Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church.
I personally think one of the greatest things about the smartphone revolution is having a GPS on your phone.
It’s amazing! You can be out running an errand, and your friend says, “Hey! I’m nearby. Want to meet me at, say, Culver’s for lunch?”
And if you’re not me, and you don’t have the location of all the Culver’s memorized, you can simply type in Culver’s into the map, and BOOM! Directions!
But do you ever have that experience where you’re following directions…say to a Culver’s or something…and you get into a really weird area all of a sudden?
Like, you’re looking around and all of a sudden there are fields on both sides…or just a bunch of warehouses…
And when that happens, we always say to ourselves, “This can’t be right!”
And some of us, even turn around. Nah! This can’t be right. Must have taken a wrong turn.”
But most of the time, what we do find as maps are becoming more and more accurate, is that, yes, IT WAS right. The path just looked different than you anticipated.
And this morning, I want to talk about the spiritual path. Because there is a stage in our spiritual development, where so many of us go, “Well, wait, this can’t be right!”
But it IS right. And it’s part of the path that God has for you in your spiritual growth
We’ve been doing a series the past 2 weeks called Stages of Faith.
If you missed a few weeks or are new, this is a series about 4 stages of spiritual development that Christians can go through.
Stage 1: Infatuation. Stage 2: Direction. Stage 3: Darkness Stage 4: Surrender
Stage 1 is usually the beginning years of our walk with God.
It’s characterized by a lot of excitement, joy, and emotions.
Eventually though, we begin to fill out that faith in Stage 2. Stage 2 is the stage where we find direction and most of us, get active.
We start learning about the Bible, We get involved in a group. WE start serving. We get off the sidelines and start living a daily faith w/ God.
These stages are fluid, you can move back and forth between them.
They are also cumulative. You bring things with you. You don’t just leave a stage behind.
And the stages also don’t have a whole lot to do with age.
Age is sometimes necessary in that it all takes time, but age does not guarantee growth. You could be 75 and be in Stage 1.
This morning, we are going to look at perhaps the most mysterious of the 4 stages: Stage 3: Darkness.
HOW WE GET TO STAGE 3
In the first 2 stages, we see a lot of rapid growth. We tend to “do” a lot.
And while there are certainly internal things going on as you grow in Christ…a lot of what is going on, is on the outside.
The last 2 stages, however, are much more focused on the internal.
Because what happens in the 1st two stages is that people get so focused on the external that the internal (the heart) lags behind.
And for many people, they hit a stage in life where they realize that despite all the Bible studies, all the church, all the house groups, all the serving, all the GOOD stuff, they don’t really know God.
Stage 3 is when, for the first time, your faith seems to “not work”
In stages 1 & 2…it’s working nicely.
But not anymore….
it looked like you were going to lose your job…but you prayed about it…and still lost your job.
And now you’ve been unemployed for a year.
Or…it looked like your marriage could fall apart, and you prayed about it…a lot…but it still fell apart.
And where the heck was God?
In Stage 3, God starts to feels distant, and the light of your faith-life starts to fade to darkness.
You may experience an inability to even pray, or want to read the Bible. A loss of spiritual comforts.
The things that seemed to work wonderfully before, now seem to have dried up.
And it’s not just a funk you’re in for a little bit (that tends to be someone being stuck in another stage)…
Stage 3 will often last anywhere from 6 months to multiple years
For many in Stage 3, faith starts to feel like a fraud. Or a mirage. Or maybe you just made it up all of these years.
We start to doubt.
More often than not, the stage 3 doubt comes out of a crisis.
But sometimes the doubts just keep piling up little bit little that our crisis is actually a “crisis of doubt.”
Doubts about the integrity of Christians you know or different parts of the Bible…or even the existence of God you’ve believed in for years…
Sometimes this stage comes slowly through a series of doubts and nagging questions. Other times it comes upon us quickly through a crisis.
We see this in Scripture in many places, but this morning I want to look at Stage 3 in the life of the prophet Elijah.
Elijah was a prophet in Israel who had quite the productive Stage 2.
He was very effective in ministry for God. He even faced all of the false prophets of Baal in an intense show-down, and won back the hearts of the Israelites by persuading them that God was the true God and Baal was a false God.
He was living on the top of Stage 2…
But then soon after…THIS Happened:
(1 Kings 19:1-4) – NIV
Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” 3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”
Elijah has lost his confidence in what God did and was doing. He began to doubt. Even though God had just moved mightily through him.
The threat on his life is too much and it pushes him into stage 3. What was once full of light now feels like darkness
(1 Kings 19:5-10) – NIV
5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. 7 The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.9 There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
So Elijah has entered a period of depression.
God helps him treat it, interestingly enough, with sleep, food, and a purpose.
But Elijah is now in full-blown self-pity. Which is a hallmark of Stage 3. He even whines, “I am the only one left!!” Which is completely not true.
But that’s stage 3 talk. In stage 3, our pain often causes us not only to forget all the great things God did in the past, but to start to skew the reality of the present.
We’re going to come back to that passage later.
Stage 3 is a stage of questioning, exploring, falling apart, indulging in self-centeredness. doubting, sinking in uncertainty, and WE often look hopeless to those around us.
And that’s part of what makes Stage 3 really complicated and confusing.
When someone’s dealing with a crisis of faith because of what happened in their lives, or doubt in their lives…often most Christians have no idea how to handle it.
Because they’ve never been there.
So we try and console with black and white answers, but to a stage 3 person, it’s like someone just took their 2 containers full of black and white, poured them together, and them mixed them up just for fun.
So when we say to the person who’s in Stage 3 and not sure if they believe anymore: “Well, Read Romans 1…We should just look at creation and believe!”
It’s not helpful. But to a Stage 2 person, that’s helpful.
Or if we say to a stage 3 person, who’s trying to have a child but can’t…or has been out of work for 2 years…or experienced a sudden loss of their parent: If we say, “Just pray about it and you’ll feel better.” Or “You just need to read the Bible more!”
We might as well just punch them in the face.
The things that were once so black and white, so formulaic and simple, are now incredibly confusing.
Those answers may be helpful to a stage 2 person because they’re looking for answers.
But the stage 3 person isn’t searching for answers, they’re searching for God. All over again.
And to the people NOT in Stage 3 AND even to the people IN Stage 3…this whole “stage 3 thing” can feel like anything but progress.
It feels like a massive step backwards.
It feels backwards, and often lonely to be in a stage where all of a sudden you’re asking the questions, and everyone else has the answers…and they all seem so sure. Yet you feel unsure.
But, let me explain with real-life development
Think of teenagers, or even young adults, as extended adolescence has become a defining part of our culture in the new millennium.
When you’re 18, or 21. You know A LOT. Right? You maybe even know everything. I know I thought that. And you’re productive. You’re in college maybe…and pretty soon, you’re going to grab the world by the horns and ride it for much longer than 8 seconds. You’re gonna make an impact baby!!
But at some point the world is going to sucker punch you in the face…maybe it’s when you’re 22, graduate, can’t find work, and have to move back home.
Maybe it’s when you’re 27, and you’re dream marriage turns out to be a nightmare, and you end up getting divorced.
Or maybe at 30, you get fired or let go out of the blue, and your whole career path is now suddenly up in the air
And everything that looked so clear is now just mixed together in a cloud of confusion.
We understand those principles of development in normal, real-world life right?
We get that, yeah, we tend to go through these stages of where we’re really excited about life, we get out there, we’re really productive, and the world is ours!
But WHAM, the unexpected hits.
And in real life, lots of us KNOW and UNDERSTAND that even the unexpected is what matures us and grows us to the next stage.
When you suffer a loss in life, or a setback, we don’t say, “Man, I went backwards in life…Back a stage in maturity.”
We kind of intuitively know, that, well, that’s part of growing up, and that’s how we grow.
BUT…when it comes to our spiritual lives…we really struggle to apply those same principles.
We don’t understand that…suffering…that crisis…that doubt…that roadblocks…are indeed right along the path to your spiritual maturity.
It’s not the time to say, “This can’t be right!”
Trust the map. Trust the guidebook. IT’s right.
And my main fear with stage 3……and this is one of the main reasons I wanted to do this entire series….is we don’t talk about stage 3 in churches.
We pretend like it’s not real. OR…even worse, that’s it BAD.
Because It doesn’t fit into our “consumeristic…God will solve all of your problems and we’ve got a series to prove it” Christianity”
It doesn’t fit with all the churches who keep promising that God’s plan is only to prosper you, heal you, and make you happy all the time.
But it IS indeed apart of the journey.
But if you’re not expecting it to be a part of the journey, you’re turn off the path. And I don’t want you to do that.
If we don’t talk about this…we’re going to keep having Christians walking away from the faith in Stage 3 because nobody told them to expect it.
The Bible is quite clear that trials are not steps backward in the faith
(James 1:2-3) – NIV
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Let me explain this a different way
When a mother eagle builds her nest high up in a tree or on a cliff, she starts with thorns, broken branches, sharp rocks, and a number of other items that seem entirely unsuitable for the project.
But then she’ll line the nest with a thick padding of wool, feathers, and fur making it soft and comfortable for the eggs.
By the time the growing birds reach flying age, the comfort of the nest and the luxury of free meals make them quite reluctant to leave.
So they don’t. They don’t move on. They stall out. They don’t grow.
So, what she does, is she starts “stirring up the nest.”
She uses her talons to pull up the thick carpet of fur and feathers, bringing the sharp rocks and thorns to the surface.
The nest eventually becomes so uncomfortable for the young eagles that their only real option is to leave their once-comfortable abode and move on to more mature behavior. To grow-up.
And often, to get US to the next stage, God has to make it uncomfortable first.
To get you to be willing to trust Him for flight, he’s often gotta push you out of the bed.
And we’re lying on the floor…crying in pain…but he’s got us moving again. It’s a divine sort of progress.
The apostle Peter is a good example of one who’s gone through Stage 3.
He left everything (family, friends, business) for Jesus. But when Jesus is crucified, Peter’s world is so turned upside down that he DENIES Jesus.
Full on Stage 3.
However, the Peter that emerged after Easter to lead the Church was a different man than the one before that night.
God used the doubt to grow his faith..
And As much as we try and question the people who are stuck in periods of crisis and doubt as a step backwards, the Bible simply tells a different story.
We see it in Elijah. In Peter. In Abraham when he’s promised an heir, has to wait forever, and then later after his son is born, is asked to sacrifice him.
We see it in Job. Was Job spiritually regressing because of the suffering he had and the questions he asked?
No. God was growing Him in the way God usually grows people (albeit Job’s story was extra intense).
And God wants to take you to a different stage of faith.
BUT I think a good question is: Why does he have to do it this way??
WHY DOES GOD DO IT THIS WAY
He does it this way for a couple of reasons
For one, sometimes we force His hand. As we said last week, we start doing all the things we should (learning truth, getting involved, volunteering) but our ladder of pride gets so tall, his only option if he wants us to keep growing is to knock us off.
As proverbs says, “pride comes before the fall”
Let me paint the stages to you in a picture.
Stage 1 is like God leading you into a house for the first time. You walk through a new door into this beautiful room and it’s amazing!
It’s all lit up and looks so beautiful. You’re seeing clearly for the first time, and it’s great!
Stage 2 is like God leading you through another yet another door in the house; into an even more beautiful room!
And in this room, there are things for you to do, to accomplish. There are other people to help, there are books to learn from. IT’s great. It’s like the room you always dreamed of! You’re loving it!
And then, for some reason: God leads you into a third room.
He walks you to you to the middle of this mysterious room and then, all of a sudden shuts the lights off. Darkness.
OR, the devil pushed you in the room and God said…Do not fear. For I am still here. But it’s still dark.
It’s completely dark in this 3rd room. And you start to question. God?? Hello? Are you still in here? What just happened?? WHY DID YOU PUT ME IN HERE? What happened to the books and the people and….??
And not only is it scary and painful…but the darkness is causing you to bump into some things in the room. And it hurts. This was supposed to be fun!
And the darkness now is causing you to doubt. God is still there…but the lights are out.
And the darkness will play some tricks on your mind. I mean, when you walked in, you saw the door to the 4th room, but now…you can’t remember if it’s really where you thought it was. Or if it’s even there. Maybe there was never a 4th door.
Or…oR mAYBE…you made this whole thing up. Maybe that 2nd room was just a mirage. Or maybe you just imagined God walking with you through the first two rooms.
It’s all up for questioning in the darkness.
But when it’s dark…and you’re afraid…and confused (even though you were once SO confident)…if you keep seeking God in the dark…He will eventually whisper to your heart…”the door to the next stage is still there. It’s right ahead. Trust me. Just 5 steps ahead, 2 to the right, and 3 more steps ahead. Trust me”
And when you’re in the dark…ALL you can do is surrender. You CAN’T do it on your own. You can’t take credit for it. You can’t find your own path. YOU CAN’T SEE!!
And if you trust God in the dark, and it turns out He’s right. And you do walk through the door. And He’s still good….
After all that, let me ask you a question:“Where do you think your faith will be?”
Will it be weaker or stronger compared to where it was when the lights were all on?
It will be 10 times stronger because now you can trust Him….even in the dark. You will be ready to surrender.
We let so many things in our lives, whether they be material things, people, or even Christian activities become distractions to our true intimacy w/ God
And often, these things actually get in the way of us FULLY relying on Him OR they only serve to build our pride.
So in the pursuit of gaining our full surrender and devotion…. God shuts off the lights.
STUCK AND UNSTUCK
So what happens if you get stuck in stage 3? Stuck in the dark? Much longer than what feels normal. What does it look like to be stuck in stage 3?
People get stuck in stage 3 when they perpetually look to satisfy every doubt and every lingering question.
Because you will always have doubt. Always. That’s why this is called the “Stages of FAITH”
The answer, the growth you’re looking for, is NOT to realize you should have more doubts or something. And it’s not for you to get rid of doubts either.
What you’re attempting to do is to let your doubts lead you to a deeper faith.
It sounds counterintuitive, but, if explored well, the exploration of our doubts is what takes us deeper (often with someone who knows the way better than us…this is why community is so important)
Like a person who completely explores and questions their faith in God’s timing, but eventually God shows them He is abundantly faithful.
But if we always suppress those things, and just put on a Christian-happy face (I’m not in Stage-3-never-will-be), we won’t grow.
A lot of people get stuck in the darkness because they refuse to ask for help to get out of the room. They refuse to let God be in complete control and lead the way. To refuse to surrender.
They just keep banging around in the darkness convinced they’ll find their own way out!
For others, they get stuck because they can’t believe anymore that, “Yes, there is a God who truly loves you for who you are and wants to lead you out!
And we’ll talk more about these reasons for getting stuck next week
Moving to stage 4 is going to require a comprehensive acceptance of both your own imperfections and your own inability to control your life.
Others just decide to regress. They back out of the dark room, and just go back to the second room where they were accomplishing a lot of things…
But they never really deal with the uneasiness of their doubts, or the intensity of their pain, or their lack of closeness with God.
The problem is though…God still wants you to go deeper with Him.
So you can regress back to stage 2, but He might just push you back into stage 3 again.
And if you’re in the darkness right now….
It’s OK. It’s Okay.
KEEP pressing into God in the darkness! Call out his name. Even if you can’t see Him.
Keep the faith. He IS growing you. He IS there.
Get help from the community. Seek spiritual direction from those further along. Press in. Be okay w/ asking the tough questions. Get counseling if need be.
And remember his faithfulness.
Remember who He truly is:
That he said he would “never leave you or forsake you”
As Psalm 23 says, even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He IS with us.
That is love for you is unfailing. And that HE IS GOOD.
And listen for Him……KEEP listening in the darkness. He will speak. In His timing, He will tell you where to go.
But listen for Him. Don’t try and force your way out of it. Listen. Keep trusting. Listen. Keep listening. Follow His direction. Not yours.
Even in Elijah’s despair of stage 3. The Lord DID speak.
(1 Kings 19:11-12) – NIV
11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
And if this is where you are…I encourage you to read this. 1 King 19.
God…was in the whisper. And he led him to where he needed to go.
There’s no need to shout in the dark. He’s in the whisper.
Keep pressing in. Keep your ear to the skies. Keep listening.
He’s brought you this far, and He will bring you through.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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