Time and time again we face these dark nights of the soul not knowing what to do or say because it seems that God is silent or is absent. The same God who said “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6, HCSB) seems to have left the room…and you and I sit and wait for Him to come back in.
How to do this prayer practice:
1. Bring Your Struggles with the Dark Night of the Soul to God.
Oh, come on…you know exactly what I’m talking about. That lonely hour of the night of life that seems to pass about as fast as watching grass grow. You’ve been there. I’ve been there.
How well I know the dark night of the soul. The pain; the anger; the resentment; the guilt; the shame; the disgust over your sin and those who have sinned against you; the sleepless night trying to figure out how you and your family are going to make it through the next hour, let alone the next day.
The pain is insurmountable, reality seems to hammer at common sense with a relentless fury, screaming at the ceiling only gets the nosey neighbors involved, and your friends…well, your friends say “We’ll be praying for you” and vanish until they need your help.
2. Pray the Scriptures
A stroll through the local Christian book store will give you books filled with info on how to get your body and mind together for a better, healthier you…and there’s nothing wrong with that..books that will inspire you with stories of other human beings and what God has brought them through, books on prayer, books on books of the Bible and so on. I have yet to find one that directly addresses the dark night of the soul, with the exception of a book by St. John of the Cross. This book deals more in mysticism and self examination, rather than the redemption found in Jesus who will bring you and I through this dark night.
What do we pray? How do we pray in this dark night of the soul? From the man in the Bible who dared to write down his feelings in these dark nights come the words we all can recite, and call upon the Lord of Hosts. Hear the words of the Psalmist, King David, and speak them in your dark night.
“Lord, hear my voice when I call; be gracious to me and answer me.
My heart says [this] about You, “You are to seek My face.”
Lord, I will seek Your face. Do not hide Your face from me; do not turn Your servant away in anger. You have been my helper; do not leave me or abandon me, God of my salvation. Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord cares for me.
Because of my adversaries, show me Your way, Lord, and lead me on a level path.
(Psalm 27:7-11, HSCB)
More words from the experienced King:
Be gracious to me, Lord, because I am in distress; my eyes are worn out from angry sorrow-my whole being as well. Indeed, my life is consumed with grief and my years with groaning; my strength has failed because of my sinfulness, and my bones waste away. I am ridiculed by all my adversaries and even by my neighbors. I am dreaded by my acquaintances; those who see me in the street run from me.
I am forgotten: gone from memory like a dead person-like broken pottery. I have heard the gossip of many; terror is on every side. When they conspired against me, they plotted to take my life. But I trust in You, Lord; I say, “You are my God.”
The course of my life is in Your power; deliver me from the power of my enemies and from my persecutors. Show Your favor to Your servant; save me by Your faithful love.
Lord, do not let me be disgraced when I call on You. Let the wicked be disgraced; let them be silent in Sheol. Let lying lips be quieted; they speak arrogantly against the righteous with pride and contempt.
How great is Your goodness that You have stored up for those who fear You and accomplished in the sight of everyone for those who take refuge in You. You hide them in the protection of Your presence; You conceal them in a shelter from the schemes of men, from quarrelsome tongues. May the Lord be praised, for He has wonderfully shown His faithful love to me in a city under siege.” (Psalm 31:9-21, HCSB)
3. Find your place and pray for relief.
My place is to sit on the bridge of the second floor landing and pray this prayer over the entire house and my family. I wait for everyone to go to sleep and then I climb the stairs to get to what I believe is to be the center of the house. The bridge connects the two sides of the second floor and gives me a vantage point to see almost all of the rooms of the house. This is my place to sit in figurative sackcloth and ashes before the Lord. This is where I want to hear from Him and plead for my family.
This is not easy. This is not over in one night. I pray that this is for you and me a place to start. Trust me, after the first night and nothing is heard from God, giving up will more than enter your mind. Giving up will try and convince you to put the house on the market tomorrow. Running away will come along and say “Come with me”. Don’t go. Face the cross. Pray again. Grab hold of the altar of heaven and refuse to let go until you are heard.
4. Listen for words of hope and encouragement.
Maybe some of you are like me: when I am in that dark night I want to be alone. I want to sit in figurative sackcloth and ashes, and I want people to leave me alone. (Yes, I see those hands raised in agreement.) We can’t sit in sackcloth and ashes forever. We have to get back up and get back to life. One of the things that I do is to put my headphones on and get back to a sermon podcast from my list of teachers and pastors. One pastor who deals with the dark night of the soul in detail is Matt Chandler. I have found his sermons to be timely and appropriate. Please read the following excerpt from one of Matt’s sermons. I believe you will find it encouraging and necessary.
I leave you with these words based on Matthew 11:28 where Jesus says, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened.” Please read them carefully and let them sink in.
(From Matt Chandler, Senior/Teaching Pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, “Prayer – A Call to Pray Part 1 January 1, 2012)
But the invitation itself is profound, because what we do in our culture, more often than not, is go, “Look bro, you’ve got some people skills issues. Go to some sort of program, go to some sort of group, go to some sort of place and figure out how to interact on a level that’s acceptable. And then you and I are cool.” Or there’s, “You’re just a little too bitter for me. You’re always complaining, always pointing out what’s wrong and unable to rejoice in what’s right. Why don’t you go get better at that, and then we can do life.”
But that’s not what Jesus is doing here. No, it’s, “Come to Me. Are you a train wreck? Come here. Are you broken? Are you stuck in lust? Are you stuck in anger? Are you stuck fear? Get over here.”
And then there’s this great exchange occurring. “You come to Me with your weariness, you come to Me with your labor and I will give to you in turn rest. I will give to you peace. You give to Me the struggle, and I’ll give to you rest. Get in here. Come over here.”
You’ve got to hear this invitation as it relates to prayer. Because the invitation isn’t, “Start doing what’s right.” The invitation is, “Come to Me. You’re not doing what’s right.” So the solution to what ails us, what weighs heavy on us and what exhausts us is not us trying harder at overcoming those things, but it’s rather us coming to Jesus, walking with Jesus, being in a relationship with Jesus that overpowers our affection for the struggle. So I think it’s really important for you to dial in and understand that, when it comes to sin, loneliness and despair, the way we get out from under those things isn’t to work really hard to not be struggling with those things anymore. But we really need to use our energy and vitality to chase after, to know and to see Jesus as more lovely than those things. And then as Jesus becomes more lovely, these things lose their power. As Jesus becomes more spectacular, why would you choose a lesser joy over a greater joy? It becomes a delight issue.
“Come to Me,” He says. “Are you busted up? Are you broken? Get in here. Get over here.”
So if you’re here today and you’re just like, “Man, I just don’t know if church is for me, because of this, because of this, because of this. . .” Jesus is going, “Oh, you’re all jacked up? Oh it’s for you. You’re a mess and can’t figure it out? Come on in here. Give it to Me, and I’ll give you rest. Give it to Me, and I’ll give you peace. Give it to Me, and I’ll soothe your soul. Get in here.”
Article copyright David Shelton 2012. All rights reserved. Sermon Except by Matt Chandler