At fifty I have to admit that I’m well into my mid-life crisis. Three kids, all grown, two beautiful grandchildren, one wife. All in all it’s been quite the mid-century moment to pause and reflect on. I’ve been blessed beyond measure and I’ve suffered along the way, just like you.
Life is sometimes spectacularly good and sometimes it is spectacularly hard. Both our gains and losses add up, they point us to something in-between satisfaction and shame. Family, career, and friends, all enter the equation and for most of us, things haven’t turned out quite the way we thought.
I bet you have a similar story. Different name, place, and circumstances, but a familiar pattern of highs and lows. It’s the great tapestry of our choices, the sum of our moments captured for our faulty memories to retain.
Why does it so often feel like ‘failure’? Why do we add it all up and find ourselves wondering what happened? What about our hopes and dreams? Where did the future go and how did we get so far from our objectives? Life isn’t turning out the way I thought.
For the Christian, it’s a struggle to resist the defeated sense of being ‘less than’ we should be. For the unbeliever it’s someone else’s fault, ever the victim of the ‘other’ person, thing, or group pitted against us.
Both feelings I believe to be correct. We are less than we should be and there is a strategic foe plotting our demise.
Where does our faith enter this equation? Are we just flawed in our understanding of it all? Are we missing the big picture of God’s providential plan… or is there just no plan for us?
Lots of hard questions that need answers. I’ve had a year to reflect on some of this stuff, twelve months to slow my mind and rest my heart. I can’t explain all I feel but here’s a start.
These nuggets of wisdom I’ve gleaned from the past twelve months in the great Northwoods of Maine. There are more details than I can share here, but these three reveal much about my journey, my process.
What about you? Have you allowed yourself to reflect and consider where you’ve been, where you’re at… where you’re headed? It takes courage and humility to face your own life.
Life can begin to feel pretty depressing if you lose you’re way. Life can feel more and more like failure if you forget where you’re going. If you forget that you don’t really belong here, its not our final destination. It’s essential for us to regain and retain our spiritual compass as we journey on, if we don’t, we’ll start to go in circles, lost, frustrated, angry, and ashamed.
God in His mercy provides the moments we need to recapture our first love. He knows what we need to recover our spiritual breath (ruach). He knows the air gets thinner the higher we go and He knows we need to remember the goal. We’re not meant to stay here, we’re not meant to make sense of the senseless things in life, He knows we were meant for more.
Dear Christian, don’t you dare stop climbing now. I’ve heard the view ahead is simply too spectacular to miss.
The Christian life in our modern world is so convoluted with the secular it’s almost impossible to sort things out.
The way our world works seems normal to us. It seems logical, even wise… but it operates on principles foreign to the Holy Spirit.
The world is about self-preservation, promotion, accomplishment, and gain.
Christ led us by example into a new way, a Kingdom built out of self-sacrifice, humility, service, and loss.
He promises that if we will follow after His way, we’ll find what we’re all searching for… a new life, one that’s abundant and free.
One of the first things we’re often asked to do by God is to ‘wait’. He doesn’t assign us a prominent role in the ministry, He doesn’t place us in positions of great influence or authority, He often puts us in a ‘time-out’.
He’s not punishing us, He’s loving us. His voice will often urge us to ‘rest’. It seems odd. It seems out of place for us to ‘not’ pursue after our ministry, or work, or family. After all our entire life has been in ‘pursuit’ of something!
What is this weird request?
We may feel like we’re aren’t ‘needed’ for His purposes? Did we misunderstand Him. Did he misunderstand us? It’s so unusual to slow down and to actually stop running around that we feel useless, and irrelevant when we do. So we don’t.
Yet God asks us to be still.
The point I believe is we’re being ‘un-taught’ our worldly ways. In our world the harder we push the further we get. In God’s Kingdom, the way up is down. His ways are opposite of our ways, the slower we get the quieter we become. The less we do, the more we can hear.
When we learn to ‘hear’ clearly we can proceed with conviction and confidence. If we’re learning to live and work in ‘his’ strength, then knowing His will and way is far more important than working out the ways we’re going to accomplish things, or pondering the “how to’s” of our ministry.
God is speaking to us, it’s essential that we learn to slow down and stop. To rest and be quiet, it’s in these moments that we learn the most. His will is all that matters.
Blessings, Pastor B.
Isaiah 30:15 (ESV) “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling,”
The Solitude and sanctity of Consecrated living
This internal work of the Holy Spirit is active in the wilderness season. It’s very presence and function an indication of our being prepared for a future work and service. Our spiritual senses are awakened as we begin to experience the presence of God, and the wilderness is where we are most keenly attuned to God’s whisper.
Our life begins to take on a sharper focus as we recognize the forces at work within and without us and we slowly accept and even embrace the intentional nature of our circumstances.
This awareness is the growing culmination of our decision to stay on the path, the expanding vista of our upward journey in faith.
The removal of the old and of our self makes space for the new and spiritual to grow. This consecration transformation is overseen by the Holy Spirit and is specific to the precise detail of our circumstance. The purposes of God are rarely revealed in their entirety to us, we are kept in the dark for many reasons, but not the least is the trust and the faith that the mystery of His work instills in us.
We cannot move deeper and closer to God without allowing this growing sensitivity of our need for consecration to take center stage within our consciousness. When we do, we make different choices, we shy away from those old and deeply ingrained habits. Replacing those old patterns we find a surprising but growing hunger for more time in His presence, for His plans more than our own. This inner transformation wipes away the decay of selfish pursuits and reorients us to a life spent for service.
This new motivation provides us a growing sense of inner calm and tangible assurance of who we are, where we’re going, and who we truly belong to; which is in essence the ultimate goal of our wilderness journey.
A growth in our personal discipline and dedication to Prayer is the natural byproduct of living in the presence of God, motivated by such a season of life as the wilderness we grow and grow. It (prayer) becomes the vital connection and intersection of our lives and Gods presence here on earth – it’s more than learning to take authority or a process of removing life obstacles – God is inviting us into deeper intimacy and longer conversations. We have to see prayer as time spent listening and talking. At stake is the will of God in our lives, and consequently here on earth. Our sensitivity to Gods will and way should become the most important part our day.
As Dr Tony Evans says, “we need to discover what God is up to each day – we need to listen and respond by asking Him what He wants to do and where we should be within His will, within His plans” (my paraphrase) “We are not meant to simply “visit” with God in prayer, but to learn to “abide”. We cannot fully enter into what God is doing here on earth without learning to listen and hear when we pray.”
The bigger picture is this… as we learn to live in the wilderness, we will grow in our inner desire to follow after and become like Christ. This expanding thirst for holy living will draw us into a closer and deeper faith, a positive cycle of shedding the “old” and putting on the ‘new’. Our transformation starting within expressing itself without, not for appearance sake or the affirmation of others, but for the preservation and growth of our communion with God.
The circumstances of our life may wax and wane, but by leaving behind the old false and fake self we make space for the new and liberated self. This frees us from our fears and opens the door to a growing practice of living within a constant presence with God. This is what the saints have long called ‘walking with God’. It’s habitual practice in our lives means we can not only endure our wilderness season but learn, grow, and expand.
The distractions and struggles of our lives are like the swirling wind for an eagle’s wings. We can fight the turbulence or learn to ride the currents trusting in the power of God to lead us. The other option…? We can stubbornly resist and insist on a vain attempt to maintain control of our trajectory until we reach the point of complete exhaustion and despair.
The struggle for each of us to draw near to the Creator is real. Our need to exert control is deeply ingrained, but Gods Holy Spirit is the patient and perfect tutor and will realign our hearts to His.
The process of consecration and preparation requires from us a voluntary surrender and release of our protective grip on those false confidences and comforts that counterfeit His provision and presence. This often means a season in the wilderness, a time of isolation, transition, and frustration in the short-term, but greater peace and deeper intimacy in the long run.
In the end, we must learn to rest while we find ourselves living in the wilderness. Not confident in our tenacity to stick with it, but in His patience to work within us, to perfect us in the midst of it all.
PS – the last 5 posts have been an outline of a new project I’m working on for publication. I trust they provide hope and encouragement to any who find themselves in a wilderness season of life. Much of the biblical insights I am drawing upon can be found in the book of “Hebrews’. This epic summation of the New Covenant in Christ is the road-map for any who wish to find ‘rest’. Hebrews points directly to the completed majestic sacrifice of the long promised messiah… Jesus Christ.
Moving past Me
We may be starting to appreciate the design in our wilderness circumstances, even begin to understand the strategy in all our struggles, but the battle to survive the process we’re caught up in will require us to lift our gaze further than we have before.
The journey of faith we’ve been invited into cannot simply be focused on our situation, it’s larger and bigger than us. His presence in our lives is meant to be more than a means to an end. He cannot be approached without shrugging off our selfish and ambitious nature.
We cannot proceed any further in our upward ascent to following God if we insist on retaining what remains of our old self and sense of control. Thus the need for us to be driven into a desert / a wilderness moment of life, a place of being sorted out from the contamination of our world and the sins that so easily clings. (Hebrews 12:1-3) (Romans 12:1-3)
The maturing focus of our spiritual journey requires a shift from our plans and promotion, to the relationship behind the entire belief system. Christianity is not a path for personal enlightenment or purification for our own merit – but rather as a process of being sanctified and consecrated for the creators presence. We are not our own.
Our relationship with God must become greater than any other preoccupation of our hearts. We can’t simply pursue His favor and blessings, we won’t progress any further than we are. To move deeper and higher we must relinquish our very identities to Him. Finding our strength and value and purpose in our time we spend within His presence.
He is not a means to an end… HE IS THE END.
Tozer quote: “We must be concerned with the person and character of God, not the promises. Through promises we learn what God has willed to us, we learn what we may claim as our heritage, we learn how we should pray. But faith itself must rest on the character of God.
Is this difficult to see? Why are we not stressing this in our evangelical circles? Why are we afraid to declare that people in our churches must come to know God Himself? Why do we not tell them that they must get beyond the point of making God a lifeboat for their rescue or a ladder to get them out of a burning building? How can we help our people get over the idea that God exists just to help run their businesses or fly their airplanes?
God is not a railway porter who carries your suitcase and serves you. God is God. He made heaven and earth. He holds the world in His hand. He measures the dust of the earth in the balance. He spreads the sky out like a mantle. He is the great God Almighty. He is not your servant. He is your Father, and you are His child. He sits in heaven, and you are on the earth.”
From his book; Faith Beyond Reason, 44.
In the Wilderness… we can grow into a deeper ‘Intimacy” with God.
The process of the Holy Spirit is persistent and subtle in our wilderness season.
The process* of growing in Intimacy requires us to become “still”. To learn to stop doing things to change our circumstances. God wants to teach us how to wait. He wants to train us to trust His plans more than our own.
2 Chronicles 20
This battle is not for you to fight; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.”
The struggle to draw near to the creator is real – everything in us resists approaching His presence. Our minds endlessly inventive for finding “other” options to pursue.
Apprehension at His knowing gaze tempts us to run, to avoid being exposed for what we truly are. Our external and superficial defenses are powerless before Him. We desperately assemble something to prop ourselves up… we use our self invented identities and lean on personal successes to offset the weakness His gaze is revealing about ourselves. Lacking the strength to withstand or endure the penetrating power of His words to us, we are tempted to just keep retreating and hiding from the painful truth. Just like our forefathers we look for whatever fig leaves we can find to cover our nakedness.
The active effects of our wilderness circumstances and of His approach are effective in forcing a “sorting out” of our past presumptions and false assumptions.
We cannot retain our pride and false bravado for very long in the definitely engineered circumstances of His will. There is no room for the baggage of our past in the present, we are unable to deny the truth of our weakness and incompleteness. We must admit our need – accept His conditions or we must flee forever.
This process of growing in Intimacy requires a form of “sorting out” or refinement. Consider your life as you would a precious metal like Gold, Platinum, or Silver, this is how God sees us. The purification of this treasured substance (our hearts) is a large part of the human condition as experienced in Christ.
We are in nearly constant transition as we experience the fire and flames of being heated and then the abrupt change of being thrust into the icy waters. The repeated heating to the point of melting and then being plunged into one more baptismal trial after another is the tempering way for every believer to proceed in their faith. No other path will prepare us adequately for the prize we seek.
It’s in this season of refinement, in the pain and suffering of our fearful transitions and abrupt life changes that we risk giving ourselves over to the darkness of despair and discouragement. Make no mistake, this is a choice! We have the capacity to chose life or death, Hope or despair and it’s in this that our life trajectory will rise or fall.
No one of us can endure the strain indefinitely, we are subject to the mortal nature of eventual fatigue and exhaustion, but this too serves the masters purposes and realign’s our understanding from fantasy to faith. We cannot continue to pretend or fake our way through the Christian life, we must dig in or bug out.
Despite all of the insight and growing personal awareness of our condition, we cannot remain myopic and self obsessed for long if we are to move forward. The journey is “upward” and if we keep clinging to Jesus, we will wind our way to greater heights and better perspectives than we have ever yet experienced. This isn’t a test of our strength, but rather our wills. Surrender is hard.
The Wilderness isn’t about being abandoned by God, it’s all about learning to be more intimate with Him. An unavoidable place and space in every Christians story, the journey of faith expands for those who choose to stay in His presence, for those who trust enough to be still.
* He allows us to be left out of the normal flow and function of our world = leaves us feeling discarded or in a ‘time out’, but we’re not.
* He allows our circumstances to be uncomfortable and difficult = suffering
This isolation and instability is awful. It removes all manner of old affirmation and familiar encouragements, this is exactly as intended by God to lead us deeper and further into our intended purpose.
Psalm 27 is / has been a significant strength to me.
1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
4 One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.
5 For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will lift me high upon a rock.
7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me!
8 You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
“Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
9 Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger,
O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
O God of my salvation!
10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
but the Lord will take me in.
11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
12 Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they breathe out violence.
13 I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living!
14 Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord! (ESV)
Life in the Wilderness – Biblical Examples:
* Abraham in the promise land – experiencing famine and leaving the promise land to go down to Egypt. (Foreshadowing)
These ‘examples’ should bring us comfort and perspective. Each of us will enter multiple seasons of wilderness life, each will need to move from anger and doubt to acceptance and trust. The wilderness in scripture represents a time of testing and teaching. God was not punishing, He was preparing.
So it is with us.