Thursday, August 25, 2016

Dark nights of the soul and rejoicing in the Holy Spirit

"Dark nights of the soul and rejoicing in the Holy Spirit" (Luke 10:17-21)

“The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” Luke‬ ‭10:17-21‬

There are many things that people find joy in and rejoice over. But what one person rejoices over may not mean much to someone else. Also, what a person rejoices over today, may not bring joy to them tomorrow. Life has many twist and turns. Things change and people change. But there is a joy that comes through the Spirit of God, who reveals to us the truths found in God's unchanging word. Peter wrote, “for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter‬ ‭1:24-25).

When Jesus was born, the Angel of the Lord said to the shepherds abiding in the field, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:10-11‬). What is the good news of great joy? The good news is that Jesus came into the world to save sinners through His sacrifice on the cross. The good news is that He rose again from the dead, demonstrating His power over death and the grave. The good news is that whosoever believes in him will not perish, but receive the free gift of eternal life (1 Cor. 15:1-4; John 3:16).

In Luke 10:17, the disciple were rejoicing over the fact that they had authority over demons in the name of Jesus. However, Jesus pointed out that there was something much greater that they should be rejoicing over, namely that their names were written in Heaven. Jesus wasn't saying that it was a sin to rejoice over the authority they had over demons, any more than it would be wrong to rejoice over getting a promotion at work or buying a house. What Jesus is saying is that these things pale in comparison to the promise of Heaven. The blessings and sufferings of this life will fade away in the light of the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18). Therefore what Jesus was getting at was that He didn't want the ultimate source of their happiness to be in lesser things. Lesser things will eventually fail us and disappoint us. But when the well of our joy is in Christ and the hope that we have in Him, we will be able to rejoice in all circumstances.

In recent months, I have been battling with severe fatigue that seems to come in waves. Along with feelings of mental and physical exhaustion, which makes it hard to concentrate, I feel anxious and downcast. The normal pressures of life and work, which I could find joy in, now often overwhelm me. I have trouble sleeping through the night and when I wake up, a feeling of panic seems to come over me. I'm bombarded with thoughts that make mountains out of molehills. The saints of old would call experiences like these, Dark nights of the soul.

As I've examined my heart before the Lord, and I don't believe that God is disciplining me because of sin in my life, but I do believe that He is fashioning me and  purifying me. I believe he wants my roots to go deeper into Christ, the fountain of joy. He's wants to bring me to a place where my identity is clearly found in who I am in Christ, not in what I do for others in the name of Christ, or the approval of man.

I believe that much of what I'm going through is related to some physical deficiencies in my body that must be replenished. This is important because although our ultimate source of Joy is Christ, the condition of our bodies can affect our ability to grasp spiritual realities. How to treat the physical causes of what I'm going through is often debated in the church. Should I go the natural route or should take medication that is recommended by my doctor, are things that I'm seeking God's wisdom about. But understanding that what I going through is not necessarily a spiritual problem alone, is helping me to seek the right solutions in dependence upon God. I appreciate what John Piper had to say about these Dark nights of the soul:  

"What we should be clear about, though, is that the condition of our bodies makes a difference in the capacity of our minds to think clearly and of our souls to see the beauty of hope-giving truth. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the great preacher at Westminster Chapel in London in the midtwentieth century, began his helpful book Spiritual Depression by waving the flag of warning that we not overlook the physical. It is significant that Lloyd-Jones was a medical doctor before he was called to the ministry of preaching. Quoting MLJ Piper continues,

Does someone hold the view that as long as you are a Christian it does not matter what the condition of your “body is? Well, you will soon be disillusioned if you believe that. Physical conditions play their part in all this. . . . There are certain physical ailments which tend to promote depression. . . . [T]ake that great preacher who preached in London for nearly forty years in the last century—Charles Haddon Spurgeon—one of the truly great preachers of all time. That great man was subject to spiritual depression, and the main explanation in his case was undoubtedly the fact that he suffered from a gouty condition which finally killed him. He had to face this problem of spiritual depression often in a most acute form. A tendency to acute depression is an unfailing accompaniment of the gout which he inherited from his forebears. And there are many, I find, who come to talk to me about these matters, in whose case it seems quite clear to me that the cause of the trouble is mainly physical. Into this group, speaking generally, you can put tiredness, overstrain, illness, any form of illness. You cannot isolate the spiritual from the physical for we are body, mind and spirit. The greatest and the best Christians when they are physically weak are more prone to an attack of spiritual depression than at any other time and there are great illustrations of “this in the scriptures” (Excerpt From: Piper, John. “When the Darkness Will not Lift.” Crossway Books).

Although I'm seeking to replenish my physical body, my aim is to gain more strength to fight for the joy of Jesus that comes through His Spirit. And I'm not waiting to feel better physically before seeking the Lord. It's the whispers of God, and the glimpses of His glory that I see in His word, as I struggle to set my mind on things above, that keep me going, that bring me hope. I'm not rejoicing right now in the blessings of serving in the ministry. That day I believe is coming again soon. But I can rejoice that my name is written in heaven. I rejoice in the Holy Spirit, knowing that when I'm having a hard time holding on to Jesus, He's still holding on to me. Blessed be His Holy name.

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