The 'wilderness' is not a concept that is understood too well in
Christendom, despite the fact that it is all the way through the
Bible. From the book of Genesis right through Revelation there
are clear references to the 'wilderness' as being something God
often employs in His dealings with men. The pattern is undeniable.
When we look through the Scriptures we see that the wilderness
is often a place of spiritual "crisis" and also preparation. It is the
place God sends us before the "real action" begins - before we
enter into the full purposes of God in our lives. There must be
'death' before there can be resurrection. There must be a desert
place before the "promised land".
The wilderness is a place of trial and testing, of brokenness and
full surrender to God. The props and activities that have kept us
continually striving to "make things happen" are stripped away.
Our self-reliance is shattered and replaced with a total reliance on
God alone. Every "idol" in our lives (often including our own ministry)
is brought under the piercing searchlight of God. Our selfish motives
and ambitions are shown for what they are. This process may take
years. Finally we emerge broken, chastened and purified. The
process has matured and cleansed us in so many ways. We are
now ready for the fulfillment of all that God originally called us to
do. But our heart-motives are vastly different from what they were
We see this pattern all the way through Scripture. Many lessons
can be learned from what we read there. Abraham, Joseph, Joshua,
Moses, David, Elijah, John the Baptist, Paul the apostle - and even
Jesus Himself - all had to go through this "wilderness" experience.
Very often it lasted for years and years. Why then should we be
surprised if it happens to us?
Probably the best-known instance of a 'wilderness experience' in
the Old Testament is the story of Moses and the children of Israel.
Moses had been raised and trained all his life in the palaces of
Egypt. But when he came face-to-face with his heritage as an
Israelite, he rose up "in his own strength" and killed an Egyptian
slave-driver. He was then forced to flee into the desert, where he
was to spend 40 YEARS as a simple shepherd in the wilderness.
What an enormous length of time! Imagine if every Christian leader
had to spend that long in the wilderness before God would allow
them to lead His people! It is almost impossible to imagine the
depths of despair and "death" to all his dreams and hopes that
Moses went through during this time. In fact, after 40 years it is
hard to imagine anyone being "deader" to the usual ambitions
and temptations of leadership than Moses would have been. And
what PATIENCE these years of waiting must have produced in him!
We see here the lengths that God will go to in the "preparation"
of a leader "after His own heart." (-Though 40 years is unusually
long). The isolation, the chafing, the crying out to God for deliverance
- all play their part. Such an experience is almost irreplaceable.
That is why God uses it so often. The hearts of driven men are so
similar in so many ways, that God's "cure" becomes similar also!
He will even shut us up in a kind-of 'prison' for a time so we cannot
escape the process. It is that important. He does not want 'self'-
oriented leaders shepherding his precious sheep.
After his 40 years of preparation, Moses returned to Egypt at God's
command to lead His people out of bondage. This was the beginning
of the entire nation of Israels' wilderness experience. For when they
left Egypt the only way to their "Promised Land" was through the
desert. Some commentators say that in a straight line, their journey
could have taken just a few weeks or less. But because of their
disobedience and fear, the vast majority of those who left Egypt
were destined to die in the desert, never reaching the Promised
Land. In fact, their wilderness journey ended up taking 40 years!
Now we need to take special note of this fact:- Not everyone who
entered the wilderness survived it. In fact, multitudes perished there.
The wilderness tried them and found them wanting. They went to
the place of testing and failed the test. This is a pretty crucial fact
to realize in our day also. Just because we are "called out" and
enter a wilderness time, does not mean that we will embrace the
dealings of God and respond appropriately. It is entirely possible
to lose everything out there. These people lost out completely.
Only their children came through to inherit the promises of God.
How clearly we see this pattern over and over again - in both the
Old Testament and the New:- That many whom God wants to one
day use are sent into a place of aloneness and brokenness before
being brought into their true destiny. We have not even mentioned
heroes of God such as Noah, Jacob, Job and others who all had
similar experiences. Part of this process lies in the "waiting" that
takes place. Also, the fact that all the supporting 'props' are taken
away. The "waiting" alone can be torture.
The wilderness also deals with any fear of man or 'systemized'
way of looking at things. God often uses it to bring a whole fresh
perspective, which is very important for leaders who are going to
be representing a "new" approach or facing opposition because of
the confrontational words that they are bringing. The lonely desert
years give them backbone to stand up to the crowd or the powers-
that-be, and declare God's truth without compromise. They now
truly fear God rather than man. And they think differently from
others. The wilderness is vital for anyone who is wanting to bring
fresh manna to God's people.
Are you someone who has been going through such a "desert"
experience, my friend? Be encouraged! Look up, for your deliverance
draws nigh. God only ever sends His children through such
experiences when there is a great purpose to it. Don't give up. Don't
be cast down. On the other side lies a 'land of promise' if only you
can hang on to Jesus. Be active, be praying, be prepared. Don't
become "passive" and let the desert swallow you whole. Use this
time to draw closer and closer to Jesus. Dig down and plant your
feet firmly on the Rock. Humble yourself before the Lord and He
will lift you up in due time - if only you can cling to Him.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon