It is a little unnerving, yet also strangely comforting, when you find your own story reflected in someone else’s story. That is what happened in this book. Dave is a personal friend and has been “shamelessly” bugging me to read his book for perhaps two or three years. I should have read it three years ago.
The “night shift” is an analogy: workers in God’s Kingdom harvest are assigned to various shifts. Some enjoy “daytime” shifts full of sunshine and enjoyable labor. But some labor in the darkness, confused, discouraged, and unable to see the purpose behind their efforts. Often there seems to be no “rhyme or reason,” or warning, as to why any particular laborer is reassigned from day to night shift – but our Master does have a purpose.
Dave describes for us his personal journey during his night shift assignment. No spoilers here – you need to read this book – but let’s summarize and say that for 30 months Dave wrestled with the loss of his primary role and passion and wondered why God was allowing this in his life.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I have just come out of my own night shift. Three years ago today I was only 2 months away from resigning my ministry position at the time – with no clear direction for the future. Unhappy for several years in my assignment, it seemed that I went from ‘hard’ to ‘hardest’ while I agreed to wait on and take the leap of faith that took me away from my organization and paycheck. Leaving that role was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life, and yet it was clear at the time that God was closing the door. Disillusioned and discouraged, I entered the final stages of waiting on God and crying out to Him for deliverance.
Dave describes the night shift in seven stages:
(1) The Pit
(2) The Wait
(3) The Cry
(4) The Answer
(5) The Deliverance
(6) The New Song
(7) The Impact
(1) The Pit
(2) The Wait
(3) The Cry
(4) The Answer
(5) The Deliverance
(6) The New Song
(7) The Impact
Since the names of the stages are fairly self-explanatory, I will share a few “nuggets” that most impacted me (as I usually do) from each of them:
· “…the pit is a place of constriction or narrowness… [it] limits your options and restricts your freedom. …Those who enter the pit are afraid of what man can do to them, and so the pit experience is needed to rid them of that fear. The fear of man (a mind-set to unlearn) and the fear of the Lord (an attitude to obtain) are vivid themes in Scripture. The first is natural, the second, acquired.”
· “Our natural goal is comfort. God’s goal is to make us useful for His glory. To attain His goal, God interferes with ours.”
· “God characteristically does not divulge His mysterious plans to those who are in the darkness.”
· Psalm 40 can be translated “intense waiting” – David experienced a “grueling marathon, one that exacted an enormous toll in terms of time, emotion, resources, and energy.” “In the darkness, no one casually says, ‘I think I’ll wait on God.’”
· “The person assigned to the darkness is incapable of self-delivery. This person must show up for work in the dark until the Owner changes His mind! Waiting brings us to the point where we can say, ‘My times are in Your hands.’ (Ps 31:15)”
· “While divine silence is undoubtedly the most frustrating and outstanding peculiarity defining the Biblical pit experience, it may also be the most potent teaching tool in God’s arsenal.”
· “…God lovingly ignores many of our small-minded demands for release from affliction because He has better things in store for us.”
· “Human football is child’s play compared with God’s cross-body blocks as we are weaned from self. Lovingly blindsided under cover of darkness, we are stunned by bone-jarring, heart-crunching tackles designed to break our will and our heart.”
· “The length of the wait is not as significant as its intensity.”
· “The night shift is for every believer, and God’s timetable for His children is never what we think it should be.”
· “…the pit is the place where prayer is best learned.”
· “On the night shift, once-smug and self-satisfied individuals see their facades of independence and self-reliance crumble. True weaknesses and needs are uncovered. A cry of desperation is the result of this ruthless disclosure. This shift accomplishes its purpose when it produces serious people who, with great, urgency, cry out to God.”
· “The darkness produces brokenness, and broken people pray fervently.”
· “With all of my good theology, why did it take me so long to discover that the problem was me?”
· “True achievement in ministry burgeons when failure is embraced and God is allowed to place us on the night shift of His vineyard, where we will labor in the ‘Department of Defeat.’ His grand design is to bring proud, independent disciples to a point of prayerful surrender so that they will learn to lean on Him for their strength.”
· “How wrong of me to think that those seminary years were my ‘training.’ In reality, God chose to use most of my life to train me. …It was on the night shift, after more than twenty years of difficult lessons, that I would receive a message from God’s Word and emerge with something to say to needy people.”
· “As we eagerly discard our debris, our God, Great Economist that He is, comes along behind us, snatching up everything in His arms. He sees the precious treasures we have so nonchalantly jettisoned. Intending to display His glory, He redeems and utilizes every pain, every sorrow, every tear, every trauma, and every disappointment of our lives.”
· “You are a ‘preacher in process’ and your audience will be ready when you are. …This ‘congregation’ of yours desperately needs the Word of God. As surely as any character in Scripture was dispatched by God with a message, you, the pit survivor, have two assignments… (1) learn the Word of God under cover of darkness, and (2) give God’s Word to your audience regardless of the shift to which you are assigned.”
· The Joseph principle – “The night shift is God’s method of sovereignly using man’s sin, Satan’s schemes, and unpleasant natural circumstances to achieve great goals in the lives of His children.”
· “If we want to understand the delight of being rescued, we must attend Night School.” “…the delivered are marked people. After the night shift, the delivered are transformed.”
· “Genuine brokenness comes to us when the adoration of God becomes more important to us than our own comfort.”
· “If pit people are in the constricted, narrow place, those who have experienced God’s marvelous deliverance…will find themselves in the broad place. …the broad place is a place of usefulness, the place where impact is made. …The large place is a tribute to the mercy, wisdom, largesse, and power of a sovereign God to bring the poor, weak, and hopeless into a place of usefulness and blessing.”
The NEW SONG
· “The sixth stage…is profoundly musical.” “…the darkness is fertile time for songwriting.”
· “It is patently clear that the one who is delivered from the darkness is to have a message and that each message will be fine-tuned to the individual personality and pit experience. The diligent student who has been delivered from the night shift will go forth to proclaim that message with great enthusiasm.”
· The song and message is one of both AWE and OBEDIENCE. “The wonderful lesson learned by enduring the pit and being delivered from affliction is this: Obedience is best, and the pit teaches us to relish obedience! This is learned because the trauma and grief of the night shift breaks the child of God. The nature of our learning styles is such that we do not truly grasp the most important lessons in life except under compulsion. One may enter the night shift with a casual attitude toward obedience, but the instruction of the darkness will not allow such a mindset to persist.”
· “On the night shift, the sufferer is shut up with a Holy God who proceeds to work diligently on His child. Lessons of purity, holiness, and obedience are reinforced under cover of darkness.”
Psalm 118:5 – “From my distress I called upon the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me in a large place.”
· “As there is a cycle to the narrowness of the pit, there is also a ‘cycle of enlargement.’ When impact occurs and the delivered one is used to touch other lives, the night shift begins to make sense.”
· “Deliverance is not for personal comfort or enjoyment. The night shift is intended to prepare the child of God to be used for His purposes. Since the night shift is preparatory, the ‘large place’ is the platform for ministry when the survivor of the pit is released to impact others.”
· “Just as the pit is a place of restriction, the large place is primarily a position of expansive influence. In the small place, movement is contained and access is limited. The muscles atrophy and skills like dormant. Brain processes deteriorate… Emerging from the night shift, we are wiser and better-equipped leaders. God has a lot at stake in our deliverance.”
“Before God can use a man greatly, He must first hurt him deeply.” - AW Tozer
· “Only the broken are focused on authenticity. The night shift rids us of our pathetic, small-minded longing for glory. The luster of earthly achievement fades after one has done time on the night shift. Affliction enlarges our vision so that we can see God and ourselves more clearly. “
· “No words can express how much the world owes to sorrow. Most of the Psalms were born in a wilderness. Most of the Epistles were written in a prison. The greatest thoughts of the greatest thinkers have all passed through the fire. Take comfort, afflicted Christian! When God is about to make preeminent use of a man, He puts him in the fire.” – George MacDonald
I have been through the night shift – where all of the above statements rang true. I was discouraged and confused. I lay there on the altar while all of my sin patterns and struggles were exposed by a Holy God. I wept over my mistakes, and struggled with anger and resentment over the mistakes of others. I learned to pray deep, heart-wrenching prayers for deliverance and clarity. I waited…and waited…and waited. I learned obedience. I grew in authenticity and integrity, and I trust, in humility as well. I began to understand what brokenness is and perhaps more importantly, what it produces in the life of a believer.
Finally – I was delivered and brought into a broad place. I can say that now I am having “the time of my life” – with deep joy and gratitude for all that He has brought me through. I am enjoying a season of impact that I never would have imagined before, and it is more than abundantly clear that I was trained and prepared in the night shift “for such a time as this” and for such a place and people as I am now working among.
I once heard the statement that you know you have been truly broken if you are willing to be broken again – for the purposes of God. I am willing – there may be more night shifts in my future, but I know, trust and love the Owner of the vineyard and look forward to His purposes being fulfilled.