As we have observed, the causes of spiritual paralysis are very numerous, and we do not expect or attempt to cover the whole ground in this present undertaking. Some of the most common, and, at the same time, such as include others, will engage our attention.
We proceed to speak of
The Paralysis of Disappointed Expectations
There are not a few typical instances of such in the Word of God. Some of these are discerned in ejaculative and fragmentary expressions, such as that of Job, "My purposes are broken off!"
Or of the two on the Emmaus Road - "But we had thought-" or again of John the Baptist - "Art Thou He that should come, or look we for another!"
And then as to the man who has come to be known as "The Rich Fool," there are two fragments in the narrative - "He said... but God said."
In each case there was an arriving at an end, a deadlock, a paralysis, and each represented a false expectation.
Two of these at least were to be accounted for by a mistaken conception. This conception is very far reaching today and has become responsible for much deception; a deception which works in two ways. On the one hand many give up in despair - like John the Baptist - because the issues which they had come to believe were immediately inseparable from a certain acceptance and line of action have not developed. The results have not followed, the success has not materialised. On the other hand many have been ensnared by this false conception into thinking that a certain kind of success, increase, popularity, achievement, is THE thing, while - as a matter of fact - the ultimate spiritual value is almost if not entirely lacking.
In the two cases cited, i.e., John the Baptist and the Emmaus Road too, there are at least two fundamental misconceptions which issued in paralysis.
One was the failure to recognise the initial, primary, and essentially spiritual nature of Christ's mission and work. In their minds the temporal and earthly bulked upon the horizon to the exclusion of the spiritual and heavenly. We think it unnecessary for us to show how much this was so. It is one of the most obvious things in the Gospels, and was one of the Master's greatest problems with His disciples. Again and again, He tried to let in light to correct this misconception, and at last knew that it would be the ground upon which they would all be offended; the difficulty over which they would all stumble, when they saw Him an apparently helpless victim on the Cross.
It was, among other things, an entirely mistaken order of events, as Acts 15:14-16 (R.V.) clearly shows. There was a complete incapacity to recognise the Divine purpose, method, means, time, instrument, basis, and passion. This let in personal interests, concerns, ambitions, and false anxieties. The thwarting of these, and the disillusionment of the Cross utterly smashed them and their whole scheme of things.
"We had thought," said they; but their thought was earthbound. Something of the "Heavenly Vision" is essential to life and assurance and hope and ascendancy. We shall find increasingly that before there can be an earth and world manifestation of the Sovereignty of Christ in anything like a commensurate sense, there will be an intense heavenliness and spirituality of life and work on the part of those who are called to share the Throne.
Whatever else may have been in John's mind leading to his pathetic and despairing message, it is almost certain that his own condition presented a problem occasioned by a mistaken idea. It would be something like this: "If He really is the Christ, and all that has been prophesied of Him is true - all those things about opening the prisons to the prisoners, and letting the oppressed go free etc., why is it that I, having served Him as I have and standing in such a relationship to Him as I do, should be left in this dungeon? There are reports of miracles and mighty works. Why am I left to suffer thus?" This problem comes near to the heart of many of the Lord's people. We know from the Master Himself that He was far from ignoring or forgetting John. In John's case it is certain that not for sin or in Divine forgetfulness was he left in his trial undelivered. The reason was to be found elsewhere.
It might be as well to listen to another who has a different expectation without despair: "The Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me." This one had much to say about the spiritual fruitfulness of his bonds.
"I am an ambassador in bonds for the mystery of the Gospel."
"My bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace and in all other places."
"Many of the brethren waxing confident by my bonds are much more bold to speak the word."
"Whom I have begotten in my bonds."
It may hardly seem fair to make this comparison between the two men, but one only does it because one finds so many where John was; and who is to know but that Paul sometimes was tempted to feel that way. The facts are that there is often a larger service through a certain curtailment, a fuller life through a deeper death, a richer gain by a keener loss, and we have to look for the impact of the operation of God in us in a realm where the eye of man cannot trace. The Master said of John that he was the greatest of the prophets; and he no less than they was to lay down his life and suffer unto death for his testimony. There is evidently in the eyes of God a virtue in certain sufferings of His servants which is of greater importance to Him than the fleeting glory which might accrue to Him by His deliverance of them. There is that peculiar blessedness to which the Lord referred in His reply to John which belongs to them who under severe trial are "not offended in Him." In some strange way John was related to the Cross and to "the Lamb of God," and thus he was brought within the realm of "the offence of the Cross."
What do we expect in our relationship to "The testimony of Jesus"? Supposing the deepest purposes of God can only be realised by His hiding from our flesh all that that flesh craves for its life, and - more - supposing His work in us whereby triumphant faith and obedience reach their highest form necessitates His concealing Himself and accepting the risk of being considered to have been unfaithful? There is no doubt that most of those who have been called into some of the most vital expressions of "the Eternal purpose" have been trained in the school of apparent Divine contradiction, delay, withdrawal, and darkness. Paul wrote to the Thessalonian saints that "No man should be moved by these afflictions for... we are appointed thereunto."
Job, who cried "My purposes are broken off," learned that that did not matter very much seeing that God's greater purposes stood fast. It all depends upon whether we know that we are in "His purpose" and in His way of fulfillment whether in the day of the ordeal we shall triumph or be paralysed.
Job found strength in recognising that "He performeth the thing that is appointed for me, and many such things are with Him," in spite of those things being quite foreign to his own expectation.
A right and true relationship to the Lord is a basis upon which there is absolute confidence, assurance, and hope when our purposes or expectations are shattered. It was not so in the case of the "rich fool." "He said...." He had purposes of his own unrelated to God. "But God said..." and that was the end of all purpose.
If we have God's life in us we can survive anything. The Lord is not out to peevishly frustrate our hopes or disappoint our expectations, but to either change them for His own or fulfill them in a higher and larger realm.
May we just add a word in this general connection? Many unexpected things, and things quite contrary to expectation, will come to us in both the realm of spiritual experience and Christian service, but one of the bitterest and often most fatal forms of this paralysis comes through disappointed expectations with regard to people. David said in his haste "all men are a lie"! and many others have come perilously near to feeling that they dare not put any confidence in anyone. David's experience of the breakdown and worse of the "familiar friend who went to the house of God" with him has been that of many others. Trusted and highly esteemed leaders, conspicuous and greatly used men of God, such as we had come to trust and look up to and count upon and regard as authorities or counsellors, saints and deeply taught: these all in one or more of many ways causing us to reel under the shock of a disillusionment.
A manifestation of ill-temper, irritability, jealousy, personal interest, pride, respect of persons, suspicion, concern for place, prestige, approval; being influenced by hearsay, report, criticism; prejudice, partiality, compromise. All these or others, and some very much worse. Anyone who reads this will understand what is meant and would be well able to appreciate the acute suffering and resultant numbness and paralysis of such an experience as it strikes at the vitals of faith, fellowship and trust. There are so many embittered and sceptical, soured and suspicious because of such disappointed expectations, and too often they allow it to strike at their faith in God.
Now the first thing to say is that the Lord has prescribed very carefully for this form of paralysis, both for prevention and cure. He has pointed out the antidote both in word and deed. As to the word, at how much pains has God been to warn against "putting trust" in man. Again and again the danger and folly of making man a prop and a basis of confidence has been emphasised. As to the practical side, why - if not for this very purpose - has not the Lord prevented the disappointing and, sometimes, shameful breakdown of His best servants from being placed on record. If the Bible is inspired of God, then we have to place the record to the intention of God. It is strange that we so often extract the comfort for ourselves from this fact, but are shocked when we discover the "like passions" in certain others.
We had better settle it once and for all that, be grateful as we should and must for all the grace of God in His children, and value all the help through them, and esteem them very highly for their work's sake, the Lord will never allow us to go for long on human props for crutches, but will free us to see that He alone is our Rock, that our spiritual education and growth must ever and only rest upon personal and direct knowledge of Himself. The greater the usefulness to God of any life, the deeper the loneliness in experience. He takes us often where no other can enter, interpret, understand, help. Rather, by their mental play upon our strange experience, and their interpretations given to it they create even greater painfulness and distress for us. Soon or later we are bound to be disappointed in man, but this may lead to a rich and deep knowledge of God if we are not soured and paralysed by it.
It will also be the occasion of a great and healthy self-distrust on the one hand, and a deep sympathy and solicitude for the suffering on the other hand. The Master in the hour of anguish "looked for some to help, and there was none." We may be allowed just to sip the cup in order to know something of the help of God which no other can give.