“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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The Problem: Self-Salvation

Thanks Tim Keller for helping me with that phrase.
– – Dear Reader,
– – You have read lots. Here’s something else. I’ve been sick with a grueling fever for the past week or so, and I’m tired of it. As soon as I sit up, I start throbbing in my head. People are depending on me for so many things. I have responsibilities. Children to lead in song, home-bound family who need to go into town, and this is not to mention my truck which needs fixing, my laundry needs to be done, and I have about 2 hours of upright energy a day before my fever goes up a single degree. Thankfully my family are around to care for me, and take care of pressing needs as they arise. Things came to a pretty weepy head today when I had to skip work at school. I cried out, “God please come get me!” from my curled up blanket on the couch, wracked with weariness and worried-ness.
– – Finally. He really does listen. He just listens better than we do to ourselves. I could tell you countless times I had asked him to heal me because people depend on me. But now the problem comes down to just me living with me. What kept crushing down on me was the weight of everything I had to do, and just could not do. I had to partially delegate it to my boss.
– – I know He listens every time, but He responds to honesty. Suddenly, in that moment, I found myself writing in my journal, “Thank you for saving me from my own self-salvation.”
– – I like to think I can fix things. I can do it. I can handle life. I can face challenges. I can manage my time, my relationships, my money. And so I can, or at least act like I can. But what happens when all that power is gone? You go to your power source and have the balls to ask him, “Get me more power, so I can take care of things myself, so I will not need you to save me, cause if you save me, that means I have to completely serve you alone.” That’s what I’ve been doing anyway. I wrote this down after that realization:
“Let’s face it. We’re all a bunch of sucky self-saviors.” I slept with peace after that, ’cause I know my Savior is real. He won’t save everything important to me. That’s not His job. His job is sustaining the cosmos, just like he showed Job. And in the End his Wise plan is best.

 

The Lonely Caravel

The agonies that stang awake
In solitude they prod the weather-beaten heart.
An outcry for lost love
In hope it can again be found.

The lips that crack, the tongue can soothe,
Only to let the liquid of your spit
Be evaporated in the cold and evanescent air
And your own soul’s water be depleted.

The cavernous hole your bleeding chest aches
To let another soul find rest therein.
These calls that welcome, become a plea
For someone, ANYone to come fill me.

The organ plays to fill a church
With painful piercing chords that filet my hurt.
Can the flood of beautiful sound drown woes
That clutch the mast and rise again in silent calm?

Trust breaks over me like glass
Upon a hardened shale piece cut from the mountain.
It shatters and makes a weapon not to be handled
By a child whose hand has never been sliced open.

Cries muffled by a pillow make my scream
A softened surrounds for a golden needlepoint.
The heightened sense of the sheets around my head
Swim noisily as I bury myself in them.

Such noise is the song of fissures in the fabric of our bosoms
Where friends beloved come and go, and good men break their word
The powders of such explosive interruption
Are loaded in a canon aimed for the hull of nearby vessels.

“Friend or Foe?” I cry aloft
But feign to hear their polite reply.
How can they know my ship will sink
If they board and take not the greatest care?

For in these waters, all men are pirates.
Their colors or flag make little difference.
I, a pirate like them, have a vessel of goods
And none to transport to, since I have no bay.

What’s this? A ship sailing less a standard.
‘Tis white! A great white shark no doubt.
To seem to play weak, only to prove the briggand
And use their own canon when drawn in close.

But nay, the song aboard their ship,
A song of thanks spills onto the waves.
As they pull in tighter, they cast me a line.
And pray we may lee our ships in tow.

My fever heightened, but my anxiousness was lightened.
My wonder was dazzled, and my canon upturned.
A song of my own filled up to join theirs,
Though a sharp eye, I kept lest they catch me unaw’res.

Twas the song of the humble I learned in that day.
From these once pirates, who had learned a new way.
To sail thankful and sharing, on the sea of the king.
And join ships that were starving, and feigned to be mean.

My bow broke waves and liberated spray.
My canon unloaded was pointed off the stern.
My cargo stores replenished from the friendship learned.
My own royal colors retracted and His white flag displayed.

To trust, and to wait on the Maker who is good,
To look with love on the people He came to save.
To chart out new seas, knowing this thing for sure.
He is the Captain of every Soul who surrenders to Him.

O Lord, my tired hull is heavy with precious cargo.
I fear none will take before it rots away.
Please show me that I matter to You,
And give me a fellow heart with whom to share this load.