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Full moon rising over the mountain

I’ve encountered a number of Christian friends in the past few months who are struggling with life and find God has fallen silent. It is a hard place to be when you are facing testing and trials and can hear nothing from God. In an earlier post, (Humility: a painful lesson to learn) I have recounted my own difficult time wandering in the spiritual desert. I have endured seasons of separation from God with some regularity over the years.

I remember a saying from attending a spiritual retreat called Cursillo (now Via de Christo) many years ago, “If you feel distant from God, guess who moved?” Over the years, I have come to know that my own sin distances me from God. Often, when I am reluctant to let something go, my own stubbornness brings distance in my relationship with God.

But, I have encountered other seasons where I think God is distant for other reasons. There are times when I am standing at the edge, looking at the shapes in the mist, asking, “God is this really the next step?” And I hear nothing. Only when I have taken a step out in faith do I hear confirmation.

We humans would like to see where the trail will end up before we start. God just asks us to trust him and take the first step, without seeing further. If God’s word is a lamp unto our feet, it will never illuminate more than the next two steps, until you start moving. The end of the trail is lost in the mist and darkness. Will you trust and take a step. Quiet moments of deciding.

Then there is the dark night of the soul. Times when we wander in the spiritual desert, thirsting, longing for God’s presence and hearing nothing in the darkness. It is reassuring to learn that even the saints experienced these times, these seasons of silence, dwelling out of God’s presence.

Paul explains it this way in Romans5: 3-5:

We also boast of our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappointus, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given us.

I wonder if these times are not God’s way of exercising our faith muscle? I’ve heard it explained this way. God reveals himself to us and through an experience of God, we come to believe. Early in our Christian walk, God graces us with His presence more often, deepening our commitment and faith. Then, as we walk with God for some time, he periodically draws away for periods of time. During these times, tests and trials will come that call for faith to overcome. Our faith is tested when God draws away, and our faith muscle is strengthened in the process.

The funny thing is, even our faith is a gift from God. It is God’s touch on our lives that gives us faith in the first place. So, it might be better to say we discover in these times that God has graced us with the faith to endure. Each time we endure such a season, we come to trust it will end. While it continues, each day we can pray to the Spirit for the faith to trust God even when he’s absent. We learn to lean on His promise in scripture that, “I am with you always,” even when we can’t sense or hear anything. 

And, one day, hope will turn its face to you, and your dark night will come into a new dawn. So, take heart, friends, you are in fine company as you wander in the spiritual desert. All the saints have trod there before you. Sara Groves is one of the most talented young Christian songwriters I’ve heard. She describes this journey beautifully in her song, “It might be hope.”

You do your work the best that you can
you put one foot in front of the other
life comes in waves and makes its demands
you hold on as well as you're able

You've been here for a long long time

Hope has a way of turning its face to you
just when you least expect it
you walk in a room
you look out a window
and something there leaves you breathless
you say to yourself
it's been a while since I felt this
but it feels like it might be hope

It's hard to recall what blew out the flame
it's been dark since you can remember
you talk it all through to find it a name
as days go on by without number

You've been here for a long long time

Hope has a way of turning its face to you
just when you least expect it
you walk in a room
you look out a window
and something there leaves you breathless
you say to yourself
it's been a while since I felt this
but it feels like it might be hope

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