I’ve been struck recently by the line in Luke 4:1 where, having just been baptized by John and hearing the loving, affirming, delighting voice of the Father, the Spirit lead him into the wilderness where he is tempted by the devil. The wilderness is not where I expect the Spirit to ever lead me. But, if I follow Jesus, I should not be surprised when seasons of testing come into my life.
Reginald Somerset Ward, a spiritual director I’ve been quoting here quite often recently, spoke to this same theme with, perhaps, rather rigorous words:
“And what can possibly be the meaning of this coldness and darkness of the soul? Surely it is God’s test. How should we ever grow without tests? We say to God, ‘I want Thee more than I can say.’ God replies, ‘Do you really want Me?’ And straightaway in our prayers we find darkness and coldness, and the numbing loss of energy. If we were speaking the truth, we go on praying in spite of it; if we were not, we stop. And if we go on praying, the darkness becomes not a hindrance but a help, for the measure by which God values our prayers is the amount of desire in them, and it shows much greater desire to pray in darkness than in the light.
For this reason it has been said that we walk faster on the Road to God in darkness than in light. If you persist in prayer through darkness, you will assuredly find yourself after the darkness has passed much nearer to God.” (Morgan, Edmund R. Reginald Somerset Ward: His Life and Letters. London: A. R. Mowbray & Co., Ltd, 1963, p. 141.)
Part of me hears this as a rather harsh and Spartan vision of the Christian life. I hear this vision of God saying, “So you want me more than anything, huh? Well we’ll see about that!” He sounds vindictive, not really believing my intention, and reserving a “wait and see” posture towards me.
But I also realize that such tests are the only way I come to know what my actual level of willingness is. I say I want all kinds of things. Some of them are fleeting whims. Do I really want to invest as much effort seeking their fulfillment as I would a truly deep and holy desire? Doesn’t such a testing process help me by focusing my attention and efforts, eventually, towards what is truly the longing of my heart? I realize that most of whatever wisdom I currently have has come through these trying experiences that have helped me sort out what I really believe, really want and really intend.
Question: How might your current challenges, difficulties or troubles serve as a means of refining what it is you truly and deeply want?
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