authority, discerning the spirits, dying to self, exhortation, experience, faith, glory, John of the Cross, resurrection power, self-will power, spiritual power, suffering, surrender, T.A. Sparks, the dark night of the soul, the dark night of the spirit
I recall that someone once told me that they would continue to write and publish when they were through with their trials and everything was clearer to them. Well, as much as I have been tempted to share this point of view, more and more it appears to me that there ist no end of trials in this life, or is it? Sometimes God keeps us covered by His both unseen and unfelt protection in a deeply dark condition where all good things seem to have come to their very end. The stage of testing where mere and naked faith in God puts us through may last for a few days, for some weeks, for several months or even for many, many years. The length of that period is dependent on what God has in mind regarding our personal spiritual growth. It was John of the Cross who realized that the deeper the night, the higher the glory and divine authority we will be able to share afterwards (whenever afterwards is experienced).
Seeing God’s purpose behind all our suffering might help us change the perspective as we try to look “to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2 ESV) If we want to be God’s children, we need to take heed of the following admonition from the author of the letter to the Hebrews. He said,
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.”
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.
(Heb 2:5-17 ESV)
When God allows continued suffering in our lives, be that in one or more areas of life (physical, mental, or spiritual), it happens for a reason only He knows at the moment. As we have just read, He always disciplines us for our good so that we share in HIS holiness, not in what we might have tempted to think how holiness should look like. On the one hand, God is not so much interested in our doing good, not in our many, even helpful, works to change this world into a better place since these endeavors can also be accomplished by everyone, Christian or not. But on the other hand, that does not mean, either, that we should run around and treat others as we see fit or, since, if we have really grown weary through many trials, it is very easy to lose one’s temper, isn’t it?
Just lately I saw that God, again and again, brought me to the end of myself, both to the end of my physical energy, to the end of my soul’s strength, and to the end of the rope regarding my spirituality. I do not know how long these trials will last and how deep this heart surgery must go because God alone knows my heart’s wickedness and unbelief that need be exposed to His light before He can fill me with more of His Spirit. However, dear brothers and sisters, I saw it is necessary to come to the end of all our ideas, efforts, possibilities, and even creativity that still spring from our soul’s parts that are not submitted to God as yet. If we really want God to be the author of all our thoughts and deeds, our old nature’s strength must cease to be the fountain of our earthly life. Instead, out of our nothingness, utter helplessness, and all our weaknesses, we will find the following promise Jesus gave us to be true. Our Lord affirmed,
“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (Jn 7:37-39 ESV)
In closing, here is another except of an article by T. Austin Sparks that deals quite bluntly with the matter I have just written about. This text is pretty long but well worth reading and meditating upon, I believe.
“If the Lord Jesus is an example of anything, He is more than anything else an example of dependence. The staves of His journey were very long and can be clearly seen. His serenity and confidence, His tranquility and possession are the issue of a life lived in secret with His Father, to Whom He is seen to resort continually. “Nothing of myself” is a watchword of His.
One of the most damaging things in the realm of God’s work; a thing which eventually leads to shame and confusion and much sorrow is
Natural Soul Force
projected by strong-willed, determined, aggressive Christians, who have not come to a spiritual state where they are able to discriminate between stubborn indomitableness, and personal determination and resolution, and which is altogether another thing – spiritual grace in endurance, perseverance, Divine in-strengthening.
The Lord has often to break the former to make place for the latter. Do not talk about Paul’s wonderful will to go through. Let Paul talk to you about the Lord’s wonderful grace to continue.
Whenever a man or a woman, really recognising the truth that Calvary means the end of “I”, commits himself or herself to the Lord to work it out, the flame of the sword will come round to the point where that “flesh” would seek to enter into the realm where the first Adam no longer has any standing.
The features of a personal strength of will are hardness, coldness, death, resentment of interference, suspicion of rivals, intolerance of obstructers, detachment, independence, secretiveness, heat, etc. While spiritual strength is always marked by love, warmth, life, fellowship, openness, confidence, and trust in the Lord.
If the Lord at any time of old desired to refer to and give an illustration of His exceeding great power, He brought Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and Pharaoh to mind. Egypt was the great world-power, and Egypt held out against God to the last ounce. But what was the instrument of the overthrow of this power? It was the Lamb and its shed blood. At the end, in the Revelation, the dragon, the whole power of Satan is overthrown by the Lamb. The Lamb is the synonym for weakness and yieldingness. If the weakness of God can do this mighty destruction, what can His strength not do?
Paul says of Christ that “He was crucified through weakness,” and, he adds, “we also are weak with Him.” Yes, but he also says, “by the Cross he triumphed.” Triumphed through weakness!
One of the the most difficult lessons that the Lord’s children have to learn is how to
Let Go to God.
Even in a matter that is right and in the purpose of God there has to be the lessons which Abraham had to learn through Isaac. It is not in our personal clinging to a God-given thing, whether it be a promise or a possession, but faith’s restful and fear-free holding on to the Lord Himself. If we had a thing from the Lord Himself, we can rest assured that what He gives He will not take again without some larger purpose in view; and on the other hand, none can take from us what He has determined for us. But there are many dangers which arise from our own will in relation to a Divine gift or purpose.
The first is of making that thing ours instead of holding it in and for the Lord. This leads to fierceness and personal uprisings. Then jealousy will not be long in showing its ugly head, and jealousy with its twin – suspicion – soon destroy fellowship and spontaneity of communion. Does not jealousy declare most loudly the fact of personal possession, personal interest? If we realised how privileged we are to have even a very small part in the things of God, and how it is all of His Grace, surely we should be very grateful that we could just have the remotest connection with Him.
Then further, when we hold things received or as promised or believed to be for us as only unto the Lord, in restful trust, we make it possible for the Lord to save us from being mistaken in the matter. It is not an unusual thing for a child of God to come to see that a thing which he or she most strongly believed to be God’s will or way for them was not so, and it had to be surrendered. If there was any personal element of will in it the experience has proved terrible, and has left works of bitterness and mistrust. Yet once again, a strong personal mind and will in relation to things of God too often makes us a law unto ourselves. That is, we get into an attitude which implies that we only know the will of God in the matter. We do not trust that others also may be led of the Lord in this thing, and so the corporateness of guidance so necessary to the house of God is destroyed or paralysed.
It is true that when a thing is really of God, in His will, by gift or by promise, and we begin to try and work it, realise it, use it, make it effectual by our own strength, or wisdom, then it seems to harden and become dead. Then through a battle in which all sorts of questions, fears, heats and chills are mixed up, we have to come to the place where we say, “Well Lord, if this thing is from You, I trust You to realise it; if it is not, then I let it go.” That is victory! The Lord’s way is clear! “The good, and perfect, and acceptable will of God” is only known when we – our bodies – have come unto the altar. Let us be sure that what we believe to be a strong faith-stand and fight for something which we are convinced is of God, is not fraught with those baneful elements which spring from a natural determination, and a constitutional or temperamental dislike for letting go or giving in. It depends on whether we let go in unbelief or weakness, or whether it is faith’s glorious victory of letting go to God.”
May God help us to live by His Spirit’s power alone. Amen.