The Deepening Quality of Suffering (Avoiding Superficial Spirituality Part 10)


“No soul will ever grow deep in the spiritual life unless God works in that soul by means of the dark night.”

This is a line from the famous poem called, The Dark Night of the Soul, which Saint John of the Cross wrote from his ten-by-six feet prison cell in which he was imprisoned for his faith. They fed him bread, water and scraps of salt fish, and brought him out to lash him publicly at least once a week. Through his sufferings, instead of waning, his passion for Christ, grew deeper.

I offer this as another piece of advice about one may go deeper in their life in Jesus.

To go deeper we have to be willing to suffer well

Recently my forty-fifth spiritual birthday came and went. On August 20, 1972 I gave as much of what I knew of myself to as much of God as I knew of him. Frankly, at that point I knew very little about myself and much much less about him. Since then, with the Spirit’s help, I’ve learned a few more things about the both of us. Much of which has come kicking and screaming, put more subtly, through trial and error.

I just told someone the other day that I’ve probably learned and experienced more of the Lord in the last decade than in any other ten year period in my life. That’s not so much due to greater diligence or deeper desire on my part, but rather to experiencing my own dark night of the soul.

The 15th Century English mystic Julian of Norwich actually prayed for suffering, so that she would “afterwards live more to God’s glory.” She put a proviso on the prayer in case she was mistaken about what God wanted for her: “Lord, you know what I want. If it is your will that I have it, or if it is not, do not be displeased with my prayer, for I do not want anything that you do not want.” Some time later, when she did become deathly sick she wrote, “I felt a great reluctance to die, not because of any thing on earth which held me here or because or any fear or pain, for I trusted the mercy of God. But it was because I wanted to live to love God better and longer so that I might through the grace of that living have more knowledge and love of God than I might have even in heaven!” (The latter part about heaven I suppose she meant to be taken as hyperbole.)

Whatever you think of her experience, you have to admit that her spirit of love for Christ and her willingness to be closer to him is in contrast to the prevailing pursuit of health and wealth among many Christians today. Speaking of which, I know of few instances, if any at all, wherein an increase in abundance has created a greater depth in the spiritual life of a person. Suffering, on the other hand, though can make one bitter, has the capability of achieving the opposite and making us better––and deeper.

“We live in this deluded ‘therapeutic’ culture,” wrote Craig Greenfield, “where plenty of folks will tell you that you shouldn’t have to suffer. We’ve allowed a healthy doctrine of self-care to negate a theology of suffering. Self care is meant to sustain us in the battle, not become an excuse to avoid the battle.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love prosperity and success as much as the next guy. It just seems to me that adversity and struggle are usually more apt to yield a deeper life in God. Thought it’s not impossible to live a relatively charmed life and have a profound faith, from my observation some of the shallowest Christians are those who have managed to avoid any real suffering. Though I don’t recommend that we all go out and pray for pain like Julian did, I do advise that we embrace it when it comes, and see if there aren’t some gems to be found there, something that might deepen our walk with the Maker.

Jeanne Guyon wrote: “You who have given yourself to the Lord during some pleasant season, please take note of this: If you gave yourself to him to be blessed and to be loved, you cannot suddenly turn around and take back your life at another season … when you are being crucified!”


This being the 10th post of the series, if you haven’t already read them, scroll down to browse the other pieces of advice I offer for a deeper life in Jesus. If this one inspires you toward that end, some or all of the others might also be helpful.

ps You might consider adding to your list of New Years resolutions a desire to share Christ with people more effectively in 2018. Keep an eye peeled for my book called, Reaching Rahab (Joining God in His Quest for Friends). It will be coming out soon and might help you with that. 

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