Your life is made up of a series of questions which have been answered by you and those around you. “Should I turn left or should I turn right?” “Do I work here or there?” “Can I see myself spending the rest of my life with this person?” “What is all of this really about?” Our journey of faith began with two questions, and at some point in our lives each one of us must answer two key and monumental questions.
No one wants to be in
the wilderness season of their life or calling in ministry. It’s a place where
the crowds don’t see you, it’s a place where your weaknesses are exposed, and it’s in the wilderness that the
motivations of your heart are tested and brought to light. The
wilderness is the time in your life when your roots are tested to see if God
can build upon your life in the way He wants without destroying you or those
around you. God didn’t lead you into this place just so you could barley make
it out alive, no He brought you there to thrive. Because if your life and
relationship with God can thrive in the wilderness then it will be able to
survive the chaos and demands of your everyday life and ministry.
Many people don’t make
it out of the wilderness. This is a truth we must come to grips with, as it is
easy to assume that your life is just on autopilot and you will end up where
God wants you to be no matter how you live or
react to your situations. But this couldn’t be further from the truth, the
wilderness is the place of refinement and while some make it out to the other side there are
many who simply die spiritually (or morally) in that place.
Or there are others
who become overly comfortable in the wilderness, where no one can see them, and
they can do as they please. Some misinterpret the wilderness as the fulfilment
of their callings where they go and “suffer for Jesus” for the betterment of
unnamed “others.” Then there are the few who perceive the wilderness as being a
deserved judgment on their life that they must embrace indefinitely.
We can look to stories
about the wilderness such as Jesus’s temptations, Elijah’s refuge, Moses’s
escape or the migration of the
children of Israel from Egypt. In all of these examples we see a pattern emerge:
God calls a person or group and manifests in their life, then they end up
outside of the comforts of home and into a place where they have to either
prove their dependence upon God or prove that their hearts are in line with
Jesus resisted the
temptation of Satan, Elijah learned the secret of hearing God’s voice, Moses
became humble and encountered God in the burning bush while tending Jethro’s
sheep and the people of Israel were refined into a nation which could enter the
Promised Land. Jesus left the wilderness in power and authority, Elijah had his
strength and faith restored, and Moses understood his role in God’s plan. These
three men left the wilderness forever changed, they were changed in a deep and
profound way and it is because of that change that they were able to leave the
These three examples
not only survived but thrived, unlike many nameless faces who have gone into
the wilderness and never returned. We see this with the children of Israel as
the majority of them died in their season of wilderness, as only those under
the age of twenty along with Joshua and Caleb survived. They rejected their
wilderness journey, they rejected God’s goodness, they refused to trust God and
they resisted God’s attempts to take Egypt out of their hearts. Who knows how
many others have fallen victim to these same failings when they went into their
own wilderness experiences? This is what I mean by saying that entering the wilderness is a guarantee, but
leaving it is not.
But we have another
example of someone with a calling from God on their life who had to enter the
The Wilderness Is Not
To Be Feared
As we’ve seen over the past few months the story of David is one which is rich examples of how someone who is called by God is to live and fulfill that calling. We’ve seen so far the path of David’s life which followed the 4 A’s of Anointing, Apprenticeship, Activation and Announcement. Normally we want God to take us straight from the place of Anointing and initial calling and carry us directly into the place of Announcement where we are recognized as being in the fullness of our calling, just as when David was formally made king of Judah and later Israel.
However, in reality to get to the places of activation and announcement we (and David) must go through the wilderness. In the previous article I spoke of how David entered the wilderness because of Saul’s obsession with killing him. I spoke of the need for the wilderness in our lives but now I want to take you to the next level where we actually thrive and see the true purpose that we were brought into this place.
In some ways the wilderness is like finally arriving at your dream
amusement park (be it Disney, Universal, Six Flags or even Walley World) only
to find out that it was closed, indefinitely, without warning. What would you
do in that situation? How would you react to reaching what you though was the
pinnacle of your perceived calling and life purpose only to find the gates
shut, the lights off and a bumbling security guard keeping you from your dream?
I know the wilderness
of life isn’t a fun place, I’ve been there, more than once, I know what it’s
like to go into that season kicking and screaming and finally when I was
exhausted from all of that, I saw
the wilderness for what it really was. I saw it as the place where my personal
failings were brought to the surface, not publicly but privately so they
wouldn’t be (or not as much) an issue later on in life. I’ve had three such
seasons in my life, with one of them lasting almost a decade, but I wouldn’t be
where I am today without that time of hiding and refinement.
Much of what I write
about, be it in the articles or my books found their beginnings in those seasons
of darkness and wilderness. I can honestly look back at several of those times
in my life and say that they were worth it. They were painful, I was gripped by
hopelessness, I stood face to face with my own expectation, and I lost my sense
of purpose. I grappled with the ideas of God’s goodness, faithfulness and love
in not just my own life but the world in general. In that place I was forced to
ask the real questions most people in church don’t dare to ask or think about (at least out loud). The questions
that go beyond a normal motivational message, the questions that determine ones
Despite all that I
experienced, lost, learned, forgot, relearned, suffered, tolerated or enjoyed I
always saw that distant shimmering light at the edge of the horizon and did all
I could to follow it.
At the tail end of my
last wilderness season God spoke to me through a picture. One day in prayer
after reading A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller, I finally saw
what was going on in my life from God’s perspective. I saw myself walking
through a desert with rolling dunes which saw their sand being carried off by the wind. It was
not long before dawn when the sky was dark but there was enough light to see
where you were going.
Among the stars was
one which sat right along the horizon which was brighter that the rest and
pulsed its inviting light. I watched myself march endlessly over each dune. At
times briskly other times I struggled and dragged myself over them with my
arms. At one point I gave up from the exhaustion, it tried to reach that light
but my body gave out and slowly the winds and sand began to bury me. All I saw
around myself was lifeless desert and sand and emptiness.
At that point my
perspective shifted as if I was lifted up by as if by a crane and I could see
beyond the horizon behind me. I couldn’t recognize it because I didn’t see a
barren desert but lush trees and an oasis the size of a forest. The new life
was creeping along the sands behind me but just beyond my ability to see it, and
when I stopped it stopped as well. Then I saw myself again buried in the sand
and I lifted myself out of the dune and continued the march towards the light.
Even in your season of
wilderness you can have an effect on people, you can grow, develop and achieve
great things when you work with God. That was the lesson I learned that day,
the lesson of not needing to see the fulfillment of each of my steps but to
trust the God would honor my faithfulness in following Him no matter how much
my mind or body begged me to stop and submit to the wilderness, with its
darkness and cool breeze. God is always watching and God is always working,
even when we think our lives or experiences
don’t’ matter or that we have been forgotten the refining process
continues. Then when you emerge from that process your heart is ready to be who
God called you to be. This is the truth you can’t have a testimony without a
test and you can’t be in ministry without a refined heart.
But enough about me
let’s look back at David and how he navigated this season in the wilderness.
Now Is The Time Of Activation
After fleeing from
Saul we see that David didn’t just go hide off in a cave and wait for Saul to
die. Nor did David just stay out of the way of the world during this time of
testing and preparation. What we see here is that the season of the wilderness
not only helped to refine David but also gave him the opportunity to see his
gifts and traits needed to be a good king begin to blossom.
1 Samuel 22:2 And everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him. So
he became captain over them. And there were about four hundred men with him.
Even though David was not the king of
Israel he was still a leader and a person God had singled out for great things,
and many people took notice of that. In the wilderness David began to lead a
group of people of his own, unlike the soldiers who had previously been
obligated to follow his orders. From all over the wilderness of southern Judah
people began to flock to David to be led by him even despite Saul’s
David began to see what it would be like to
be the king, but before David was king over a nation he had to prove to
himself, to others and to God that he could lead this small band of followers.
Because the same lessons apply to leadership no matter the size of the
congregation, if you fail in certain areas with a small group you will surly
fail in the same ways with a larger group.
This idea even applies to ministry, often
when people feel a calling to be in some form of ministry, they automatically
desire to have the biggest platform, the grandest reach and the most influence
possible. Many people don’t value the baby steps it actually takes to get to
those levels, and they think that they can automatically succeed if they are
given the grandest platform first. In reality this is like teaching a teenager
to drive by handing them the keys to a racecar instead of something they can
handle. It seems that less and less people appreciate the process of
incremental promotion and success. Before you can succeed with a congregation
you must succeed with at group, and before you can succeed with at group you
first have to succeed with an individual.
Even my own life I have been a youth
pastor, a Christian wrestling promoter, a home church pastor, a home group
leader, a blogger, a teacher, a coffee maker, a chair stacker and a curriculum
writer. I didn’t just start with the platform I have, I worked my way through
all of these assignments and opportunities and learned along the way so I could
handle the greater opportunities which came later. This is the same lesson we
see here with David, though he was not the official king he learned how to lead
people so that when his kingship manifested he knew what to do and how to do
We see this idea play out in places such as
1 Samuel 23:1-13 where David and his 600 men delivered the town of Keliah from
the Philistines. David wasn’t a king, he wasn’t apart of Israel’s army, he had
no official status but he did what a king would do in that situation, he saved
his people from an attack. He didn’t let the city fall because it wasn’t “his
turn” to lead Israel or to officially protect the people. In that moment David
didn’t tell himself that someone else more qualified would eventually show up,
no he acted out the fullness of his calling right then and there and the city
Did that victory make David king, no, and even that victory wasn’t the end of the
story. even after that accomplishment life and troubles continued, soon Saul
found out about the battle and send his army to Keliah. It was only through the
guidance of God which was revealed through Abiathar and the ephod (Uruim and
Thummim possibly) that David fled the city he just saved and went back into the
Is Just The Beginning Of This Story
For David the
wilderness was the time of the Activation of his calling, but not the full
manifestation of it. It was the time when his gifts and abilities began to
mature and strengthen so he was ready for the inevitable day when Saul passed,
and the crown would be placed on his head. Next time we will go even deeper
into David’s time of activation and see how it carried him out of the
wilderness and into the place of Announcement when it was proclaimed it the
nation that David was now king.
But before I close I have this question to ask: where are
you in this journey? Are you at the beginning where the call on your life has
begun to stir? Are you in the place where that fire is being kindled? Are you
where David is in this part of the story where God through the
wilderness is doing His work of activation and refinement? Understanding where
you are in this process will help you succeed in what God has called you to be.
You must be honest with yourself and
God about what’s happening in your heart and life so that you can survive the
place you are in and be effective in not just ministry but you entire life.
Right now you need a revelation that Jesus is just as alive today as He was during His ministry in Judea. Often, we tend to separate the two stages of Jesus’s life (divine and Son of Man), we see them as two different books on our shelves. One speaks of who Jesus was for those three and a half years, and the second one about what Jesus could be like one day.
We look at Jesus as the lamb of sacrifice, or the humble servant during the time of His ministry and assume that nothing has changed. But what does Jesus actually look like now in terms of his nature, power, authority and existence? Then we have the second question of how do we engage and relate to Him today?
wants to remain in their own proverbial Eden and wait for God to bring them
blessings on a silver platter. It’s no wonder why we look down upon seasons of
difficulties or even the idea of having to go through a wilderness to arrive at
the place God has called us to. At times people go into the wilderness by
choice, such as with Jesus and Moses. But there are other times when people
like David were forced to run into it, because their life depended on it.
we’ve seen over the past few weeks David really hasn’t done anything wrong, he
served Saul faithfully, he protected the people from the Philistines and was
generally admired by many. The shepherd boy who killed Goliath and lulled Saul
to sleep at night stood as a paragon of virtue and the favor of God. But not
everyone appreciated what David was becoming. Saul was becoming increasingly
paranoid and his rage was replacing the place in his heart which used to be
filled with God’s anointing.
Saul lost his temper and tried to impale David with his spear (1 Samuel 19:1-7), only to apologize later on
after Jonathan or another calmed him down. Saul reacted in this way because he
knew something was up, David was loved by the people, he was a mighty warrior
and now he had not only married his daughter Michal but made a covenant with
his son Jonathan, the heir-apparent to the throne of Israel. As far as Saul was
concerned David was fast becoming enemy number one and posed a threat to his
family, his kingship and his life.
Dark to Light
What does this have to do with us today? Not everyone has a
Saul in their lives who is watching and plotting against them with a murderous
paranoia. Yet at times it may feel that way, and even spiritually we have someone
even more broken than Saul who is working against us so that no one can take
his throne and replace his royal family.
Saul had fallen from God’s graces and was destined to be
replaced by God’s new anointed choice, David. We today can see ourselves playing
the role of David, as we look forward to the day when the wicked king is fully
dethroned and God allows us to walk into the fullness of our calling.
As I said we don’t always face a physical Saul in our life
but there is a spiritual one, one who is active and paranoid that at any moment
one of God’s anointed ones will rush into the castle and dethrone him. Satan
and his forces are like Saul, they have been entrenched and see themselves as
still having a legal right over their territory despite their falling away and
the stripping of God’s anointing from their lives. So, they go about and like
Saul they hurl their spears in an attempt to kill, discredit, or convert anyone
who poses a threat to their continued rule.
Like David we can’t just barge into that throne room after
we “kill Goliath,” no, to achieve real and lasting victory in our hearts we
need to go through the process of refinement that comes from entering and
abiding in the wilderness. Otherwise we end up being worse than those that we
replaced or ridiculed. Imagine if David had gone against his heart and just
straight up murdered Saul the first chance he got, would he still be a man
after God’s own heart, or would he have become worse than Saul. We can even
look at the lives of David’s descendants and see the answer to the question. People
like Absalom, Rehoboam, or Manasseh who allowed their hearts to be corrupted
and ended up as even more broken and wicked kings than Saul ever was.
This is why the wilderness is a necessity in our relationships with God, it refines our heart and takes us out from the place of Apprenticeship and brings us into Activation. Some people like David won’t have a choice in the matter, if they want to remain spiritually (or even naturally) alive long enough to fulfill God’s purpose for their lives.
Running Into the
In the opening of 1 Samuel 19 we don’t see a scared and cowardly
David looking to abandon His divine purpose in life because things got “too
hard.” This was a last resort to preserve his life and the calling God had
placed upon him. We see this play out in David’s request to Jonathan to find
out exactly what was going on in Saul’s heart. At first Saul once again
relented in 1 Samuel 19:6 but not long after Saul once again tried to turn
David into an unwilling wall ornament in 1 Samuel 19:9-10.
Now was the time to run, not out of cowardice, or an
abandoning of his calling but because God was orchestrating events to lure
David outside the comforts of the castle and his royal position and into the place
where his heart would be refined even further. It’s easy to get comfortable, it’s
happened to me and I know it has happened to you as well. Comfort leads to
contentment, and contentment leads to inactivity. This place of comfort is
something we all want to enjoy at some point but at the same time that comfort
has to power to smother the fire God has placed inside of us.
No one, or should I say very few, people want to abandon
those comforts and go out into the wilderness. In the castle David had food
brought to him, but in the wilderness he had to seek out his own food or rely
on others for help. The wilderness is one of the spiritual antidotes to our
pride and self-sufficiency. It’s the place that forces us to hold up our
priorities and relationship with God up against the realities of our hearts
desires. Those seasons of wilderness that we dread are really God’s method of
pruning our hearts and minds like one prunes a tree of fruit vine. In the wilderness
the dead branches of our heart, mind and desires are exposed and allowed to be
removed so the source of life can flow freely through us.
We’re not the only ones that must face these seasons of
wilderness refinement. As we’ve already seen Jesus and Moses both had seasons
like this, but so did Elijah, Paul, Jeremiah and a host of others who were used
mightily by God. The wilderness can be painful, stressful and full of vanities
but God uses that time to draw us closer to Him and to ensure that we don’t
place our trust in the wrong things. No longer do we rely on the royal chefs to
bring our meals each day but now we rely on God’s provisions (Matthew 6:25-27).
Our Spiritual Testing
Not only is the wilderness a season of dependency but it also prepares us for what God has called us to become. With David his time in the wilderness was not one of isolation or contemplation. Rather this season gave him the opportunity to experience many of the responsibilities he would face when he became king. He learned how to lead and manage and defend his people. Many of the lessons David needed to learn in how to be a good king came during this season where he lead his band of misfits and evaded the murderous rage of Saul.
The wilderness can then be seen as a microcosm or a testing ground for our divine callings where we can learn, grow and apply what God is calling us to be outside of the public eye. It also allows us the opportunity to fail without being discredited before we master our callings. Or we can be like the Apostle Paul who used his decade long post-Damascus wilderness to relearn the scriptures through the light of Christ.
I know that everyone wants to go from the poor shepherd
directly to being the king with nothing in-between. But it is in that in-between
time that our heart, mind and character are supposed to be prepared to be a
king after God’s own heart. Otherwise we run the risk of ending up like the
fallen and wicked kings of Judah and Israel.
Even I’ve had my own wilderness experiences I’ve had several seasons in my life where as I was trying to fulfill. my calling and become who God created me to be I suddenly found myself outside of the proverbial promised land and alone in the dark, barren wilderness. I can honestly say that while I was in those seasons of wilderness that I was less than pleased to be in them. I grumbled and complained like ancient Israelite who left Egypt and I would regularly question God’s goodness.
But eventually I got to the point where I recognized where I
was and what God was trying to do in those seasons and my perspective began to
change. I reached a point in the wilderness where I saw what God was trying to
do with my heart, character or motivations and began to allow Him to do his work.
I allowed this because I began to see how the things God was addressing in my
life would end up crippling my calling and would lead to others being affected
as well. Looking back at those seasons I still don’t enjoy the pain, discomfort
or struggles I endured but I to enjoy the place that I am in now because of it.
This whole concept of the wilderness can be compared to
breaking your leg. After the injury you can either go through frustration of
depending on a crutch and having to endure the pain of having the bone heal,
and even become stronger in some aspects. Or you can take the easy way out and avoid
all of that pain and discomfort by just cutting of your leg instead. I feel
that many believers prefer to cut off their broken legs than allow God to take
them through the wilderness. Then afterwards they go about brag about their
piety for enduring life without a leg to stand on when all God wanted to do was
to strengthen them and make them more grounded in Him.
Welcome to the Wilderness
Despite Saul’s murderous temper tantrums David was still in
his season of apprenticeship, he was one of the leaders of the army and was the
one bringing victories to Israel while Saul remained at home wallowing in his
misery. David was earning the love and respect of the people simply by being faithful
to the tasks set before him. He didn’t try to outmaneuver Saul politically but
simply did his duty for the people and the kingdom as God gave him the needed
Even though Saul was trying to kill David, David did not
relent from doing what he knew he needed to do at that time. He didn’t refuse
to fight the Philistines or plot to kill Saul, however once the danger became
too great then and only then did he flee. But David did not flee to an enemy to
seek vengeance on Saul, no in that moment David fled to where the prophet
Samuel was staying. David fled to the only real place he could go to as an
anointed servant of God. He went to the place where other anointed people were,
the place where God was speaking so he could find shelter and insight into what
to do next.
This time of apprenticeship in the wilderness David the experience he needed to learn how to lead the people and it gave him a platform for the others to recognize themselves what God has placed upon him. The wilderness was not a demotion but a staircase to the next level of David’s life, but like a natural staircase it takes effort and intent to reach the top. Our hearts want an escalator to carry us to our dreams and promises but in reality God wants to walk hand in hand with us up those stairs so we always remain dependent on Him for our promotion and success. Don’t fear the wilderness because that’s the place of activation.
Psalm 55:6-7 “So I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I
would fly away and be at rest. Indeed, I would wander far off, And
remain in the wilderness.”
To go deeper in your journey with Christ check out my new book Understanding Who You Are: A Survey of 21st Century Christian beliefs which is now on sale. Available in paperback (Canada or USA) and eBook! Get your copy today and discover not just your purpose but how you can build the Kingdom of God here on the Earth