What Is the Dark Night of the Spirit? Part 1

Faith in the Night Seasons

Over the last several months we have been exploring the dark night of the soul, and how God wants us to surrender everything in our lives that is unholy or unrighteous - anything that we put first other than Christ. Now, it's not that He intends to take these things from us, He just wants to see if we are willing to lay them down - all our own hopes, dreams, ambitions, disappointments, successes, everything. If we are, then we will be able to attain the intimacy and the abundant Life that we so long for.

Here's an incredible example of a man who made the most difficult decision of his life and did lay everything down. After you read this story, see what you might have chosen to do if you were in his shoes.

An Example: Livingstone

David Livingstone was an English physician in the late 1800s who felt a call from God to evangelize inland Africa. He was a confirmed bachelor until he met and fell in love with Mary Moffat, the daughter of some missionaries stationed nearby. They married and had four children. David loved his wife passionately and that was apparent to all around him.

His own desire was to settle down with his beloved wife and children; however, he felt strongly that God wanted him to open up the interior of dark Africa. Mary stayed with him for awhile on the mission field, but because she was fragile and in poor health, she eventually took the children back to England, where she stayed with her parents.

It was a very difficult time for them because they had to be separated from each other for years at a time. Mary hated being in England, apart from her beloved. She desperately wanted to be with David, but her health would not permit it. She wrote to him often, begging him to return home to his family.

David realized that his call from God as an active missionary and his duties as a husband and father were two things that were sometimes incompatible. One or the other had to be sacrificed.

David struggled with this terrible decision for a long time because he adored his family, but he finally came to the conclusion that he must remain in Africa. He felt that if he didn't follow through with what God had already begun through him, the African interior would never again be open to the gospel message. After five years, Mary finally joined David, only to die a short while later, nearly crushing David's spirit. Making one last visit to England, he then disappeared in the deepest part of Africa for another five years.

Finally, an American editor who had traced Livingstone for nearly a year, caught up with him and asked him about his life. All Livingstone could say was, "I am a missionary, heart and soul, and in God's service. There I wish to live and there I wish to die. Viewed in relation to my calling, the end of my geographical feat is only the beginning of the enterprise."

Livingstone died shortly thereafter, but he remains a hero to all the English people for his incredible courage and determination in the face of extreme difficulties. His body lies in Westminster Abbey.

Livingstone chose to surrender his entire life to God, even over his own desires and needs. He was able to forget about himself because his face was turned in a completely different direction - toward the God he loved.

The Dark Night of the Spirit

In the next several issues of Personal Update, we want to turn our attention towards the dark night of the spirit - what it is, how it differs from the dark night of the soul, and what we can do to get through it the way God intends.

As we mentioned before, there seem to be two aspects to the dark night. The dark night of the soul is the time when God focuses on our "outward man" and the things that we do. The dark night of the spirit, however, occurs when God focuses His spotlight on our "inward man" and who we are.

The difference between the two nights can be seen in the analogy of the fire and the log. In the first night (soul), the fire simply blackens the log, whereas, in the second night (spirit) the fire actually consumes the log. In the dark night of the spirit, God goes after our human nature itself. He exposes our "root systems" - all of our preconceived belief systems, our secret habits, our hidden motives and all of our self-centered ways. God wants these things exposed and eliminated also.

Very often we are hindered from a life of freedom in the Spirit because of what we think and perceive down deep. Much of what we "do" is based upon what we "believe." Our belief system not only undergirds and supports every thought and feeling that we have, it also influences every action we take. Thus, if we want to change our behavior, we must discover what untruths we are believing. Once we can expose, acknowledge and replace these, then our behavior will change automatically.

For example, if we believe that God manifests His Love towards us only by allowing "good and wonderful" things to happen, then when something "bad" occurs, our belief system will tell us that God doesn't love us anymore. Therefore, it's imperative that we exchange the lies of our natural, soulish ways for God's absolute truth.

Thus, it's not necessarily sin that God is focusing on in this second dark night (most people at this stage already love God and already are walking in fear of Him), but on our human nature itself - our natural self-orientation, self-reliance and self-love and all our "natural habits" that do not reflect Him. These are attitudes and belief systems that God wants to expose and eliminate because they often become the "roots" of our sin.

Job is a perfect example of this. He was already daily confessing his sin when God allowed horrendous things to happen in his life. God even comments in the beginning of the book that Job was a "righteous man." He was "perfect" and "upright" and "one who feared God." (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3) But, in the dark night that God allowed into his life, Job died to his religious ways, his domestic affections, his rigid theology and his misconstrued views of God, all of which hindered his spiritual union with God.

The dark night of the spirit is the actual working out of Hebrews 4:12. It's God's way of dividing our soul from our spirit. It's the gradual penetration of God's Spirit through the levels of our soul down to its innermost hidden depths. In this night, God forces us to look at things that we normally don't see as being in conflict with the Lord: our reason, our hopes, our affections, our views, our zeal, our narrow culture, our creeds, our churchism, our senses, our religious experiences and our spiritual comforts. These are some of the belief systems that often feed our pride and our ego and our self-life and, thus, must be exposed and uprooted.

These habits and self-centered ways will never change on their own. Again, these attitudes are not necessarily sin, but simply the result of being who we are - human. These natural ways come from our upbringing, from the influence of others in our life, from our preconceived value systems, from our habits and from our self-oriented thought processes. This "humanness" will never go away; it will always be there. It's called the flesh. Nevertheless, God wants to expose it, so that we will recognize it ourselves and choose to crucify it at the cross. In order to enter the Holy Place of our hearts where God now dwells, not only must sin be dealt with, but also self must be continually crucified. Then, and only then, can we be filled with the "fulness of God" and begin to bear much fruit for the kingdom.

An Example: Sarah

One of my favorite stories in The Way of Agape is about Sarah, who supernaturally experienced the fulness of the Lord in an incredible way.

Sarah, a dear old friend of mine, is only five feet tall and weighs about 100 pounds soaking wet. Many years ago, before she was a Christian, she found out that her husband was having an affair with a woman who worked in his office. Violently angry, Sarah marched down to her husband's office the next day and literally beat the woman up.

A year or so later, after the affair was over and she and her husband had separated, God got hold of Sarah and, through a series of circumstances, she became a believer. Sarah was one of those rare people who just immediately surrendered everything. One of the first things God began to speak to her about was her behavior towards the woman at the office the previous year. He convinced Sarah that it was His will for her to go back to the office and ask this woman's forgiveness.

I remember being absolutely shocked when Sarah called me one morning and told me what God had asked her to do. I don't really think I could have done that. Could you?

My dear friend not only chose to set aside her own "justified" feelings and emotions, she also was willing to humble herself, get up and do what God had asked her to do. When the woman at the office saw her coming, understandably she ran in the opposite direction. But Sarah, full of God's Love, pursued her, cornered her and they finally began to talk. First of all, Sarah asked the woman's forgiveness for beating her up the year before, and then she told her that she forgave her for "taking her husband away." The woman was so overwhelmed at what she was hearing, she burst into tears. Sarah sensed an opportunity to talk more and asked the sobbing woman if she would like to go somewhere to talk. Amazingly, the woman agreed.

At lunch, Sarah had a chance to share with the woman what God was doing in her own life - how He was giving her such joy and peace in spite of her circumstances. The woman was at a "crossroads" in her own life, so it was God's perfect timing. Those two women miraculously became friends. (Only in God's kingdom could something like this ever occur!) I don't know if the lady ever became a believer or not, but the seeds were definitely planted. This incredible incident occurred because my dear friend not only chose to deal with her own sin, but she also was willing to lay her self down at the cross so that God could continue to use her.

As Philippians 2:5-8 states:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Some other developments have occurred in Sarah's life, since the publication of The Way of Agape. Her ex-husband now has Alzheimer's disease and lives alone in a 12-foot trailer with no one to fix his meals or care for him. Some time ago, God impressed upon Sarah's heart to, once again, be "obedient unto death" and be an extension of His Love, even to the person who had hurt her far more than anyone else. Because Sarah loves God more than she loves herself, she willingly agreed to do His will. She now goes over to her ex-husband's trailer once a day - every day - and in God's Love and strength fixes his meals, cares for him, shops for him and cleans his home. In order to enter the Holy Place of our hearts where God now dwells, not only must our sin be dealt with, but also self must be crucified.

Abandoning Ourselves to God

The dark night of the spirit seems to accomplish a much larger degree of self-renunciation, crucifixion and abandonment to God. God wants to show us that we don't have all the answers. He wants us to come to the place where we can admit and acknowledge that only He does. He wants to bring us to the place where we can say, "I don't know where I am going or what I am going to do. All I know is that God is in control of my life and I am going to abandon myself to Him."

God wants to take all of us from a position of self-reliance to a position of total reliance upon Him - from self-centeredness to God - centeredness. He wants each of us to learn to detach ourselves from all other supports and all other guidance, so that we can enjoy something that is immensely superior - complete faith and trust in Him. When all our trust and hope in earthly and created supports have been taken away, then we will have no other place to run, except to Him. This is what the dark night of the spirit is all about.

Because God wants to be our sole support, He is burning up all else. In other words, God not only desires purity of life in our soul, He also desires purity of spirit in our heart. Many of us "know" these truths in our heads, but oh how different it is when God begins to work these truths out in our lives and our walks.

Next month: 'What Is the Dark Night of the Spirit? Part 2'. This article has been taken in part from Chuck and Nan's book Faith in the Night Seasons.