One of the greatest blessings God gives us is His presence. We are given the promise that Christ lives in us – by which we are sustained, strengthened, and bear fruit for His glory. Too often, however, we get in the way. Our sinful pride suffocates God’s presence and Self reigns instead of His glory. In God’s wisdom and love, He prunes our lives to remove the dead branches so that we may bear abundant fruit. God chooses to discipline us out of His great love.
Most of the time, the disciplining process really hurts. He knows exactly where to prune. We often refer to these times as spiritual darkness. When God takes away, when prayers seem unheard, when God seems to be uncaring and off on some distant planet, it hurts. Perhaps you may be going through a time of spiritual darkness when songs of praise are sung without hope, when sermons seem boring, when prayer is a chore, and where there is little motivation to read God’s Word. It is during these times when God’s absence is painfully felt.
I have gone through periods that are referred to as the “dark nights of the soul.” The Bible is full of instances where heroes of the faith go through a difficult time of questioning, waiting, and wondering. While going back through old journals, I came across a tattered magazine article that is filled with my handwriting and words highlighted in yellow. Like a raven providing sustenance to a tormented Elijah, the Lord never fails in providing words of sustenance during these difficult periods. I do not know the author’s name, but allow me to share with you his thoughts:
Twelve benefits the Lord gives us during times of spiritual darkness –
1. We shed an old skin
We set aside a time to process or mourn unfulfilled dreams of the life we had planned for ourselves and granted new eyesight. We then discover that God has placed in our hands the life that He has planned for us. God uses a time of darkness as a signal that we have reached the end of one stage in our life and that He has uniquely prepared us for the next stage.
2. We open our eyes to the good and fully expect the best
We have a tendency to brood over what we don’t have instead of taking the time to acknowledge what we already have. I found it a waste of time to brood, because negative thinking only made it worse. Remembering God’s promises gives us steps to climb out of a pit and see the sun shining overhead.
3. Always choose trust over trying to understand.
Always. It is far better to embrace His presence than try to understand His will, His purpose, and His ways. Our hope rests in the fact that someday we will understand everything.
4. Remember God’s promises and personalize them
It is important to remember that you are deeply loved by God. Permanently. He is the one that created you. His promises are real, so write them down and personalize them.
5. Allow your gifts, talents, passions, and desires of your heart to lead you
It is amazing how doors of opportunities open up. So often, we focus on the stress of knocking. But, what usually happens is that God opens the door we have never knocked and calls us over to come inside.
6. Be open to lessons God is trying to teach you
The most profound lessons are learned during times of spiritual darkness. Observe, study, and analyze. I wrote this quote down on paper, “Whenever the feeling of grace is withdrawn, pride is the cause. Not necessarily because one has actually yielded to pride, but because if this grace were not withdrawn from time to time pride would surely take root.”
7. Have you forgiven?
Because of what Christ has already done for us, we are fully forgiven. Have you forgiven others? Are you allowing old wounds to heal? We will never forget and we will always have scars from wounds inflicted upon us by others. But they are healed. Is there anger, resentment, or hostility remaining in you? Perhaps God is using this time to weed those from your garden. He is asking you, “I want you to forgive. And remember, it’s okay. I am always with you to protect and provide security.”
8. Reach out to a person in need
We are uniquely gifts to provide and be a source of comfort for others. This exercise expands the capacities of our own soul when we reach out in love.
9. Always respond well and do the right thing
No excuses. Guard our hearts and minds, so that we may always say the right words and do the right thing. At the same time, be open to how the Lord may be leading and guiding you. Are you restless, bored, frustrated? Perhaps reassess your goals, talents, and where you are serving. Perhaps God is leading you to serve Him in a whole new capacity that may require financial risk, a move to a different area, or the frightening aspect of sharing His love and His Word on a full-time basis.
10. List all your blessings.
Write all your blessings down on paper. It’s a humbling exercise.
11. Be still before God and listen
Maintain a listening ear before God. Most of the time in prayer, we do all of the talking. Perhaps set aside some time where we will say, “O.K. God, I’m going to shut up now. Tell me what’s on Your mind and I will listen.” It is during times of solitude and silence that God is most audible.
12. Trust God and not your feelings
No matter how you feel, continue to trust God for guidance, direction, perseverance, and strength.