It stinks. All of us have been there, and all of us dread going there, because it is where we are going to struggle. It is where we are in danger of losing our way, losing our grip, coming closer to giving up than any place else. It is the unyielding trial, the staggering loss, whose end brings us to a dark night of the soul.
I call it the far point, because it is where we find ourselves farthest away from all that was once good and right. But, as much as I hate going there, I’ve learned that
The far point is where God does His greatest work.
When Jesus cried out, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” he was at the far point. . . that black orb was as far as could be from the golden orb of the pre-incarnate glory he had shared with his Father. (Mark 15:34) But in that far point, God was accomplishing His greatest work.
The circumstances bringing us to the far point vary, our intensity of suffering varies, but our need to respond rightly to God’s leadership in that dark hour never varies. . . recognizing and responding to His leadership is HOW how we gain the ability to walk through our time of crisis in His power .
Jesus found the strength to endure his greatest crisis by responding rightly to God’s leadership of him through it. As he hung on the cross in the extremity of that crisis, he cried, “why have you forsaken me?” These are the very first words of Psalm 22. It was all that he had the strength to gasp.
We’ve thought that he cried this in despair, but he was not despairing, he was responding to God’s leading. Psalm 22 was being given to him, because it prophesied that moment in time, framing his present anguish with eternal meaning. Read it, and you will find that it is not a psalm of despair, but of victory — affirming even in the midst of apparent abandonment that God “has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help ( verse 24).
Jesus was responding to the Spirit’s leadership by claiming the word he was being given, knowing full well the promise with which Psalm 22 ends:
Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!
In our darkest hour, God is there . . . leading us, giving us what we need to cling to. Despite how it seemed, Jesus was declaring that he had not been abandoned. There was a purpose in his suffering. The psalm stayed him in his agony, garrisoning his soul, giving him strength to endure . . . as He did it.
Jesus received God’s sustaining power, even in his worst crisis,
by rightly responding to God’s leadership. It will be the same for us.
John 5:19, Aramaic Bible in Plain English
But Yeshua answered and said to them: “Timeless truth I tell you: The Son cannot do anything of his own will, but the thing that he sees The Father is doing; for those things that The Father does, these also The Son does like him.
Jesus walked in God’s power every day by following his Father’s leading. He did this as a man–as we are. It is a strategy of hell to convince us otherwise. As long as we dismiss his example of walking in God’s power with, “Well, sure, He was God,” our enemy knows he will keep us powerless. We fail to find God’s power when we need it most because we are not responding rightly to God’s guidance in our critical hour.
What keeps us from rightly responding to God?
The far point is part of a cycle that repeats itself time and time again, in our spiritual journey. It aways follows the same pattern.
It begins with a time that is like a golden orb of joy and blessing.
Life is good, as it was for Israel when Pharaoh welcomed them to Egypt and gave them the land of Goshen, where they would be safe. They basked in the overflow of Joseph’s immense favor with Pharaoh, preserved from the famine ravaging all around. They were cared for and they saw God’s hand in it.
But the cycle advances, as it always does, with a hint of trouble.
A thread of foreboding circumstances begins to wrap the golden orb
like a faint thread of smoke.
A new king, who did not know Joseph, rose to power in Egypt. Fearing the Israelites because they were strong and numerous, he sought a way to diminish their threat.
As the cycle leaps forward in earnest,
circumstances beyond our control drag us out of the golden time.
Pharaoh moved swiftly to oppress them: forcing them into hard labor, placing slave drivers over them.
Thus begins the decent, into darkening painful trial,
that ultimately brings us to the far point.
That downward arc for Israel was an agonizing span when their lives became bitter. Their journey grew ever darker and more unbearable, bringing Pharaoh’s attempts at genocide with baby boys being thrown into the Nile. As Israel drew closer to the far point, it seemed as if God was nowhere near.
How could He let this happen? What would it take before Yahweh would notice? How long would it be, until their cries reached His ears? What had they ever done to deserve this?
What feels like destruction is meant for deliverance.
The downward darkening arc is THE PRELUDE
that brings us to the far point, where God does His greatest work.
Israel reached that far point soon after Moses arrived. His intercession so riled Pharaoh that the king demanded the same quota of bricks, but he supplied them no straw. Their foremen were beaten. Their situation became impossible. And in the extremity of their despair, they took offense at Moses, detesting his interference.
Moses had reached his far point as well. And even Moses– friend of God and spiritual giant — became offended at God.
Exodus 5:22, 23
Then Moses returned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done harm to this people, and You have not delivered Your people at all.
The far point surfaces our offense at God–
our offense at what He has not protected us from. That offense is what keeps us from being able to rightly respond
to God’s leadership in a time of crisis.
When we harbor offense, it takes us out spiritually. We do not hear God, because we are offended at the message. God is leading us. The divine dialogue is flowing through our lives . . . but offense keeps us from recognizing God’s voice, His direction, His grace, His warnings.
Never offended at God, Jesus could continually recognize God’s leading. Moses was frequently offended at God; but he dealt with his offense, to regain his footing so that he could follow God’s leadership.
Israel, on the other hand, was constantly offended at God: “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! . . . Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? (Numbers 14:2,3) But Israel rarely dealt with her offense. She continually failed to hear the warnings of her prophets, because she was offended by the message. God was trying to reach her, prepare her and give her grace and help in time of need, to move her to higher ground . . . but offense prevented her from rightly responding to His leadership in the gathering crises.
I see this exact dynamic operating all around me every day: people who don’t recognize what God is plainly showing them because they are offended.
There Is an Altar
Hidden in the darkness of every far point is an altar, where we are meant to deal with our offense. It is where we are meant to sacrifice our understandable anger, our demand for justice, our right to be offended — not just at those who have caused us to suffer, but at God — for what He has allowed. Behind every offense we hold against someone or something, there is an offense we hold against God.
When we make that sacrifice,
the most incredible thing takes place . . . every time
We are released from the far point, rising on a fragile arc of light, garrisoned with peace. No longer at the mercy of the battering storm, we find ourselves thinking His thoughts, having His heart, understanding how He is leading us, walking in His power, being kept by His power–even though our circumstances may not have changed and evil still rages.
On the sweep of that upper arc, growing ever stronger and firmer, we realize with a rush of joy that we’ve overcome. The cycle of deliverance is completed, as we close the circle and return to that place once again, where all is right between us and God.
What Happens at the Altar?
When I go back to the far points described in story after story in Scripture, the evidence is clear . . . our offense at God is surfaced there. But how do we deal with our crippling offense, to find our miraculous release?
But one day, unbeknownst to Job, God draws Satan’s attention to him, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” Job is unaware, but evil begins to wrap the bright orb of his existence like a thread of smoke, initiating its advance upon him.
In a single day, Job looses everything, and is dragged down into wretched suffering. Scripture makes it clear that even as Job reeled with his loss, he bows down in worship, refusing to be offended at God. “ ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.’ In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” (Job 1:21,22)
Scripture shows us that Job’s struggle with offense did not begin until his friends arrived. They drove him to the far point. He knew that he was innocent of bringing his tragedy on himself, but they kept defending God, insisting that Job must have done something to deserve his calamity. If his friends would just have gone away and left him alone, Job could have dealt with his loss and moved on. Instead they drove him to despair by pitting God’s righteousness against his “supposed” blamelessness. In protest Job clung to what he knew to be true–he did not deserve what had happened to him. But his “friends” would not relent, driving Job to despair. At his far point Job confused the assault of his enemy and the assault of his friends as God’s assault on him.
I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me. You turn on me ruthlessly; with the might of your hand you attack me. You snatch me up and drive me before the wind; you toss me about in the storm.
Job’s offense at God has surfaced. He’d hurled questions and accusations at God for abandoning him to a battle in which his emotional and spiritual survival seemed to mean little to God. Then suddenly, the Lord began to speak, “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2) And then He told Job to brace himself like a man and answer His questions.
Job’s mouth was shut and his questions were stilled in the vision of God that swallowed not only his perplexity, but his audacity . . . to have stood in the position of judging God.
At the altar we are given a vision
that enables us to embrace both His exquistite goodness
and the devastating circumstances He has permitted.
In the light of that vision, Job was able to surrender his offense at God and
immediately set free from the far point, he was born on the upward arc of God’s deliverance back to honor . . . back to his earlier relationship with God, but better. The glory of it all– everything he’d lost– was restored to him two-fold. As the circle closed, Job’s deliverance was complete, bringing him home.
It was the same for Moses. He would be brought to the far point revealing his offense at God. But in his crisis, God would meet him there in a word, a promise, a new name for God, a new directive, or a fresh vision. And in that light, Moses would lay his offense on the altar, regaining his ability to respond rightly to the leadership of God, receiving God’s power to set His people free.
* * *
Decades ago, God taught me about this cycle of deliverance with these pictures. But then, He turned the circle you see above on its side. And I saw that it was not a circle, but an upward spiral. Each time we burst from the far point onto the upward arc, we are not on the same plane, circling the same mountain again. No! We’ve ascended a new rung on the spiral taking us higher. We are walking new ground. And at the top of the spiral, the line of our journey disappears into light so bright and pure and beautiful that it obscures everything else . . . that light is Jesus.
As I beheld that ethereal spiral with its innumerable turns disappearing into the light at the top, I was given a word — “Redemption” — and I realized that this is how redemption is made real in us.
I still dread going there, but now I understand that
the far point is where God does His greatest work.
It is where He deals with our offense at Him,
so that we can walk in power with Him.