Tuesday, April 1, 2014

His Unmistakable Presence in the Darkness

Have you ever experienced God's unquestionable presence in the darkest moments of your life? One of my favorite contemporary Christian songs is Laura Story's "Blessings." Her words resonate deeply with me:

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are [God's] mercies in disguise

And this line is from the chorus: "What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know [God's] near?"

Her words are so relatable because we've all been there at some point in our lives: wrestling with anxious thoughts in the middle of the night...enduring pain or fear in the darkness. But it is in the midst of our solitary moments of suffering that the presence of God can become all the more real to us. 

It was during one memorable sleepless night that I went through a few years ago that I experienced God's manifest presence in such a powerful way that I will never forget it. It was in a darkened hospital ward in a foreign country where I lay alone in the small hours of the night. I had been wheeled in from an over-crowded emergency room. Unable to speak the language, I couldn't communicate with anyone and had no idea what was happening to me or the baby I was carrying. But I knew it was touch and go.

And when the nurses left, I lay there in the darkness with nothing but the noises of heavy breathing and occasional moans from the other beds. I was petrified. I remember laying there stiff as a board, not wanting to move even the slightest inch, trying to suppress my tears and my trembling. Next to me was a set of large double doors through which came a sickly fluorescent glow. I remember staring at the ceiling tiles above me, tracing around them with my eyes. I found a cross shape in lines between them and started praying. My prayers were frantic and desperate. I wasn't singing God's praises like the Apostle Paul in the prison cell. I was silently screaming to Him. I was terrified of losing the baby so far into the pregnancy there, alone, in a dark hospital ward with my husband thousands of miles away.

But it is in our loneliest, most desperate moments that God touches us with a peace that can only come from Him. As the dark hours ticked on, I lay and I prayed. And at some point, I became aware that I was actually smiling as I lay therein fact, I was beamingand I realized that I had been doing so for quite some time. The tears were gone and the fear had slipped away without me noticing it. I didn't know what was going to happen to me or the baby, but I had the strongest, most comforting sense that someone was sitting next to me in the empty chair at my side. And I literally felt submerged in the presence of God...His lightness had chased away the darkness. The peace and strength I felt did not come from anything I had done myself; I hadn't been meditating, doing breathing exercises, or chanting. I had been panicking. The peace was all from Him. Somehow, He had turned my cries of anguish into prayers of praise, calming my soul with His unmistakable presence. 

It is in the midst of emotional turmoil and overwhelming fear that we can truly experience the peace that passes understanding, for such peace makes no logical sense and transcends our circumstances. It interrupts our frenzied thoughts. In our moments of weakness and desperation, God's strength can be powerfully realized. These experiences show us that we can truly do all things through Him who strengthens us (Phil 4:12-14). These experiences humble us.

The Apostle Paul was no stranger to suffering and desperate situations. He was imprisoned, persecuted, castigated and abandoned by fellow believers, temporarily blinded, and he suffered an ongoing affliction (some commentators have speculated that it was an eye condition resulting from his former blindness). He described his affliction as a "thorn in the flesh," which was given to him to keep him from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations he had received from God. Paul had pleaded with the Lord to take away the affliction, but God said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul resolved then, for the sake of Christ, to be "content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities." (2 Cor 12:7-10).

In life, we may well face a tragedy or time of suffering that we can't handle. This is often misunderstood; have you ever heard people say that God will never allow our circumstances to be more than we can handle? It's a misinterpretation of 1 Corinthians 10:13, which states that God "will not let you be tempted beyond your ability." But it's important to note that the verse explicitly refers to temptations, not to trials. Sometimes, God allows us to suffer beyond what we can bear because it is when we can't cope on our own that we're reminded of our dependence on Him. When we turn to Him, He equips us to endure trials in His strength. 

Scripture tells us that the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, just as He rescued Lot from Sodom (2 Pet 2:7-9). We should certainly pray for deliverance from our trials. But if the answer is "no" or "not yet," we need trust God all the same, knowing that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28) and His ways are higher than our ways (Isa 55:8).

Paul encourages us not to despair even when we face terrible, perplexing times of suffering, "for this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison." (1 Cor 4:17). The trials of this life remind us that this world is not our home. We are encouraged, therefore, even to rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope (Rom 5:3-5).  And our trials point us to Christ as the source of our hope. We are encouraged to look forward to the day when the Lord "will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:4).

And for now, while we wait on Him, we can rest in the knowledge that God always listens to, and answers, our prayers. He hears our cries. His loving presence is always there. He hems us in behind and before and every day ordained for us was written in His book before it comes to be (Psa 139). We can be strong and courageous, and not live in fear, because the Lord our God is with us wherever we go (Jos 1:9). As we seek our refuge in Him, He will uphold us with His righteous right hand. And we have assurance that our loving God is way bigger than any problem we will ever have to face. 

1 comment:

Glennardo said...

This is a quote from Julian of Norwich (b. 1342?) as translated by Elizabeth Spearing: "I saw that for us he (our Lord) is everything that is good and comforting and helpful. He is our clothing, wrapping and enveloping us for love, embracing and guiding us in all things, hanging about us in tender love, so that he can never leave."