Walking In Your Wilderness

wilderness

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 a wandering in a wilderness of life. It matters not if they chose it for themselves, it happened unexpectedly 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.

I say the above because there is a time in everyone’s life when they 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 finds us, we cannot avoid the impact it has on everything we hold dear. This wandering might last a few weeks, a few months or even longer, but once it arrives, it does not depart until it’s work is done. This isolated plateau of the soul is identified in the Bible as a place called “the wilderness”. We arrive in this place by ourselves, distracted and in an unrefined condition, but rest assured, we will not leave it the same way.

In this empty season no one is there to carry us, guide us or give us the companionship we think we need. Not one person 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 of God who is destined to fulfill their life calling, has to make this journey. Even those who do not know God, but are hungry to do better, 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. As a result, it is my conviction that these times of barrenness should not be avoided, but they should be looked at with clarity, embraced with sincerity and fully walked out.

It is only during our wilderness experience that we are fundamentally changed. Our metal is tested, our character is developed and our flaws are painfully exposed. It can be a powerful time of personal evaluation and transformation. The excess baggage and wrong thinking we have picked up in life are finally thrown off. What is really important and genuinely necessary comes into clear focus, perhaps for the first time. For some, this brings a shocking revelation of how shallow and self-absorbed they really are. For others, it is a grand adventure as 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 unsettled, but emerge focused and quite comfortable in our own skin.

I was just in such a season not long ago. I got back from a powerful ministry trip to the Philippines. Myself and an Apostle did two conferences and ministered at numerous church meetings. 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 that personal attention and activity, surrounded by the “stuff” of our lives. I was totally alone for two weeks, and the impact this had on me was quite deep. It became a time of introspection, where I was able to seek God, ponder my life and consider how I got “here”. 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 pondered how my father was a strong presence of security in our home. He made us feel wanted, valued and safe. He was an intelligent, slender, quiet, thoughtful man who spoke very few words, but meant every word he said. He was kind and gentle, filled with internal strength yet tender. He had a will of iron and a backbone that could support it. He was an outdoors-men to the bone and loved the woods, but could still carry his own with any city dweller. His word was his bond. He had a peaceful stability about him that filled our lives, and had the power to make everything alright, even when it wasn’t. On his death bed, his bright blue eyes looked at me with a calm resolve and they were able to reassured me that even this would be fine.

His example, both the good and the bad, 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 came to family. He showed me that failing to plan for retirement meant you could never 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. The truth is, my father taught me how to be a real man.

Because of that, I became the kind of man my children could look up to. I showed them it’s OK to not always be right, but it is good to always be willing to make things right. They learned how to be a leader in their own homes, and the voice of reason to their children, when it is needed. They were shown how to love their wives and children in ways that are 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 their source of income. Welfare is NOT a lifestyle, it is an emergency crutch until someone who needs it can get back on your feet. They were taught to seek God, plan with care and work hard. They learned from me that these things are more than enough to bring them all the provision they will ever need.

How did I learn these things, you might ask? These truth’s became life lessons during my wilderness wanderings. They became real when there was no one to prop me up or carry me, but Jesus. It was the time I found myself needing a teaching job. I prayed and sought God, and the perfect job opened up where there had been none the week before. It was the time I quit my teaching job, at age 35, and my a wife and three boys followed me back to college. We needed a place to live in Plattsburgh NY, and out of nowhere an apartment opened up near the college that we could afford. It was the time 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 class hungry that morning, but when I returned home that evening, food filled our shelves, our hallway and every counter top in our kitchen. I told no one but God about our need, and He showed me His faithfulness.

Without those wilderness journey’s my knowledge of God, and experiences 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 in my desperate lack. My faith was built up, my trust was properly anchored and my life story was enriched, all because of a desert trip. How grateful I am that many times God has led me into a waste-howling wilderness, to be tempted, tried and tested. At times I failed, but even in my failure I still learned valuable lessons that changed my life forever. The truth is, I would not trade those experiences for any amount of money or fame, 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 landscape, with no clear answers, and you wonder where God is in all of it? If so, 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 same thing He did with Jesus. What a privilege that is!

You need to walk it out, one step at a time, and pray with an honest and pure heart. You need to get real about your weaknesses until you find the place of rest in God. Once you are open to change and ready embrace your own weakness, you can then exchange your whole, weak mess for the strength God offers. Until then, you will find yourself a desert dweller. Perhaps this is your time to finally change and fully embrace the truth about who you really are. Once that’s been done, you can move on. Never forget that today’s wilderness is the perfect foundation for the God-ordained life you will walk in tomorrow !

Stop Whining And Live Your Life!

Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth, told the following story several years ago and I could never forget it. She and Billy were building a new house in the mountains at that time and daily they traveled up the newly paved road with their family to see how the construction was progressing. On the trip one day, they noticed a small bump in the freshly paved road and wondered what had caused it.

As the days passed by the bump continued to grow. The family could not imagine what had the strength or the tenacity to push its way up through 6 inches of hard packed road binding and 4 more inches of hard rolled asphalt. Soon the bump turned into an eruption of asphalt and finally a pile of road binding and dirt slowly was pushed up and out of the hole.

Speculation ran wild as to what was doing all the damage. Some thought it was an animal digging its way out after being trapped beneath the paved road. Others said it was a mighty oak tree that was sprouting or perhaps a sturdy walnut tree. To the amazement of the Graham family, what forced its way up from under 10 inches of hard-packed road surface was a lowly mushroom.  Its delicate white cap emerged from the hole one afternoon. It was frail as hand-made lace yet totally unscathed by the process it has just gone through.

Isn’t this a perfect picture of the untapped potential and unyielding strength God placed within each of us? Some have chosen to tap into that boundless reserve and changed while others with lesser problems just caved in and give up on life. As an observer of human nature, I had to know what makes the difference. Why is it that some people can rise up, push through immense difficulties and thrive when they have been “paved over” by life, while others simply embrace their situation and make-due with what life has dished out?

I have watched in amazement as some who were handed impossible life conditions sprang back to become world changers. One young man I saw the other day is a primary example. He was an amazing motivational speaker. He had a room filled with high school students laughing one moment and crying the next. He was filled with hope and looking ahead to an adventure-filled future. He was even challenging them to look ahead and become all they could. Oh..and did I mention that he was born without arms and legs? Stack that up against the worst thing you have ever been through and things come into a very new perspective!

What words of wisdom do I have to offer today? Look around you and begin to be thankful for all that you have. Do you have arms and legs, hands and feet? You are blessed! Is your house warm and your closet full of clothes? You are blessed! Do you have income and food on the table? You are blessed! Are you safe and able to go out into the street without being killed? You are blessed! Do you have clean water and the ability to pray and freely worship without being arrested? You are abundantly blessed! My God stop whining! It’s time to man up and start living!

We are all like that lowly mushroom. Even the frailest of us have a God-given ability to grow. By choosing to grow in your situation rather than wallow in it, you are eventually given the gift of “break-through”. The most difficult things in life must give way to the one who refuses to give up. Begin to look at every place of resistance as the very place you were meant to thrive.  If you do, who knows, you might be surprised at just how good your life really is!