THE EBBING OF THE SPIRIT
This means that God’s life and power can ebb away in the believers’ spirit like the ebbing away of the tide. When believers are soulish, they consider it as a spiritual peak when they feel God’s presence in their feelings making them feel happy. If they feel dry and restless, they think that their spiritual life is at its worst. However, this is only what they feel in their feelings; it does not reflect the real condition of their spiritual life.
Of course, there are times when the spiritual life is indeed low. This is different from the times when a person is in the feeling of the soul. After a believer is filled with the Holy Spirit, he will continue to advance for a time. But soon, he will gradually have setbacks. It will not happen suddenly. This is the difference between the ebbing away in feeling and a setback in reality. In the former case it happens suddenly; in the latter case it happens gradually. In the latter case, a person feels that the life and power within his spirit, which he once received, have suffered a gradual setback. At such times he loses the joy, peace, and power in the spirit that he once had. Day by day, he becomes weaker and weaker. Soon he feels that he has lost all taste for fellowship with God; he finds it meaningless to read the Bible, and no message or any special Scripture moves his heart. Even if he is touched by something, it is not as intense as before. Prayer becomes dry, tasteless, and meaningless, and he seems to have nothing to pray about. He finds no joy in testifying, and there is no more outflow as before. The life is not as strong as before, nor as exciting, soaring, and joyful. Everything seems to have subsided.
There is indeed ebbing and rising with the tide. But is there an ebbing and rising in our spirit as well when it only has God’s life and power? God’s life does not ebb; it is forever flowing. His life is not like the tide of the sea which rises and falls; it is like a river which flows forever with living water (John 7:38). God’s life within us is not like the tide which must ebb after a certain time. The source of life within us is God; He never changes, and with Him there is no shadow of turning. Hence, the life in our spirit should flow unceasingly and should continue to overflow and spread.
If a believer feels that his life has ebbed away, he should realize that his life is not ebbing away; it has merely stopped flowing. He should realize that this ebbing is absolutely unnecessary. We should never be deceived by Satan to think that as long as a man lives in his flesh, he can never again be filled with God’s life continuously. God’s life is a river of living water within us. If there is no hindrance, it flows on forever. It is possible for believers to have a lasting, flowing experience. Any kind of ebbing is unnecessary and abnormal.
Hence, the question is not one of the ebbing away of the spiritual life but of doing something to make it rise again. The present need is not a question of filling the river but one of facilitating the flow. The river of life remains in the believers, but it is blocked. The inlet is still open, but the outlet is stopped. Because there is no flow, the water of life cannot go out. As soon as the outlet is cleared, the water of life will flow out unceasingly. Hence, a believer does not need more life but more outflow of life.
Once a believer feels that his spiritual life appears to be ebbing away, he should find out where it is blocked. Satan will make you feel that your spiritual life has regressed. Others may feel that you have lost your spiritual power. You yourself may even think that you have committed some great sin. This may be true, but it may not necessarily be true. Actually, the real reason is that many believers do not know how to cooperate with God and fulfill God’s condition for having an unceasing flow. Ignorance is the greatest cause of such a phenomenon. Therefore, a believer should immediately pray, meditate, test, and search. You should wait on God and ask the Spirit to reveal the reason for the "ebbing away." You should be living and find out if you have failed to fulfill some conditions for a continual flow of the spiritual life which lead to such an "ebbing away."
Not only should you acknowledge that you have setbacks—an important step in itself—but you should actively seek the reason for such setbacks. Although the propositions of Satan, other men, and yourself are all unreliable, they are worth some consideration because sometimes they can be true. Once you find the reason, you should immediately repudiate it. Do not imagine that spiritual life flows out spontaneously. If you do not remove the reason for the blockage, the flow will not resume.
Hence, every time there is a spiritual "ebbing away," we should immediately find the reason through prayer and meditation. We should understand the law for God’s life to flow and repudiate all the works of the enemy. If we do this, life will flow again, and we will be invigorated once more. The spirit will become more powerful than before and strengthened to storm the strongholds of the enemy.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 13: The Spiritual Man (2), Chapter 9, by Watchman Nee)