We all struggle in like manner as Christian women. As for me, I have just come from a very long trek in the desert - a spiritual desert that often had me wondering if I was even God's child. It felt like the "valley of the shadow of death".
We have all had these kinds of wrestlings, I know. That is why I am going to be completely transparent in this post...for the encouragement of those who are currently in the desert for a time of testing. This is not unusual. What we must remember is that it is God's Spirit who leads us into the wilderness and and it is He who will bring us out. Even Jesus underwent a season of testing, being led by the Spirit into the wilderness for this very purpose (Matthew 4:1-11).
For sometime now I have felt so defeated in my walk with the Lord. I think the bottom line is that I had lost my First Love for the Lord Jesus. Consider what Revelation 2:2-6 says, "I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent."
Freedom to be Honest
The women's study I chose for this year was Seeking Him - Experiencing the Joy of Personal Revival by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. God put it in my hand as a tool for my own restoration. From the start, I told the women in the study that I was the one in need of that work. I finally had the freedom to be honest with them and with God and no longer felt like a phony.
But still, like I mentioned, the joy just wasn't there. The only reason I opened God's word was either out of guilt or to study for teaching. If I did actually crack open God's word in between the women's Bible studies, I felt so empty after reading, like God was just not in it. I simply had no desire to read, though I really wanted that desire. How I longed to regain the joy of His salvation, which was King David's desire also, and to sit again at Jesus' feet, like Mary of Bethany. "Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit." (Psalm 51:12) was my constant prayer.
Things Got Worse - Distractions, Cynicism, and Hidden Sins
For years past, I had tasted of the goodness and tenderness of the Lord on a daily basis - so connected to Him for so long. I thought that nothing would ever change that. I so wanted that back. But then the Lord impressed upon me that I should not want to go back, I should want a walk with Him that was even better than the majority of years I had been so close to Him. This is what I kept asking Him for, but things didn't get better. They got worse.
At one point I remembered that we had John Piper's book When I Don't Desire God. I thought about reading it but couldn't work up the desire. Sounds funny, but there I was caught in that spiritual-oxymoron. I wanted God, but I didn't. It made me frustrated and angry that He would not disclose Himself to me.
As this all progressed I began to discover many "good distractions". Blogging, digital photography and scrapbooking were some, etc. I actually preferred the distractions. I knew this was nothing short of idolatry, but I could not seem to escape.
An ugly cynicism kept rearing its head as well as other sinful attitudes. I continued to confess these known sins, but I knew there must be hidden sins that I was unaware of. I began to plead with God that He would expose those to me. One hidden sin He had revealed - a distrustful attitude toward a spiritual leader - but that had been several years back and I had repented and dealt with it. I knew that there must be more because God only disciplines for good reason. He does not enjoy my sorrow in the midst of it, but He knows it will result in righteousness and peace for me.
During the horrific recovery from my knee surgery, I knew exactly what God was doing, though I was still in the dark about those sins that I was unaware of. I would weep, knowing that the pain was given to drive me to Him and it did.
Layers Peeled Away
But it wasn't until my mom died suddenly in November, after the infection and pain were relieved in my knee, that the Lord really began to show me more hidden sins. As each was revealed and I repented I would wonder if this was the restoration I had been waiting and yearning for. There was immediate joy, but it would fade within days and I was right back where I began, or so it seemed. (Just so you know, there were three things that the Lord showed me that I had not seen at all before - attitudes that I had held onto that did not glorify Him. Of course wrong attitudes also manifest outwardly. But I was not out in the world living in gross sin, so to speak, though my sin was gross to God and also to me once He had uncovered it for me.)
I knew God was peeling away the dead outer layers of sin - like I peel an onion to make it ready to use. But nevertheless, I was felt so defeated. I told God that I simply could not be holy as He commanded and asked Him why He expected it of me. "I have no desire to read Your word, so how can I live as I ought without that joyful input that I need? Lord, I am starving spiritually and You are not reviving me. How long, O Lord, how long will you wait?"
And then the Lord reminded me to be confident that "He who began a good work in you, will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6). So I placed my trust in Him, "Lord, my confidence is in You. I trust you to sanctify me and conform me to Your Son. You will give me back the desire for Your word; You will restore me; You will revive my joy in You; You will rekindle my First Love." I reminded myself of that truth (Philippians 4:8) every time my heart began to sink back in to despair. Just resting in Him this way brought such peace to my soul.
On this past January 31st the Lord did restore me. I knew immediately that the struggle was over. What had been so difficult for me (no, it was impossible), God did in an instant. It started early that morning, just before a morning shower, when He, through an email from a dear sister, brought to my attention part of Joshua 24:15, "...choose for yourself today whom you will serve..."
As I showered, I contemplated the verse, but not as it applied to me, rather as I thought it applied to someone else who, in my wise opinion, needed to take a stand on something. So as I was praying that verse for that other person, the Lord abruptly interrupted me and impressed upon me my need for the application of Joshua 24:15. He spoke to me, "Be still, daughter. Don't you realize that it is you who needs to decide today, this very day and each day beyond today, who you will serve? Will you choose to serve Me or yourself?"
Green Pastures and Quiet Waters
WOW!!! What a cleansing shower that was. I hadn't been that clean in a while and that was even before I started to lather up.
What a simple yet powerful word "choose" is. So I asked the Lord to put that one little word on my heart and in my mind every morning when I woke. And He has. He made it so simple. Now every morning I make my choice, the only sane choice. Like Joshua said, "...as for me...I will serve the Lord."
This has been so refreshing, so motivating, so restorative. I am once again absolutely delighting in the Lord and in His precious word. I am again sitting at my Savior's feet and hearing Him speak to me through His word. He has restored my joy in Him. He has given me back my First Love. He, as my Shepherd, has has led me to green pastures and quiet waters for a repast that is plentiful and rich. It is even better than before for one of the hidden sins God revealed had long been gripping me, even when I had walked so closely with Him, before He led me into the desert. Now nothing seems impossible.
My Encouragement to You
Please do not give up if you are living in the desert of joylessness. Here are some practical ways you can begin to be guided through that valley of the shadow of death and into God's green pastures:
1. Keep asking God to restore you.
2. There may be sin that you are unaware of. Ask Him as David did, "See if there is any wicked way in me and lead in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:24). Be honest with God when He reveals those things and repent. Be prepared to let Him reveal more also. Also, ask Him to grant you repentance. (Romans 2:4; 2 Timothy 2:25)
3. Stay in ministry for it is often through ministry that you will be restored. God did it that way for me. Ministry forced me to remain connected to the body of Christ, kept me going back to the word and ultimately drove me to be honest with the women I taught, with God and with myself.
4. Be confident that the Lord works to restore His precious child through discipline. Do not fight against it. Give yourself to it. (Hebrews 12:5-6, 11)
5. Finally, place your trust in the Lord and in His faithfulness to restore you. You cannot do it, but He is more than able. "He restores my soul." (Psalm 23:3).
God not only restored me but also gave me a sonnet (it can be sung to the tune of Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing) about His work of restoration:
Lord, Restore Me
How I’ve wandered, Lord restore me,To the One who loves my soul.How I long again to praise Thee;Come, O Savior, make me whole.(Chorus 1)
Chorus 1:Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.
Prone to leave the God I love.Here’s my heart, oh take and heal it.Glorify Your name above.
Long it’s been since joy departed;Far too long I’ve gone astray.Lord, revive my love whole-hearted.Do this work in me today.(Repeat Chorus 1)
Make me holy, help me seek Thee.Lord, in You I put my trust.I am weak, O God, renew me;You are able, I am dust.(Chorus 2)
Chorus 2:Please forgive and, Lord, restore meTo my first and only Love.Give me passion to adore Thee;Ardor for Thy courts above.
Lord, each day I’ll choose to serve Thee.You are worthy of my life.By Your grace You have restored me;And my joy, You have revived.(Chorus 3)
Chorus 3:Grace to love you, yes! I feel it.Grace to cleave unto my Lord.Here’s my heart, oh take and keep it,Keep it now and evermore.
Copyright 2010 Sharon Kaufman(Words in bold italics from original hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, by Robert Robinson)