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Limp Sails

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My sails hung limp for a few months last fall. I can come up with a list of factors—busyness, worry, unresolved questions—but the bottom line was that I wasn’t experiencing God’s presence, at least not in a way that I could identify. A few weeks into the drought, two praying people at Salem Alliance Church gave me the same phrase: “a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isa. 61:3). It was a word of hope, but the heaviness didn’t lift. What I did sense, though, was that God was aware that I was weighed down.

I am convinced that we experience seasons of evil—times when Satan is allowed extra access to our days. Paul exhorts us to put on the armor of God so that “when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Eph. 6:13).

I’m heartened by the picture that after all the dust settles and the days, weeks or months of evil pass, all I’m called to do is still be standing. I may look like a battle-worn wreck—but I’m still on my feet and not fl attened in defeat by the enemy. I still have my character (more than ever after the battle), my faith (shaken but alive), my integrity and my calling. Looking back on the season of trial, I can’t say that I accomplished a lot for God, but I can say that I learned a few things about dependence upon Him. It seems that He, like an experienced athletic coach, willingly takes us to a new level of difficulty before backing off for a season of restrengthening.

One thing that added to my heaviness was the revelation about the former pastor of New Life Church, Ted Haggard. Because of my years in Colorado Springs and experiences at New Life Church/World Prayer Center, I felt a special closeness to this situation. I garnered numerous lessons from this that I’d be happy to share privately, but one was a renewed determination to keep a solid prayer network around me. I told members of the staff at Salem Alliance, “If you are a leader and haven’t gathered a prayer team with whom you frequently communicate, you are spiritually at risk. You are driving down the highway at 90 miles an hour with your seatbelt unfastened and your air bags disengaged. You might be fine, but you are being irresponsible.” The more I study the apostle Paul’s life, the more I see that he unashamedly solicited prayer for his ministry.

Therefore, I’m committed to soliciting prayer and trust that you are as well. But even having a prayer team is not a guarantee against dry times, dark nights of the soul or windless sails. These are actually seasons God deems necessary for the formation of our souls. Every believer—especially those on the front lines—gets to experience the splitting heart of Christ, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

I think Isaiah understood. The prophet who saw incredible visions also revealed something else about his spiritual journey and the nature of God: “Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God and Savior of Israel” (Isa. 45:15). Later, the prophet admits that sometimes we travel in the dark: “Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God” (50:10).

My sails go limp—but then the wind blows again. I’m not content with an “experience-free” relationship with God, an emotionless journey. I believe He’s real, alive, present, involved and concerned—and that we will experience Him.

Obviously, it doesn’t hurt to try to raise our sails from time to time. Praise—a determined I-will-praise-you-even-if-I-don’t-see-you kind of praise—can hoist a heavy sail. But only He determines when the divine breath will breathe life into your limp spirit again. Wait. Trust. Obey. “Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you” (26:8). I hear the prophet saying, “I haven’t a clue what You are up to and it sure would be nice if You would reveal Yourself, but in the meantime I’ll keep obeying—walking in Your holy ways.”

So carry on. Celebrate the wind. Flow in strength as the wind refills your sails and wait in faith when the sails hang limp.

The wind has returned to my spirit, and I’m surging forward again—making decisions, stepping out in faith, getting work accomplished, praying bolder prayers—but something within me changed during the season of sagging sails. And once again, my heart resonates with Isaiah: “Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” (30:18).

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