If your goal is to understand what God is saying to you, know this—you already hear Him—you just don’t have the vision of God yet, with the corresponding soil of soul to be able to respond to what He is telling you. So His words fall on deaf ears. But the words are there, the hearing is in place, the heart just needs work.
The story of Cain gives us a great example. God comes to him conversationally, to surface what is troubling him, knowing that Cain’s heart is smoldering with anger and envy toward his brother. God reasons with Cain, trying to bring him out of that place.
Gen 4:5-8, NASU
Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” . . . And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
Cain’s problem wasn’t his inability to hear. His problem was the soil of his soul that couldn’t receive what God said. God’s words had streamed his mind, but the sterile barren soil of his soul was unable to respond.
The soil of our soul is conditioned by how we see God. Cain’s vision of God was too small to radiate the soil of his soul with holy fear and reverence. And so, even with God’s stern warning ringing in his mind, rather than let his hurt and anger go, giving them to God, he went out to the field and killed his brother.
the soil of my soul
As I began to work on this week’s lesson, I found myself in a very disconcerting place. Strains of the message moved in my mind, but it wasn’t coming together. I was discomfited. With every fiber of my being I wanted to lean into God, to be led by Him, to experience His Spirit moving in me. But I couldn’t. Like a very pregnant woman who suddenly realizes that she has felt no recent movement in her womb, I felt a small rise of panic as I realized that I could not discern the Spirit’s motion in me. The soil of my soul was too troubled to receive what God was saying.
Prayerfully asking God to show me what it was, the face of someone I love rose in my thoughts, accompanied by the bite of hurt and sorrow. I knew God was saying, “Give it to me.” And I could. Almost immediately the troubling of my soul was gone, and I was flooded with deep comfort–recovering not only my ease in God’s nearness, but a fresh tenderness and expectation toward the one I love.
Only recently have I been able to do this. Why is it that we find it so hard to give God what is hurting us? This week, I have thought about this a lot.
For me, it has something to do with protecting myself. When something really wrong has caused me pain or something really threatening has created anxiety, I haven’t been willing to give it to God. At my most vulnerable and broken times, I didn’t feel like anyone would protect and defend me with the same loyalty that I would myself. So the steely strong sentries of unforgiveness, enmity, and control have stood guard over me—when it seemed no one else would.
What does that reveal about my vision of God?
When God comes to us conversationally to probe the soil of our soul and surface what is troubling us, He is also surfacing our vision of Him. He is asking us, “Do you trust Me enough to lay this down, giving it to me to care for, defend, and protect?” If our vision of God is big enough, we will be able to let go and give it to Him. We will trust God with our self, when our vision of Him compels us to believe that He is able to accomplish more on our behalf than we ever could on our own.
Only as I have begun to behold His awesome ultimate authority as my Redeemer, have I been able to bend my knee rather than defend my right to harbor the negative feelings I’ve carried. The vision of Him as my competent committed Redeemer has radiated me– glimpses of His glory flashing on me, recreating the soil of my soul—making it possible to give each thing to Him, as He asks me if I will trust Him.
But my strong, vibrant, new vision of Him with its affect on the soil of my soul—it has been accomplished–not in the light, but in times of most painful darkness.
Do not be afraid of the dark
You know when you are shut into darkness—it is when you are experiencing intense pressure or pain, but you are not receiving anything helpful from God that makes a difference or alleviates the strain. There is no escape, you are hemmed in, and you feel like you are locked in a cell behind a shut door that weighs about a hundred tons. I don’t like it there, but I’ve passed through there so many times that I’ve lost my fear of it—because it is the place where God creates the necessary intensity of desire in me, enabling me to break through into a new revelation of Him.
Our starting point in this breakthrough always begins on the dark side of that shut door unable to appreciate that aspect of God that would set us free. We are kept there for as long as it takes to arouse the intensity of desperation within our self that is necessary for us to make our breakthrough. Every single time I have been in that trying place, my situation only worsened until I grew so desperate, that I felt like I would die inside if He didn’t bring me some revelation of Himself soon.
The intensity of our desire to behold God
is the driving spiritual dynamic
that determines our ability to find Him.
When Jesus was brought to Herod, Herod was delighted. He was intrigued by the supernatural stories he had heard about this one, fascinated by the rumors. But Jesus said not a word. He gave Herod no glimpse to satisfy his idle curiosity. Why? Because Herod’s interest was shallow and insincere. Had Jesus let slip even one flash of His hidden glory, it would not have found the soil of soul to bring faith to life in Herod. And so it was better for Herod if Jesus remained mute, incriminating the tawdry ruler less than if the Son of God had given him something wonderful to reject.
God’s use of dark and painful places to create spiritual intensity in us, so that we can break through into the fresh revelation of Him, is powerfully illustrated in the story of Judah’s exile to Babylon.
For a very long time, she who was meant to exemplify the possibility of intimate relationship with God lived no better than Cain.. God’s words through His prophets streamed her mind, but the sterile barren soil of her soul was unable to receive or respond to Him. And so God sent the prophet Jeremiah, to forewarn His people that they were going to complete seventy years of dark painful exile in Babylon; but He also gave them the tender promise that after the trial of their confinement was done, they would seek Him with all their heart and find Him.
Jeremiah 29:10-13, NASU
“For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. . . . ‘You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. ‘I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord . . .
Prior to her exile, Judah had possessed her own kingdom, living off the fat of the Promised Land, taking in every blessing God poured out, but her heart was detached from Him. She got along fine without Him. She did not realize that in the business of her pursuits the soil of her soul was growing sterile, barren, and unreceptive. He was pouring out His goodness, but she could not taste it. He was speaking, but she could not respond. He was there, but she could not savor His presence—and so even thought He “was with her”, it was as if He didn’t exist.
This was not what was meant-to-be. It needed to be rectified, and the unimaginable calamity that precipitated Judah’s time of dark exile achieved exactly what it was meant for. Staggering from her losses, driven from her land, forced to live in a culture awash with empty idols, Judah began to mourn and long for her Yahweh. The severity of her trial taught her a reverential respect for the One she had so recently treated with indifferent disdain. Ever so slowly repentance crept in, and her hardness left. She longed to behold the face of her God with an intensity she had never known before.
After 70 years, right on time, Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon and set the Jews free. Her captivity was over! Judah stumbled home almost as if in a dream, overwhelmed by the revelation of Yahweh as her bold and brilliant, capable Redeemer. Her anguish melted like the hard labor of a birth, as her mouth was filled with laughter, and her heart with a new song. She kept exclaiming what great things her Lord had done for her. i
Judah’s emancipation plunged her into freedom, but what carried her through the barrier into the most powerful revelation of God that she had ever experienced? It was the intensity of her desire to behold Him. . . there are many hints in scripture that suggest that the emancipation and the spiritual breakthrough are two sides of the same coin—two simultaneous events taking place as one—and that neither could take place without the other. And where did this wonder working intensity of desire for God come from? It was the re-creative work God accomplished in the darkest and most painful place of her life. What I learn from Judah’s exile is that,
we do not need to be afraid of the dark,
for it is the place to which we are all brought
time and time again
where God does the re-creative work
in the soil of our soul
so that we can break through
to behold His face
with ever greater vision
Do not give up on understanding what God is saying to you, even if you are hearing and seeing nothing. Do not remove yourself from the process that He is more than able to bring you through. Shift your confidence, so that you do not see it as your job to get through to Him, but His job to bring you through to Himself. He knows exactly what your difficulties are, and He is working to resolve them. Just pray and pray that He will give you a greater vision of Himself.
* * *
Lord, in the life of all who read this I ask, I beg you for the sweet mercy—that you will transform their fear into trust when a dark time comes for them. Help them to remember and hold on to their confident expectation that you are doing the most wonderful work—that you are not punishing them, but with great firmness of purpose You are refusing to let them go the way of their error—intent on bringing them to the place where they can drink You in again, rooting in Your love, where You can hold and comfort them, where You can become all that you want to do and be for them.
i Psalm 126: 1-5