In recent weeks we have discussed the strategic dance of divine intimacy, as the Lover of our souls will often hide from us, only to be revealed in the very next instant. This repetitive transition between hiddenness and manifestation is a consistent pattern for the one who sets his heart to love. From the place of spiritual sight and revelation, we are often taken next to a place of darkness. It is there that we must come to grips with the true depths of our blindness and spiritual bankruptcy apart from Him. Though in seasons of manifestation, we clearly see our Heavenly riches in Christ and taste His abundance, it is in the dark night that our faith is strengthened so that we no longer doubt, are no longer double minded, and can therefore be entrusted with even greater riches of the Kingdom.
We are on a path from glory to glory. We are consequently on a road from death to death. The more He increases, the more I decrease.
When we honestly confess our lack, limitation and ultimately, our dependence on the grace of God alone, we are freed to enter another season of revelation and visitation. In this cycle of up and down, we eventually are led into a place of peace and inner stillness that is no longer dependent on the soul’s sensory experience of God. We have contentment and an abiding pleasure in being grounded in the truth of God’s undying love for us, whether we feel it and experience it or not. Though we are in the night season, the terror of the night no longer affects us. Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil.
One of the only constants in the life of the believer is the assurance of discontinuity and turbidity. Jesus promised us not a rose garden, but in fact, the opposite. He assured us that we would face considerable ups and downs in this life. Jesus Himself experienced a broad range of emotions: at times He was broken with weeping; at times He feasted and rejoiced; at times He was so distraught that He sweat drops of blood. And though He was one with the Father, His communion with the Father was not always crystal clear. He developed it over time. Jesus went through a desert season (at least one, literally), where he was personally tempted by the prince of darkness. He went so far as to be “led” by satan during this process (see Lk. 4:5, 9). Of course, Jesus was not led to the point of sin, but the fact is that when He limited Himself in power and entered humanity, He laid aside some of his communicative privileges with the Father.
Is that too hard to swallow? Consider this “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mt. 27:46). Jesus was obviously not in touch with the Father on the cross, that is for sure. The Father totally turned His back on His Son, because of our sins that were placed upon Him. This was the cup that was given to Him by the Father to drink.
The point is, it is a natural part of our Christian walk to encounter desert seasons and dry spells. The dark night is not to be interpreted as God’s abandonment of us. He will never leave us nor forsake us. Rather, we should count it a privilege that He has hidden from us for a season, because we are given the opportunity to search Him out anew. After all, “it is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings” (Pr. 25:2).
Amid God’s seeming arrival and departure, our faith is being consistently rooted in the truth. And this produces great peace, aside from circumstances. As the apostle Paul stated, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Phil. 4:12).
This principal is true both in natural and in spiritual matters. Paul was not speaking only about money here. While we all desire spiritual abundance – supernatural encounters, angelic visitations, prophecies, healings, etc. – we cannot forget the important beatitude that “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt. 5:3). Those with no spiritual abundance in their outward lives are still heirs to the Kingdom, which is inherited through faith alone.
Blessed are the poor in spirit … this verse is not given so that we will desire spiritual poverty, or to discourage us from searching out spiritual riches. The exciting part is that we can inherit the Kingdom of Heaven now, here on earth, as was Jesus’ prayer: “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” (Mt. 6:10). But we should be quick to admit that we are already in a wretched state of spiritual poverty apart from Him (no matter how many demons we’ve cast out, how many prophecies we’ve uttered or hours of prayers we’ve prayed). This is a necessary step toward entering this abundance. On the one hand, we are utterly bankrupt, yet paradoxically, the work of Christ makes us heirs to the throne.
We cannot rely on our old experiences or the manna of yesterday to calculate our spiritual wealth. If we are so full of yesterday’s bread, we will miss the Lord when he comes new and afresh.
The Lord says to “realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see” (Rev. 3:17-18).
We are heirs to Heaven on earth. But in the grand scheme of things, even the greatest saint on earth has barely tasted a drop of what Heaven holds. We are like children playing in the mud puddles of Heaven’s lowest levels, and calling ourselves satisfied. In the end, the richest reward is neither Heaven nor earth, anyway. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away” (Mt. 24:35).
Jesus is the treasure. Jesus is the Word of God that is formed in our hearts through a process of faith and patience. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God. Patience comes in the waiting, in the testing. In confessing our wretched need, I do not suggest we identify ourselves as sinners. We identify ourselves with Christ, and that is the quest of the beloved.
The overarching thing we must always remember is that we "choose" dark nights. We choose them by not believing the gospel. When we do not believe that God is really near and that He really loves us, He pretends to pull away until we come running back to Him. But He never really left. Through the finished work of Christ, there is never any need to live outside of His abundance everyday. There is really no need for the rollercoaster of emotions or experience that I mentioned earlier. In fact, we really can have the rose garden after all, if we can only believe. Believe what? That Jesus took the desert season for us. He suffered for us. He paid a price we could never pay, so that we can have a reward we will never lose.
The New Testatment believer is ulitmately called not to a life of hide and seek with God, but to a consistent, sustainable realization of the Promise Land here and now.
When we last left the beloved, she had searched through the streets for her Lover to no avail. Though she asked Him to appear as He did in days gone by – like a gazelle or like a young stag – He had not revealed Himself to her in the way she desired. He was still hidden. She remembered Him in His wildness and unpredictability. But this same unpredictability, like a double-edged sword, had left her wondering, grasping at straws as to His whereabouts.
And now, after searching desperately:
The watchmen found me as they made their rounds in the city.
“Have you seen the one my heart loves?” (Song 3:3)
Notice that she has searched and found nothing. And yet, she herself has been found in the process. Found by the watchmen, who she questions. The watchmen often represent the seers, the prophets. One job of the watchmen is to keep the times. They not only stand guard on the city walls to search out what is coming on the horizon. The watchmen also search out the city from within. And that is what they are doing here. While the watchmen do not represent Christ Himself, they do point to Him.
In the night of purging, our hearts are searched deeply by the inner lamp of the Lord. Within our city walls, as we come to grips with the depth of our inner lostness apart from Him – our continual need for deeper and deeper levels of sanctification seems so real. We see a need for evangelism of the secret recesses of the soul – the Word is brought into the inner courts of our heart. In our utter despair, we must trust that the completed sacrifice of Christ was enough if we are to have peace. We realize that the sactifying work has already been done.
Instead of fighting the dark night, we submit to it in an effort to find Him – as we willingly encounter the cross and understand that we were entombed with Him (Rom. 6), we begin to believe that new life has been given. And suddenly, without notice – perhaps without any real expectancy – we encounter the object of our search.
Scarcely had I passed them when I found the one my heart loves. I held Him and would not let Him go till I had brought Him to my mother’s house, to the room of the one who conceived me.
Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires (Song 3:4-5).
We see that, although she was faithful to rise from her slumber, the beloved’s earlier chasing and striving through the streets after her Lover were partly in vain. An “A” for effort, but in the end, it was the watchmen who came to her. And it is the Lord who reveals Himself. In the desert, we often move from one extreme to the other: from snoozing on the couch to flailing in the water. From complacency to vain chasing. God is not after our works, as much as He is after our realization of Himself. It was good that she ran through the streets, not that it accomplished anything in itself, but it was a confession of her inadequacy apart from a deeper level of communion. And as we draw near to Him, He draws near to us.
Really, transcendence to deeper planes of romance is as simple as putting on the pure motives that Christ has purchased for us. There is not much doing involved. However, those motives may be appropriated in the desert. When we finally give up our striving ahd trust in Him, God seems to intercept us unaware.
This is much like a male driver, who is so lost, he is finally willing to pull over at the gas station to get directions. God will draw us to a point of humility and desperation, where our only goal, our only desire, is to reach the destination, no matter the cost.
When the heart is positioned, by God’s sovereignty and our distinct, yet passive allegiance, we are suddenly surprised to find Him in the passing. Not as a destination, but in passing, we see Him to the greatest degree we are able to withstand in the moment. Our thirst is such, in those dry desert sands, that we are desperately ready to take Him right into the room of conception. At the first sign of water, we think we can drink a barrel.
Of course, God is moved by this kind of desire. In the opening of the Song, it is the King who draws us into His chambers. But now, our hunger for Him has grown so severe, that we have actually moved Him to go along with us. Not by our running, but by our desperation.
But the beloved still has quite a way to go, and true love is still being formed in her. Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires. Nevertheless, her love has begun to overtake the process of timing. To those who keep the times, she can only ask “Where is He?” The key to breaking the cycle of the seasons and the years in the desert is to have this question formed within us, “Where is He?”
The testings have put within her a resolve to seek the Lord while He may be found. So that when she finds Him, she holds onto Him – as did Mary when she saw the resurrected Lord – and she does not let go. Like Jacob, she has learned to value her birthright, and is willing to hold fast to the Lord, even if it means she must wrestle Him throughout the night.
Remember, it was not Jacob’s striving which moved God, but his hunger. In the same way, we should know that God is not moved by our blind searching throughout the streets for Him. But He is intoxicated by our willingness to go there for the sake of divine hunger.
And what is the reward? Those who seek will find. To those who knock, the door will be opened. The Lord honors our sincere, searching hearts. Though misguided we may be, no time spent in preparation and seeking is time spent in vain. The Lord will restore even the time spent searching in blind alleyways.
The beloved does not encounter the Lord in the way she wanted, as a gazelle or a stag. But the reward of her searching is a far deeper revelation of Him. To her surprise, she is intercepted by the Lord as He comes as the King of Glory. The Lord of Hosts – King of the armies of Heaven.
Who is this coming up from the desert like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and incense made from all the spices of the merchant? Look! It is Solomon’s carriage, escorted by sixty warriors, the noblest of Israel, all of them wearing the sword, all experienced in battle, each with his sword at his side, prepared for the terrors of the night (Song 3:7-8).
Desert time is not wasted time. In the desert places, we are unknowingly preparing the way for the King.