Times of Refreshing
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. May God bless you this week with a sweet visit that warms and revives your heart as He graciously grants you Himself in a time of refreshing of your spiritual life.
One of the sweeter promises in all of Scripture for the saint of God who is struggling with a coldness and hardness of heart, is the one given to us in Acts 3:19. It is there where we read the following: "Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord . . .” The reason that this promise is so sweet to us is because there is not one of God’s people that does not periodically need for God to refresh us.
In the book of Revelation we read in chapter 3 that Jesus says to the Laodicean church that He wants them to be either hot or cold. Either they needed to be for Him or against Him – passionate about their walk with God or not walking with Him at all. These two descriptors – hot and cold express God’s desire that we either be saved and all in – or lost. What Jesus says sickens Him is when we are “lukewarm.” That state describes those who have at one time were hot – but who have had their love for Christ cool considerably. They would recoil at the thought that they were cold and lost – but in spite of this they do not grasp that their cooling was as great as Christ described. This is the coolness that desperately needs a time of refreshing (or reheating as this passage would state).
I am going to admit to a problem that has been with me for the past 32 years I’ve been a Christian. There are times when my time alone with God seems flat. There are times when I am not fired up about the Great Commission – and the lifestyle that embraces the Great Commandment doesn’t thrill me either. My passion for Christ “cools” over time. This can be due to sin that comes to me due to direct disobedience – or from little compromises that I become blind to that are building up in my life. The final result is always the same – my love and passion to worship, follow, learn, witness, etc. – dies down. My heart cools off and as a result my walk with the Lord needs refreshing. I am also going to admit to a solution that I’ve experienced time and time again when I experience “spiritual cooling” in my life. This experience is one that God has used to refresh me and revive my flagging devotion to Him. I’ll share the stages of it so you can estimate whether you might need a similar work as well.
First, as the cooling begins, I am pretty much oblivious to it. More often than not, I am making little compromises when this happens. One very common theme here is that I continue having a quiet time – but it becomes something I do as a duty. I don’t realize, at first, that I’m not truly connecting with God. I read – and record that I did, thinking that the reading is the key. God, on the other hand, notes that, where I used to come to hear from Him, now I come to fulfill some sort of religious duty. Whether I hear from Him or not no longer dominates my thinking. Instead, I am focused on being a good boy – doing my religious duty by reading so many chapters a day. Before long I’ve missed a day – then maybe two – and then at times I can miss several and not be concerned. God allows this – even retreating from our times together so that I see that reading alone is not the key. Note here that what He is doing is bringing me to a stale-ness so that I begin to miss Him. It is His presence that warms my heart – not necessarily just my reading material (even when it is the Bible).
Other scenarios include times when I think I’m smarter than God is, and as a result I know how I should live (which usually means in some sort of sin or mild compromise of His values). God, being Sovereign God and everything, does not take kindly to this arrogance on my part. Because His Spirit is grieved, He will allow me to try to live without His nearness and fellowship. Finally, there is that scenario when I just rebel – and know His immediate withdrawal of fellowship. My response, because I’m either angry, bitter, or honestly, just dumb – is not to deal with it and let it sit until it becomes a rancid “disobedience stew” that stinks up my heart and life.
Take your pick because in over 30 years of seeking to follow the Lord I’ve done a little of all of these. What I find amazing is not the cooling that takes place in my heart. That is a given. God warns of such things. What I find truly astounding is that God pursues me again and again. He often allows me to experience the Proverb, which warns me that, as a backslider in heart, I will have my fill of my own sinful ways. He may even allow some serious consequences to begin to manifest themselves due to my sin. Whatever the case, after a while, He begins to draw me back. It may begin just as whispers in the wind – or a distant echo of the sweetness of fellowship in times past. Whatever He chooses – He begins to draw me, and I begin to feel an ache in my spirit. Oh the sweetness of such moments as I become alerted to the souring of my soul.
The passage in Acts 3 is very instructive. The counsel in it is similar to that of Revelation 3. Repent and return to God! That is the whole of the counsel He offers – and truly it is all that we need. Repent – change your thinking. Consider your current situation and realize the spiritual insanity you are allowing to guide your thoughts of God and spiritual things. Sin, religion for religion’s sake, and compromise (no matter how small) will never lead to a hot heart for God. These are the frigid winds of the flesh! Radically change your thinking and reject these things. Return – the direction you are currently heading is the WRONG ONE! Turn around so that you begin heading toward God’s will and God’s way. The repentance will have you confessing sin and compromise. The returning will have you choosing obedience to God and His Word as your new path. This is the whole of God’s counsel to you and to me when we have hearts that are cooling toward Him.
The promise God gives when we respond in repentance and return is truly awesome. He promises that times of refreshing will come from His very presence. Here is something that we have to see. When the refreshing comes – the refreshing is Him! It is not some experience – nor is it some “thing.” The refreshing comes from the “PRESENCE OF THE LORD.” It is as we turn from everything and everyone – and run to Him – that we are revived. We only need remember that the blessing was not in connection with some “thing.” It was not a feeling – a gift – a provision – or anything else other than Him. It was when we experienced Him again that the feeling came. He was the one behind the gift, the blessing, or the provision. When we had Him (and I mean by this His manifest presence) we had whatever we needed. The Word becomes sweet again when we realize that the Word directs us to Him – so He can give us life!
So how goes it with you? When was the last time you met with Him? Can you remember when it was all about Him – fellowshipping with Him – experiencing Him – walking with Him – being empowered for ministry by and for Him and His glory? If it has been a while, and if you’ve been troubled by “spiritual cooling” in your life, repent and return. But as you do – seeking that time of refreshing – know that you are not in search of some “thing”. What you long for and miss so dearly is . . . Him. It will be when His presence once again floods your life that refreshing will come. So, dear saints, seek Him – call out to Him – long for Him. He IS the refreshing!
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been writing columns about the spiritual doldrums of life. These are times when things slow down and we feel like there is not a lot of wind in our sails. This week, as we finish the third in this series of three columns, I want to address the danger of not being ready for storms that are associated with spiritual doldrums.
When doldrums exist in the equatorial regions of the ocean—there is a deadness in the air. Because of the heat that is present at this part of the earth, the waters can superheat due to having little of no wind to dissipate the heat that settles on them. This can cause the most erratic of storm patterns. One moment doldrums can be completely calm—with the winds dead as can be. The problem is that in a matter of moments, the superheated water can rise and cause very dangerous thunderstorms called, “super-cells” to form. It is in these moments that a sailor needs to be able to read not just the winds, but the skies as well. Experienced sailors knew that when their ships were caught in doldrums—there was a high likelihood that there also might be a storm before things were over. Therefore they watched the skies diligently for any kind of sudden updraft of air or formation of a super-cell.
Anyone who has had a bout of spiritual doldrums knows that this is true in the spiritual realms as well. We can move from a time that seems spiritually lifeless—to a situation where we are in a serious spiritual battle or storm. We need to be reminded of the admonition to “watch and pray” because our adversary the devil is like a roaring lion—seeking someone to devour. If you’ve never gone from a doldrums to a battle—you cannot imagine the way things go from ridiculously slow to overwhelming in a matter of moments. This is why we need to be alert in times of spiritual doldrums—and not be lulled into spiritual slumber. There were sailors whose entire job was to watch the skies during these times. A lack of attentiveness by the “watch” could mean the difference between life and death in an approaching storm. Therefore we need to be watchful—even in times when things seem boring and slow. Most of us have heard the saying, “the lull before the storm.” That is often what spiritual doldrums are—the quietness and seeming calm right before things break loose and get pretty crazy. The wise man makes his way through these times using discipline to maintain his spiritual edge—but also using spiritual discernment to be aware of trouble on the horizon. This way he is not off guard when the storms break loose. He is ready—watching—praying—and alert to the spiritual atmosphere around him.
Last week I shared some about facing the doldrums of life—when not much is going on spiritually—at least not much that we can see. Building on the whole idea of the doldrums of life—I want to offer additional encouragement this week. As review—the doldrums are a wind pattern that exist around the equator. As the winds reach this area they come under tremendous pressure and instead of blowing from side to side, they blow upwards. This creates stagnant winds or no wind at all. What winds that blow are erratic—and come from numerous directions in just a matter of hours. Sailing is difficult when this happens and requires those who do so to constantly set their bearings. If they do not—the wind can take them completely off course. That is what I want to speak of today—maintaining focus and our course heading spiritually when the winds of God begin to die down for a season.
One of the difficult things to do in spiritual doldrums is maintain our course and our focus. It is during these times that we feel as if we are drifting aimlessly. For those who sail in the doldrums, this is very difficult. Little winds rise up from multiple directions and often the inexperienced sailor will catch them and use them. But the experienced sailor knows these winds are very deceptive. They are difficult to use and will take the ship off course. It is better to keep ones heading—check it often—and wait for the right winds to return.
Oh, how this is true in the spiritual as well. When things seem spiritually stagnant—that is the time to be very careful about the “winds of doctrine” that want to blow us off course. We can get so spiritually desperate that we decide to catch the wind of a questionable doctrine—just so we feel like we’re moving spiritually again. The problem is that these doctrines that tantalize us with more “feelings” and “emotions” come with serious theological baggage that will have to be unpacked later. It is better to wait out our spiritual doldrums, checking our course heading again and again to make sure that we are not getting off course. The way sailors would do this was to look up at the stars and set their course according to the unerring direction that they would give. This is true of the spiritual as well. We do not need to look outward at others during this time. If we do, we will get off course. We need to look up to the Lord and His Word for His unerring guidance to keep us on track until the winds of His Spirit rise to move us again in His directions. Catching any wind that blows by is dangerous—especially if all we want is movement. We need to look up to the Lord—and check our course chart—His Word. If the direction of the wind is contrary to this information—we need to ignore those “false” winds and wait on the Lord till He graciously grants that the winds of truth rise to move us again.
I would like to share a recent set of articles entitled, "Living Out of Season." These articles deal with those times when we are having a dry spell spiritually. We all go through these times - times when we just don't quite "feel it" spiritually. There may not be a lot of emotion - or umph spiritually. We are not buried in rebellion or sin in our lives. We just don't quite have that "flying through the ceiling" kind of spiritual emotion. How do we make it through times like these? Hopefully, these articles will be a help to you - as we take a little closer look at a section of Scripture in 2 Timothy chapter 4.
Recently, I’ve been going through a pretty dry spell spiritually. As I was talking to the Lord about this one morning, He brought to my mind a verse out of 2 Timothy chapter 4 where Paul urges young Timothy to be ready both “in season” and “out of season,” to preach the Word. As this verse began to pace back and forth in my understanding—the time spent in meditation began to bless me and encourage me in the Lord. Being “out of season” refers to the plant world where in colder regions trees and other plants go into a type of hibernation during those months. All we see from the outside is that the tree loses its leaves—and it looks barren and sad. That is how I was feeling as I struggled through this spiritually dry time. My emotional state was starting to be too focused on just outward things. That is when the Lord had me take a look into what a tree does when it is dormant.
Trees are anything but inactive during their “out of season” times. They shed their leaves so that there will be limited limb damage when they face the cold months. In addition to this, they also begin to beef up on certain chemicals in their cells. This concentration of certain chemicals lowers their water content—which allows the tree to survive the harsh winter temperatures without freezing and being damaged. Another thing that is happening takes place under ground. The root system continues to grow throughout the winter months. This slower growth is vital to the health of the tree the next spring. It allows for the tree to provide for the water needs it will have the following year. These are the things the tree is doing in its time “out of season.” Then the Lord began helping me to see applications for my own life through His example in nature.
When we are “out of season” we need to focus on growing deeper in the Lord. Focusing on the outward will probably depress us—so we should change our focus accordingly. Just as the tree drops its leaves to prepare for winter winds and storms, we should prepare our hearts for troubles and difficulties that are part and parcel of the human experience. As the tree concentrates chemicals to protect itself—we too should labor to increase the “concentration” of the Word in our minds and hearts. It will keep us from being “frozen” spiritually and falling into spiritual laziness or inactivity when dry times come. Finally, we should seek to deepen our relationship with the Lord during these times—just as the tree focuses on the root system. Grow deeper in the Word, in discipleship, and in “just being faithful” even when we might not “feel” like it. Hopefully these things will encourage you in your “out of season” moments.
Most of these articles are taken from the Calvary Courier, a weekly newsletter that is sent to the folks who attend Calvary Chapel Jonesboro. Due to the response to these articles, we've decided to print some of them which proved to be very helpful to God's people at the fellowship.
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