The Voice of Jesus; Discernment, Prayer and the Witness of the Spirit
By Gordon T. Smith and IVP
from pages 144 and 145
What then do we do in response to desolation? First, as noted above, we must respect the presence of desolation in our hearts. Nothing is gained and much harm can result from a denial of desolation, whether anger, fear, mourning or discouragement. This does not mean that we announce to the world that we are in sackcloth and ashes, but it does mean that we know ourselves well enough that we recognize when we are in desolation. And we respect that desolation; we take it seriously.
Second, it is important to identify as much as possible the source of our desolation. If our desolation is due to physical fatigue, then we must find time for rest and personal renewal. If the desolation is due to unresolved anger or discouragement or persistent fears, we can choose an intentional course of action that takes seriously what we are feeling but also appreciates that we do not want to remain there. And if our desolation is due to the neglect of our routines and spiritual disciplines, we can turn and seek once more to live in a manner that is congruent with our conscience.
And third, it is important that we learn to wait. In response to the presence of desolation, we can choose to lie low, to recognize that haste can only hurt us and others. One benefit of waiting is that we allow the desolation to teach us about ourselves. If we are in anger, it may tell us something about what matters to us, what we are prepared to contend for. It can also tell us that we are too easily irritated or resentful. Mourning is always an important time of reflection. All loss is but a “small death,” as I once heard it put and so we are wise to slow down, to be attentive to our hearts and to see and feel in truth. And discouragement for many is an opportunity to come to terms with disillusionment—to face up to the fact of their illusion and to put their hope, once more, not in their own dreams and aspirations but in Christ and his work in the world.
Desolation can be humbling. It is a reminder that the joy we experience in this world is all gift. But on the other, it is also humbling that desolation frequently illumines or discloses more of ourselves, something about our character that we might not otherwise notice—our vulnerability, our pride, the weakness of our faith and our need for spiritual growth. And consistently we find that desolation teaches us patience. In other words, desolation is not wasted time. It is, rather, an honest experience that merits our attention and respect.
However, the bottom line remains the same: we are wise if we do not choose or act in desolation. We never so respect it that we choose to stay there. Rather, we respect desolation because we long that our hearts would once more be ruled by peace and that we would know the joy that is the fruit of the Spirit’s presence in our lives. We choose to walk in faith.
This walking by faith is, then, the crucial issue. As long as we are fully engaged with our world, we will always experience both joy and sorrow.
— excerpted from the book written by Gordon T. Smith and printed in 2003 by InterVarsity Press