The Dark Night

Scripture: 2 Timothy 4:6-18

Several years ago I heard a story that has really stuck with me.   The story is told by a man who worked as a deep sea diver.  I am not really sure what deep sea divers do in their deep sea office.  Whatever it is this man was doing his thing at the bottom of the sea in his dive suit, working surrounded by warm water, when he felt a very sharp itch on his posterior.   He naturally did what most of us would do and moved to scratch it.  That made the itch turn into a burning pain though.  It was at this point he realized what had happened.  It is cold in the deep sea, so to keep him warm while working there was a water heater that would pump in water, heat it up, and put it in the man’s suit.   The water heater had sucked in a jelly fish, and his act of scratching had just rubbed the tentacles all over his behind.   He contacted the boat and explained his predicament.  However, due to needing to decompress it was a long journey to the surface with the jellyfish.   It took a couple of days before the man could sit down in comfort.

This story originates from the America Online days of the Internet.  It is something of an urban myth because it is impossible to verify if it is true or not.  Even if it is a work of fiction, this story gets shared in various places as a reminder that our bad days at the office could always be worse.   Fortunately, most of us have never had that bad of a day at the office but all of us have bad days.   We all have days where it seems like nothing is going right.   We all have days where little annoyance after little annoyance keep piling up.   We all have days where it feels like it would have been better for everyone if we had just stayed in bed.  It is true, that much like the jellyfish story we can always find someone who is worse off than we are, but having a bad day is not a competition.   Just because someone might have it worse, it does not negate how we feel.  We are all allowed to have bad days.  Sometimes though those bad days bleed together and turn into bad weeks, and bad weeks roll into bad months.  For a variety of reasons perhaps we are struggling with grief, perhaps we are worn down from a constant health issue, perhaps we are anxious with the uncertainty of life, or perhaps the stress of life just keeps piling up faster than we can juggle them.  There are a lot of reasons why we can feel down and why we can have bad days.  Life can be hard.  It can be full of setbacks, mishaps, and darkness.   All of us at one time or another will go through these dark nights of the soul.   This morning’s scripture comes out of Paul’s dark night and I believe it can give us guidance for when it has been your day, your week, your month, or even your year.

This morning’s scripture from 2 Timothy is written at the end of Paul’s life.  He had been imprisoned, and things are not going well for him at all.   In 2 Timothy 1:15 Paul mentions that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted him.  In this morning’s scripture he again mentions that he has been deserted and no one came to his defense.   Paul clearly felt alone and maybe a little vulnerable.  In verse 4:14 Paul mentions how a man named Alexander the Metalworker did a great deal of harm.   We do not know the details, but we get the impression that part of Paul’s current imprisonment has to do with a betrayal by this Alexander.   We get a strong sense of just how hard of a time Paul was having of it in verse 6 when he wrote, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.”   Because these words are recorded in scripture, we can lose sight that this letter was a man pouring his heart out.  Imagine hearing someone say those words to you.  If someone told us that they feel they are being poured out and the time for their departure is near, then we would instantly be concerned and recognize they are in a place of crisis.  When he wrote 2 Timothy Paul was in the midst of several bad days.  He was in the middle of a dark night of the soul.  Despite that though, this morning’s scripture mostly has a feeling of hope.   Yes, we can hear Paul’s struggle, hurt, and crisis but we also hear a faith based on a hope that cannot be crushed or stolen.  As we consider this morning’s scripture I think there are two major points we can cling to when we go through our own dark nights or moments of crisis.

The first point we should really focus on is that Paul did not want to be alone.   Paul felt deserted, and this clearly hit him deeply.   Paul was wise enough to know that we need each other.   In general, life is not meant to be lived alone.   In detail our faith was never meant to be individualistic, but we are meant to follow God in community together.  Paul knew this, it is why being abandoned hurt him so much and it is why the way he reached out for help was to ask for people to come to him.  In verse 9 he asks Timothy to do his best to come quickly.  He also ask that when he comes he brings Mark as well.   Paul was in a bad spot in life and he knew that it was best not to go at it alone.

We can and should learn this as well.  Loneliness is reaching epidemic proportions in this country.   This is a problem that cuts across generational lines.   The elderly and homebound struggle with feeling isolated, but so do younger people.  According to a 2016 survey loneliness is the greatest fear of young adults, and 42% of millennial women are more afraid of loneliness than a cancer diagnosis.  All told  46% of American adults sometimes or always feel alone or left out according to a 2018 survey from The Economist.  One study found that loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to our health as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.   Loneliness is a very real problem and it can often be a contributing factor to our bad times and dark nights.

If we are doing church right, if we are BEING church right, then we should be able to greatly combat loneliness.   As followers of Christ we are meant to be in community together, we are meant to be there for one another.   I am reminded of a story that Mark Hall, the lead singer of Casting Crowns, tells about Steven.   Steven was a big, football player, in the small Alabama town where Mark Hall was working as a youth minister.   Steven’s father was killed in a tragic work accident.  Several of the teens in Mark’s youth group were friends with Steven and they wanted to help him, but they did not know what to do, they did not know what to say, they did not know what scripture to say.  Mark encouraged them just to be there with them.   In the book Lifestories he writes about what happened next, “As I pulled in [the funeral home parking lot], I noticed a truck parked to my right.  It was Steven’s. . . He sat slumped on his tailgate, looking down.  And there, all around him, were my guys.  They weren’t flipping through their Bibles.  They weren’t trying to explain away everything.  The more I watched them and the closer I got to them, I saw that they were simply sitting there with him.  Nobody was talking.  They were just there for him.”

Friends, if Jesus is your Lord and Savior then you are part of God’s family.   If you are saved, then we are brothers and sisters in Christ.   We should be there for our family.  We do not need to fix one another, we do not need to offer up pithy sayings, and we do not need to attempt to explain everything away.  We simply need to be there for one another.  We need to let each other know, I see you and you are not alone.

In this morning’s scripture Paul reached out for help, and we can follow that example.  If you are struggling in life it is OK to say so.   You do not have to do it alone.   Church must be a place where we feel we can not be OK more than any place else.  We should know that when the rain begins to pour or in the darkest of nights, the family of God will be there for us.    One of the ways that we assure people know that this church is that kind of place is that we are proactive.  When we know someone is struggling, we should take the initiative.   We should take the time to send that card, to make that phone call, or just simply sit with them and be a loving presence.   We all will go through bad days and dark nights.  We can be and we should be a light in the darkness for one another during those times.

The second point we should focus on is how despite being down and in a rough spot, Paul’s faith never waivered.  Despite all that he had endured Paul confidently wrote in verse 18, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.  To him be the glory for ever and ever.”   There is a real good church word for the kind of faith that Paul displays here:  “assurance.”   Assurance is the sincere belief that even when things are not going so hot, that best of all God is still with us.   Assurance is a trust in God no matter what.

A few years ago the band Tenth Avenue North released a brutally honest and transparent song called Worn.  This song comes from the middle of a dark night after several bad days.  This song speaks to how we need assurance in our faith.   In the song the band sings, “I know I need to lift my eyes up.  But I’m too weak.  Life just won’t let up.  And I know that you can give me rest, so I cry out with all that I have left:  Let me see redemption win, let me know the struggle ends; That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn.  I wanna know a song can rise from the ashes of a broken life.  And all that’s dead inside can be reborn.”   Assurance is when we believe in the depths of our souls that redemption does win.  Assurance is knowing that night is darkest just before the dawn so the struggle will end.  Assurance is knowing that the God who crafted us can mend anything.  Assurance is believing in resurrection, that if Jesus could rise from a grave, then we can certainly be born again.

Jesus never promised us an easy life.  Jesus never promised us a comfortable life.   But Jesus did promise us an eternal life.   Assurance is when we find hope in that promise.   In the same way, Jesus never promised that we would be free of doubt.  Jesus never promised that there would never be times that we cry out “why God why?”   But Jesus did promise us that he will be this us always, to the very end of the age.   Assurance is when we cling to that promise.   No matter what we are going through, no matter what we are struggling with, assurance is when we cling to one thing.   Assurance is the deep knowing that his love fails, it never gives up, and it never runs out.  Clinging to this love will not magically fix our problems, but it will shine Christ’s perpetual light through our darkest of nights.  Faith and assurance does not guarantee an end to bad days, but it does ground in the love of Christ.  When we are so grounded, then like Paul the presence of Christ in our lives will give us strength, fill us with peace, and no matter what we are going through we will be able to say to him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

If today is a bad day for you, if you are going through a dark night of the soul, then know you are not alone.   If that is you on this day, may you know that it is OK to say that you are not OK.   May we all be the body of Christ, and may we love each other the way Jesus loves us.  May we be willing to be there for one another and support one another.    May you know in the depths of your heart that God is with you, and that his love never fails and it never gives up.   No matter what you are going through, may you rest in that assurance.  We all have bad days, but thanks be to God that we never have to face those days alone.   Believing that may we continue to fight the good fight, may we continue the race, and may we keep the faith so that through us the message of God’s never-failing love might be fully proclaimed.

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