"Remember how they nailed Jesus to a cross. Remember the darkness, the hiding of the Father's face. This was the path Jesus took to immortal triumph. As He is, so are we in this world!"
I am convinced that in New Testament Christianity the object of the Holy Spirit is twofold. First, He wants to convince Christians that it is actually possible for us to know the beauty and perfection of Jesus Christ in our daily lives. Second, it is His desire to lead us forward into victory and blessing even as Joshua once led Israel into the promised land.
The first is not too difficult. Most Christians will honestly confess that there are still spiritual frontiers before them which they have not been willing to explore. There is still ground - to be taken if our object is to know Christ, to win Christ, to know the power of His resurrection, to be conformed to His death. If our object is to experience within our beings all of those things that we have in Christ judicially, we must come to the place of counting all things loss for the excellency of this knowledge.
We know our lack, but we are very slow in allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us into deeper Christian life and experience, that place where the intent of our heart is so cleansed that we may perfectly love God and worthily praise Him. In spite of our hesitation and delay and holding back God does not give up, because the Holy Spirit is faithful and kind and patient and ever seeks to lead us forward into the life of the special kind of Christian.
I well remember the caution of one of the old saints I have read who pointed out that "a persuaded mind and even a well?intentioned heart may be far from exact and faithful practice" and "nothing has been more common than to meet souls who are perfect and saintly in speculation."
Jesus did not say, "You will be my disciples by speculation." He did say that by your fruit and by your behavior you will be known. This is one rule that is never deceiving and it is by this that we should judge ourselves.
God will sift out those who only speculate about the claims of Christ and He will lead forward those who by His grace see Him in His beauty and seek Him in His love.
Illustration of Gideon
The story of Gideon is an illustration of how God seeks His qualities within us and is not concerned with us just as numbers or statistics. Gideon was about to face the enemy and he had an army of 32,000 soldiers. But the Lord said to Gideon, "You have too many - let all who are afraid go back ' " So Gideon gave the word to the troops, and 22,000. Of those men turned back. Then the Lord said to Gideon again, "There are still too many. I can see those among you who are not prepared for what we are going to do. You will never be able to make Israelite soldiers of them.'
I presume that there are few preachers among us on the top side of this terrestrial ball who would have turned down those 22,000, but God was putting the emphasis on quality, on those who would cooperate in the performance of the will of God.
Then Gideon took the 10,000 men to the river and tested them as God had directed and when this sifting was all done, Gideon had an army of 300 men. God seeks out those who are willing that their lives should be fashioned according to His own grace and love. He sifts out those who cannot see God's purpose and design for our blessing.
Some of you know something of that which has been called "the dark night of the soul." Some of you have spiritual desire and deep longing for victory but it seems to you that your efforts to go on with God have only brought you more bumps and more testings and more discouragement. You are tempted to ask, "How long can this go on?"
Let me remind you of the journey of Jesus Christ to immortal triumph. Remember the garden where He sweat blood. Remember Pilate's hall where they put on Him the purple robe and smote Him. Remember His experience with His closest disciples as they all forsook Him and fled. Remember the journey up the hill to Calvary. Remember how they nailed Him to a cross, those six awful hours, the hiding of the Father's face. Remember the darkness and remember the surrender of His spirit in death. This was the path that Jesus took to immortal triumph and everlasting glory, and as He is, so are we in this world!
Few enter into the light
Yes, there is a dark night of the soul. There are few Christians willing to go into this dark night and that is why there are so few who enter into the fight. It is impossible for them ever to know the morning because they w ill not endure the night.
In The Cloud of Unknowing we have been told: "This work asketh no long time before it be truly done, as some men think, for it is the shortest work of all that men may imagine. It is neither longer nor shorter, but even according to the stirring that is within thee, even thy will."
The stirring within us often is not enough. There are too many other factors- there is not yet a vacuum within, a prepared place into which the Holy Spirit may come and be at home.
I think the more we learn of God and His ways and of man and his nature we are bound to reach the conclusion that we are all just about as holy as we want to be. We are all just about as full of the Spirit as we want to be. Thus when we tell ourselves that we want to be more holy but we are really as holy as we care to be, it is small wonder that the dark night of the soul takes so long!
The reason why many are still troubled, still seeking, still making, little forward progress is because they have not yet come to the end of themselves. We are still giving some of the orders, and we are still interfering with God's working within us.
We struggle to keep up a good front, forgetting that God says the most important thing is for us to be humble and meek as Christ gave us example. It seems that Christians are obsessed with keeping up that good front. We say we want to go to heaven when we die to see old Jordan roll, but we spend most of our time and energy down here just putting on that good front. It seems that many of us say to God, as did King Saul the apostate before us, "Oh God, honor me now before these people!"
Hiding our inner state
We also are guilty of hiding our inner state. The Bible plainly tells us to expose our inner state to God, but we would rather cover it up. God cannot change it if we cover it and hide it.
We disguise the poverty of our spirit. If we should suddenly be revealed to those around us on the outside as Almighty God sees us within our souls, we would become the most embarrassed people in the world. If that should happen, we would be revealed as people barely able to stand, people in rags, some too dirty to be decent, some with great open sores. Some would be revealed in such condition that they would be turned out of Skid Row. Do we think that we are actually keeping our spiritual poverty a secret, that God doesn't know us better than we know ourselves? But we will not tell Him, and we disguise our poverty of spirit and hide our inward state in order to preserve our reputation.
We also want to keep some authority for ourselves. We cannot agree that the last, the final key to our lives should be turned over to Jesus Christ. Brethren, we want to have dual controls-let the Lord run it but keep a hand on the controls just in case the Lord should fail!
We are willing to join heartily in singing, "To God Be the Glory," but we are strangely ingenius in figuring out ways and means by which we keep some of the glory for ourselves. In this matter of perpetually seeking our own interests, we can only say that people who want to live for God often arrange to do very subtly what the worldly souls do crudely and openly.
A man who doesn't have enough imagination to invent anything will still figure out a way of seeking his own interests, and the amazing thing is that he will do it with the help of some pretext which will serve as a screen to keep him from seeing the ugliness of his own behavior.
Yes, we have it among professing Christians this strange ingenuity to seek our own interest under the guise of seeking the interests of God. I am not afraid to say what I fear-that there are thousands of people who are using the deeper life and Bible prophecy, foreign missions and physical healing for no other purpose than to promote their own private interests secretly. They continue to let their apparent interest in these things to serve as a screen so that they don't have to take a look at how ugly they are on the inside.
So we talk a lot about the deeper life and spiritual victory and becoming dead to ourselves-but we stay very busy rescuing ourselves from the cross. That part of ourselves that we rescue from the cross may be a very little part of us, but it is likely to be the seat of our spiritual troubles and our defeats.
No one wants to die on a cross - until he comes to the place where he is desperate for the highest will of God in serving Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul said, "I want to die on that cross and I want to know what it is to die there, because if I die with Him I will also know Him in a better resurrection.' Paul was not just saying "He will raise me from the dead"- for everyone will be raised from the dead. He said, "I want a superior resurrection, a resurrection like Christ's." Paul was willing to be crucified with Christ, but in our day we want to die a piece at a time, so we can rescue little parts of ourselves from the cross.
There are men and women who beg and plead for God to fill them with Himself for they know it would be for their good, but then they stubbornly resist like our own spoiled children when they are not well and they want us to help them.
You try to take the child's temperature or give him medicine or call for a doctor and he will resist and howl and bawl. In the next breath he will beg for help, "Mama, I'm sick!" But he won't take a thing, he won't let you help. He is stubborn and spoiled.
Let God have His way
People will pray and ask God to be filled - but all the while there is that strange ingenuity, that contradiction within which prevents our wills from stirring to the point of letting God have His way.
It is for this reason that I do not like to ask congregations to sing one of the old songs, "Fill Me Now." I think it is one of the most hopeless songs ever written-gloomy and hopeless, I have yet to find anyone who was ever filled while singing "Fill me now, fill me now, fill me now." It just doesn't work that way- for if you are resisting God, you can sing all four verses and repeat the last one in a mournful melody but God will still have to wait for your decision on that part of yourself that you are saving from the cross.
Those who live in this state of perpetual contradiction cannot be happy Christians. A man who is a ways on the cross, just piece after piece, cannot be happy in that process. But when that man takes his place on the cross with Jesus Christ once and for all, and commends his spirit to God, lets go of everything and ceases to defend himself ?sure, he has died, but there is a resurrection that follows!
If we are willing to go this route of victory with Jesus Christ, we cannot continue to be mediocre Christians, stopped halfway to the peak. Until we give up our own interests, there will never be enough stirring within our beings to find His highest will.
Why, then, does it take so long? Whose fault is it that we do not have the intents of our heart so cleansed that we may perpetually love Him and worthily serve Him, and that we may be filled with His Spirit and walk in victory?
I hope I have made it plain that it is our fault and not God's! "This work asketh no long time before it be truly done, as some men think, for it is the shortest work of all that men may imagine, according to the stirring that is within thee, even thy will.' If you are one of the fellows who is convinced it has to take a long time, you are wrong. It may be one of the quickest, shortest works that a man may know?just as short or as long as your own will decrees.
Many of us are hanging on to something, something that we hold dear to ourselves, something that comes between us and the Lord.
Some of you as young people may have a tiny baby that has now become your dearest treasure on earth. Perhaps you have heard the still small voice of the Lord saying, 'Will you commit that tiny life back to me? Will you take your own hands from the direction of that life and put that direction over into the hands of the Holy Spirit?"
God deals with us all about His highest will for ourselves and for our children. Years ago when our two oldest boys were small I was away from home on a preaching mission. God dealt with me plainly about my possessiveness of the treasure which I had in those two sons. God spoke to me and asked me if I would give them up to Him, and I thought He meant that He wanted them to die. I was prostrate on the floor beside my bed and kicked my toes on the carpet and cried out to God - and I finally gave those two boys back to God. I have been able to see since then in raising those boys and the rest of the children that God doesn't ask for our children for Himself - He just wants to bring us out into a place of surrender so that our children and our earthly possessions do not possess our wills to the point of worship. God puts us though these times because there ought not to be anything in our earthly lives that we would knowingly hold back from God.
I confess that I went through this matter of dying after each child that God gave us. When our little girl came to us, we dedicated her to the Lord in a morning service, but that was nothing. My own personal dedication of that child was a prolonged, terrible, sweaty thing. I finally said to God, 'Yes, Lord, you can have her." I knew that God wasn't going to let her die, for I had learned that lesson years before with her two older brothers.
But the thing was this - I didn't know what He wanted, and it was a struggle to give up, to yield. , Later, in giving a testimony in our church, I said, 'The dearest thing we have in the world is our little girl, but God knows that He can have her whenever He wants her."
After the service someone came and said, "Mr. Tozer, aren't you afraid to talk like that about your little girl?
"Afraid?" I said, "Why, I have put her in the hands of perfect love and love cannot wound anyone and love cannot hurt anyone. I am perfectly content that she is shielded in the life of Jesus Christ, His name being love and His hands being strong and His face shining like the beauty of the sun and His heart being the tender heart of God in compassion and lovingkindness.'
We who are Christians go through these times of testing and proving as our Lord seeks to deal with us about our treasures possessing us on this earth. With some it may be the commitment of a favorite boyfriend or girlfriend to God for His highest will. Some people have put life's highest value upon their job and their security in this life. With some it may be a secret ambition, and it is driving a wedge between you and the Lord. Others may be possessed by the amount of your nice little nest egg lying there in the bank, and you just cannot bring yourself to quit calling it yours. You just cannot let go and that is in spite of the fact that you know you can perfectly trust the Lord and the leading of His Spirit.
Do you remember a rather comic character by the name of Sancho Panza in that well-known book, Don Quixote? There is an incident in the book in which Senor Panza clung to a window sill all night, afraid that if he let go he would plunge and die on the ground below. But when the morning light came, red-faced. and near exhaustion, he found that his feet were only two inches above the grass. Fear kept him from letting go, but he could have been safe on the ground throughout the long night.
I use that illustration to remind us that there are many professing Christians whose knuckles are white from blindly hanging on to their own window sill. The Lord has been saying, "Look on me and let go!" But they have refused.
Paul said we should be "straining toward what is ahead" (Philippians 3:13b)-but many are afraid. Happy are the men and women who have given God His way?they "press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (v 14).
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