Originally published Tuesday, 28 October 2014.
When I was a teen, I started a collection of quotes. I wrote them in a journal which I still have. There are poems, selections from books I read, Bible verses, and other sayings I didn't want to forget.
There are some quotes though that I will never forget. They are words I've read or statements people have made that have stayed with me no matter how much time has past. It's as though the words are tattooed on my heart. One such statement is something my pastor said to me when I sought his counsel a few years ago.
I was in the midst of deep depression. The sky was always dark; the air thin and suffocating. It had gone on so long, I couldn't even remember what the warmth of joy felt like. My prayers and cries for help reverberated in my pit of despair like an echo with only the sound of my own voice in response. In truth, God seemed far away. I was certain he had left me to my own devices and that he had given up on me altogether.
My pastor then said to me that the Spirit is always at work in a believer, even when it doesn't feel like he is. In fact, he never stops working. He never ceases his work of transformation, sanctifying us to be increasingly more like Christ. And even in the midst of my depression, he was doing a good work in me.
I haven't forgotten what he said because that simple statement stayed with me during those dark days, giving me hope. It reminded me that even while the sky is filled with storm clouds, the sun is always shining above them. God hadn't left me alone. He wasn't tired of me, put out with me, nor had he given up on me. He was working in me even through my despair and he would bring me through it into the bright light of day.
I was reminded of this time in my life when I read this from Extravagant Grace: God's Glory Displayed in Our Weakness recently:
"Spiritual growth to maturity is God's work from beginning to end and he alone will get the credit. The same God who made the universe out of nothing and who counts the hairs on your head will have his way with you in all things. He does not ordain the beginning and the end of your story only to leave the middle part--your life as a believer here on earth--up to you! That means that, at this very moment, you are exactly as holy and mature in your faith as God wants you to be. He cannot be disappointed in you or surprised by you if he is the one controlling the entire process of growth from start to finish. Furthermore, all the people whom you love and wish were more mature are also exactly where God wants them to be right now. He always gets his way and you cannot stop him!" (p. 48).
Those times in my life that I have spent in deep darkness were not mistakes or accidents. I hadn't deviated from God's plan and he wasn't at a loss as to what to do with me. He had me right where I needed to be. That's because his sanctifying work in us doesn't only happen when we are in a place of obedience. He doesn't only teach and train us when we are dutifully studying his word. God is actually at work in us all the time, even when we wander, when we suffer, and when we forget that we are his children.
Right there in the depths of my despair, God was working in me. Though the only sound I could hear were the cries of my own heart, the Spirit was right there, interceding for me in groans too deep for words (Romans 8:26). God used that time of desperation and loneliness to show me my utter need for him. The darkness was necessary, for as only the blind know, our other senses are magnified in the dark. And in that darkness, the Spirit was training my ears so that I might learn to listen.
God is always at work. This is a glorious truth that all believers need to carry in their heart. Nothing that we experience, no tear that we shed, no pain that we endure, no sin that we commit, gets wasted in God's economy. He uses it all to change us into the likeness of his Son. "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18).
So take hope, dear friend. If you find yourself in a season of darkness, you are not all alone. The Spirit is right there with you. He is working. And he will finish what he started.