CRUSHED FOR GLORY

Two simple words within a New Testament verse, regardless of translation, are perplexing and even oppressive to many, including or especially me:  “pure joy”.

We are so admonished,

“Consider it pure joy my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”  (James 1:2)

According to James, while waiting in a detox unit for your loved one, standing by a grave site, while holding an unsurmountable financial debt, when sitting in the oncology office, when threatened by eviction, persecution, and surprised by deception and betrayal…..Consider it pure joy.

This is a high bar in Christian living which I have yet to reach.   But an open heart before the Lord can receive understanding and discernment.  The Holy Spirit often teaches spiritual truths as they are mirrored through the physical realm of our world.   Enter the Navy SEALs….

navy seals on shore

Grueling training prepares for triumph and victory

Navy Seal Eric Greitens describes,
But “frontline” isn’t just a military term. You have a frontline in your life now. In fact, everyone has a place where they encounter fear, where they struggle, suffer and face hardship. We all have battles to fight. “As Navy SEALs, we understood the word “frontline” to mean the place where we met the enemy. The frontline was where battles were fought and fates decided. The frontline was a place of fear, struggle and suffering. It was also a place where victories were won, where friendships of a lifetime were forged in hardship. It was a place where we lived with a sense of purpose.

And it’s often in those battles that we are most alive: It’s on the frontlines of our lives that we earn wisdom, create joy, forge friendships, discover happiness, find love and do purposeful work. If you want to win any meaningful kind of victory, you’ll have to fight for it.     (“Your Own Front Line: A Navy SEAL’s Guide to Building Resistance”, New York Observer, 3/3/15)

Without Scriptural quotes, Mr. Greitens’ article portrays great Biblical truths.  We are living in the frontlines of history, the end times, where battles have eternal significance.  “…be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus….Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs – he wants to please his Commanding Officer”.  (II Timothy 2:1-4)

We have ‘fears, struggles and suffering’ and Paul forewarns that we will in II Timothy 3…

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.”

The life of a believer, a follower of Jesus Christ, exists within two absolute mandates:  live as sharp as a serpent, yet gentle as a dove…live as obedient and humble sheep, yet fight as strong and militant soldiers.  The great challenge in all this is none of it comes natural.  We must immerse ourselves in the training of the Word, receive our instructions through fellowship with the Lord in prayer, and apply this training to our ‘frontline’.

Many of us are content to live as sheep, led and fed by our Good Shepherd and find it impossible to conceive of ‘pure joy’ in oppressive trials.  I believe the ‘pure joy’ is not in the fire itself but the sights through which we can see the end.

With sights fixed on Jesus, we can see joy beyond the battlefield.

With sights fixed on Jesus, we can see joy beyond the battlefield.

Like the courageous and admirable Navy SEALs, we are called to endure and persevere with great purpose.  Unlike the military though, the Lord seems to choose the weakest and most unlikely to succeed.  The unfailing strategy is this:  the battle is not ours but the Lord’s, we are merely a vessel through whom He gains the victory.

Navy SEALs are uniquely trained, they are the elite of armed forces.  Clothed with valor and fired up, they greatly deserve honor for service and sacrifice.  Commitment to grueling and demanding training yields them glory on the battlefield and, given rare glimpses, the world marvels at their victories.  How much can we glean from this ‘type and  shadow’ of God’s Kingdom?   

We are left on this earth to glorify Jesus Christ.  That is our mission on the frontlines and with it come the certainty of great reward, eternal reward.  This battleground is trod upon for thousands of years, with great victories won by spiritual giants – both the prominently known and honored as well as the obscure who secretly battle in the prayer closet.  Unlike the Navy SEALs, our training manual has not changed, is not updated, and remains a living power in itself.   Unlike any worldly military, our surrendered lives are sovereignly governed through every battle, trial, and grief – each is appointed and measured out with supernatural foresight and design. 

Almighty God does not change, He will be high and lifted up and glorified in this dark world.  As His surrendered and willing soldiers, we may be crushed in grueling training in preparation for this call.  In fact, there is no other way.

Crushed for His glory, there remains the high bar of faith, to “Consider it pure joy”.   A supernatural joy that cannot compare in the physical realm, it can only be birthed in the “renewed mind,” one that is “prepared for action”.  It requires thorough and ongoing study of our manual, the Holy Bible, fellowship with our God and valuable refreshment through fellowship with other believers.

As we battle on the frontlines of these last days,these ‘terrible times’  I pray we separate from worldly distractions and entanglements,  focus our sights on Him, on His glory, and somehow on this side of eternity, consider it pure joy.

THE POWER IN SORROW

In this world, particularly western societies, we have embraced a culture that defines and exalts ‘happiness’ and all its ‘expressions’.  Every media venue bombards viewers and listeners with idealistic scenarios of fulfillment, contentment and success – and all without God.  ‘Happiness’ is a highly marketable commodity in a dark and sinful world, proffered through acquiring possessions, using legal and illegal drugs, planning fun filled vacations and experiencing alternative life styles.

Why all these sensory distractions? Why the bombardment of pleasures and happiness, at any cost?  The devil will always present sensory pleasures as relief to man’s needs and pain, yet with underlying evil motives.  Firstly, the quest for pleasure and avoidance of all grief  blinds us to our sin, our mortality, and our separation from God.  Secondly,

Satan knows that that the Creator of the World is a ‘Man of sorrows’ and man’s anguish and grief may lead him to this Savior.  In emptiness and pain, man may find Christ, and in Him new life, fellowship and a door to the power and victory He holds.

What power?  What victory?

Heaviness, despair, and grief visit every believer, every follower of Jesus. We have a formidable enemy, a roaring lion, who seeks to rip us to shreds.  Many days seem that the devil has done this and more, trampling upon a heart already broken.  Only a true cry is needed however for wounded, even dying, sheep.  The Shepherd will come, He will bring healing salve and even more.  He will prepare us through the suffering to serve Him and His Body.

Right relationship with the Lord will deliver and heal and from this healing comes power, as He leads us with eternal purpose.   It is the way of our ‘Commander in Chief’, Jesus Christ, whose path of suffering, betrayal, sorrow and great burden brought the Kingdom of God into our hearts with great promise.   In His shadow, our sorrows are formidable points of power for us individually and collectively as the Body of Christ. The promises of God become fresh and alive.  A salve to open wounds, He is “close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  Nearly every Psalm expounds the faithfulness of God to get us through darkness and with divine purpose,

“I will take refuge in Your wings until the disaster has passed.  I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfills His purpose for me.”  (Ps 57:2)

What purpose?

The power in the blood of Christ flows through suffering.  Surrendered to Him, sorrow separates us from this pleasure driven world and aligns us with the purposes of God through the Holy Spirit.  The broken vessel, surrendered to the Lord, gets the infilling.  The infilling of God comes with both purpose and burden – and a call upon our hearts to respond.

Surrendered suffering opens our hearts to the burden of Christ for His Body and this lost world.

Sorrow tenderizes and enlarges our hearts for action, to “mourn with those who mourn”, and act for those who are suffering “as if you yourselves were suffering.”  It is a burden laid upon our heart and spirit by the Lord, leading us to fight, serve, and minister.  He may call us to ‘go’, to reach out in various ways, and give with sacrifice.  The Lord’s burden for His suffering Body may lead us to fast, call us into all night prayer, and join in with like prepared vessels.

THERE IS SUFFERING ON THE WHEEL BUT GREAT REWARD IN THE POTTER'S HAND.

THERE IS SUFFERING ON THE WHEEL BUT GREAT REWARD IN THE POTTER’S HAND.

The burden of the Lord is an honored gift. The sharing of His heart is separate and unmatchable to anything in this world.  The burden of God launches His Holy Spirit through the lives of surrendered men and women. 

Sorrow opens a door of fellowship, communion, with the Lord and with His Body.  It is a training ground from which we can, like Aaron and Hur for Moses, “hold up the hands” of our brethren in the battle.  There is no power in self appointment.  Only that which is commissioned by the Lord will have His promised presence and victory.

The Body of Christ is suffering greatly.  There are cries of anguish heard only by God.  We must avail ourselves as vessels to God, ready to be His ears, His hands, His salve, and the means of His provisions as He leads.  If you have been, or are currently enrolled, in the Holy Spirit School of Suffering you are being trained for compassion, being broken for greater strength to serve.  No calling here is insignificant and no calling is too high to reach.  We will be enabled and prepared through He who leads.

To receive the Lord’s burden and co-labor with Him in this world will magnify our joy at His return.    We will share the victory of His coming Kingdom and reign with Him for eternity.

Amen.

ENCOUNTERING CHRIST WHEN DEATH AND DARKNESS REIGN

One of the greatest sermons ever preached may be the shortest – the last dying words of a born again but tortured man.  Destined for glory, his last words on earth were ordained and anointed by God and still resound throughout the ages with eternal value.   Judged by a ruthless government, his day of execution neared with crushing dread, fear, remorse and anguish.  However, within that nightmare, amidst the powers of darkness, he was redeemed.  He honored God in his remaining moments and preached a message that should stir our hearts today.

“Don’t you fear God?” he preached, rebuking the unbeliever and even us today.  We are often among those who insult and challenge God in times of turmoil and confusion, in the midst of  pain and anguish.  So apt to put God on trial, how many times have we indicted Him in our hearts?  In a culture of self importance and self esteem, ‘fear of God’ becomes an obsolete virtue, yet it is the only position from which the life of God flows toward us.   The preacher continued, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve…”   We are that lawbreaker, deserving of the same death – the very wages that our deeds have earned.  (Romans 6:23) 

What an appointment – condemned to die with the Giver of Life!  The most hopeless moment of his life empowered with shekhinah glory and divine revelation of Jesus, the King with an eternal Kingdom.   In utter humility of failure and worldly condemnation, this brother has the bold faith to cry out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

Dig deep into this message recorded in Luke 23:40-43.   With a humble heart and short message (under forty words), this famous nameless man of God demonstrated great eternal truths.  Firstly, there is nothing random about the works and plans of God.  Creator of all, He is sovereign over all.  Only omnipotent God can promise that “all things work together for good” for His people because He will ordain it so. Even the most dreaded and heartbreaking events can, in His hand, become turning points with divine purpose and destiny.  The excruciating death of this man was an ordained appointment with eternal life.

Secondly, this brother teaches us to suffer well, with endurance and humble faith, that we might see God, fellowship with Him in suffering, and share in His glory.  Can we believe that the Lord can carry us through our darkest hour, through the torment of our worst failure?  When crushed by our own sin, can we trust in Christ’s mercy and faithfulness?  “Everyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.”  (Romans 10:11)   The living Word of God has the power to rob Satan of victory every time. In spite of disappointment, tragedy or pain, we can say as Job in 42:2,

“I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.”

Thirdly, we are challenged to finally die to this world and relinquish our love for the things therein.  The appealing self-empowering, and self-gratifying culture of our society is an alluring façade, built to supplant the supremacy of God and deny Him due honor and worship.  The pleasures of this world distract while the achievements in this world puff up.   Every strength and ‘self help’ offered by man dilutes our dependence on the faithfulness of God and His supernatural power. Worldly success and prosperity here do not propel us toward heaven and moreover, they are the weakest oars in the storm.  Only when our eyes are fixed on Christ can our love of this temporal world fade away and bring eternity and God’s Kingdom into focused view.

What man intended for condemnation and death was God’s appointment for infamous pardon and eternal life.  Our Savior was indeed “numbered with the transgressors” and surely we are they.   Apart from His protection, powers of hell will tempt, scheme and ensnare, accusing God during our darkest hour.   However, it is the fear of God that rightly aligns us with Him.   Suffering pries us from our confidence in the flesh and love for this world.   Surrendered to the Lord, we have every assurance that His presence is with us and will speak life into every dark hour and lost hope.   Like our famed brother on the cross, we also, as redeemed transgressors, will be honored with words of life for others, words backed by heaven with divine purpose and eternal value.

 

"For great is Your love, reaching to the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the skies."

“Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”  Luke 23:43

                                         

ANTICIPATING FREEDOM

And one thing more:  Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.”   Philemon 1:22

paul_in_prison

While admittedly an “old man” and prisoner in Rome (~59-61 AD) Paul wrote to Philemon, a wealthy believer in the city of Colossae, a brief letter through which come timeless truths.  Paul commends Philemon’s love and encouragement to other saints, his ministry of refreshment, and notably from this, Paul moves into his central purpose for writing – his accolades and advocacy for Philemon’s fugitive slave Onesimus.

The unwritten truths of this epistle are as significant as Paul’s actual message.  ‘Old man Paul’, writing from chains, never waivers from his faithful service to the Lord – extoling, encourageing, and instructing as from a pulpit.  Assured of God’s sovereignty, Paul knew that neither his freedom nor his chains were determined by Roman decree and power.   Hence he could request, with full expectation, that his Christian brother Philemon prepare a guest room for him.  Anticipating freedom, Paul plans lodging with his wealthy friend, over 900 miles away.

Isn’t faith rooted in anticipation?  What are we anticipating about God in times of darkness, oppression and trial?  Could we, while seeking relief and freedom from some oppression – while in our own chains – reach out to others in service to God?   Are we standing on the anticipation of freedom, the certainty of God’s deliverance?

Christians are the only ones with the right to sing their victory song while still in the battle.  That is the essence of faith in a sovereign and worthy God.  We can sing the victory song before the Red sea parts, before our answer comes.  We are authorized and justified to walk towards those fearful waters before knowing God’s plan.  Pastor David Wilkerson expounded these truths in his message, ‘Right Song, Wrong Side’, 11/15/09, declaring, “Anybody can praise the Lord when the victory comes…anyone can dance when their prayers are answered”.  But how do we live in this anticipated freedom, the deep conviction that God will deliver?

None of us are currently chained by Roman soldiers – but our trials and battles may seem just as binding and oppressive.   The painful entanglement of sin, the hounding of false guilt, fear and anxiety, or spiritual and emotional harassment begin to chain our hearts and mind.  When the devil magnifies loneliness, failure and loss – you are descending into that cell.  

And yet, while there, how can we call out and say, “Prepare a room for me, I’m coming out”?

Paul wrote in I Corinthians 10:13: “And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.   But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”   “A way out” when we are tempted?  Aren’t we looking for “a way out” from darkness, “a way out” of oppressive trial and tribulation?!

But the temptation, even idolatry, is right there, in the place between the chains and freedom.   It is there where we are tempted to lose faith, tempted to complain, endlessly ruminate and ultimately slander God.  We are tempted to idolatry when we see the trial as bigger than God.

The Apostle Paul believed the Word written through him in I Corinthians 10:13.  Without a ‘writ of habeas corpus’ he fully believed in the Lord’s power to free him.  Not chained to discouragement, fear, or unbelief,  Paul was free to trust God and hear from Him while in the place of bondage.  From intimacy with the Lord he could say with authority, “Prepare a guest room for me”…I’m coming home.

The enemy will hone into our secret fears, personal failures and overwhelming trials and magnify them with supernatural craft.  There is great temptation to agree with what we see…there’s no way out!  This is a disaster! I’ll never make it, I can’t even get out of bed!  The Lord Himself is the “way out” and our place, as part of His Body, is to step out and turn toward Him.   Pharaoh would have laughed if the Israelites sang before the Red Sea, sandwiched between the water and the world’s most powerful army.  But that is the faith that most pleases God: Praising Him before He moves, worshipping Him before the victory.

If we have succumbed to despair, even accused and slandered the Lord, now is the time to reconcile and repent.  The Lord can put us in ‘prison’ to expose our hearts and humble us to be of greater use in His Kingdom.  Therein is the challenge of faith, the call to claim the sovereignty of God:  Decide to believe a victorious Psalm, praise Him and worship Him even when your heart seems the heaviest.   Sing Exodus chapter 15 before the sea parts, before your deliverance comes, taking that spiritual step toward Him…reaching out to the hand that holds the key to every chain.

"In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and He answered by setting me free." Psalm 118:5

“In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and He answered by setting me free.” Psalm 118:5

 

THE GOD OF BROKEN PIECES

"I have become broken pottery..." Psalm 31:12

“I have become like broken pottery…” Psalm 31:12

From broken and useless….to sharp and piercing.

There is a brokenness common to man – the cumulative destruction of sin. Within our very nature is the propensity, “our own evil desire” to be dragged away, enticed and enthralled. An alluring storefront to every dark behavior beckons us in. James chapter 1:13-15 describes this entrapment and the end result…smashed lives, broken families, despair that leads to death.

There is, however, a brokenness common to the believer – even as one strives to walk in God’s favor and light. They have not availed themselves to darkness but avail themselves to God – offering their lives as His temple in which He may dwell. Where He dwells, however,  He must govern and reign. Every aspect of our life then falls under God’s authority.   He will build up, demolish, give and take away whatever is necessary to make our temporary lives useful for His eternal kingdom.

There is a great truth, however, for both the repentant sinner and faithful believer – God can greatly use life’s broken pieces for His glory – confounding the powers of darkness and forging ahead with His Kingdom.

When man is striving for excellence in this world, he builds himself up, educates, trains, and produces – networking his skills and accomplishments – for accolades and gain. When God is working His excellence in a man, He unravels, crushes, and separates – clearing out the ‘temple’ for His supernatural presence. There is often pain, loss, confusion and disappointment. As a “living sacrifice unto the Lord” our ‘personal kingdoms’ – careers, family life, possessions – become God’s domain.

Yes, He is our loving heavenly Father….but He is also a Man of War, a Consuming Fire, and Righteous Judge. We are not just His sheep, but solders trained by Him for battle – the spoils of which have eternal value.the souls of men.

When our lives are ‘cracked’, we often glue the pieces and move on. When our lives are smashed, there is an undoing that God and only God can redeem as He may well be the hammer that shattered our ‘kingdom’.

In Genesis 39, Joseph, left for dead by his brothers, rises up with the favor and prosperity from God within Pharaoh’s kingdom. His life is governed by God and yet, with divine purpose, slander and false accusation puts this favored and faithful youth in prison. “But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor….” The Lord took his position, social status and esteem and smashed them, unraveling Joseph’s life to prepare him for greater use.

Whatever is built in our lives with fleshly foundation or human striving – places of confidence and security – are subject to the Lord’s demolition. Even in areas where God has promoted and excelled our position, our ministry, our status – His wrecking ball will likely swing to break, wound, and undo that He may rebuild, heal and create – forging us ahead with supernatural understanding and matured faith.

Can we trust Him at the juncture of brokenness? Can we declare as the Psalmist in 119:71, “It was good for me to be afflicted…”? It is not enough to mechanically recite Romans 8:28. The Lord is seeking the trust of those who stand at the precipice of loss and despair, waiting to lead us forward by His hand and by His Word onto paths unmarked.

The steps of faith here are the heaviest. It may only be sheer will that points us to the Word and compels us to pray. Worship here is the sacrifice of praise. But this is the juncture of miracles, this is the juncture of supernatural. It is here where the Lord takes the broken pieces and magnifies Himself and His power. When Jesus broke the five loaves in Mark 6 they fed over five thousand people, yielding 12 basketfuls of broken pieces. Without the hand of God, this bread would have remained five simple loaves, baked by locals and eaten without acclaim.

Have entanglements of sin caused brokenness and despair? Or has God, in His faithfulness, brought about loss and suffering to propel our faith for greater use? There is only one recourse for deliverance, one position for victory: Defer to His sovereignty, offer up to Him the broken pieces of our life, and trust Him for His presence and favor. He is not a god that glues things together, but a God who heals and rebuilds that which was broken, with supernatural design and purpose.

What will God make from your broken pieces?

What will God make from your broken pieces?

 

Do Real Christians Have ANXIETY ATTACKS?

dizzy image

Or get depressed…..enough to want to die??

A wrong understanding toward these questions stunts the spiritual growth of some and truly damages the spiritual life and fellowship of others. Wrong understanding, often a spiritual haughtiness, can lead brethren – even church bodies – to assess the afflicted as faith deficient. ‘Caring spiritual folks’ shoot pellets of scripture, even sing songs and deliver sermons to convince the depressed soul they need not and should not suffer. ‘Only believe’ invalidates the place of total anguish and despair that true brethren often suffer.

Yes, true brethren often suffer.

We can firstly acknowledge here that sin will reap a harvest of destruction in the life of a believer and the discipline and chastisement of the Lord will be painful and costly. There is no doubt that sin will bring despair, guilt, loss, and emotional turmoil. However, we must also acknowledge that a God led life, one which seeks the Lord with a heart to obey, can be afflicted with great emotional suffering – overwhelming sorrow, weighty depression, attacks of anxiety.

Yes, a God led life…afflicted with overwhelming sorrow, weighty depression, attacks of anxiety.

With sin we are ‘reaping what we sow’. However, when suffering comes upon those who strive toward godliness all can be shaken but one immovable anchor: the promise that all turmoil, strife, and despair are held under the design of a sovereign God who can weave great eternal purpose into every pang of pain.

Spiritual giants such as Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, David Brainerd, are few of the many anointed who battled with deep inner pain. Great preachers, expositors, and missionaries often quietly suffer the weight of reoccurring depression, anxiety and despair. The question is not why, but why not?? They carry a cross – following in the shadow of a suffering Savior – who suffered great physical, emotional and spiritual pain on His way to victory. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”. (Jesus, Matt 26:38, Mark 14:34) God Incarnate feeling overwhelmed…to the point of death.

The great prophet Elijah, in a time of deep discouragement and despair, “…prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough’, he said, ‘Take my life.’” (I Kings 19:4) God’s Word reveals to us the emotional oppression and anguish of godly men, testifying of His sovereign power and ultimate victory over EVERY affliction, ailment, and onslaught over His Body. Ultimate victory does not negate the interim, longsuffering afflictions and attacks upon our body, mind, and soul while in this fallen world. We may be crushed and 100% of us will die one day. But there is an intimacy that is birthed when we hold tight to the Lord when darkness comes with inner threshing.

Depression and anxiety are not the fruits of faith deficiency – they can actually be the ground upon which spiritual fruits grow for God’s glory. Whether the He takes us through the storm or quells the thrashing waves altogether, the Lord Himself aligns with our pain, revealing Himself through itnever forsaking us in it.

Our frail, temporal bodies – prone to sickness, injury, mental anguish, dwell in a fallen world, wrought with powers of darkness that war against us. Those who venture, with faith, deep into the battle may fall under greatest attack. The apostle Paul solemnly warns, “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days”. (II Timothy 3:1) We are assuredly in the ‘last days’ and they are indeed ‘terrible’. Those acquainted with despair and those serving in the trenches receive this truth and wisely gain a life view focused on eternity, a view with great value in this temporal, condemned world.

We, as believers, can be ‘down for the count’ and, while there, experience further alienating pain and confusion as modern Christendom makes a ‘faith deficiency’ diagnosis; disavowing possible medical or other interventions. The place of pain is not a place of defeat or waste, but a place of opportunity, of separation, even assigned place of intimacy with the Lord.

Even the weakest heartcry keeps us afloat

WATERS OF AFFLICTION WILL NOT OVERCOME US

Believers have anxiety attacks, bouts of depression and despair but unlike the world, our endurance through the darkness can yield supernatural reward and promise.   As  painful tilling of rocky ground, the Lord can enlarge our hearts for Him, humble us to raise us higher and refine us for His eternal glory.

Crushed in the Wilderness

Christ makes the futile wilderness fruitful

Christ makes the futile wilderness fruitful

For many, the epic ‘Ten Commandments’ depicts the story of God’s people oppressed as slaves by Pharaoh in Egypt. More powerful and graphic than the movie however, the book of Exodus recounts in detail God’s triumph over the contesting powers of darkness. The infamous climax to this spiritual battle shows utter defeat for the slave masters and a glorious exodus – mass departure – freedom for the people of God. These chosen people of God were delivered from their oppressors and marked for a victorious entry into the Promised Land. The Israelites witnessed the miraculous and awesome display of God’s power and deliverance yet the journey towards God’s promise exposed their faithlessness and rebellion. Malcontent and fear slanders the faithfulness of God as the Israelites cower before their enemies.

“We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are….If only we had died in Egypt! Or in the desert…We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt” (from Numbers 13 & 14)

Back to captivity?

God Himself led them into a desert and decreed that none of them would enter the land promised to them. “In this desert your bodies will fall-every one of you twenty years and older…who has grumbled against me”. (Numbers 14:29) The Lord provided their necessities as they wandered through the wilderness for 40 years however, they lived without destination, without inspiration, without the victory that comes from believing God.

In Deuteronomy 8, Moses expounds the Lord’s purpose for them in this wilderness; to humble them, to test them – reveal their hearts – and cause them to hunger after God. Further, God led them “…to teach them that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord”. Forty years, traveling 240 miles to nowhere, living under the chastisement of God, they knew that futile land would also be their grave.

In our lives, the desert place within us can be one of emptiness and detachment; transitional times without sign posts. Uncertainty marks the wilderness. Disappointment, failure and downfall – even success – can rob our sure footing and confidence. Many seek meaning and resolution through encouragement of friends, family, professionals, self-help. However, when we can see that it is GOD who leads us into the wilderness with divine purpose, the desert becomes a place of great fruitfulness – even victory – as we see our living Lord before us.

 “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1-2)

The Son of God was led by the Spirit, as were the Israelites, into the wilderness yet the Lord demonstrates that this desolate place of battle, struggle, and solitude becomes a place of victory and growth as God grooms and prepares us for His service.

You will know you’re in the desert when you get there. ‘Self’, your own strength, deflates and all that seemed sure and predictable slowly unravels. Plans and expectations seem to lose life and fall to the ground. If you knew the presence of God and  the flow of the Holy Spirit – you now  sense a shut down, stagnant in…

a boat with no current.

…a boat with no current.

Gusto and joy ebb away as the ‘sure’ callings of God in our life come to a halt. Like the Israelites, God leads us into the desert to humble us, to test and reveal our hearts, causing us to see the futility of our own fleshly efforts.  Here the Lord may point to unconfessed sin in our life or even our self reliance –all that compromises His preeminent call and lordship over our lives. Pride is damaged as lofty goals dry up in the desert.

We may or may not be fasting as Christ did in the wilderness but God will cause us to hunger after Him. God’s call to wait upon Him with humility and patience challenges our natural strive for immediacy. Yet when God Himself deflates us, detours our course and stops the flow He does so with great purpose. Separating us is a call to intimacy unlike any other. The refining and crushing of the desert is unique.

When, after 40 days, Jesus was led out of the wilderness he “…returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit…” (Luke 4:14)  While the Israelites had failed, Christ triumphed, setting a pattern of victory that we can follow.

Where God leads us He awaits us. When the Lord tests us, humbles us, and reveals our hearts in a place of barrenness, I pray that we seek Him there, trust Him there. By sovereign design He will teach us and refill us, leading us out of the wilderness with less of us and more of Him.