THE HIDDEN YEARS
“Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while …”
Isaiah 26:20, NIV
Read the history of missions in the last two hundred years and the name of Hudson Taylor will come to the forefront. Yet, most people do not know the full story. He went to China at 23 and was back home in London at 29 with a debilitating sickness. He was hidden away in the poor East End of London for five dreary years, in a depressing apartment. As you can imagine, soon people went on with their life, interest in him and his calling subsided, he felt very forgotten. He called it his “hidden years.” He could have quoted from Isaiah 26, “… hide yourselves for a little while …” There was a supernatural purpose in it.
And when you read across the epochs of time, especially people of God, what is so often unearthed is the element of hidden years. We, of course, start with Jesus and His hidden years in a tiny carpenter’s shop in a remote, backwater village called Nazareth. We see Him briefly at His birth and then as a child at the Temple and then again as a young man at age 30. The silent and hidden years living on the narrow streets of a village—of that we know almost nothing at all.
But step further back in Biblical records with Abraham, given a great promise by God—yet years pass and we know so little about what went on as he and Sarah aged. And then, take the example of Joseph, sold into slavery. He spent his hidden years in Egypt. We know some details of the unfair and terrible events, but most is hidden. But especially Moses and his terrible mistake in his early years that caused him to be banished to the extended years of obscurity to the back side of the desert. The silence and loneliness—days on end and the only sound was a bleating sheep. Those were his hidden years!
But also David, after his early triumph over Goliath and he was anointed by Samuel, but then what? Nothing but more time alone waiting and waiting, his silent years when he must have written some of the Psalms in the presence of his father’s sheep. Silence and sovereignty. And then, when he emerged, he faced the jealousy of Saul in his insane envy. Read closely David’s story and you will find the Philistines briefly showed him more kindness than his own king and kindred! In his hidden years he wrote these painful words, “I am scorned by all my enemies and even more by my neighbors and friends. They dread meeting me and look the other way when I go by. I am forgotten like a dead man …” (Psalm 31:11-12, Living Bible) He expressed in his fear that there were active plots to kill him, his eyes with tears, his spirit broken, his years shortened, his strength sapped, his body stooped with sorrow in those hidden years.
Who would have given any of them a bright future? Most would have said their destiny has faded; it seems time moves on without them; can you in any way identify, are these your hidden years?
And then consider Elijah sitting by a tiny, trickling stream in a stony, forsaken wilderness of stone and sand. With logic, we would say it was when he was needed most, yet God told him to hide himself. (read I Kings 17:3) A prophet now fed by ravens! And then the brook itself, his only source of water, dries up and he then puts himself into the hands of a very poor widow woman—the lonely silent years continue, in fact, three more years of a meager supply of bread that she baked for him. He is sitting, thinking, and yet personally preparing.
The important thing in our hidden years is to base everything on God’s faithfulness. Let that fact be foundational. Find in Him the fortification for your soul and let Him vindicate His love for you. Is it to be self-pity or solid preparation for us?
I think of Spurgeon’s words for light on the shadowed days during the hidden years: “If you want to serve God and cannot find the favorable occasion, wait … your opportunity will break on your path like a sunbeam. There was never a true and valiant heart that failed to find a fitting [place] … in His service … wait there in prayer and with your heart boiling over with warm purpose, and your chance will come. The hour will need its man, and if you are ready, you, as a man, will not be without your hour.” Do yourself a favor, reread those words.
Then I have found myself remembering Paul. There with his rage toward Christians and then his dramatic Damascus Road experience. There was the house on the street called Straight and Ananias with the clear revelation from God that Paul had been uniquely chosen (read Acts 9:15-16), and immediately “he preached Christ in the synagogues,” but according to Paul he had a period of hiddenness of three years before going to Jerusalem to talk with Peter and James (Galatians 1:17-18). But, already there were threats on his life, even before three years in Arabia; apparently he was alone—it was where God revealed to him the full gospel to be preached in the world. We must conclude those were not wasted years, they had purpose, and so do your hidden years when you have been cloistered away from active service. Let God flood you with a mind of assurances and baptize you with a heart of flame. Let Him supercharge your life.
Back to Hudson Taylor in London. He reported he was “shut up to prayer and patience.” In that time he had a renewed vision of God’s purpose for his life. He said what followed would have been impossible “… without those hidden years … It was the deep, prolonged exercise of a soul that is following hard after God.” After these hidden years he walked out ready to face all the challenges of issuing a call to Christians to join him in his desire to fill the nation of China with the good news of Jesus. He claims it would have never happened “without those hidden years.” Sense the significance.
Let us take it all to heart, many of us need the same experience when our activity is stopped for meditation, and our obscurity produces maturity and our loneliness of person produces singleness of purpose. Very often in the stillness of our solitude we discover the richness of our redemption. Only when we cannot hear the steady drumbeat of earth do we hear the stirring heartbeat of heaven. A hectic world tells us how complex life is; the hidden years tell us how simple the will of God is. Vance Havner said correctly, “We must come apart before we come apart.” Is there anything better to give us a great heart like the great trial of hidden years setting us on the sidelines? What foolish people we are, then, to frown upon God’s choosing to give us hidden years. These could be our best friends for they were not intended for our pleasure but for our profit—it is the pause that refreshes.
It can be described differently. Ancient preacher Daniel Rowland expressed it this way: “It is the winter with the saints sometimes, when the tree has no leaves, yet the life is in it.” Billy Bray had another way to express the idea of hidden years, “The Lord has given me both vinegar and honey, but He has given me the vinegar with a teaspoon and the honey with a ladle.” We must take full advantage of it.
Those hidden years may appear to be too much for us, but they teach us that they were not too much for Moses, Elijah, Paul, or Jesus! And so, to quietly accept the hidden years as in the sovereign plan of God implies a great faith in your heart and a greater strength in your will.
Here are verses to consider: “I flee unto thee to hide me.” (Psalm 143:9); “Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence … thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion …” (Psalm 31:20); and “… your life is hid with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)
Let’s join to sing:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me;
Let me hide myself in Thee.”