A Harvest in the Wilderness?

“The Wilderness” “The desert” “Tough times” “Trials”

Different people call them by different terms. And to one a tough time may not seem so tough to someone else. But everyone goes through them and they look differently to everyone.

Why do they happen? If you’re like me, you’ve said the words, “Why, God, why?” At times, there’s no clear answer. Sometimes, it’s trouble of our own making. We get ourselves into terrible messes. At other times, it seems so random. But what if some of the time, it was God’s design?

Does that sound far-fetched? What if the “desert” is the only place where God can get my (or your) attention? What if He led us into the wilderness for a purpose? Is that possible?

We only need to look at Scripture to see when God led his faithful ones into the wilderness, and in the process or as a result, experienced God’s closeness like never before. Moses, the murderer, fleeing for his life. Abraham packing up and leaving for the middle of nowhere. David hiding in caves. Elijah on the run. Even Jesus was led to the wilderness. Each time, they encountered God or experienced His Presence in ways like never before.

There’s some beautiful Scripture in Hosea of God promising His unfaithful, chosen nation of Israel would be led into the wilderness, but it would be for a purpose:

“But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there. I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope. She will give herself to me there, as she did long ago when she was young, when I freed her from her captivity in Egypt. (Hosea 2:14-15 NLT)

Sometimes the only place we can hear God’s voice is in the barren wilderness, when we’re seemingly abandoned and all alone. But He promises restoration and transformation. The valley… the desert… the tough times… the trials… will be a gateway… a doorway to HOPE! It’s in the desert that the restoration comes. It’s in the wilderness that the healing comes. It’s in the tests that you’re given a testimony!

Right now, I’m seemingly in limbo. Maybe you are, too. It’s a kind of an in-between, transitional time in my life. At times, it seems lush and fruitful, so to speak. At other times, it’s barren and dry. It’s a wilderness of sorts. And through it all, God seems so close, so intimate, and He speaks so tenderly.

As David knew oh-so-well,

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. (Psalm 23:4, NLT)

He walks through our darkest times with us. He doesn’t leave us there. He leads us through, to come out on the other side victorious!

Soul Training

Sharon and I are both working our way through a book entitled “The Good and Beautiful Life”, by James Bryan Smith. Actually the whole church is doing the same. All the small groups are doing it. And each Sunday morning, the preaching is shaped by it. Its subtitle is named, “Putting on the Character of Christ.” It is designed to be curriculum for developing Christ-likeness.

That sounds ludicrous: “Developing Christ-likeness.” Like we have something to do about it. But we do. After we accept the reality that God sent His Son to die for our sins… that He took our place… and because He rose and reigns, we now have eternal life… and it’s Kingdom-living now, in the unshakeable Kingdom of God… Once we get that – from our head down 18″ to our heart – then we have Christ living in us and we now have a part to play in maturing in Christ-likeness, by the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

So, back to the book. At the end of each chapter is homework to do for the week. It’s called a “Soul Training Exercise.” Basically it takes a spiritual discipline and tweaks it a bit. One week we fasted from all media for 48 hours. One week it was Sleep. Yes, sleep. I did good that week. Each week, it is designed to subtly teach the emphasis of the chapter. This week, it is: Pray For Your Enemies.

Most of us don’t have enemies who are trying to hunt us down and kill us. We don’t have REAL enemies, but we do have people who rub us the wrong way or are adversarial by nature or by position. Those are the people to be prayed for.

Wow. Is that hard! I didn’t think it was going to be, but being honest with God about your feelings for them is the first step and that’s hard enough. But then handing over to God the keys to the jail that you want to out them in for the “crime” they committed against you… well, that’s where developing that Christ-likeness comes in. Basically, you’re saying to God, “I trust that You are a just God and that you’ll have the final word. I trust You, Lord.” And then you pray for them to be blessed. Yes, blessed.

The part we play is mostly about believing and trust. That’s how growth comes.

Just ask someone who’s gone through any hard time and had to trust that God gets the final word… in their marriage… in their finances… with people who mistreat them… or with their family (like Amanda)… Or losing a loved one (like Cindy)… or with their own health (like Donna). They had to trust. They are still trusting. And they are more like Jesus as a result.

God gets the final word. Trust Him. He knows what He’s doing; and what He’s doing is making you and me more Christ-like.

Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29)