This is part of a series of blog posts on Following God in Low Seasons, click here to read the last one…
“But those who are sent from God, do not want to go away from their quiet, knowing that through it they have obtained the divine power; but in order not to disobey the Creator, they go for the spiritual edification of men, in imitation of Him.” Abba Ammonas
A few months ago, the Lord spoke to me. He said, “In seasons of preparation, serve well in obscurity.” The statement tickled my brain. I pondered what it meant to serve in obscurity. What did it mean to be obscure?
So, I asked the Lord, “Who am I to be obscure to?”
And He responded, “People. You are never obscure to me.”
Later, He would elaborate on the theme of serving in obscurity:
“I am your refuge. I am your hiding place. If you do it for me, you are hidden in me. Any accomplishment that serves to uplift you is hidden in you and must eventually be exposed. But when you are dedicated to me your accomplishments are hidden in me and you are hidden in me. What you take pleasure in hides itself within you.“
To be hidden in God is to be hidden from the praise and approval of man. God will take you through seasons of hiddenness to reveal what is hidden in the depths of your heart. In hiddenness we learn to lean upon God and trust in his sustaining presence. In hiddenness, we learn not to lean on man’s approval, but on intimacy with the one who created us.
Throughout Christian history men and women have valued these seasons of solitude and silence before God. In silence and solitude, you learn to hear the thoughts of your heart, and present them to God. Silence is difficult because most of us are either totally unaware or deathly afraid of our own internal life. But we must come to grips with all that is within our interior life in order to enter into the depths of God’s heart. God desires to take us deeper, but our hearts remain restlessly opposed to true intimacy.
True intimacy means I am exposed. It means I am seen for who and what I am. Only trust can breed true intimacy, because the one I am intimate with will see all that I am. Without trust, intimacy cannot conceive as it is designed to. Without trust, I keep the one who desires to be closest to me at a distance, preferring to remain isolated by my own brokenness and sin.
Before seasons of hiddenness, we glean our sense of self-worth based upon what people say about us, or what their opinion is towards us. When God conceals himself from the us it induces us to search for God. When the we search for God, he slowly begins to uncover the network of sin, lies, and malformation that distance us from God. We go through a hiddenness of our own as we dive into our own hearts. All the while, you have no idea that God has, in his grace, enabled this whole process in order to reveal the depth of his care for you.
Eventually, when you finally find God, you realize he was there all along. In revealing himself, God gives you a taste of his delight to draw you towards him. When you have had the grace of God revealed to you, you willingly go into hiddenness in order to find God. In hiddenness, suffering becomes a sweet balm for the soul. As Francis Fenelon said, “Love delights in suffering on behalf of the beloved.”
The Embrace of Solitude
Those who have embraced solitude before God make it their business to search their heart for what is not of God. Dealing with their own sin becomes far more important than dealing with the sin of another. Walter Hilton said, “For I tell you truly, if you would be very humble, you must think the slightest sin in yourself more grievous and painful to you and greater in you sight sometimes than great deadly sins in other men.”
Hiddenness is necessary to prepare us for great service. Take Joseph in the book of Genesis for example. He was ready to fulfill the call of God on his life when his promotion would not be the destruction of his brothers. The prophetic metaphor of this is profound. He spent years serving in obscurity before he was ready to step into the fullness of his calling. He served God in Potiphar’s house and in the prison where he received no recognition. His pride and self-exaltation were dealt a destructive blow by remaining hidden. When his purpose for life was to dedicate himself to God, his promotion came.
Following God is not so much about having everything figured out with a nice clean-cut existence, as it is about plodding along until in one moment everything makes sense. That moment may come in days, weeks, months, or years.
We often have little awareness of what God is doing as he leads us from one place to the next. These obscure steps are kept hidden from our foresight in order to keep us in faith, and from trembling away at the coming tasks and trials. If we don’t see, we must trust. Few could see clearly the destiny and not be taken by pride, the steps and not be taken by fear, the destination and not be overwhelmed by the effort.
We are led in darkness in order to engender trust and faith. Then, during it all, moments of clarity shine through like a beacon of light. We see the trials of the past years and what they have wrought within us, and we see all the ways God prepared us and was with us all along. But while we are in the midst of them, we stumble along looking for something to hold on to. Our expectations for how the journey should go need to come to an end. They are rarely right, and usually founded on faulty beliefs, both about God and about ourselves.
When you no longer look at your promotion as elevating you above others, or when you can cease from criticizing other people attempting to do the same things as you, then God can use you. If your increase comes at the expense of others who are just as passionate and worthwhile as you, then it is difficult for God to continue elevating you because it means your elevation denigrates another. Furthermore, your elevation births pride, which will lead to your destruction. When you can look at others as worthwhile and necessary for your journey God can do anything with what you do. Hiddenness trains your heart to find its affirmation in the heart of God, and not in the opinion of others.
If our purpose for life is to be recognized and esteemed by those around us, we have kept the awareness of our own heart to the most minimal degree possible. We externalize our sources of comfort and affirmation. There is no possible way we can know the deep things of the heart of God because we have found our rest in others.
If you can cultivate inner stillness of heart it will be an incredible aid to your journey. It will provide you the ability to find God amid the storm. In storms, you either find God or your pitiful self, and often both. The penultimate question cannot be, “God why?!” or “Couldn’t you do it differently?” Those questions frustrate the journey and provide no answers. The question you ask must eventually be, “What am I learning in the midst of this about myself and about You?”
Stages of the Spiritual Life
The general cycle of awakening within the spiritual life goes something like this:
- God reveals Himself
- We respond to God’s grace
- God conceals Himself
- We are discombobulated, wondering what has happened
- We begin searching our own heart
- In searching our heart, we begin the process of repentance, cleansing, and redemption
- Our self-love becomes evident in this stage
- God reveals Himself
- We respond to God’s grace
- God conceals Himself
It has been said that God hides himself in order to induce mankind to search for him. Such is revealed in Proverbs 25:2, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.”
When we are in the stage of discombobulation, eventually we must turn inward. The inward journey is one of purification. We must identify hidden faults and flaws, those things which distance us from the heart of God. In this stage God hides himself in order to reveal what is hidden in the depths of our own hearts. Without going through these, deep, guttural transformative seasons, we read into the heart of God the faults that are in our own…
…to be continued