THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS EXPERIENCE
The believer who goes through such an experience thinks that his spirituality is at its highest when he has this experience and at its lowest when he loses it. A believer often speaks of his own life as constantly being up and down. He means that his spirituality is at its highest when he feels happy, when he feels that he loves the Lord, and when he feels the Lord’s presence; his spirituality is at its lowest when he feels dark, dry, and bitter. In other words, he is spiritual when he can sense warmth in his heart and soulish when he feels cold. A believer usually thinks in this way, but is it true? These thoughts are based entirely on a misconception. If we are not clear concerning this misconception, we will utterly fail.
The believer must know that "feeling" is forever a part of the soul-life. When he lives by his feeling, no matter how he feels, he is soulish. When he feels happy, when he feels he loves the Lord, and when he feels the Lord’s presence, he is just living by his feeling. When he feels dry, sorrowful, and dark, he is still living by his feeling. He is just as soulish when he feels dry, sorrowful, and dark as he is when he feels nourished, happy, and bright. The spiritual life is never regulated by the feeling, nor is it ever in the feeling. The spiritual life should regulate the feeling; the feeling should not regulate the spiritual life. Today the experience of feeling is most commonly, but erroneously, regarded by believers as a spiritual experience. Many Christians have never entered into a spiritual life. Therefore, the sensation of being filled with happiness is interpreted as a spiritual experience. They do not know that it is simply soulish. Spiritual experience is the experience of the intuition; the rest is soulish.
Herein lies the believer’s greatest mistake. The effect of the emotion causes him to feel that he has ascended into the heavens. Hence, he thinks that he is in possession of the ascended life, without realizing that this is just something which he feels. When he feels the Lord’s presence, he thinks he possesses the Lord; when he does not feel His presence, he thinks that the Lord has forsaken him. He does not realize that this is simply what he feels. He thinks that he really loves the Lord when he senses a warm fire burning in his heart and feels that he loves the Lord very much. When he feels a coldness instead of a burning within, he thinks he has truly lost his love for the Lord. He does not realize that this is only his feeling. Facts do not necessarily correspond with our feelings because our feelings are very unreliable. Actually, a believer is the same with or without a feeling. He may feel he is progressing when he is not; or he may feel he is regressing when he is not. These are just his feelings. He thinks that he has progressed whenever he is full of feeling. He does not realize that because he is still soulish, he is merely advancing in a spurt of emotional excitement. When this feeling subsides, he remains the way he used to be. The effect of the emotion helps a soulish person go on; the power of the Holy Spirit helps a spiritual man go on. Of the two, only the power of the Holy Spirit can truly cause a person to go on.
Why then does God give the believer such a feeling and withdraw it again? He has a few purposes for doing this. It is a pity that the believer does not understand God.
God gives the believer happiness for the purpose of drawing him even nearer to God. He draws men to Himself through His gifts. He hopes His children would realize how gracious He is and how much He loves them so that they would believe in His love under any kind of circumstance. Yet believers only love Him in the presence of feeling and forget Him in its absence.
Moreover, God deals with a believer in this manner so that he will know himself. The most difficult lesson for a believer to learn in life is that of knowing himself—knowing his own corruption, vanity, sinfulness, even knowing that he has no goodness at all. This is a life-long lesson. The more he learns, the deeper the lesson becomes and the more he realizes how filthy his life and nature are in the sight of God. However, there is not the willingness in him to learn, nor is his nature able to learn. Therefore, God employs many ways of instructing the believer so that he may be brought to the place where he can know himself. Among God’s many ways, one of the most important is by granting the believer a happy feeling and later withdrawing it. Through such a dealing, the believer will come to realize his own corruption. In the midst of dryness, he will recall how he misused God’s gift, how he highly estimated himself, despising others, and how he did many things that were not of the spirit as a result of being manipulated by the emotion. This realization humbles the believer. If he understands the experience, it causes him to know himself and no longer wholeheartedly pursue it as though it were the noblest of all experiences. God wants the believer to know that he does not glorify God’s name any more when he is full of happiness than he does when he is suffering. He is not making any more progress in the light than he does in the dark. In either case, his life is just as corrupt.
God’s intention is for the believer to overcome his environment. The believer should not allow a change in the environment to affect his life. Whoever changes his living according to his environment lacks depth in the Lord. We know that the environment can only change our emotion. Our emotion is affected by the environment which, in turn, causes a change in our living. Therefore, to overcome our environment, we must overcome our emotion—our feeling. This is crucial. Whoever wants to overcome the environment must overcome the fluctuating feeling. If we have no way of overcoming our constantly changing feelings, we have no way to overcome our environment, because our feelings cause us to sense the changes in our environment. As soon as the environment changes, our feeling senses it and changes accordingly. If we cannot overcome our feelings, our living will vary according to how we feel. Therefore, to overcome our environment, we must first overcome our feelings.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 13: The Spiritual Man (2), Chapter 15, by Watchman Nee)