 112:4)
This darkness, then, does not come from the enemy, but from God who loves us. God is the One who initiates the darkness. Remember Isaiah 50:10, "Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of His servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light?"
Now, don't misunderstand me. Satan is often involved when difficult things occur in our lives. And he rejoices when we react poorly to God's chastening, cleansing and purifying process. What God allows in our lives for good, Satan obviously wants to use to destroy us. So, yes, the enemy is definitely involved in the night seasons, but he is not always responsible for sending the darkness.
Jesus Had His Own Dark Night
All throughout the New Testament, we are told that we are to keep our eyes focused on Jesus, because He is our example. The apostle Peter makes this fact very plain:
"Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind [attitude]." (1 Peter 4:1) "For even hereunto were ye called; because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps." (1 Peter 2:21)
Jesus is not only our Savior, our Lord and our King, but also our "role model." He walked the Christian walk perfectly. He showed us how it should be done. Again, we will never be able to walk it "perfectly" as He did, but Scripture tells us we are to emulate or try to follow Him. Because of this truth, how can we overlook Jesus' own dark night in the Garden of Gethsemane? As one writer says, "Gethsemane was the dark night of the soul for Jesus Christ; it was the test of His ways."2
Jesus is not only our God, He is also our Mentor, our Leader and our Guide, and we must be willing to follow Him wherever He leads. The way Jesus became perfect, complete or fulfilled (teleioo), is by suffering. If He had to go through suffering and His own dark night, then it's reasonable that this will be our role also.
In Jesus' painful night, Scripture tells us that sorrow and deep distress so marked His inner spirit that He actually sweated drops of blood. (Luke 22:44) No one was ever called to greater suffering. Mark 14:34 tells us that He exclaimed, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful unto death...." The magnitude of Jesus' agony is beyond our understanding. When the revelation of what He was about to endure became fully apparent, He fell on His face and prayed, "Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done." (Luke 22:42)
Jesus' life had been bartered for a murderer's; He had been outwardly despised, rejected, reviled, crushed, oppressed, afflicted, mocked, taunted and now He was to be crucified. No loving heart came forward to help Him. His disciples were asleep. Not one person was true to Him.
Finally, Jesus' night culminated at the cross of Calvary. When the Romans put Him on the cross, a pall of thick darkness cut Him off and He cried out, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34) It seemed that at the very moment Jesus needed His Father the most, God had left Him. Matthew 27:50 tells us it was then that Jesus yielded up His Spirit and the temple veil of the Holy of Holies was rent from the top down.
Jesus endured what no other man has ever had to endure. But, as a result of the gift of His Life, His blood has atoned for the sins of all mankind. Only Jesus' faith allowed Him to survive the garden and the cross. His total commitment to His Father - who Jesus knew was there, even though He could not see or feel Him - is what saved Him. His mission was complete. Because of His death, anyone who accepts His free gift of salvation now has full access to the Father at any time. The result of Jesus' dark night is eternal Life for all of us.
Isaiah 53 is one of the most incredible chapters in the Bible. Although it was written six centuries before Christ lived and translated into Greek three centuries before He walked the shores of Galilee, it describes Jesus' dark night in perfect detail. Isaiah 53 foretells us exactly what would happen when the Messiah came: He would be despised, rejected, a man of many sorrows, acquainted with grief, wounded, bruised, oppressed, afflicted, cut off - exactly what Jesus had to endure.
In verses 4 through 6 and verse 8, Isaiah continues his accurate description:
"Surely, He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on Him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all...He was taken from prison and from judgment... For He was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of My people was He stricken."
Then, in verse 10, Isaiah's words are absolutely astonishing. "Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief. When Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin...."
In other words, out of His infinite Love for us, God used the way of suffering to accomplish His will-salvation for all mankind. In like manner, God deals with us. He uses the way of suffering to accomplish His will-the sanctification of our body, soul and spirit.
Are you willing to endure a night season so God can accomplish His ultimate purpose through your life? Do you love God that much?
In his tape, Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby suggests that when we read Isaiah 53, we should ask ourselves, "Am I willing to allow each one of the things that happened to Jesus to occur in my own life?"
If we are, then, praise God, He will see to it that eventually we will experience a oneness and a unity with Him that we have never known before. However, if we are not willing to allow these things to happen in our lives because we want our lives to be under our own control, then we'll have to remain where we are and, like that moth, be deprived of health, fulfillment and intimacy with God the rest of our lives. It's our own, moment-by-moment choice.
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To be continued: Faith in Dark Night, Part Two. This article was excerpted, in part, from Chuck and Nancy's book, Faith in the Night Seasons.