Recently I received a word of knowledge from a friend who I’ve come to trust over the past 15 years. He’s a good listener and slow to speak, so I was surprised when he re-directed our conversation to tell me with uncharacteristic intensity that I was coming to the end of my wilderness journey.
Of course there are a potential variety of circumstances and dispositions that may qualify as our wilderness. Unclear future, lack of inspiration, questions regarding purpose, feelings of worthlessness, financial drought or uncertainty and the absence of visible fruit are a few I can identify with.
In the last few months another phenomenon developed. It seemed that I met an obstacle that blocked the execution of whatever I was trying to do. Attempting to create an important document, working on the car, taking out the trash; no job was exempt. If I did get something together, I would forget where I put it. Time sensitive jobs that had to get done were frozen by computer glitches and normally inanimate objects would jump in front of me causing stubbed toes and a frayed temper. Innocent babies bit me…Ok, so I’m exaggerating now. The point is, it seemed as if every attempt to accomplish something more complicated than regular breathing set opposing forces in motion. All this increased after the encouraging word about my wilderness coming to an end.
Finally I gave up. It became apparent that there was nothing left to do, say or petition God for. No need to understand or know anything but that he is faithful. The only choice left was to yield humbly to him in every perplexing unknown and frustrating circumstance. And a wonderful thing began to happen. As things grew worse, I began to respond with less or no negativity, a lifelong hindrance being dealt with in grace and love. Depression left completely. Less stress, more joy. This, of course, will be an ongoing process with, perhaps, greater challenges to come. And there was more ahead.
I’m a marriage, individual and family counselor and also officiate weddings as a business, both of which had been slowly growing. But suddenly the two businesses dried up all at once! Most mornings I walk a fast four miles while I pray and think things
through. Last week while walking I checked inventory and came to the revelation that God had stripped me of everything that I was in control of or could depend on. I realized that the wilderness he was leading me out of had nothing to do with outward circumstances. They are only a tool that can be used to expose the wilderness within me. It was the fear of failure, negativity, stress, attaching my joy to useful service, financial security, etc.
Many Christians define “wilderness” by external problems. We may believe that once we learn what God wants to teach us, he will deliver us from our difficult or contrary circumstances. This assumption presents a serious problem in light of the possibility that certain outward circumstances may never change. The apostle Paul said: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…genuine, but regarded as imposters; known, but regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing everything.” ( 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, 6:9-10) Although Paul was miraculously freed from prison at one point, it is believed that he was finally beheaded.
Paul knew that everything he suffered brought death to him but worked life in others. He was an example of the power of God working transformation in every son and daughter. In days past I believed that if I walked in obedience to God I would see great miracles, signs and wonders. I’ve seen a few. But the greatest power is that which transforms the inner man.
Paul’s prayer for the church at Colossae was “..that you may be strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.” (Colossians 1:11). He didn’t misplace his hope on a better future here in this temporal world. He was convinced that “..our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2Cor. 4:17