“How did this happen?” That’s been a constant question in my mind over the past month. The past year or so has been a very rough time with the Lord for me. There have been nights I laid awake truly believing I didn’t know Jesus. I thought he left me. His voice was too faint, his grace too bland and my heart too hard for me to believe I ever actually knew the living God. But, here I am now, more vibrant in my faith than ever before. Here I am, experiencing the waterfall of God’s grace yet again. So this question bothers me. How did this happen? How did I make it through that? I have an answer, and I want to share it with you. I’m no fool. I know some of you believers have as cold a heart as any pagan out there. I know you’re doubting God’s faithfulness, and you need fresh wind in your sails. I know that’s out of my power to create that in you, but I’m here to use my gifts to share my experience and what I learned in hopes that God will do something in the hearts of my readers… even through a measly blog post.
So first off, how do we get to places like this? Well to make it as short and simple as possible, there’s only one answer: the sovereignty of God. He is sovereign over your heart. He’s in control of your spiritual state and determines the amount of authentic joy in Christ you’re experiencing. He’s sovereign over that, but I think there are two different disposition of hearts that can be found in these dry seasons.
To the Unfaithful and Far Off
The first disposition is the consistently disobedient. Personal and habitual sin that we are absolutely responsible for has sent you into a dark place. The quickest way to silent the Holy Spirit is to quench him with your constant disobedience. Most likely, there was some specific besetting sin that He called you to floor on, he called you to repent of, and you’ve been stubborn to repent. And as a result, that Holy Spirit that would illuminate, teach, and instruct has now gone silent, withdrawn His light and caused darkness. He that grieves the Spirit quenches it; and he that quenches the Spirit vexes it, and he that vexes the Spirit sets himself against it. So, sure enough, here you are, hard-hearted as ever because of your unrepentant sin.
The Spirit called, you continually rejected, and the result is now a dull faith that’s too weak to trust in God. Christ seems so far off that you can’t even imagine that you ever truly knew Him.
Now, let me say, for some of you that’s the truth. You haven’t really come to know Christ. You thought you did because you answered a bogus and manipulative altar call. Maybe some of you came to Christ for some gift you thought He would give you. Your whole “faith” has just been an outworking of your idolatry. You had the same luggage, Jesus was just another bellhop. It was the same meal you wanted served, just a different butler. You never knew him, but that doesn’t mean you can’t now. Turn from your idolatry and in truth cling to Christ. He’ll take you in.
But for others of you, the accusation of a false faith is a lie. You have truly come to faith, and the Holy Spirit, though faint, still does reside in you. How do you know if that’s true for you? Well, the thought of being separate from Christ, what does it do to you? Does it make you fearful? It should. And if so, what kind of fear? Fear that makes you think you have to get yourself together or fear that makes you cling to Christ? Where does the fear find it’s end and is quenched? Is it calmed by a delusion of your ability to get good with God in your strength or is it calmed at the foot of the cross? The true believer will always make his way back to the cross, no matter how long it takes to get back.
So now, to you, the genuine believer in Christ, know you are loved deeply. I know you feel abandoned because of your sin. You aren’t. You are still covered. For you, the blood of Christ is an objective reality, not subject to your emotions or feelings. Its there, covering you and pardoning you, whether you feel it or not. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful- for he cannot deny himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13. The Father gave up His own image, the Son, at the cross. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature..” Hebrews 1:3. It was that radiance of glory that took on the stench of your shame. It was this Blessed Name that became a curse for you. This sacrifice is too final and the blood of Christ too potent for you to wiggle your way out or wash it off with your sin. You, believer, are covered, redeemed, and kept. Persevere; He will be faithful to you.
To the Faithful Yet Cold
But then for some of us, God’s sovereignty has brought this about in a different way; He himself has hidden His face from the faithful. You’ve been faithful in trusting God’s promises in such a way that brought about obedience, yet the presence of God seems to have gone out from you. That flame is just a flicker, and you feel like one more day of desperation or silence will blow it out. Has God forsaken you? No. Quite the opposite.
God is good and He does good. You believe this. If you didn’t, you would have walked away a long time ago. God is good to his people and is in control of their experience of him. For you, God in his wisdom has hidden his face, regardless of you being obedient and not provoking such a season.
Be careful here. Yes, you have been faithful, and at a surface level, it seems like God has not been. That’s a lie. Don’t ever think you’ve been more faithful than him. He’s the perfect Husband. Never has he had eyes for someone other than His people. And quite honestly, you’ve been faithful cause he’s being faithful to you. He’s the one who worked that into you. It’s his hand thats held you up, and his strength that has brought you this far.
So don’t’ believe the lie that he’s forsaken you. It’s impossible for him to forsake you; he made you his child through his Son. And he is a good Father who gives good gifts to his children, and this season is a good gift for you. It doesn’t feel like it, but it is. And the only thing the Enemy wants you to believe is that it’s not good. If it’s not good, then he must not love you. As with a deadly wound, he taunts you all the day long, asking, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:10). Your tears have been your food day and night as he pesters you, “Oh he’s forsaken you. He’s forgotten.” It’s a lie. God will vindicate you (Psalm 43:1), and will break the teeth of your accuser. (Psalm 3:7). He will not delay forever. “For the LORD will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love…” Lamentations 3:31-32. His love is in abundance for you. He showed that at the cross. He who gave up his Son initially, how could he not now give you himself eternally? (Romans 8:32). He didn’t spare his Son, and because of that we can have confidence he won’t withhold any and every grace he has for us. He will make his presence known. He will deliver you from the deadly pestilence of doubt and unbelief in his love for you. (Psalm 91:3). Hope in him. In him is your salvation from dullness.
So I realize I haven’t answered my question yet. How did this happen? After all those nights I was pestered with lies of abandonment and condemnation, how am I still here? The answer is simple, and it’s found in John 17. Jesus prays:
I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name… John 17:9-11
What’s interesting about this is when Jesus says “Holy Father.” This is the only time in the New Testament that this form of address is used with reference to the first person of the Godhead. It’s an echoe of the assertion of God’s awesome purity described in Lev. 11:44. God is our Father, but he’s a Holy Father. His Fatherhood is set apart from and transcends any other weaker and less pure father. So here again we see, he is the perfect Father.
But more than that, Jesus says, “keep them in your name…” He’s asking God, in and by his name, to keep those of true faith. And what’s his name?? Yahweh. I AM. His name is “I AM.” Jesus is asking the Father to preserve his people by his very Being. By the absolute reality of the existence of God, believers are kept. That’s what Jesus is praying for here. To say it more clearly, because God is still God, believers are kept. The day God stops being God is the day true believers will fall away from the faith.
So why am I still here? Because God is still God. He’s still reigning, which means he’s still sustaining. The assurance of my salvation is, at it’s core, tied into the very Being of God. Oh, believer, what a sure and firm Anchor of hope you have.