Too often we settle for American Churchianity, a religious version of consumerism. God is inviting us into something deeper and better. Rarely talked about in modern churches, suffering can be an important catalyst in our spiritual journey. Too often the very things we are trying to avoid may be exactly what we need for what’s next for us in life.
Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
Message Notes from John Burke:
We’re walking through the journey of faith that happens over a lifetime, and today we’re talking about the most important, mysterious, and confusing parts of that Journey—something few churches talk about because it’s not typically taught in our American church view of life, but it’s what the Ancient men and women of great faith and love talk about—Desire and the Dark Night of the Soul.
And if you’re just tuning in, I really want to encourage you to go back and listen to these messages in order—so you’ll see the progression of this Lifelong Journey of faith.
We’ve used the analogy of our soul as a Mansion with 7 large dwellings, circling an inner 7th Dwelling where the Lord comes to live when we invite Him—that’s possible because of what Christ did.
- We journey from New Beginnings and our honeymoon of faith, to Failing Forward—where temptations and falls plague us, yet we’re learning to spiritually walk with God.
- The season of being Good Disciples is a fruitful, victorious season of ministry and service, but eventually God allows some disruption or dissatisfaction to propel us toward more of His light and love—and if we learn solitude and listening and responding to God’s prompts in love—we start to enter a joy and love that’s exponentially better than we’ve yet to experience, because it’s not conditional at all.
- And that leads us to Dwelling 5 Desiring Oneness and the Dark Night of the Soul.
But before we go there, recall these Dwellings are not sequential or linear necessarily—they different ways we dwell with God over a Lifetime.
Sometimes we may spend a long season in 3, move into 4 for a short spell, go back to 3, then move into 5 then back to 4 for a longer period before more consistently living in 5.
And Teresa of Avila uses another analogy that’s important to understand. She says think of your Soul like a Garden that needs water.
- In Dwelling or season 1, 2, and 3 it’s mainly us going to the river and using a bucket to water the garden—it takes work and effort on our part to grow.
- In Dwelling 4 and partially in 5, it’s less our work and more of God’s work—like having a Waterwheel and pipes that we can redirect to water the soul (as we spend time in Solitude and learn to listen and abide—but God grows the fruit within us).
- In 5,6, 7 it’s increasingly God doing all the work in us—we do very little other than responding in love and not resisting His work—like a Rain watering the garden—we just let it come.
Dwelling 5 – Desiring Oneness
Jesus forecasted this and prayed for this for us His last night on earth:
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. 22 “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me… 26 I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.” John 17:20-26.
The reason Dwelling 5, 6, and 7 are not talked about is it sounds weird if you have not tasted the love of Dwelling 4. Because here the metaphor shifts.
- If in Season 1&2 we were spiritually born, adopted children, growing up to walk through life with a Good Father.
- In Season 3 and 4 it shifted to Friends and Coworkers with God, and we tasted a Love like no other.
- Now Dwelling 5-7 the best analogy is Bride to Groom—we are the bride and God is the groom, and we are moving toward Oneness.
May sound strange but you find it all across the scriptures:
God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride. Isaiah 62:5.
Jesus, speaking of himself, answered:
“How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. Matthew 9:15.
And of course, Revelation speaks of the Wedding Feast of Jesus—the Lamb of God.
For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself…[with] the good deeds of God’s holy people. Revelation 19:7.
From Old Testament to New, God sees us as His beloved bride that He will one day join with in a Oneness that makes the greatest marriage pale in comparison—and then all our relationships will not go away, but be magnified by this One Love.
If that sounds weird, I understand. I would have thought that sounds weird from the first 3 Dwellings. But think about your deepest desires. Sometimes we mistakenly think it’s to get stuff, or recognition, or fame or fortune—but really all that without feeling deeply loved, leaves us wanting something more. If you haven’t figured that out yet, read Ecclesiastes and save yourself a life of futility chasing the wind.
- What we all want is to be known—deeply—the good parts, the bad parts, our whole story and to be unconditionally loved anyway.
- But not just that, to be understood, to be seen—the potential, the value, the things in us we know we were meant to bring forth…we want a champion to believe in us.
- But more than that, we want a connection, a communion, a Oneness that a very close loving marriage may approximate, and the ecstasy of sexual love when it’s about deep loving commitment—that may bring us close—yet even still there’s a deeper longing still.
- No person can fully satisfy something inside we were designed for—that we desire.
What’s God Doing?
Dwelling 5 is where God’s giving us a taste of the experiential realization that God IS that One that we so deeply desire Oneness and Unity with—and yet that full Oneness and Unity won’t happen until Dwelling 7, and even then not fully until Eternity—but 5-7 we are experiencing more and more of what we deeply Desire.
And there’s great mystery to this—God is mainly doing it, so it can’t be manipulated or programmed or put in a class you can take.
This season of faith can be likened to engagement.
- We’ve fallen in love with God.
- We want nothing more than to be fully united with the Lord, and yet there’s also a frustration because we have to wait.
- God’s preparing us.
- In this season we continue to find solitude times fulfilling, and we spend more and more of our everyday moments doing life with God.
- He brings the mundane moments of life into something special. Kind of like a day of just strolling and sightseeing with the one you’re falling madly in love with—by yourself would be boring—yet with that person it’s an awesome day.
- But we also want more—and we are aware than something is blocking that more—so there’s a fulfillment mixed at times with a frustration.
- Sometimes a frustration because we still sin—and now it’s not at all what we want—so it grieves us when we do because we don’t want anything to get in between us and God.
And God is doing several things as well.
- God may be using these frustrations and desire for more to get us to a place of willingness to let Him do a deeper healing.
- If evil perpetrated sexual abuse or we had trauma in childhood or were deeply damaged or abused, we may have found some healing in the earlier dwellings. Even still, there’s deeper healing God wants to do.
- But we don’t have the ability to face it and go there—to grieve and heal until we are deeply trusting of God’s love and goodness.
What Can We Do?
Often this Dwelling 5 season does not come until Mid-life. Not always, but often all the busyness, career goals, child-rearing, distractions have kept us from extended solitude where God can start to unearth these things to heal them—to set us free finally of their effects.
And in mid-life you start to realize all the goals didn’t fully satisfy, or let you down.
All the tasks of raising a family—that’s done—who am I, what do I really want?
This is often happening simultaneously.
And Solitude and contemplative prayer—where we spend less time talking at God and more time being with God is important.
Also mentors or Christian therapists—those who understand the seasons of spiritual growth and the blocks and healing that God will do—they can be of great help.
But again, it’s mostly something God is setting the agenda to do—so staying trusting and willing to follow—even when it feels scary is what’s most important because there’s a Love going with us that will make it all worth it.
Meditating on these verses in Scripture that relate to Dwelling 5 can help you recognize what God’s doing and cooperate—deeply praying and contemplating what God wants to do to lead you deeper into this.
Listen to this beautiful promise from the Scriptures:
I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:23-26.
In my younger years following Jesus, I read that and thought “earth has nothing I desire besides you?” And I was like, I don’t get that—sorry—I love my life. I have lots of desires besides God. That’s a stage of growth—God patently walks with us.
But a few years ago, after seeing so much evidence of God’s love and guidance over decades, I read that saying “Yes—from the depths of my soul—I get it. All these things I’ve desired on earth are just fingers pointing to You God. Everything I’ve loved is a gift from the great Lover of my Soul—but nothing compares to You.”
In Imagine Heaven, the chapter called The Highlight of Heaven sounds like the line in this psalm “Whom have I in heaven but you?” In Heaven we are reunited with all our loved ones—it’s a Great Reunion—but Christians around the globe that John Burke interviewed, who had clinically died and been in the presence of Jesus, said things like this:
When a terrorist bomb ripped through her church in the Middle East, Samma describes:
“Seeing the majesty and indescribable beauty of the Lord made me speechless. When I was in His presence, it was all I wanted. Being with [Jesus] in heaven…made me one with Him in a way I could never have imagined. I thought what He thought, I dreamed what He dreamed, I felt what He felt.”
Dr. Richard Eby said, “This will be hard for people on earth to understand, but I was instantly in Messiah, in Him…I knew I was me, and yet I was in Messiah…His love is in a different dimension than our idea of love.
Dean Braxton said, “Jesus is pure light! His brightness was before me, around me, part of me, and in me. . . Jesus is more beautiful, wonderful, and glorious than I can explain. . . . Everything about Jesus is love. His love for you is so personal it seems as if it is only for you. It was like I was the only one He loved in all of His creation. I knew He loved others, but it seemed as if I was the only one.”
These people who died and came back speak of what David wrote in the Psalm “Whom have I in Heaven but you?” Nothing compares to the Oneness with His love—and we begin to long for that in Dwelling 5.
Teresa of Avila says that our desire to do totally and only the will of God is the key to the experience of growing union with God. We are still doing ministry, serving, but our doing flows out of more constant being with God. Like a couple that knows what the other’s thinking, we see more quickly what God’s doing. We talk to others while simultaneously learning to listen to what God wants to do through us for them in that moment. We are able to better mediate God’s love and value and care—to say or do the right thing at the right time–because He shows us what He’s doing in every interaction. Theresa says how we love our neighbor displays this great love we experience from God and for God.
What Evil Does
When we remain in deep communion with God, Evil flees. But that doesn’t mean there are no attacks—they just come in less obvious ways. Discouragement can be one of the greatest strategies of the enemy during the fifth mansion, just trying to keep us from this powerful ministry our of a deepening intimacy with God.
And Evil may attack with shame regarding these areas still unhealed that God allows to surface as a diagnostic—so we will take it to Him. For instance, one woman speaks of a growing fear that made no sense as she experienced this great desire for God—God used it as a diagnostic to show her unhealed fear left from childhood sexual abuse, and He guided her into deeper healing. One man in this deepening love, also found himself getting super impatient with his kids—as he brought it to God, He showed him a childhood wound being projected onto them, and led him into grieving that wound so that deeper healing could come. God’s so amazing how He works with us as we are ready and willing. And only when we are strong, experienced in His love, and ready comes The Dark Night of the Soul
The Dark Night of the Soul
I labeled Dwelling 6 the Dark Night, but it could come during Dwelling 5 or 6—And this is the most confusing season of all so far.
The Dark Night of the Soul only comes after God has given us great gifts of his love, we want so much more, and we’ve even cried out for more. But the path to Oneness fully is going to require God leading us to a place where all other attachments, and idols, and possessions and desires get stripped away so that we can have what our Souls long for—truly that taste of Heaven on Earth of his presence that comes in 6 and 7.
What’s God Doing?
The Dark Night is when God seems to pull back and leave us without His Light—in darkness spiritually. And that’s confusing. We wonder what we did wrong—but it’s what you’ve done right. The Dark Night is not the same as going through trials or tests, some that came from our own decisions or bad choices, and it’s not just the normal trials of life like in other Seasons. It only comes to those whose love and faithfulness to God has grown strong enough to handle it. It’s not punishment—it’s this…if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Romans 8:17.
But even mature believers who don’t know about the Dark Night feel like it’s punishment and get confused—what did I do wrong? Why are you doing this? What’s happening? Don’t you love me, didn’t I love you well enough? These are the thoughts and feelings of a mature Christ Follower being led into this Dark Night. Mother Teresa had season 5 and 6 overwhelming experiences of God’s loving oneness as a taste, but then in Calcutta writes about a deep darkness for a long season.
In the Bible, Job struggles with God after being so faithful. God seems distant, evil attacks, it’s confusing, but it wasn’t punishment, God says of Job:
He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity…. Job 2:3.
God gives us human examples in the Bible of this passage through Spiritual Darkness his faithful must travel to arrive at greater unity and love. David sings in Psalm 13
O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? 2 How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand?… But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me. Psalm 13.
David, Job, Mother Teresa, those through history clung to God despite feelings, God was stripping away all that hindered moving toward Oneness. But when we are in it—we struggle to understand where God is and what He’s doing…and if that’s where you are—it’s okay to voice it. God wrote these laments into the Bible so we will voice it to him, and yet hold on to hope.
When you’re in the Dark Night—it feels like He’s gone, but he’s right there. He’s holding you close, and He’s doing something deep in your spirit that you can’t even detect, but he’s cleaning off all the things of this world that are still blocking His full light and love. He’s doing it—He’s strengthening you and preparing you through this Dark Night.
In college I memorized this verse, and it jumps into my mind in so many moments I really need it!:
I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:9-10
There are seasons of Desolation—when God allows us to go through times where He feels distant, though He’s not distant, and life may feel like building a house in a hurricane—the winds rage against us—yet as we cling to God through those—trusting what He says, not how life feels, He’s growing our soul.
What Evil Does
And if you’re in a Dark Night, Evil’s weapon is to discourage, lie, slander you – You have to hold onto God’s word and what’s true despite how things feel.
We can drive ourselves crazy asking “Why?”
A Spiritual friend and Mentor of John Burke’s listened to him complaining about some of his struggles and asked: “Who’s the lawyer in your head you’re arguing against?”
John realized, I’m arguing my case to God. He finally stopped asking “Why?” and started asking “How—how do I stay faithful to You?”
Out of the dark night of the soul is when John Burke wrote Imagine Heaven and God has used it in over a million lives—but it was only as he clung to God’s truth despite how I felt
In this season, God can show us many wounds that needed healing—and He leads us into healing so we experience love and joy in a deeper way.
What Can We Do?
If you are going through this – You did nothing wrong. God IS with you, guiding you and purifying you in ways you can’t detect. Cling to passages like Psalm 13.
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vine, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. 19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength…. Habakkuk 3:17-19.
I realized, I can still have Joy even if nothing circumstantially changes—it’s a choice “I will be joyful in God my Savior,” and in this season I learned to find joy that wasn’t tied to anything else by God. Hold on to that promise—God is your strength, and you can find joy, even in this. It’s okay to give voice to the pain, grief, purging the sadness, you are sharing in the sadness and sufferings of life that God feels, that Jesus experienced—but also Hold Tight to what you now experientially know is True. What God says is true. He isn’t uncaring.
You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8
God’s doing a purging in us—to give us more of himself—He’s going through it with us. And what I can say, that everyone I know who has been through this season to the other side has said “I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy—but it was worth it. That season led me into another season of Consolation—so much better than before that it makes the Dark Night worth it.