written by Ulysses Stephen King, Jr.
“You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah”—Psalm 32:7
“Do not rejoice over me, my enemy; when I fall, I will arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.”—Micah 7:8
May 24, 2017—I went home to have lunch with my beautiful wife, Tiffany, and to relax before returning to the church office to write checks to pay the church’s monthly bills and to solicit donations from past and present supporters. Membership and contributions have dropped off considerably in recent months and we’ve had to make some cutbacks, changes, and adjustments to our outreach programs and ministry events. The pressures of leadership and decision-making have been at times overwhelming. Tiffany, however, ministers to me daily to remind me that God will supply and meet all of our needs—and not to worry. But I do worry and this is something I need to overcome.
The stress of my responsibilities got the best of me on today, and instead of returning to the office to cry over the stack of bills on my desk, I decided to take a long nap at home in the middle of the day (which is something I don’t normally do). Now mind you, I am not ashamed to say, I am a strong believer in twenty or thirty-minute power naps; and whenever I can sneak one in at the office or at home, I will. Long naps, however, usually leave me lethargic and lacking energy. Sometimes it’s difficult to continue working afterwards.
It had been raining earlier on this particular day and clouds filled the sky. Taking a nap for twenty or thirty minutes under normal circumstances would usually be a welcomed relief; but these are not normal circumstances. Maybe my worries, anxieties, and frustrations will all be gone when I wake up I thought? (I never liked that song by Bobby McFerrin, Don’t Worry, Be Happy.)
Just before I fell asleep I decided to read a few magazine articles, excerpts from books and journals about church leaders that overcame insurmountable odds and circumstances in their lives. Leaders like Alexander Crummell, Jacquelyn Grant, Howard Thurman, James Cone, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer to name just a few. The lists of men and women who faced great tests and trials of faith were an encouragement to me. Unfortunately, I had reached a low place in my life and ministry where I needed to be assured of God’s presence and leading. Ministry had become a burden to me. I no longer enjoyed nor felt the presence of the Lord in my life in the way I once had. I felt empty and alone. I needed and wanted to be inspired and refreshed by the Holy Spirit. Surely, I felt, if God could help them, He would surely help me?
I don’t remember how long I slept but I know it was longer than thirty minutes! When I did finally wake up, I surprisingly felt energetic and rejuvenated! Something happened during my sleep. I had experienced an awakening in my consciousness. This low and dark place I had experienced in my life and ministry had been changed by the power of Holy Spirit. Could this be what Jacob felt after fighting with God all night at Jabbok River (Genesis 32)?
I am definitely no Jacob. There are no similarities between what Jacob experienced with God and my own experiences and relationship with Him. However, popular and widely read Christian author Frederick Buechner, characterizes Jacob’s divine encounter at the Jabbok River as the “magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God.”[i] It’s in Jacob’s story we can easily recognize our own elements of struggle: fears, darkness, loneliness, vulnerabilities, and empty feelings of powerlessness, exhaustion and relentless pain.
In the end, Jacob does what we all must do. He confronts his failures, his weaknesses, his sins, and all the things that are hurting him . . . and faces God. Jacob wrestled with God all night. It was an exhausting struggle that left him crippled. It was only after he came to grips with God and ceased his struggling—realizing that he could not go on without Him—that he received God’s blessing (Genesis 32:29).
I knew that my life was not my own and that I had been enlisted in a spiritual army to fight in a spiritual war that could only be fought and won in prayer, fasting, and meditating on God’s eternal Word. But the fight would not be easy. I had those moments of doubt and my faith at times began to wane. Had I committed some unforgiveable sin? Had I been unfaithful to God? Why this darkness?
Search for God
My search for God and for answers to these and other questions had begun long before taking a nap in the middle of the day. I had been faithfully praying and fasting earnestly and fervently for months, but I just couldn’t hear God’s voice speaking to me. I read and studied His Word. I looked for Him in visions and dreams. I refused the counsel and advice of friends, family, associates, and colleagues. There was no comfort in their words. It is often said that we chose whether or not to be happy; however, happiness didn’t seem like a choice at all for me at this time.
Even the apostle Paul experienced similar discouragements and fears: “We were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within” (2 Corinthians 7:5). But, in truth, God does not want to leave us with our trials, our fears, and our battles in life. What we come to learn in our conflicts of life is that God proffers us a corresponding divine gift. It is through Him that we can receive the power of conversion and transformation, the gift of not only surrender, but also freedom, and the gifts of endurance, faith and courage.
Sadly, I had begun to believe Satan’s lies. Maybe I deserved all the bad things that have happened to me I thought? Darkness was all around me. “Look at all that has happened in your family’s background and history,” Satan taunted me. My beloved baby sister suffered and died in 2010. Prior to my sister’s untimely death, my parents had past away. My mother died in 1983, and my father followed her soon after, in 1984. They all suffered horrible, lingering, and painful deaths due to diseases like, diabetes, cancer, lupus, respiratory and heart failure. “This could happen to you,” Satan whispered.
My days are often filled with the care and feeding the flock of God. There are so many needs that come from every place and everywhere. One big mistake pastors and leaders often make is allowing the burdens of others become theirs. I finally realized that I was experiencing that dreadful word—“burnout.” As Marty Duren said,
The devil does his dirtiest work in the dark. Secrecy and shame are two of his most effective weapons. Our goal as pastors is to get people into the light of the gospel where the Holy Spirit can take the burden. It is not to join them under a weight of secrecy, increasing our own burden. We will always carry some burden of knowing, but we cannot allow the burden to overwhelm us. We should gladly, and often, cast our own cares upon Him because He truly cares for us (Lifeway Pastors, September 23, 2016).
Suddenly, I felt the sun’s light on my eyes waking me out of a deep sleep. When I opened my eyes the sun was shining. Sunlight was beaming through my window while I was lying across my bed. I didn’t get up immediately. I closed my eyes again—not to go back to sleep but to see. I saw this bright light and heard a voice speaking into my spirit clearly say, “Don’t become obsessed with the darkness.” God’s word was opened to me. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Then I opened my eyes once again and standing over me was my beloved wife, Tiffany. Something wonderful happened. She said, “I love you.” She’s told me she loves me many times before but this time I was hearing differently. It was as if I was hearing the voice of the Father whispering those words into my spirit, “I love you.” She said it again. “I love you,” and she smiled. It was a smile that penetrated my heart. I stared at her for a minute and she asked me if I was all right. I was. I felt refreshed and ready to face whatever task or challenge faced me. I was awakened in His love.