When Your World is Dark

by Andy Wood on June 5, 2009

in Insight, Life Currency, Love, LV Cycle, LV Stories, Tense Truths, Uncategorized, Waiting

candle-smokeTense Truth:  Jesus, the Light of the World, will sometimes allow us to experience seasons of darkness in order to teach us to trust Him, not guarantees.  But He warns us not to turn back to that other kind of darkness – a world of evil or self-initiated “light” in order to find quick-fix relief.

First I’ll give you the pieces, then I’ll put them all together.

  • A couple of weeks ago I was having lunch with a friend and he made a profound statement: “When your world is dark, the temptation is to turn deeper into the darkness for relief.” So true. And yet it makes about as much sense as digging your way out of a hole.
  • Someone once asked me if I’d ever had a midlife crisis. I blurted out instantly, “Yeah, I’ve had about a dozen of ’em.”
  • I’ve noticed a recurring pattern lately. I’m dealing with a significant number of professional men, all of whom could be classified as successful. In fact, they’re geniuses at what they do – so good, they can do it without a lot of thinking. And yet they’re bored, restless, or even depressed. Before my very eyes, they’re starting to act dead-before-they-die. In fact, my most common deep spiritual advice to them is, “You’re not dead yet!”
  • Have you ever noticed that people who are living “in the darkness” are also the loudest to predict a dark future? Wonder if that’s just a coincidence?

More than once somebody or something has rocked my Zippity-do-dah world and faith and, for lack of a better way of describing it, “turned the lights off.”  What’s ironic is that it didn’t happen because I’d screwed up or was somehow running from God.  In fact, the darkness happened while I was pursuing the Lord and, by all accounts and purposes, growing.

The good news for me and anybody else who has ever encountered a “dark night of the soul” is that God understands and anticipates this experience.

The even better news?  He planned it.

Who is among you that fears the Lord,

That obeys the voice of His servant,

That walks in darkness and has no light?

Let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.

Behold, all you who kindle a fire,

Who encircle yourselves with firebrands,

Walk in the light of your fire

And among the brands you have set ablaze.

This you will have from My hand:

You will lie down in torment.  (Isaiah 50:10-11)

Interesting who the prophet is talking to here – those who fear the Lord and obey the voice of His servant.  Yet they’re walking in darkness and have no light.

Now wait a minute.  Don’t we follow the Light of the World?  Aren’t we children of the light?  Aren’t we supposed to know all the answers, sink all our putts, and have all figured out?

Not according to Isaiah.  Or Abraham.  Or Isaac.  Or Jacob.  Or Moses.  Or anybody else who ever “died in faith, not having received the promises” (Hebrews 11:13).

Evidences of the Darkness

Read the biography of any great saint, whom God used powerfully, and you will probably read of times of great darkness in his or her life.   St. John of the Cross was the first to call this experience “The Dark Night of the Soul.”

When you’re walking in the darkness, the usual sources of direction, clarity, and vision go missing.  You can’t tell where you are, or where you are going.  You can’t tell your friends from your enemies, or recognize the obstacles in your path.  In the darkness, you can’t size up, or get a handle on your situation.  You experience no conscious awareness of God’s direction or voice, and there are no explanations from God for what is going on.  In the darkness, you can find no guarantee of what lies ahead.  Every outward circumstance seems to contradict what God is saying.  And everything you know or believe to be true carries no confirming feelings.

And All This is From God?

Yes.  For two reasons.  First, God wants to teach us to obey Him, regardless of the circumstances.  Easy or hard, feels right or not, popular or lonely, hopeful or helpless, obedience is still obedience – and it will be tested.

Second, God wants to teach us to trust in Him, not in guarantees.  We live in a culture that wants to insure us against every contingency, spell out every variation and term of an agreement, know with complete certainty how everything will turn out, and talk with confidence about it at our next home group meeting.  And when things don’t turn out the way we’d imagined, we want – we demand – answers.  But after the dark night experience, usually the only answer you get at the time was the one Job received from God:  “I AM, and that’s all you need to know.”

So What Do You Do When the Lights Go Out?

The logical thing to do when the lights go out is to stop doing what you’re doing until you get some certainty or clarity again.  But God suggests otherwise.  “Walks in darkness” suggests continuous action.  Keep on walking!  For a Christ follower, that means staying true to the disciplines and direction that got you here in the first place.  This is no time to yank the escape hatch or go into hibernation.  Slow down?  Maybe.  Stop? No.

When the lights go out, beware of lighting your own fire.  The prophet warns against “kindling a fire and circling yourself with firebrands.”  For many people, this represents taking over the situation themselves, or trusting in their own efforts.  It’s pretty intuitive to assume that “if it’s to be, it’s up to me.”  Problem is, man-made light can be very deceptive.  It sure made good sense to Abraham.  God promised him a son, then turned out the lights by giving him a barren wife.  Abraham decided to light his own fire, and Sarah provided the match!

When the lights go out, find a “staff” to lean on.  “Let him rely on the Lord,” the prophet says.  The word means to lean on for support.  Your darkness is a uniquely-expressed invitation from God to trust Him. But I must caution you that like me so often, you may not understand what faith looks like in these kinds of situations.  The faith that is called for here is anything but passive.  Remember, you don’t have to lean on God for support if you’re not trying to walk somewhere.

Take a look at that list of faith heroes in Hebrews 11, and you’ll find something interesting:  Every single one of them was called by God to do something or trust God for something that had never been seen or done before. And even at the point of death, they were still embracing a God-filled future of vision and possibilities.

When the lights go out, and the adrenaline stops rushing, and the horizon looks misty, and you’re feeling left behind by life, and you just don’t have a clue what happened, maybe you’d better start sharpening your sword.  Maybe you’d better get yourself into marching shape or race trim.  You may not see where God is taking you yet.  But when the lights come back on (and they eventually will), you may just be looking at a completely new horizon.

After all, Sparky – you’re not dead yet.

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