Do you ever find a book that you devour? And then you enjoy it so much and get so much truth from it you go back again. Even a third and fourth time you return to it. You highlight in it, the corners are folded, the pages are worn? I have found a few books like that.
One of them is Listening for God by Marilyn Hontz. One of the things I have learned from her book is that there is a difference between "dry" times and "dark" times.
Dry times result when we do not actively pursue our relationship with Jesus. When we are busy with other things. When we are preoccupied, distracted, maybe even "doing" ministry. We just aren't making time for Him, pursuing a relationship with Him, communicating and listening to Him. Those are dry times.
Dry times are something I can change. I am in control of how long these times last. I can resolve these times by getting back on my face before God, by rekindling that relationship, by returning to Him.
Malachi 3: 7 (NIV) "Return to me and I will return to you."
James 4:8 (NIV) Come near to God and He will come near to you."
He is there waiting for me. I just have to take the first step. I do not have to be in the dry place longer than I allow myself to be. It is not that He is being silent during these times... it is that I am not listening.
Dark times, on the other hand, often occur when we are seeking the Lord and occupied with Him, yet we feel our prayers bounce off the ceiling... silence. These times tend to lead to questions like "God, Where are you? Why aren't you speaking? Why can't I feel you? Why can't I see you? It is so dark."
Marilyn shares that these are the times He uses to teach us to depend on Him for who he is and not how we feel about him. This time forces us to trust the Lord alone and not our feelings. And then she shares this: "God often speaks loudest in His silence. These times can be spiritually enriching."
When I read that, I thought What? What does that mean? How do the dark times spiritually enrich my life? How does God speak loudest during these times?
Is it because I have to listen so very quietly, to look so very carefully, to strain to see one sign, to work so hard to feel one little thing of Him? And why do I depend on my feelings so much anyway?
Then the truth came. I can't depend on my feelings. I must depend on Him for who He is. I must trust in Him based on what I know of Him and His character.
The only place I can learn about Him, who He is, and His character... is in His word, the Bible. Could it be that these times of "silence" (no feelings) are so spiritually enriching because these are the times that drive me hard into His word?
When things seem to be going well, when all is as it should be, when I'm "feeling" Him and His presence, do I pursue Him in his Word like I do when He's quiet? Do I read until I find a truth? Do I crave for any new insight from Him? Do I examine my world under a microscope looking for the smallest of signs that He is still around, that He exists, that He still cares?
I would have to say that during the "good" times I read His word with more of an "Amen, uh-huh, beautiful, absolutely right" type of attitude.
During the dark times I read, study, take apart, and digest everything I can looking for some truth, some encouragement, something to hold on to, to cling to, to be a promise for my heart alone. I long to learn something about Him and who He is and will be for me... something new about His character.
In doing this I am teaching myself more about the very God of the universe, the and Lord of Lords. I am learning intimate promises and attributes about the Savior of My life, my Father.
Maybe that's why these dark times come. These are times when I need to be driven into Him through His Word... hard!
That's why I can't determine the length of these times. He knows what I need to learn. He knows what I need to see. He knows what changes need to occur in my heart and spirit before I can come out on the other side.
My only choices in the "dark times" are either to continue with Him, pursuing this life as He has called me to live it... or to give it up and lose all that I have, everything I've worked for. The Christian life must be one of daily obedience, surrender, and commitment. I can choose to follow at all costs, or not. The choices are pretty simple, really.
As I look back during other dark times in my life, I would have to say I have learned something in every one of them. Something new about myself, my world around me, and something new about God. Each one of those previous dark times has built my character, taught me God can be trusted, produced in my spirit a desire to persevere, to make it, to survive.
Marilyn also shares these . "I know it is lonely, but keep going! You will come out of that dark, long tunnel with a deeper knowledge of God. This is a time when, in faith, you love him purely for who you know him to be - not just for what he can do for you or how he makes you feel. Continue to pursue God."
I believe I can be in a dry time. I believe I can be in a dark time. I believe to be in either place "feels" the same... silence, alone, dark, desperate.
I now recognize that when I realize I am there, in one of those places, I must determine in my heart which place it is.
Am I in the dry place? Dry because I haven't been spending time with Him? If so, I need to reconcile that!
Am I in a dark place? I know of no sin in my life, I know I am spending time with Him, and yet He seems so distant. During those times I've got to hold on for dear life, to persevere, and to trust Him for who I know Him to be.
The beauty of either of these places? They should each drive me hard into His Word, prayer and pursuing Him!