Our society lives with the mentality of “what you see is what you get”.
I see people with seemingly perfect families, people who are confident in their major and career plans, people with ever-growing and close-knit friend circles and I assume they have it all together. On the other side, I utter “they’re slipping” or “they’re falling apart” when I see signs of mess in other’s lives.
Then, I let this translate into how I view others’ spiritual lives. I see those who are serving, investing in others, consistently attending church, and doing all the right “Christian things” as spiritually strong. I rarely think of these people as taunted by unbelief, struggling to feel close to God, or spiritually exhausted.
This tendency then translates into my perception of my own spirituality. When everything is going well in my life and I feel like I have it all together, I lose sight of the state of my heart and am blinded by my self-dependency. It’s not until the Lord shakes the ground beneath my feet that the spiritual darkness in my life is revealed.
So often, we think of spiritual darkness as accompanied by poor choices and rebellion. Rather, spiritual darkness comes when we forget our soul’s need for a Savior. It comes when we wake up and become our own strength for the day. It comes when we look to ourselves for discernment rather than the Word of the Lord who knows all. It comes when we lose sight of our dire need for constant renewal in God’s peace and presence.
I substitute conversations with God with conversations about Him. I substitute being filled with the abundance of God’s love with people who love Him. I substitute resting in His presence and spending time listening to His guidance with engaging in ministry and doing more to serve.
These are all good things. These are all great things. We should be surrounding ourselves with people and activities who point us to the Lord. But if we are only being pointed and not pursuing, we are not obeying His commands.
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (John 15:4)
Above all, we are to remain. I get caught up in my call to serve, and go, and invest, and simply lose sight of my dire need to be still–my dire need to remain. He doesn’t command us to bear fruit; only the Holy Spirit can do that. No matter how pure and good our intentions are, no act of servitude or goodness can substitute the closeness to the Lord that comes from abiding in Him.
“Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:6)
In this Psalm, David points out what is key to understanding the goodness of the Lord. “Your goodness and love will follow me.” God’s nearness does not make me good, but His goodness always goes with me because He is always with me.
I’ve been saved by His grace, and my heart has been made new, but the newness and good fruits in my life are only the work of the Spirit constantly dwelling in my heart. When I turn from the reliance on the Spirit, I leave these fruits behind. The only way for me to radiate the light of the Spirit in my life is to pursue it in my heart.
When we subconsciously tell ourselves that we can achieve goodness, and do goodness on our own, we essentially say that we can be the very nature of God without the presence of God. But our self-produced fruit does not rid of us darkness.
“Have nothing to do with fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible–and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.'” (Ephesians 5:11-14)
All that is brought, and only what is brought, into the presence of the Lord is illuminated to become a light.
So, wake up, sleeper. Rise from the dead of your self-produced fruit. Rise from the dead of your spiritual darkness masked by good works. Rise from the dead of depending on your own strength. Find strength in your weakness. Find strength in your daily void that can only be filled by the Lord’s presence. Find strength in your desperate need for a Savior of your soul.
Find strength in Christ, and Christ will shine on you.