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Lost - In Despair

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"“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." (Luke 15:17-20, NIV) [1]

In my distant past I have been a sleepwalker.  That hasn’t happened for years.  Numbers of strange things have taken place in the night time.  Most all of those things would have been unknown to me except for those who witnessed them and later told me.  Primarily my wife and my mother.  They both seem to take special delight in telling these stories

My mother tells me that I’ve dragged my brother out of bed in the middle of the night, occupied his bed and left him sleeping on the floor.  I’ve tried to fly like Peter Pan and been inconsolable at my failed attempts.  I’ve crawled across the floor imitating an outboard motor.

Elaine’s strange encounters include some of the following:

Within the first two weeks of our marriage I frightened her repeatedly.  I asked her to wave to people in the middle of the night.  She awoke to the sound of my fingers flicking in front of her face to the mantra, “I think I’ll have a tuna fish sandwich, I think I’ll have a tuna fish sandwich.”  One night she caught me pressing a dumb bell shaped alarm clock to my ear, rocking back and forth and smiling as if I was listening to a radio.  I asked her apparently to look out the window in the middle of the night.  She refused to cooperate.  I crawled over her to pull the drapes back and say, “No cars are coming.”  I remember waking in the morning feeling frustrated and talking to Elaine over the breakfast table.  I told her about a dream that I had in the night.  We were driving somewhere in the car and the rain was so strong that I couldn’t see out the side window when we stopped at an intersection.  I asked her to look out the window and she absolutely refused to turn her head sideways to help me.  I had to climb over her to assure myself that it was safe to proceed.

I worked two years as a security guard for Pinkerton’s in Allentown Pa.  One of my assignments was a Champion Spark Plug factory in Bethlehem Pa.  I had to make a short round on the half hour and a longer one on the hour.  I carried a heavy clock to key stations at which I placed the key in the clock and twisted it to make some impression on an internal recording device that would indicate that the round had been made.  Many nights I would mindlessly do my round, come back to the guard shack, sit down and wonder whether or not I had actually made the round.  I had no recollection of having done it.

Ever have a dream that was so real that it left you struggling to remind yourself that it was only a dream?  I’ve come to consciousness crying in the middle of the night at the thought of losing someone that I loved.  Some go to sleep crying at the loss of a loved one and wake to the same reality.  Our hearts and prayers are with you.  We wish that it were just a bad dream.

Sooner or later the day brings and end to every dream, good or bad and reality replaces imagination.

From a scriptural standpoint truth and light are the same.  Truth replaces error and we are exposed, life is exposed for what it actually is. 

Before a person can ever really come to know Christ, they must be laid bare before the truth or the light of God’s Word, both spoken and revealed.  It leaves us no room to hide.  It speaks mercilessly and impartially to each of us.  And until we can admit to it’s accuracy we can never find our way forward in the spiritual life, whether we are saints or sinners.

"But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”" (Ephesians 5:13-14, NIV) [2] 

I’ve never enjoyed seeing myself in that mirror.  I’ve seen my pride, envy, bitterness, unforgiveness. . . .   When I have seen the ugliness of these things, I have found help to change – to turn toward home.

The prodigal “came to his senses” Luke writes.  Other versions say that he came to “himself”.  As though he were sleepwalking, in some stupor – he woke up.  Almost like a sleepwalker, he left home and suddenly discovered himself in a situation that he never would have left home for.  How many of us share that shocking realization.  All that we anticipated from life as we have tried to structure or create it on our own has brought us to a place that we never set out for.  We would never have charted a course for the destination that we have reached.  We’d have corrected the course if we had been able to see the reality that confronts us today.

Isaiah the prophet speaks of the Christ to come:

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." (Isaiah 9:2, NIV) [3]

And of himself, Jesus referred:

" When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”" (John 8:12, NIV) [4]

I find it so amazing that the escape that we seek, from the circumstances of life, comes from the truth that we are willing to face about ourselves.  The degree to which we are willing to allow God’s light to show us the truth about ourselves becomes our pathway home.

For the soul lost in despair, the help that God sends comes in personal direction and guidance.  We have a tendency to think that God needs to change something else, someone else in order for us to be happy or fulfilled.  The answers don’t change though.  God’s agenda is not someone else – something else – His agenda is you. 

" Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:5-6, NIV) [5]

Have you lost your way – you’ve lost Jesus.  He’s the Way.

He is the direction that we seek in life – not in the necessity of things changing around us but in a greater vision of our Savior.

For the prodigal, this was an awakening, a shock to a sleepwalker’s system, suddenly to find himself at such a low point.  It was his “dark night of the soul”.

The term "dark night of the soul" is taken from the writings of the Spanish poet and Roman Catholic mystic Saint John of the Cross, a Carmelite priest in the 16th century. Dark Night of the Soul is the name of both a poem, and a commentary on that poem, and are among the Carmelite priest's most famous writings. They tell of his mystic development and the stages he went through on his quest for holiness.

The "dark night" could generally be described as a letting go of our ego's hold on the psyche, making room for change that can bring about a complete transformation of a person's way of defining his/her self and their relationship to God.

The interim period can be frightening, hence the perceived "darkness". In the Christian tradition, during the "dark night" one who has developed a strong prayer life and consistent devotion to God suddenly finds traditional prayer extremely difficult and unrewarding for an extended period of time. The individual may feel as though God has suddenly abandoned them, or that their prayer life has collapsed.

Rather than being a negative event, the dark night is believed by mystics and others to be a blessing in disguise where the individual is trained to grow from vocal and mental prayer, to a deeper contemplative prayer of the soul.

Particularly in Christianity, it is seen as a severe test of one's faith. The Dark Night comes in two phases: a first "Night of the Senses," and a second "Night of the Spirit."

"The dark night of the soul" is not something bad or destructive. On the contrary it is an experience to be welcomed as a sick person might welcome a surgery that promises health and well-being. The purpose of the darkness is not to punish or afflict us. It is to set us free.

--- Richard J. Foster (1942- )

God is faithful to meet us at the depths of our despair.  How many times has my own experience with God been as shallow as my sense of need.  In so many areas of my life I would consider myself to be doing fine and would see my need as marginal.  Consequently my experience is marginal.

For many people within the church today, the need that we have felt has been marginal and our experience has been the same.  It’s been enough to stir our hearts because that’s really all we want.  We want God to “stir” us but not to set us ablaze for His Glory.

Look at the scriptures today that speak to us of the prodigal in his dark night and the awakening that he experienced.

1. The Father Focus

It began first of all with the Father Focus

Ø      He saw the Father’s goodness in his treatment of his hired hands. 

“‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, . . ”

He had gone his own wandering way, choosing his path, creating distance between himself and his father.  What he ran from as restrictive now was compelling.  A person’s true character is shown in his treatment of those that he  or she can treat anyway that they choose without fear of reprisal.  The way that people treat those from whom they stand nothing to gain is a true test of their character.  The way that a man treats his wife and his children reveals his true feelings about people in general.  The way that that a man treats those people that he employs tells the whole story.  That’s the way that he/she really feels about you.  I have always been challenged to believe that the way that a pastor treats his staff is the way that he truly feels about the congregation.

Real revival or spiritual direction always begins with "an intensified awareness of God." Any meaningful pattern for personal revival praying ought to focus on the nature and character of God. Because only God can give true revival, seeking God for who He is becomes central to revival praying. God said, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13).

Want to find your way home today – begin with a focus on God – not on yourself or your problems but on God, his character, the possibilities that He has for you as you seek Him.

And the prodigal thought, that if he could go home and be nothing more than one of those hirelings, he would be better off.  I’d like to tell you today that you are better off in God’s hands than you are in anyone else’s hands.

2. The Sin Focus

Ø      He saw his true condition and the end of it.

“ . . . and here I am starving to death!”

In other words, he understood that if he stayed where he was, doing what he was doing, he would die.  It didn’t require any special brilliance, insight or revelation.

That’s the picture of a sin sold life.  It never ceases to amaze me that we can watch people select a life course and know that it leads to eventual disaster of some sort.  Then we’ll walk down the same road believing that it will lead us somewhere else.

I’ve watched pastors neglect their families because they believe that they have a call that is greater than the obligation that they have to those that they have been given by God.  The church is more important, the work is more important.  The result is the same so many times – no matter what your name is – no matter how good your intentions are.  It’s not just pastors who make those kinds of calls.  If you don’t invest in relationship then they will suffer for it in one way or the other and the rules don’t change regardless of how sincere you may be or how noble your motives.

Ø      He knew that he was the problem – not his father.

“I have sinned against heaven and against you.”

True revival likewise includes "an acute sensitivity to sin." The psalmist cried out, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me" (Ps. 139:23-24). It was because of the psalmist's understanding of God's nature and character (see Ps. 139:4-12) and his passion for God (see Ps. 42:1-2) that he became so aware of his sinful nature, crying out to God for cleansing.

If you want God to fix your problems, you have to allow Him to correct you.

Finding your way out of despair involves a clear view of your sin – that which alienates you from God.

3. The Truth Focus

Ø      He knew that there was no reason that he should expect to be taken back as a son.

“I am no longer worthy to be called your son; . . .”

A passionate hunger for the truth of God's Word also is central to genuine awakening.  The truth is that none of us can provide God with reasons that He should forgive or pardon.  None of us are worthy in the final analysis.

4. The Prayer Focus

Ø      He made his request based on his limited understanding of the depths of the Father’s love.

“. . . make me like one of your hired men.’”

True revival always includes "an absorbing concentration on prayer." From the very outset of the birth of the early church, prayer has been foundational to every awakening in history. The early church was born out of 10 days of prayer (Acts 1:14) and was sustained through its formative years by prayer (Acts 4:31, 12:1-5). A.T. Pierson wrote: "Prayer has been starting point and goal to every movement in which are the elements of personal progress. Wherever the church has been aroused and the world's wickedness arrested, somebody, somewhere, has been praying."

I suspect that most of us are relatively tame in our praying.  If He is our Father in heaven, what might He choose to do in us and through us?  I am frightened at my tendency to ask for less than what God might have for me – for our church.

We’ll be starting our prayer meeting again.  I don’t know if there is a good time to have it?  Does that surprise you?  As far as God is concerned, anytime is great.  What if we thought about prayer meeting like that?  What if we thought that anytime would be the best time because we believed it to be so important for the church to pray together.

I don’t believe that God will punish us for not praying, I just think that He will ignore us for not praying.  People who won’t move and pray together will experience a trickle of His blessing as He passes by to bless some other people who will pray and move together.  And we are so blind as to interpret the trickle as the whole experience.

You see, I have always believed that people who expect something great from God must be prepared to give something great to Him.  It requires sometime in the Upper Room waiting for His power without which we are insignificant and ineffective.

I’m about to chastise myself a little as the pastor of this church.  We’ve been working for better than a year now on the development of some policy that would protect us from liability in case of a physical and sexual abuse incident.  We are believing that if we are compliant, that Ecclesiastical Insurance will come through for us.  I wonder if we’d be better protected by working as hard on raising up a group of people who believe that prayer is at least as important as an insurance policy.  We spent more than a year developing a facility use policy.  Lord forgive us for not working at least as hard on scheduling at least one hour a week where the body comes together specifically to pray.  We schedule 6 hours of basketball a week.  2 hours of volleyball, 2 hours of badminton.  It’s funny to me that people don’t say that maybe two or three people could come at separate intervals during the week to play basketball because we are all so busy that we can’t arrive at the church at the same time.

I love my church – just the way it is and I am convinced that “just the way it is” it is the best that I have ever known or been involved in – in 30 years of ministry.

But I’ve never been in a church that has ever prayed that God would overwhelm them with numbers of people who were overcome by God’s presence and flooded to the house of God to find Him.  Would we ever dare pray that way?

We should.

5. The Conduct Focus

Ø      He acted.  He knew what he had to do and he did it.


“So he got up and went to his father.”

Personal purity, - "an enhanced standard of conduct," is likewise an outflow of true revival. A passion for God's presence and an acute awareness of sin logically will lead to a personal pursuit of holiness. When Isaiah saw the Lord, he confessed, "I am a man of unclean lips" (Is. 6:5).

You know what you have to do today as well.  You have to get up and go to the Father.

The first thing that I do when I say this is to qualify.  I want to tell you that you don’t have to walk down this aisle.  But I wonder if that’s always true.  Maybe someone here today has to do exactly that – maybe you know that you’ve had to do that for a good long time.  Doesn’t make sense does it?  God is everywhere.  Yep!  But maybe today, He is here and maybe he wants you to see that you need to take your hands off and humble yourself and walk the same road that so many people have walked before you and discover that the road that they have taken leads home because you’re no different, no smarter, no less in need, no more in control

What do you think? 

Other Material from Eastman’s article

6.The Loyalty Focus.

Real revival also includes a desire for increased fellowship with others in a local body of believers. Dr. Wood refers to this as "a strengthened loyalty to the church." The author of Hebrews admonishes: "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing" (Heb. 10:25). Pray for an increased faithfulness in regular church attendance and other occasions for fellowship.

7. The Unity Focus.

From the very birth of the early church at Pentecost, unity has always been foundational to true awakening. Note the specific references to the early disciples being "in one accord" (Acts 2:1). "All the believers were one in heart and mind" (Acts 4:32). Dr. Wood refers to this quality of awakening as "an exciting realization of unity." Perhaps one of the most encouraging indicators that real revival may be on its way globally is the unprecedented signs of unity throughout Christ's body. Pray that you will be an encourager of unity in your church and community.

8. The Evangelism Focus.

Dr. Wood next suggests that true awakening includes "an augmented zeal in evangelism." Christ suggested that power for evangelism would flow out of awakening when He said: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). God's enduement of power (certainly a mark of true revival) will automatically result in our being "witnesses" not only locally but ultimately globally. Pray for a new passion for lost souls--at home and abroad.

9. The Justice Focus.

Dr. Wood concludes with a reminder that real revival always produces "a passion for social justice." It is logical that an ever-increasing desire to live and obey God's Word, which is filled with repeated calls for justice as well as ministry to those in need, would lead to a passionate pursuit of helping to meet those needs. History proves that real revivals have led to significant social change. It is said that in one six-month period at the height of the Welsh Revival that local judges had not a single criminal case to try. Certainly a true indicator of impending personal awakening is how much of ourselves and our resources we are willing to give to meet the needs of those who are suffering. Pray for a fresh passion to personally participate in practical ministry to those who are suffering.

Dick Eastman.

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) was a brilliant theologian whose sermons had an overwhelming impact on those who heard him.  One in particular, his famous "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," moved hundreds to repentance and salvation.  That single message helped to spark the revival known as "The Great Awakening" (1734-1744).

From a human standpoint, it seems incredible that such far- reaching results could come from one message.  Edwards did not have a commanding voice or impressive pulpit manner.  He used very few gestures, and he read from a manuscript.  Yet God's Spirit moved upon his hearers with conviction and power.

Few know the spiritual preparation involved in that sermon.  John Chapman gives us the story:  "For 3 days Edwards had not eaten a mouthful of food; for 3 nights he had not closed his eyes in sleep.  Over and over again he was heard to pray, 'O Lord, give me New England! Give me New England!'  When he arose from his knees and made his way into the pulpit that Sunday, he looked as if he had been gazing straight into the face of God.  Even before he began to speak, tremendous conviction fell upon his audience."

Spiritual awakenings, whether in biblical or Church history, manifest patterns that are similar, often strikingly so. While all of the following elements may not be present in each instance, for the most part awakenings progress through a cycle whose phases include these various aspects of God's working.

1) Awakenings are usually preceded by a time of spiritual depression, apathy and gross sin, in which a majority of nominal Christians are hardly different from the members of secular society, and the churches seem to be asleep. ...

2) An individual or small group of God's people becomes conscious of their sins and backslidden condition, and vows to forsake all that is displeasing to God. ...

3) As some Christians begin to yearn for a manifestation of God's power, a leader or leaders arise with prophetic insights into the causes and remedies of the problems, and a new awareness of the holy and pure character of the Lord is present. ...

4) The awakening of Christians occurs: many understand and take part in a higher spiritual life. ...

5) An awakening may be God's means of preparing and strengthening His people for future challenges or trials.

   -- "Spiritual Awakenings in North America," Christian History, no. 23.

  In graduate school, I took a course in Chinese philosophy. The Buddhist monk who taught the course said to me, "As a Christian, you teach your children to pray all wrong. You teach them to pray, 'If I should die before I wake.' It would be better if you taught them to pray 'If I should wake before I die.' "

   The monk went on to point out that most of the people he knew were half awake when they ought to be asleep. But even worse, when they were asleep, they were half awake. No one seemed to be totally alive. Nobody seemed to be turned on to what was going on around them.

-- Tony Campolo, "If I Should Wake Before I Die," Preaching Today, Tape No. 124.


[1]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[3]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[4]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[5]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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