Ever heard the term “dark night of the soul?” I hate to be the one to burst the bubble here but the poem written by John of the Cross was NOT about difficulties in life. However, we have taken it to mean that over time. More recently I’ve referred to this idea of hard times and emotional turmoil as being in “a dark place.”
If you’ve been keeping up with my family and I on social media or my blog, you know we’ve been in a dark place now for a bit. About three months now to be precise. I won’t belabor the point but we’re kinda hanging out in the breeze, kinda dangling and wondering what’s next.
Along with these dark places that we often find ourselves in, doubt becomes a daily companion. Oh, I don’t want that to be true but it is. I am doubting things I once didn’t and having feelings of regret for decisions made.
I got up early this morning to read God’s Word and pray. I’ve found that I crave that now more than ever. Since I came to Jesus in faith 12 years ago, I’ve always desired the Word and prayer. But it’s different now.
There’s desperation to my need now. I feel like I have to have it to survive. And, if I’m being honest, there are moments when I still don’t know if I will. This morning was one of those moments. I’ve been reading through Matthew’s gospel really slowly ‘cause I wanna soak in Jesus. I want to feel the texture of his words and see the smile on his face, watch the tears roll down his cheeks, hear his laughter and feel his pain. So I’m going slowly.
This morning I was reading in chapter 7, verses 7-11. Here is what Jesus said,
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”
I sat back and looked up…by the way, why do you do that when we pray? The Spirit is present inside us and the Father is everywhere so why do we look up? I digress.
So I read this text this morning and, when I prayed, here is what I said to him, “I don’t believe you. I’ve been asking and seeking and knocking and I haven’t received and I haven’t found and the doors aren’t opening. What good gifts have you given me?! You’ve taken away our financial stability and my calling in ministry, you’ve given us sleepless nights and tears and fear. I don’t believe you.”
And then I stopped because I became afraid. What if God became angry and punished me for what I had just said? I mean, in my mind, he already was punishing me for something. But I had to be honest with him and so I said again, “I don’t believe you. I want to but I just don’t. I’m sorry.”
I’ve been fighting back tears all day because of this. How can I not believe God’s promises to me in his Word? I talked to a couple of men I trust who are pastors about this and even cried a bit. I said to them, “I just don’t believe that right now. I know I should but I don’t. I mean, Jesus is supposed to be enough but today, he’s just not.” Both of these men listened and said, “I know. I don’t know how to tell you that he will bring you through it but he will.” Neither of them judged me, neither of them scolded me for my stated unbelief.
And then I was eating lunch, sitting at our dining table, chewing a ham sandwich and trying not to cry. And Jesus spoke. Not in like an audible voice but he showed me an image of him hanging on the cross crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
It was all I could do to hold it together. But I cried when I was writing this because Jesus had finally spoken. In that moment he, in effect, said to me, “You are not alone in how you feel. I have felt forsaken. I have felt abandoned. You are not alone.”
I feel like maybe there are some of you who need to hear this today. I feel like maybe there are some pastors who need to hear this today. You are not alone in your dark place. I know you have doubts and I know there are moments when you say to our Father, “I don’t believe you.” I want you to know, whoever you are reading this, that he’s not mad at you for your unbelief in your dark places. He’s not mad at you when you doubt. He’s not mad at you when you cry out to him, “Why have you forsaken me?”
The only answer I can give you is that Jesus sees. Jesus knows your pain; he has been there. Jesus knows your doubt, for even he cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?”
You are not alone.
Jesus is with you. Hold on to him, dear ones. Hold on to him; Cry if you will, scream if you must, rage at the pain. It’s okay to feel this way. But hold on to Jesus in that dark place. He has been there and He is with you. Hold on to Jesus.
Hold on to Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria!
There are times in our lives that things aren’t going the way we planned. At least for me and my family that has been the case for a few years now. After awhile of doing what you feel is the right thing and in obedience to the call of God on our lives, we expect certain things to happen. I mean, let’s be honest here. Whether it’s biblical or not (spoiler alert: it’s not) we have a tendency to think that when we “do the right thing” then good things will come to us.
That’s just simply not true. The entire testimony of Scripture, if we’re paying attention, points us to the fact that obedience to God does not always equal earthly reward.
Can I just be honest with ya’ll? I’m really struggling hard with this right now. I’ve been really wrestling with some bitterness toward God. I’ve said some unkind things to and about him. I’ve wondered, privately and publicly, why we feel like we’ve done the right things and things haven’t worked out well for us.
You come to a place where you ask yourself:
What’s the point?
Does any of the things that I’ve done in obedience and faith matter?
I’m here to tell you that it does. It matters what you do and how you do things in obedience to God and it matters how you treat people along the way. I want to give you an example of something that happened recently in my family’s life.
Once upon a time, my wife and I owned a CrossFit gym…a “box” as we call it in our CrossFit cultish world. We owned and operated the gym while I was in seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. We worked harder and more hours than I care to remember. It was a really hard time in our lives. We got up way before sunrise, coached and trained all day, sweated and cheered our clients on and then I’d go home and do homework and get like four hours of sleep and get up and do it all over again the next day.
It was incredibly hard.
And incredibly rewarding.
We had more community and friendship with those folks than we have ever had before or since. Our clients were some of our closest friends. As an aside, it makes me sad that the Church doesn’t serve this function as often as it should. Most churches don’t do this very well at all. Anyways…
I told my wife the other day that our time owning that gym was the only time in my life when I felt like I was actually making a difference in people’s lives. Despite all those years as a police officer and even time as a pastor and it was the gym that felt like we were actually changing people’s lives.
Fast forward three years. It’s been a hard three years. Disappointment after disappointment has come about, what has seemed like failure and after failure, pain and tears and lots of questions like:
What’s the point? Does anything I’m doing matter?
And then the other day I got a gift in the mail. It was from a former client and friend from our gym in NC who shall remain nameless. This person had been observing from a distance our struggles over the last three years and so they sent a gift. It was to encourage me/us and to let us know what a difference we had made in their life during their time with us at the gym.
Can I just tell you how wonderful that felt? To know that we had made a real and tangible difference in someone’s life was precisely the encouragement I needed in that moment. So I want to pass along to you the encouragement I received. I want you to not be discouraged. Those little things you do for others are not in vain and they are not unnoticed. Jesus talked about this in Matthew 25:40 when he says,
“The King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”” (NASB)
Be encouraged today, brothers and sisters, your work is not in vain. You are making a difference. Your Master is watching and he is pleased.
Soli Deo Gloria!