“To a Mature Man”: Stage 4–Wilderness

Brother, remember that guy from seminary we watched about Myth and the Bible? Dr. Ryan Reeves. One day, as I watched one of his Youtube videos about the Crusades, I learned about one of the very serious problems resulting from the Crusades: undisciplined soldiers conquering lands and wreaking havoc on their enemies and their friends. If a soldier doesn’t go through boot camp, then war will turn him into an agent of destruction wherever he goes. This, I believe is the reason why God the Father requires everyone, even Jesus, to go through the wilderness. Here, I hope to shed light on a largely neglected stage about which I have heard precious little taught in churches. It is the neglect of this stage that I believe is behind the absence of God’s power in many churches today. While what I have written is my own insights, I thank Norm Wakefield of “Spirit of Elijah Ministries,” who started me on the journey of recognizing Jesus’ time in the wilderness as parallel to the crucial time Christians have with their Heavenly Father.

The Characteristics of the Wilderness

Testing: Israel was not allowed to pass from the Red Sea and Sinai to the Promised land without traveling through the wilderness. God explained why he did it in Deuteronomy 8:2,

” Remember how for these forty years the Lord, your God, has directed all your journeying in the wilderness, so as to test you by affliction, to know what was in your heart: to keep his commandments, or not.”

Direction: This is a significant time in the Christian’s life, where their intimacy with God grows, in that they learn the voice of their father, and learn how to follow His leading. God lead Israel through the wilderness during the stage and he did so step by step. Wherever the pillar of cloud was, there they people would be. This stage of a Christian’s life is very rich with the specific leading and directing of the Holy Spirit.

Affliction: It is not common knowledge, but it is not really surprising in light of Scripture, that God will afflict his people. It is discipline, not wrath. The Wilderness period of God’s discipline is not fun, though each one who has been trained therein will reflect back on it with tender gratitude. There is no better way to test the sinful enemy-turned-holy-friend than the affliction of the wilderness.

Isolation: As I have talked with people in this stage, and even have experienced it myself, it is apparent that the wilderness is a very lonely place. No one else around you will be able to understand the specific ways God will be testing you as his child. This, however is one of the most special things about this stage: Israel was isolated to God in the wilderness so he could personally instruct them how to live for him as a nation. In this stage, God himself, by His spirit will personally teach the new-believer his character in such a personal way. It is often felt that God never feels so close to a person as in this wilderness stage.

Elasticity: For Israel, this stage was lengthened to 40 years due to failure in the stage. For Jesus it was as short as 40 days, for the Apostles recently filled with the Holy Spirit it was a matter of weeks they were on trial. Once a person has passed the three tests of this stage to God’s satisfaction, he is ready for stage 5.

The Tests of the Wilderness

Jesus’ time led by the Spirit in the wilderness to be tempted provides the chief insights into this stage. I will order them according to Matthew’s account (Matthew 4:1-11). In this section, the Bold is the root of sin being dealt with, the underlining is the Spiritual discipline which Jesus used to gain the key, and the ALL CAPS is the key to the Power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus gained.

  1. Temptation to satisfy the flesh’s cravings. Jesus had the power to turn stone into bread, but had already learned, from his time of fasting, and his time in the Word of God that Man is sustained by God’s Word. The Key that Jesus unlocked here was DEPENDENCE on God.
  2. Temptation to mistrust God. Just as the serpent gave Adam suggestion, to mistrust God, Jesus could have answered him by proving God’s presence at the pinnacle of the temple, but he had already learned from the story of the Word of God that God is trustworthy and is therefore not to be put to the test. The Key Jesus unlocked here was TRUST in God.
  3. Temptation to seize power. Adam and Eve seized the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil to rule apart from God, and here Satan asked Jesus if he wanted all the kingdoms of the world, for the price of worshiping someone other than God. It is by his time of Prayer and the Word of God that Jesus’ heart had been completely reserved to God, and he bid the tempter begone! the Key Jesus laid hold of was his DEVOTION to the God he loved.

When a Christian has faced the temptations of cravings, mistrust, and power, and answered them with Dependence on, Trust in, and Devotion to God, being taught through fasting, God’s Word, and prayer, the result is that once the Devil had finished every temptation, Jesus was ministered to by angels, and returned from the Wilderness in the POWER of the Holy Spirit.

The Christian who is ready to move on to the next stage will also have the power of God confirmed in his life. This power is a three legged stool with the three legs being, TRUST, DEVOTION, and DEPENDENCE. This does not mean that he will do miracles at this time, but the Almighty Spirit of God will have settled in the heart of one to whom God can entrust “greater works than these.” (John 14:12)

Practical Application:

  1. Be led by the Holy Spirit in spiritual discipline to gain the needed attributes he seeks to give you. The only way you’re going to get anything done in this wilderness is if the Holy Spirit is empowering you to do it. And the only way his power is going to be secure in you in a mutual inter-dependent trusting relationship, is for you to fully make it through this stage. Listen to the Holy Spirit.
  2. If you’re ever wondering if it’s indeed the Holy Spirit speaking to you, remember that you will recognize the tone of His voice from Scripture.
  3. The disciplines which will be of most benefit to you are, Fasting, Bible Reading, Prayer, and Praise. Learn how to do each one as Spirit leads you.
  4. Wait on the Lord. Do not seek to go beyond this stage, until He leads you out of the wilderness. It seemed many times that I could have, should have, left the wilderness for all practical points and purposes, but in the end He vindicated my need for time alone with Him.
  5. Get to know Him one-on-one. This is a very special time, when He wants to show you who He is up close, and to help fashion you into the new-human He has re-created you to be.

I can’t really share much more than this. There are so many guiding spiritual principles, which I have learned, but I’ve only learned them by going through the wilderness. You need Him to teach you in the way that makes sense to you, for whatever purpose he anoints you for.

Avoid the pitfall: Compromise. The Spirit is making you wholly devoted, dependent and trusting on him, but the Evil one will seek to split you from that wholeness anyway he can. If there is any area of compromise, you will perpetuate problems after you leave the wilderness. Remember the lesson of the soils: He will prove what kind of heart you are. If you fail, and you will, don’t dare run from God, run to Him! He’ll have a purpose for your failures as much as your successes. But don’t dare leave anything undealt with that will cause you to be like Israel when it comes into its promised inheritance and failing to attain the whole.

The golden rule of the wilderness is: stay with Him. The more wholly the man is God’s the more wholly his entire life is God’s.

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“With Me”

I feel like I am at the center of a merry-go-round. The world is spinning around me and if I step out from this center, where already my head is spinning I will get swept to the non-existent corners of the spinning circle. These two words in combination have unlocked some of the most profound mysteries of the Christian Faith that I am still only in the seedling stages, but if you will permit me I’d like to share just what these two words entail as I muse on the meaning of this in my life.

The first thing to note is that the Me is a capital “M”. That means whenever the phrase is used, it is being said by God to the one who is listening. That is the first earth shattering fact. God speaks. Did you know that? The same God who spoke into the darkness and said, “Light, Be!” can speak in your hearing if you have the heart to wait in the silence and listen? The Phrase “With Me” is something He said to me as I was pre-writing a story for a beloved woman whom I love more than anyone else in the world . . . that’s my wife in case you’re wondering . . . and she was trying to understand some things about how faith works. Well, I haven’t written the story yet, but this phrase with all its earth shattering implications can still carry meaning in other less storied ways, although it seems to be a favorite way of God’s to show us what things mean by putting them in a story. After all God had the Bible written, a story with 40 authors that spanned all of time to it’s eternal beginning and ending, but through it all these two words resound with the eternity and temporality of both. “With me.”

Another thing to note is that “With Me” is something God can say to the one who is acting, so that he will act “With Me.” It’s kind of like you’re pulling on a rope to heave a boat onto shore, and He comes up behind you and tells you to do it “With Me.” meaning as He Himself is acting behind you, and it is His strength that will accomplish the task, not your own. He isn’t saying this because he doesn’t have enough strength to do it, so he needs you to do it with him. No, no, no, no, no. You are his representative in any given situation. Most of the time when God did something miraculous he did it through the hand of Moses, or Elijah, or one of his servants. Did Moses strike the Nile and turn it to blood or did God? The answer very simply is both of them. Was it God’s power that accomplished it or Moses’ power that accomplished it? Well obviously it was God’s. But why did God have Moses do it with him?

Part of the idea communicated in the phrase “With Me” is making sure that you are whole-hearted in acting with Him. God is 100%, and you get to be 1% of that percentage in an action He is doing, because you are his creation, and God is moving His creation with His creation. It is what He does, but I want you to understand this. People say you need a lot of faith. Even Jesus said, “You don’t need a lot of faith. You could have mustard-seed faith and it would be enough to move a whole mountain.” You don’t need a lot of faith, what you need is complete faith. God being represented 100% is the mystery of faith in you who are whole-hearted in submission to being “With Him” as He does it.

So here you are in the midst of a situation beyond your control, and your heart is afraid, which by the way is a division of your heart from God. When you’re afraid, you are not 100% whole heartedly devoted to God. In fact, if you were whole-hearted you would have no fear except fear of God. But you’re in this situation, where you need a miracle, and you are crying out to God, but you don’t cry out with your whole heart. You hold back part of your heart so that if the answer does not come you won’t be disappointed. God does not answer prayers with that lack of faith. It is when you completely, whole-heartedly, soundly and with all your being are swept up in the hope and desperation of believing that only God can save you, and only God can answer you, that you can appreciate the level of faith with which He does things.

I’m sorry what was that? God has faith? Faith is the fruit of the Spirit, and God is full of Faithfulness and Love. When he says, “With Me.” He is offering himself fully to be present in that situation with you with all the power you need. All that remains is your complete total faithfulness of heart to Him and it will be accomplished. It is when He says, “With Me.” That He is inviting you to “Go! You have the green light. I’m ready when you are ready. I am fully present, and if this is what you want with all your heart, I am ready to do it with you.”

Faith is more appropriately understood through the phrase, “With Me.” Because when you are in a situation and you must act, to do the impossible, like lift a gigantic bolder off of a crushed human being, or calm a storm, or to act in some way that seems impossible, the only way you are going to accomplish it is by totally being present in the situation, and totally being submitted to what God is doing in the situation. He may say “With Me.” in a rebuking tone depending on the heart He is speaking to in order to communicate, “Stop your way. Do it with Me, as I do it My way.” And when you stop doing it your way, and do it “With Me.” you will know the power of God and your own powerlessness.

This level of powerlessness, I think is why we don’t want to be “With Me.” We don’t want to hang out with the Super-impressive power-holder, because next to him we feel insignificant. Pride and fear water down faith. They take that 100% concentration of a human fully submitted to God, and reduces him to a corrupted image that lacks in the glory of God. The risk we experience whenever we step out on faith, whether it be embarrassment, or lack of confidence, this risk is the temptation to see if your heart is utterly devoted to God, or if you are asking with any hint of selfishness. If there is any unsoundness in your faith, it will falter. It takes total surrender, and un-distracted boldness to stare Him in the face, who with a flinch of his face has the power to render you empty.

So God calls you in faith to do what must be done, “With Me.” that means furthermore, and much to our rejoicing, that He is active in accomplishing Good in the world. He is working. Just as Jesus said, “My Father is always working.” (Jn 5:17) And he said, “I do nothing except what I see my father doing. Whatever the father does, the Son also does in like manner.” (Jn 5:19).

This is the secret of faith. God is working. You are His child. He has the power, so do things “With Me.” as He calls you, and commands you to do them. It is the Father telling his son, “Join me in my work, that you may grow up to be like me.” as Jesus demonstrated for us. And Jesus was destined to be firstborn among many brothers. So don’t think that Jesus was the only one who had miraculous powers. The Apostles got to do everything Jesus did, and more. Miracles still happen today, but the true miracles are ones that re done, “With Me.”

So, how does one grow in the ability to answer and act in power when God speaks to you and says, “With Me.” The simple answer is something I heard Leonard Ravenhill quote once. He said, “Sinning people stop praying. But praying people stop sinning.” How do you get to do things “With Me.” By simply abiding and staying, “With Me.” Go where He goes. Speak as He speaks. Listen as He listens. See as he sees. Do as He does. Think as He thinks, Feel as He feels. This is the spiritual calling for every believer. You are his image on earth. You are a little Christ. You are to be about your Father’s business proclaiming the Kingdom, healing the sick, preaching the good news to the poor, setting the oppressed free, and proclaiming the time of God’s favor, and calling the world to repentance.  But you cannot do that and you will not do that, and you will not even WANT to do that until you are resolute to stay with Him.

The Lord does not listen to the proud, but he gives grace to the humble. His yoke is easy, his burden is light. If you will surrender your many heavy burdens and those grooves in the rock you’ve been chiseling for yourself to have some grip of safety should a whirlwind come, and you leave everything behind and follow Him with everything and not turn back. Then you will begin to see more than just life being aligned in pleasant ways. You will see more than just a wisdom that is not your own, guiding your decisions. You will see more than just smooth places where you felt only thorns before. You will see more than just clear opposition from friends and enemies which prove you to be His disciples.You will see more than the depth of your own human depravity and that of your fellow man. You will see more than just hard situations which need miracles supernaturally resolved. You will see more than the supernatural physical healing. You will see more than the demons being cast out. You will see more than than the dead being raised. Beyond all these things, you will know the fullness of Joy being in the presence of your loving God and will walk the path of life with Him forever. And best of all you will see God.

How do I know? Because Enoch walked with God, and God took him. Elijah and Moses sought to see God, and Moses got to see His back, and Elijah was carried to heaven in a whirlwind, and they were ontop of the mount of transfiguration where they got to see the glory of God’s face in Jesus’ face. Because Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

As I finish this article, one final note. “With Me.” isn’t something we can manipulate God into saying. It’s not something He says all the time. He says it whenever He chooses. And He invites you on His terms, when He wants to speak it. I have heard Him say it to me only in an instructive way, and in this instructive way I communicate it to you, dear reader.