To all my believing brothers and sisters in Christ.
Sometimes a believer has to go through a spiritual wilderness, which may or may not include a ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, as described by St. John of the Cross. In those times, God feels distant, Church feels irrelevant and you wonder what your faith was all about in the first place.
Well-meaning people suggest that you ‘go back to God’, repent, change your way of thinking, whatever. But what I would say, having been through fifteen years of this Wilderness experience, is that what they don’t understand is that actually God has His hand on you all along. There is no need to feel guilty, no need to feel lost, no need to feel ‘wrong’. God is using the time to sort out your feelings, your theology, your priorities, your ideas, your preconceptions and your motives.
For you, it may last fifteen years, or it may last fifteen days. It doesn’t always feel good over that time. The thing is that God still has His hand on you and is using that time to mould you into the person He wants you to be. In some ways He has His hand on you more than ever, if that’s possible.
Don’t be distressed that He takes you out of your familiar surroundings, such as a Church, a city or a relationship. Sometimes He has to take us out of the familiar surroundings so that we re-evaluate without distraction or preconception. Be encouraged; the next stage of your development as a believer is happening. You will emerge, sooner or later, but all in His time, into a new era of blessedness because of what seems like a real ordeal at the time. But never, ever forget that He has hold of your hand, even if you don’t feel it, and He will never let go of you no matter how it feels at the time.
For those believers who have experienced this, you may well notice others going through a similar process, and indeed it is a process, and recognise the signs.
If you have not been through this process, let me tell you that it will look from the outside as if your brother (and here I include sisters, but let’s keep it simple) has lost interest in the ‘things of God’; perhaps he comes up with some radical ideas about God and how He relates to others and himself. He may well especially have ideas that go against the orthodoxy of his previous belief structure. Maybe his behaviour will not reflect accurately what you believe should be ‘acceptable’ Christian behaviour. This is part of the process. It is those very preconceptions of belief and behaviour that are being challenged and changed, usually by sovereign Divine interventions, in apparent defiance of his previously professed faith – or perhaps he does not profess faith, so profound are the changes in action in the believer.
Should we be surprised? For a believer who has never undergone this process, then yes; they may well be surprised. How can a ‘supposed’ Christian profess to believe in these things; how can he behave in these ways?
But for those who understand, instead of passing judgement on the believer, they continue to believe in him. Believe in him as a person, believe in him as a brother and believe in him as a precious Child of God. For as in Romans 14:4, ‘Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?’. Judge him if you will, but do not expect that judgement to have any visible effect. Because, by the time the believer has come out of the other side of the process, the judgement of others will not matter nearly as much. For him, the second half of Romans 14:4 will have new meaning: “To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
Remember that the believer is undergoing a deep transformational process. What comes out of the other side may well have a passing resemblance to the person the believer was before, at least in a spiritual sense, but remember that this is God who is doing the transforming. We believe that the Spirit is transforming every believer, daily, to conform to the likeness of Christ. So why, then, are we surprised when that transformation occurs, and why are we surprised at its results? Transformation means by its very nature that changes will occur. That’s what transformation means. So in that sense, no, we should not be surprised that the believer comes out a different person from what he was at the start.
And the amazing thing is that God is far more real to that believer after the process than He was before. God has not changed; His ways have not, but the believer has changed; how can things ever be the same again?
And as for missing out on what God has been doing for all that time, don’t worry. God is still the same as He was before. He still does things in surprising, novel and delightful ways. It is amazing how quickly the believer comes back up to speed and hits the ground running. Things are kind-of as they were before, but now the believer has a new perspective. Wow, this is pretty deep stuff, but it’s real.
So, don’t despair if you, or someone you love, is undergoing something like this. It’s not backsliding, falling away, or becoming apostate. When you first believed, did you not trust God with the whole of the rest of your life? Do you really think that He’s going to reject you because all of a sudden you no longer believe exactly what you’ve been told to believe by men? Do you really think that your salvation rests on such a shaky foundation as the weakness and failings of human flesh? By no means can it ever rest on that, otherwise Jesus would not have had to die for us. No, this is transformation, and it’s exactly how God has planned it to happen for that person.
Finally, I want to thank those people who have believed in me during my time in the wilderness, who have never stopped believing in me and loving me. Thank you all!
Edit: I have written more on this subject; you may find the article enlightening. Click here to go to the article.