Have you said this or prayed these words? “How can I get through this? I am in crisis, I don’t know what to do. I have lost hope. I have lost faith.”
My time in Russia has been a time of great faith building and a time of great faith testing. I have been in a crisis of faith on a number of occasions and each time the Lord shows a way through it. I bless the Lord for this knowledge and want to share some with you because there are many of you who are in a crisis, coming out of a crisis or ready to go into a crisis and have no idea what to do. I have cried out so many times these words: “God help me!”
Do you know that place of crisis — where you sense your faith is lost? When you sense there is no hope? When you believe there is no way out of the darkness? There is a spiritual term called desolation. Saint Ignatius, is his famous spiritual exercises, says desolation is “darkness of the soul, turmoil of the mind, inclination to low and earthly things, restlessness resulting from many disturbances and temptations which lead to loss of faith, loss of hope and loss of love. It is also desolation when a soul finds itself completely apathetic, tepid, sad and separated as it were, from its Creator and Lord.”
Jesus wants to give us a way through the darkness. Not a way out of the darkness. Why? Because Jesus knows sometimes the moments of spiritual suffering can be moments of great grace. The deepest conversions in my life and the greatest closeness to Jesus happened when I was in the darkest time in my spiritual life.
Here are the two basic principles Jesus teaches us about how to live through a spiritual crisis. Look back and see how God worked in your life during past trials. What happened then? Your faith is in God’s ability to help you — then and now. Jesus is the same today, yesterday and forever the Bible says. He will work today as he worked then.
The other principle is to look ahead. What we believe about the future will determine how we live today. Let me give an illustration. Two men were put in prison unfairly. It is a great suffering to feel the injustice from another person. They will both be in prison for 10 years. One man survives, the other man does not. Why? One man heard that his whole family died. There was no one waiting for him. He died of hopelessness. The other man heard his family was waiting and praying for him. He lived each day in the future hope of seeing them. Do you see? There are two futures. One road is a dead end. The other road leads to life, and for us life on high with Christ Jesus.
Do you believe in the future of your soul? Here you need to check where your hope is founded. If it is only in this life you will not withstand the fire of desolation. But if you have an eternal perspective you can live through suffering and darkness. How you see your future will determine how you live right now.
We need to look back and we need to look forward as we learn to live through spiritual trials. When you are in spiritual crisis know that God will not abandon you. Saint Paul writes of the power of God’s grace and that God’s power is made “perfect in weakness.”
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me,” Saint Paul proclaims. “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Here are some basic principles to apply when you face a spiritual crisis.
When in desolation, stay the course. If you have made a decision don’t change it. If you have made a resolution don’t change it. Trust God, he will help you fulfill it.
In desolation, remember God is really there. We Christians cannot endure testing by ourselves. God has given all Christians sufficient grace to endure desolation and not be destroyed.
Patience is a virtue we need in a crisis. And it seems to leave quickly. Yet patience is the most necessary virtue for persisting in desolation. In desolation and spiritual trials, think long-term. You are given a gift of persistence through your suffering.
Starve desolation and spiritual trials with increased spirituality. It will be hard but pray more, cry out to God with all your strength. Be open to reading the Bible more. Speak with a friend and pray with a friend — don’t be alone in your crisis. Saint Paul’s advice from Ephesians 5:19-20: “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
You must also remember the times God worked in your life, the joys and deep faith you had. Satan will tempt you to give up.
Consider the reasons for your desolation and spiritual struggles. There are many reasons for spiritual struggles. Here are three: We have sinned and we need to repent; We have not sinned but God gives us a time to test our faith; We have not sinned but God gives us an invitation to grow spiritually and it happens only in deep spiritual suffering.
Remember Saint Paul prayed to be released from the thorn in his flesh — his suffering. What he realized is that suffering was a deep grace and so he depended on God more because of his weakness. God does not abandon us.
The writer is pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Magadan, Russia.