Deuteronomy 32:10 says “He found him in a desert, and in a howling waste of a wilderness, He encircled him, He cared for him as the apple of His eye”. What a powerful picture is painted here of God’s concern and care for those who are wandering in a wilderness of life. It does not matter if they chose it for themselves, it happened because of others, or God Himself actually took them there. The point is, they were in it alone, and in His own time God came to them, and cared for them, whether they deserved it or not.
There is a time in everyone’s life when we find ourselves totally alone. This is not so much a physical thing, but it’s more of an emotional and spiritual season of isolation. When it comes upon us, we cannot avoid the impact it has on everything we hold dear. The empty, wandering time of our soul and spirit, might last a few weeks, a few months or even longer. Once it arrives, it does not depart until it’s work is fully done. This lonely plateau in life is identified in the Bible as a place called the “wilderness” or the “waste-howling wilderness”. The point is, we arrive there unaccompanied, in a distracted and unrefined condition, and we do not leave there the same way we came.
In this empty season, no one is there to carry us, guide us, or give us the companionship we have always needed. No friend is there at our side, providing step by step instructions to bring us into the new place we need to be. The fact is, every man or woman who is destined to fulfill their calling, will make this journey. Even those who do not know God, but are hungry to do better in life, will be taken to this place. The truth is, I believe this trip into the wasteland of our soul, is a necessary part of healthy personal and spiritual growth. It is my conviction that there are no short cuts through this, and more importantly, these times of barrenness should not be avoided. They should be looked at with clarity, embraced with sincerity and walked out fully.
It is only during our wilderness experience that we are fundamentally changed within. Our metal is tested, our character is developed and our flaws are painfully exposed. It has the potential to be a powerful time of personal evaluation and transformation. The excess baggage and wrong thinking we picked up in life, is finally thrown off. Those things that are really important, and genuinely necessary, come into clear focus, perhaps for the first time. For some, this brings a shocking revelation of how shallow and self-absorbed they have always been. For others, it is a grand adventure where they rediscover who they are, and begin to build upon that good foundation, to become even better. These are powerful times we enter into alone, and in an unsettled condition, but we emerge from them focused, and quite comfortable in our own skin.
I was in such a season not long ago, right after I got back from a powerful ministry trip to the Philippines. Myself and Apostle Rick Callahan did two national conferences and ministered at numerous church meetings in that country. When I returned home, my wife then flew off to California to be with our daughter, who was having our 10th grandchild. I was alone in our house, after all the attention and activity of successful ministry, and I was surrounded by the “stuff” of our lives. There was an absolute quietness all around me, and the impact it had went deep within me. It became a time of introspection, where I sought God, ponder my life and ministry, and consider what brought me to this place. I reflected on the family I grew up in, the wilderness seasons I had been through, and the lessons I learned that made me the man I am.
I had time to think about my father, and the example he set, both the good and the bad, that served to shape me in ways I am just now discovering. Among other things, he taught me the wholesome value of a strong cup of hot, black tea, and a slow cooked venison stew. He taught me the blessing of honest work, and the need for personal sacrifice when it comes to family. He showed me that failing to plan for retirement meant you could never really retire. He showed me how to love the wife God gave me, and how to care for my family, no matter what the personal cost might be. He demonstrated the value of living debt free and within our financial means. He also showed me why it was important to pay cash for the things we needed or wanted, rather than go into debt by using credit cards. In essence, my father taught me how to be a real man by the way he lived, loved and died.
Because of that, I became the kind of man my sons could look up to. I showed them it’s OK to not always be right, but it is good to always try to make things right. They learned how to be the leader in their own homes, and the voice of reason to their own children, when it is needed. They were shown how to love their wives and children in ways that were meaningful to them, and to do what must be done to provide for their families. Most of all, I taught them not to see the government as a source of income, but to seek God, plan with care, work hard and invest well. These good things brought them all the provision they have ever needed.
How did I learn the above, you might ask? These truth’s were life lessons learned during my wilderness wanderings, when there was no one but Jesus to prop me up and carry me to safety. It was forged in the time I found myself needing a teaching job. I prayed and sought God, and the perfect job just opened up where there had been none the week before. It was the time I quit my teaching job, at age 35, and my family followed me to Plattsburgh, NY where I went back to college to get my Master Degree. I learned the lesson when we needed a place to live in Plattsburgh, and out of nowhere a place opened up near the college that we could afford.
Fresh instruction came when our cupboards were totally empty, and I gave my sons the last of the powdered milk and instant mashed potatoes for breakfast. I went to school hungry, but when I returned home in the evening, food filled our shelves, our hallway and every counter top in our kitchen. I told no one but God about our need that day, and He showed me how His faithfulness went way beyond my imagination. It came when I quit a great teaching job in Westport, NY, where I was loved and wanted, because God called me to pastor a church of 3 people in Johnstown, NY. Three years later the brand new $250,000 building and all the surrounding land was given to my 60-member congregation, debt free.
New lessons were learned about forgiveness when those I trusted, lied to me, lied about me and then stole money and financial records from the church to cover what they had done. Then, to add insult to injury, they systematically went after the good people in the church and spread gossip in the community in order to pull away even more people and further hurt those who remained. That was a tough one, but we got through it and grew in love and kindness because of it.
Without those wilderness journey’s my knowledge of God, and experience with Him, would be sorely lacking. Unless I had been willing to walk through those barren wastelands, I would have never seen God’s ability to bring such abundant provision and healing. My faith was built up, my trust was properly anchored, and my life story was enriched, all because of a desert journey. How grateful I am that many times God has led me into a waste-howling wilderness, to be emptied, tempted, tried and tested. At times I failed, but even in my failures, I learned valuable lessons that changed my life forever. The truth is, I would not trade those experiences for any amount of money, because they made me, and my family, what we are today.
Right now are you looking at a dry, sandy landscape, where there is no water, and everything looks dead? Are you feeling alone in a barren land, with no answers, and lots of questions about where God is in all of it? Let me suggest to you that your current condition is actually designed by God to change you in ways you don’t yet understand. He is simply doing with you the very thing He did with Jesus, Moses and David. Like them, you also need to walk it out one step at a time, and pray with an honest heart. You need to gave your weaknesses, and find the place of rest God has for you. Until you are willing to change, embrace your own flaws and exchange the whole mess for God’s strength, you will find yourself a resident of the desert, time and time again.
Perhaps it’s time to embrace the truth about yourself, and be willing to change so you can live out the rest of your life with passion, clarity and vision. Remember, there is a whole world out there waiting for someone just like you to emerge from their dry season. Why? Because who you really are, will emerge as well. The best is always ahead for those who are able to grow in their season of drought. It’s time to enjoy the journey, and let it change you along the way. By doing so, you can finally break free from your cocoon of self-doubt and secret failures.
Remember, it’s the fight to get out of the shell that makes every chick healthy enough to survive in this world. When people “assist” in that shell breaking process, the young bird will be weak, under developed and prone to sickness all it’s life. But, when they are left alone to struggle their way out of the confining, restraining shell, they will emerge exhausted but strengthened to meet the challenges of life. So, let me encourage you to walk through your wilderness with great expectation. Look to emerge from your shell really changed, and with strength to meet and overcome every challenge that may come your way. Enjoy your season of being alone, because you will not be there forever!