by Neal Windham, Spiritual Formation Pastor
Note: In keeping with the father-to-son flow of the Book of Proverbs, the devotions this week come from Musings of a Prodigal Father, which I wrote for my son Luke upon graduation from high school in the late 90s.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” - Proverbs 3:5-6
Nothing crowds doubt out of the mind like a steady diet of God, Luke, and you can only get this through disciplined attention to eternal things. I’m not saying that the devotional life is a cure-all for moments of doubt or deep despair. What I am saying is that without a steady diet of God, doubt will most certainly worm its way into your thinking at some point. In reality, it might anyway. Best to be ready!
But what if in the course of prayer and Bible reading you hit a dry place? What if God doesn’t seem to be there, even though it is his Word you are reading? Hear me well when I say this: the great men and women and faith have all had dry spells. John of the Cross, in particular, is well known for his understanding of the so-called “dark night of the soul,” that place where it seems, sometimes for a long time, that we can go no further spiritually, that we have come to the end of the road. His counsel is to remain steady in prayer and Scripture, and so is mine.
There have been times, for example, when you have run dry practicing the trumpet. Long periods of inattention, little practice, no desire to practice – is there a “dark night” for the trumpeter? But that has never lessened the fact that to remain a solid performer you must stay with the sometimes arid desert of practice. And it is precisely in these dark times that you are likely to leap some hurdle - a mental block or a physical change, say, how you position your lips in the mouthpiece - that you could never get past before. That is precisely John’s point. When you do go through (not around or beside, but through) the dark night, you come out a much fitter Christian, more deeply devoted, set on purpose, able to instruct others.
My counsel is simple. Keep to the Word, to the assembly of the faithful on Sundays, to prayer, to devotion, to fasts if necessary. Always and ever, it is your duty, and God will honor it. History bears this out a thousand times over. These practices are key means whereby we receive God’s grace into our lives, crowding doubt out of the way.
Lord, you have searched me and know me. There’s no holding anything back from you. You know when I arise in the mornings hungry for you and when I hit the day grumbling or complacent. Thank you for being so patient with my inconsistent ways, but please, I beg you, keep stirring things up in my soul, Spirit. I want to look and live like Jesus, in whose name I offer this little prayer. Amen.