We Encounter God in the Dark
- Mary Southerland Journey Ministry, Inc
- 2021 10 Sep
The woman's email was terrifying. I tried to put myself in her circumstance, but I couldn't. It was too painful.
"I was raped at knifepoint while my two daughters were held prisoner in their bedroom. My husband was out of town, and I had never felt more alone in my life. Yet, I had always believed that if I cried out to God in times of trouble, he really would deliver me. For two solid hours, I did cry out. But God did not come. I kept pleading with him, 'God, where are you? Why are you not answering my desperate cries for help? I don't understand!'"
Have you ever felt that way? You know what it is like to pray and wonder why God doesn't seem to hear you. It's as if your prayers ricochet off the ceiling. Maybe you have lost someone you love – a parent, a husband, or a child. The phone rang. It was your doctor with a diagnosis of cancer. Your boss called you into his office and fired you. Now a financial catastrophe is just around the corner. I don't know what you are facing or have faced, but I am sure you have experienced trouble, trials, and pain. They are all part of life.
Honestly, my heart has cried out, "Lord, I just don't get it! I don't understand. Where are you, and why are you letting this happen?" There have been times I have crawled out on a limb of faith only to have that limb break, plunging me into a sea of doubts and questions. I have a prayer team of about twenty women who pray for me, my family, and my ministry. I'm not sure I would get out of bed if I didn't know those women were praying for me. My life is an adventure. I compare each day to a series of helicopters landing. Our son and daughter-in-law and their four children lived with us for 18 months when they moved to Kansas City. After living with us for about a month, our daughter-in-law Jodi asked, "Is it always like this?" I laughed and said, "Jodi, I should have warned you before you married our son that if your last name is Southerland, there seems to be a bullseye on your back."
I can't tell you how many times I have asked, "Seriously, Lord? Why this? Why me! Why now? Where in the world are you, and what are you doing? This makes no sense!" I was sexually molested as a child. Clinical depression is a daily battle. Dan and I went through two years of infertility testing only to discover we could not have biological children. My husband has had 51 cardioversions, two ablations, and one convergence procedure on his heart. I have Scoliosis, degenerative disc disease, arthritis, and stenosis in my back.
There's more - so much more. For example, my husband recently had a sinus infection. When the doctor gave him an antibiotic, he warned, "About 1 in 600 people have the strangest side effect with this medication. It inflames the Achilles heel to the point that the tendon can rupture. So, if your ankles get sore, stop the medicine and call me." I whispered to the nurse, "Just go ahead and make that note on Dan's chart. He will have that side effect." She gave me the strangest look. Dan's ankles were sore five days later, so he stopped the medication, and I called the nurse. When I told her that Dan's ankles were so sore that he could barely walk, there was a silence before she said, "You are kidding me!" Nope! Sure wasn't. So, a new medication was ordered, and a note was made on Dan's chart.
When tough times come, my first response is usually to run to Jesus for help. But if I am honest, I want that help to look a certain way. You see, I don't like pain and try to avoid it every chance I get. So, God must have a miraculous solution to my problem, or maybe he has created a nearby exit that will allow me to escape the darkness altogether. After all, I am a faithful follower of Christ seeking God and his plan for my life. Right?
I am often slow when it comes to accepting Spiritual truth. However, I have finally figured out that God has a different plan in mind. Sometimes that plan looks like I thought it would, but other times it is unrecognizable to me. That's when the questions start flying. God, you want me to do what? How exactly am I supposed to do that? I am unqualified. Just keeping it real.
Every time I am engulfed with doubt and consumed with pain of some kind, God takes my "real" self to Isaiah 45:3 and asks me to live in those words for a while. And they shed an entirely different light on my circumstances – no matter what they are.
Isaiah 45:3 (NLT) And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness—secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.
My God has changed my life and ministry through the words: treasures hidden in the darkness – secret riches. God has gone before you. He has already been where he is asking you to go. Jesus is in every tomorrow.
Do. Not. Miss. These. Truths.
In every storm, God has hidden a treasure. Like the disciples, you may find yourself in a rocking boat in the middle of a stormy sea, wondering how long you have before your boat capsizes or is slammed against the rocks. Either way, you are in big trouble unless Jesus does something. And he does. He walks on water to his disciples, climbs into the boat, and immediately calms the storm to a whisper, just like that.
In every trial, God has stored secret riches. Those hidden riches are truths yet to be learned, which will redefine us and create a new foundation on which we can stand without fear or doubt. A solid basis to building a new life. We need to understand and be willing to accept the fact that in God's kingdom, some things cannot be learned in the light, and some treasures are meant to be learned in the darkness.
I love the powerful story of the famous lace shops of Belgium. These shops produce the best quality and most intricate designs of lace. I discovered one of the reasons for their success. Certain rooms are set aside for spinning the highest quality of lace. Each room is uniquely designed. It is entirely dark except for one tiny window. The light shines through these windows onto the pattern of lace below. One spinner works in the darkness, sitting where the thin stream of light falls on the thread. Now think about it. The spinner sits in the dark to create the most beautiful lace while only his work is in the light.
We really can choose a new perspective for times of trouble. We can choose now – before that trouble hits – to find something good that comes from every trial and storm. God delights in taking every broken piece of our lives and creating something beautiful.
Bible students were asked to read the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy. When they came to Deuteronomy 6:6, one young man had a question. "Why does it say that God's promises are upon our heart instead of in our heart?" The wise teacher responded, "It is not within man's power to put God's truth in the heart. The truths must be placed on the surface of the heart so that when the heartbreaks, the seeds fall in, take root and grow."
We must remember who God is.
2 Corinthians 1:3 "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort."
We serve a big God, but he is still concerned about every tiny detail of our lives. If it is important to us, it is important to Him.
Psalms 28:7 "The LORD is my strength, my shield from every danger. I trust in him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy."
When we fully trust God, our hearts will be filled with joy. Joy chooses to believe that God is in control no matter what our circumstances may be, while happiness depends entirely on our circumstances. When we believe he is in control, we will praise him.
It is interesting that Paul writes 2 Corinthians after being jailed and beaten because of his faith in Jesus Christ. He wrote this letter to the church at Corinth to answer claims about his motives, lack of commitment, and even his love for Jesus. Unbelievable! Paul probably experienced more dark times than all of us put together. Yet, he begins this book with praise. What a solid statement for us. We should approach every trial with praise. Paul couldn't rejoice about his circumstances, but he could rejoice in the Lord of his circumstances because Paul understood who God is. Paul knew that genuine praise changes things. He learned that we were created to praise God. It is part of our DNA.
Psalm 148:5(NLT) "Let every created thing give praise to the Lord."
This verse does not say that we have to feel like praising God. Instead, the psalmist says that we are to give him praise which indicates a choice. Praise comes from a Latin word that means "worth or value." So, to praise God means choosing to celebrate the worth, the value, and the presence of God. Jesus didn't come to eliminate the dark times or to explain suffering. If we had an explanation for every dark moment of pain, we would not need faith. Instead, Jesus came to fill darkness and despair with his presence, transforming what is broken into something beautiful.
Praise is not a feeling or emotion. Our emotions are fickle and change with the wind. Praise is a deliberate choice of our will to make our attitude, mind, heart, and perspective line up to praise God. Praise has an element of acceptance in it. Giving God praise demonstrates our choice to accept a situation without insisting that he change it for our comfort.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV) "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
Praising God and trusting God are the opposite sides of the same coin. Genuine praise chooses to trust God with the results. Even though our trial may not change, we will certainly change because of the trial when we remember who God is and give him praise.
Remember the woman I told you about at the beginning of this article? I was shocked to hear from her several years later. She told me that she had been so angry with God that she could not read the Bible or go to church. She was broken. "But God." Two of the most significant words ever spoken slowly began to heal and restore her and her whole family. She said she finally got to the place where she could see how God used that horrendous experience to make her stronger and her relationship with Him more powerful than it had ever been before. Wow! Just wow!
No matter what storm or trial you face today, stop what you are doing and take a deep breath. Reject the lies Satan is whispering in your ear. Close your eyes for just a moment and whisper his name – Jesus – and he is there.
Photo credit: © Getty Images/kieferpix
Mary Southerland is also the Co-founder of Girlfriends in God, a conference and devotion ministry for women. Mary’s books include, Hope in the Midst of Depression, Sandpaper People, Escaping the Stress Trap, Experiencing God’s Power in Your Ministry, Fit for Life, and 10-Day Trust Adventure, You Make Me So Angry, How to Study the Bible, Fit for Life, Joy for the Journey, and Life Is So Daily. Mary relishes her ministry as a wife, a mother to their two children, Jered and Danna, and Mimi to her six grandchildren – Jaydan, Lelia, Justus, Hudson, Mo, and Nori.