God’s ways are not our ways. He works in cycles. In the cycle of manifestation (renewal) He blesses us, but in the cycle of hiddenness (desert), He builds us. Rather than moving on, many strive to maintain the blessing experience, but if we keep flowing with the Spirit, we inherit the Promised Land.
God’s will is to lead us to the Promised Land of our spiritual inheritance, but we’ll only relax and enjoy the journey if we understand His plan for getting us there. A lack of understanding has resulted in confusion and bewilderment for many. We wondered what went wrong when several years into renewal God seemed to withdraw and His anointing seemed to diminish. The key to understanding God’s plan for the journey is in knowing how He thinks. God doesn’t think the way we do, but we try to relate to Him according to our way of thinking. He’d rather we understood the way He thinks so that we can enjoy fellowship with Him. We are process oriented and linear in our thinking, and we relate in terms of time and space and consecutive movement. God thinks in terms of circles and cycles. He is the Alpha and the Omega, and things begin and end with Him. We set goals, and measure progress by our productivity: for example, we start and finish a book or our day’s work, but God isn’t restricted by time, space, and production schedules.
When we travel, we move from a point of departure to a point of arrival and always think in terms of our destination, but to God, the journey and the process are as important as reaching the destination. Observe how God describes His way of thinking, and notice the cycle: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and snow come down from the heavens, and return not there again, but water the earth and make it bring forth and sprout, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, So shall My word be that goes forth out of My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please and purpose, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Is 55:8-11)
God sent us a teacher, the Holy Spirit, to help us understand and approach Him. If we try to get into God’s Presence without the Holy Spirit’s leading, we enter into striving, frustration, and a performance mindset because we are focused on seeing results. God wants to draw us into His Presence by His Spirit, where we can live peacefully, resting in His ability to do what it takes to get us to our destination. During the journey, the Holy Spirit refines you and helps you work out your salvation. He wants to walk with you step by step, holding your hand, and leading you patiently and kindly as He teaches you to walk, and He wants you to enjoy the journey. This is a process that can’t be hurried. You might want to get there on the Concorde in two hours, but God may have decided to go by camel and take three months. You’ll miss out if you’re waiting outside the gate without a ticket for the Concorde, while there’s a camel with your name on it in the parking lot. I’ve learned that the more patient I am, the quicker God moves.
Cycles of Manifestation and Hiddenness
Most of us don’t realize that sometimes God reveals Himself, and at other times He hides (Ps 104, Is 45). When He reveals Himself, He is blessing us. When He hides, He’s building us. If God seems to have withdrawn after we’ve experienced His Presence intensely, it is because He has moved us from a cycle of manifestation to a cycle of hiddenness. In manifestation, God introduced us to a new dimension. In hiddenness, He is establishing us in this new place. Understanding why God works through manifestation and hiddenness keeps us on track. God loves to manifest Himself. When Moses asked to see God’s glory, it almost seemed God couldn’t resist. God even protected Moses so he wouldn’t get “fried” as He walked by. God also loves to hide and to be our hiding place, yet He never actually leaves us when He hides. Remember when you played hide and seek with toddlers and hid behind the skinniest tree so that most of your front and back were showing? You did that so the children wouldn’t be fearful. God is like that. He hides in plain sight. In so doing He’s trying to develop us as people of spiritual vision — people who can see beyond the natural into the supernatural. But often when we can’t immediately detect His Presence, we go off wailing. God whispers, “For goodness sake, stop wailing, I’m here right next to you. Don’t worry.”
The potential for misunderstanding God’s pattern was particularly obvious during the height of renewal — a cycle of manifestation. God blessed many overtly, seemingly at the drop of a hat. They manifested physically at a word, twitching, and jerking. Others came forward night after night, week after week, and nothing seemed to happen. They felt like second-class citizens because they didn’t sense His Presence physically. They just didn’t know they were to rest.
A couple I know learned the frustration of being in different cycles. While he was totally incapacitated by God’s blessing, nothing happened to his wife outwardly, and she became discouraged. He told God he would gladly give her his experience, but the Lord said, “she’s having an experience. She just doesn’t understand it. Son, you’re in a time of manifestation, but she’s in a time of hiddenness.” He learned that in manifestation God touches your soul (mind, will, emotions) and body. In hiddenness, He touches your spirit.
In times of manifestation, people who don’t manifest physically need encouragement to accept by faith that God is building their spirit whenever they get prayer or spend time with Him. Their continued walk with the Lord bears this out. My friend’s wife had never liked public platforms, but when she understood that God was working in her spirit, she co-operated with Him, and now she has become a public speaker. Also, following the six to eight months of prayer she received during renewal, she led eight colleagues to Christ. Interestingly enough, those in the forefront with physical manifestations during the height of renewal, now aren’t experiencing them as powerfully. Others who didn’t manifest earlier, have begun to do so. Why? Because their cycles are changing.
Not knowing that many who experienced God through renewal are still chasing experiences. Some are blaming their leaders because renewal isn’t as strong as it used to be. They speculate that there must be sin in the church, or, perhaps, that church leaders are too controlling and have quenched the Spirit. Since I’ve started to understand God’s cycles, the pace of my life has slowed down and I’ve never been more at peace. I’ve learned that every cycle involves worship and surrender, pleasure and pain, achievement and suffering, weakness and power. Each cycle is also based on relationship and involves intimacy with God.
Hangin’ out in the Spirit
Intimacy draws us into God’s Presence creating a security that lets us become vulnerable and aware of our shortcomings. Someone described intimacy as “in-to-me-see” because in intimacy we allow God to look into our heart, and He allows us to look into His. Through intimacy, we learn to respond to God’s initiative. Throughout our journey with Him, from the time of our salvation, God has been drawing us. But many of us, having lost sight of our first love, try to regain it thinking we have to attract God’s attention. Instead we need to spend time with Him in silence, resting and waiting in His Presence on His leading. You might be out of the habit of responding, but God is saying: “I’m not looking for your performance. I need you to allow me to draw you again.” When you spend quiet time with God, there’s no place to get to because you’re already there. You don’t need to approach Him with an agenda to hear something. Whenever you are in the cycle, you’re on your journey with God. He is the start of your quiet time, the end of it, and the content. So enjoy yourself.
I’ve learned that if God doesn’t speak to me while I’m waiting in silence, He’ll eventually speak to me during the day. My responsibility is just to focus on Jesus and listen. I don’t have to achieve anything. I’m free to enjoy His touch and voice, and to hang out in the Spirit and see where He is and what He’s doing. This intimate relationship is the foundation of our walk with God. As it grows, He reveals more about Himself, and how He operates. Take note of your insights and meditate on them because they build your character and undergird your ministry. You grow in the knowledge of God and enjoy the journey with Him as His thoughts become your thoughts.
Place of deep intimacy
It was easy to respond to God’s leading during the years of renewal, but now the showers of blessing have diminished for many, and typical of the cycle of hiddenness, they are now experiencing desert dryness. The truth is, when you’re full, renewal experiences end. If you tried to keep them, you could end up more in love with the experiences than with their giver. Now God is taking you to the next place — the desert. God demonstrated the transition to the desert through Jesus’ life (Lk 3:21). After Jesus was filled with the Spirit at His baptism, God led Him into the desert. He does the same with us. The power that filled us, now makes us empty. In our enjoyment of God, we didn’t notice that He nipped in behind us and changed the scenery. While we were enjoying a beach in Hawaii, He put up an Arizona desert backdrop.
But why would He need to take us there for intimacy? Weren’t we already enjoying it in renewal? If you remember, in renewal you were so stirred with God’s love that you cried out for more of Him. In the desert, He answers your prayer, though not in the way you thought perhaps. But then, He doesn’t think like we do. The desert isn’t a place of punishment as many think. It’s actually the best place we can be with God. Once we understand that, it isn’t a struggle getting us into the desert, it’s a struggle getting us out. The desert is a retreat into the very heartbeat of God, a beautiful place of deep intimacy. God takes us there when we’re full. He says He always brings His beloved there because it’s a place of no distractions where He can romance her and “speak kindly” to her (Hos 2:14). In the desert, where one grain of sand is like another, there’s nothing external to see, so we focus on ourselves and on God.
The Dark Night of the Soul
While wonderful, the desert is also painful. In the place of deep intimacy, there is a compelling struggle for supremacy of your spirit over your soul (mind, will, emotions). God performs an internal work of subduing your soul and developing your spirit. This involves purification and pruning. God starves our soul into submission. He says: Let me wake up your spirit. Suddenly, once again we’re hungry for God, and our renewal experience seems like a distant memory. Our soul learns to reject worldly values, lifestyles, and influences. In silence, rest, and solitary confinement, the Spirit burns these things out of us and enables our spirit to flourish and grow. In the desert, God teaches us how to walk in the Spirit by faith, and not by feelings or logic.
Because our soul doesn’t know how to rest and wait on God, it can’t hear God’s voice. It, therefore, lives by feelings or wants evidence of a thing before it believes it. Most Christians live in this type of bondage to their souls. We either analyze everything intellectually or we have to feel things emotionally before we accept them. If we don’t “feel,” or experience God’s manifest Presence, we assume He’s not there. We often exhibit more faith in our feelings than in God’s Word. This is soulish Christianity. If we live in the soul realm we’re babes in Christ, tossed to and fro, children who never quite grow up, who never quite break through, who don’t quite make it, and need constant visitations from God just to stay anywhere on track, scripturally or spiritually. God doesn’t want us to live this way. He wants to make Himself at home in your heart and can only do it if you learn to live in your spirit. Through the desert experience, God moves you from the soul realm to the realm of your spirit. By stripping away external experiences that feed your soul He weakens it so it cannot rise. As your spirit takes its rightful place, your soul doesn’t need external experiences with God because you have internal ones all the time. Any external experience is a bonus and releases you into higher dimensions where you can enjoy God at deeper levels. Mystics call this transition from spiritual childhood to spiritual maturity the “dark night of the soul.”
The Place of Promise
It distresses your soul to submit to your spirit, and it rebels, but eventually, it enjoys the submission because submission takes you to the promised land. Once your soul learns submission, your spirit will never again have a problem locating God in prayer, hearing Him, receiving direction, or moving in the anointing. Through this isolated, one-on-one relationship with God, your life’s message takes shape as it did in John the Baptist and Jesus. When they emerged from the desert they were established in their ministries. Through your desert experience, you become a partaker of God’s divine nature — His maturity, consistency, and reliability. In the desert, God establishes your internal anointing. Revelation received there will be the fountain of living water you’ll draw on for the rest of your ministry. As your soul submits to your spirit, you move into a dependence on God’s activity within and on your own internal anointing for ministry. That doesn’t mean you’ll never experience an external move of the Spirit again. The cycles continue — after you’ve been in the desert, He gives you a fresh visitation. Then again you’ll cry out for more intimacy and anointing and He’ll take you back into the desert. God desires that your spirit rise up because He wants you to inherit your promised land (Hos 2:14). If He gave you cities you didn’t build, wells you didn’t dig, or vineyards you didn’t plant, your might be subverted by your apparent success. If He didn’t first establish you in intimacy with Him, you might lose sight of your relationship with Him. The choice is yours. Will you journey into your inheritance or will you remain in Egypt?