God’s purpose for doing all these things are:
A. That We Would Not Be for Ourselves
When we read the Bible during a period of excitement and joy, we have a great interest in reading. But are we reading the Bible because of our interest or because the Bible is the Word of God? Is the purpose of our prayer to seek God in His presence, or is the goal the joy we feel in our prayer? Are we praying at the expense of forsaking our duty, or are we praying for God’s sake? If we do all these things for ourselves and to satisfy ourselves, then our aim is not God’s glory. At the height of our excitement, we do not realize that we are doing these things for ourselves; we think that we are doing these things for God. We have to realize that the times we are most excited, when we seem to be living on the mountaintop, perhaps are the times when we are in our flesh the most! This is why God takes our joy away and puts us in a condition of dryness. How do we feel then? Our prayer, reading of the Word, and witnessing become dry. Under these conditions, God is teaching us a lesson; He makes us realize that our peak spiritual experiences are just something of ourselves. We may think that they are the most spiritual experiences. Little do we realize that they are merely of the flesh. Toward the world, we expressed the part of our flesh that is evil. Now we try to express the part of our flesh that is good. God is testing us to see if we will keep praying, reading the Word, and testifying for Him during the times when the joy is gone and the dryness is present. God does not want the dryness to be too harsh for us, so He gives back the joy after a while. But He also does not want us to presume that we have reached the peak of our spirituality, so He takes the joy away again. God does not want us to be discouraged because of the dryness, so that we will not want to be Christians anymore. Therefore, He gives us a little joy again and recovers our taste to a certain degree.
When the dryness comes the second time, God will see if we have learned anything. We may think that we have done something wrong again. Actually, this is not God’s intention. He is seeing if we are working according to our duty, or if we are working because of joy. Perhaps some people have to go through these experiences five or six times; perhaps others seven or eight times. Most of the time, the feelings alternate between joy and dryness. This cycle will continue until God arrives at His purpose when we realize that our desire for joy is for ourselves and not for God. This is the first reason God deals with us with joy and dryness.
B. Disciplining the Power of the Will
When we are living a life full of joy on the mountaintop, do we feel that we must exert any effort? We do not feel this. We do not exert any effort in reading the Word, in praying, and in testifying. Suppose we are talkative. During the times when we are happy, when we feel that God is so near us that we can almost touch the Lord Jesus and God, we would rather lock ourselves in a room and not see anybody. At such times, we can easily overcome our natural weaknesses. Suppose we are quick-tempered and very easily lose our temper. During the times when we are excited, we can very easily forgive others. But when the joy is gone, we are like porcupines; others cannot touch us. If they do, we become angry. When we are excited, we do not feel any burden to our work or living. But when we are dry, we feel that all our living and our work are burdensome. At such times it is an exercise of the will for us to read the Word, pray, or testify. At this time we feel that we have to exert much effort and that it is a duty to read the Bible, pray, and testify. Originally in testifying for the Lord, we could speak for five hours according to our excited feelings. But in our dryness we can find nothing to say. We speak about believing in the Lord and receiving eternal life in a restricted way. We have to take control of ourselves to speak something. When we are doing it at the height of our excitement, no effort is involved. But when we feel dry, we consider such work to be extremely burdensome, and we are not able to do it except with much determination. Let me ask: During which time do we experience actual spiritual dealings? It is when we are dry. When we are excited, we may not have any spiritual experience but only the results from the power of our emotion. When we are dry, we have to exercise our will, and our work is the result of our real person. The reason God gives us the dryness is so that we will learn to exercise our will during these dry times.
Suppose we are traveling by a sailboat from one place to another. The journey may take only a few hours. At the beginning of the journey, the wind blows in the right direction, and we hoist the sail. After a while the wind stops, but there are still a few hours to go. Should we take out our oars and row, or should we anchor and wait until a good wind comes before we set sail again? If we want to reach our destination sooner, we have to try our best to row. At such times we are exerting the true strength we have. This is only an illustration. When we are excited in our emotion, we are like a boat sailing with the wind; the boat does not have to exert any effort. We wish that there could be smooth sailing all year round. But if this were the case, both the captain and the sailors of a ship would become useless; they would only be able to sail in favorable winds. If the direction of the wind changed, they would not know what to do. I am afraid no one would want these sailors. When God gives us favorable wind, we praise Him. But He is also stirring us up to exercise the resurrection power given to us, without which we would not move when the joy is gone. God gives us the dryness, so that when joy and excitement are not present, we would exercise our own strength (the strength we received at the time of our regeneration). In this way, we will be able to pass through hindrances and contrary winds. The power of resurrection is more clearly demonstrated in an environment filled with death.
God can grant us the help of emotions, but this is not His purpose. The help of emotions is merely the means by which God deals with us. His intention is to train our will, so that at the darkest hour, we could still exercise our will, and at the time when we feel dry, we could still exercise our will to read the Bible, pray, and testify. By doing this, the strength of our will will become stronger and stronger. If we only move by the power of the emotion, we will never advance. The reason God gives us feelings of joy is so that we would not turn back halfway in our Christian life. This is why the joy we receive from Him diminishes to a shorter time as we go on, and the dryness increases for a longer period of time. We will then exercise our will more, and our will will be greatly strengthened.
When we examine our past experiences, we see that our joy and dryness fluctuate. We also learn that during the times of joy, there is not much progress, while during the times of dryness, there is much more progress than when we were joyful. We observe that during the weeks of dryness we have advanced. We normally think that if every day were dry and suffering, we would fall. But when we compare this with our experience, we see that, on the contrary, it was when we felt weak that we advanced. When we are happy, there is not much progress. When the wind is strong and favorable, will it help us develop our muscles? No, our muscles become stronger and stronger during contrary winds. But please remember that for ordinary believers, there is no such thing as so-called up and down spiritual experiences. Our growth is absolutely dependent on the way we exercise our will. When we are dry and exercise our will to say, "I will advance," we will advance. Unfortunately, the eyes of many believers are set only on the matter of joy; they think that this is the peak of spiritual experiences. Little do they realize that there is real spiritual progress only when they exercise their will to advance.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 11: The Present Testimony (4), Chapter 5, by Watchman Nee)