From Surviving to Thriving in the Wilderness Pt. 2

From Surviving to Thriving in the Wilderness Pt. 2

We’ve seen so far over the past few months the path which David’s life took as it progressed through the “4 A’s” of Anointing, Apprenticeship, Activation and Announcement. Despite our desire for God to take us straight from the place of Anointing to the place of Announcement where we are recognized as being in the fullness of our calling, we must first survive the wilderness.

It’s in the wilderness as we have seen in Part 1 where you are faced with the realities of your heart and you’re given the opportunity to test your character, preparedness and devotion to God before you are given the full measure of your life’s calling. In part one we addressed the “Why” of having to go through the wilderness and now we must look at the “How” of not just surviving the wilderness season but thriving in it as well.

Faithfulness Brings Activation

For David the wilderness was not a time of quiet reflection, it was a time of adventure, risk, action, and leadership. David was on the run from king Saul who was proverbially frothing at the mouth to kill David and secure his kingdom. This meant that David was constantly on the move and living in the less desirable areas of the Judahite wilderness. David had to be constantly on the move but he wasn’t alone. Over time he attracted others from the kingdom who were outsiders and misfits but at the same time they recognized something special about David.

Those people followed him and abandoned their comforts, security and the quietness of their mundane lives to follow this shepherd/general/musician into the desert with the hope that he would succeed Saul, the king God no longer endorsed. But for those people to follow him David first had to go out and live out a small measure of his calling. He led the people, delivered the oppressed from the Philistines (1 Samuel 23) and he forged what would later become the inner circle of the kingdom of Israel. David’s advisors, generals and mighty men came out of this season of the wilderness, and they didn’t suddenly appear after David became king,

Those people only found David because he was already acting with the wisdom, leadership, and devotion of a king, even through the crown wasn’t on his head yet. I feel that this is similar to the process we go through when we try to fulfill our calling or find our own place in ministry. You don’t automatically wake up one day and get handed the keys to a church of 5,000 people when you’ve never done any kind of ministry or received any training. That is a recipe for disaster, and it highlights the reason for the wilderness training and waiting we have to go through.

Yet at the same time just because you don’t have a 5,000 person church or a fancy title, or a paid position doesn’t mean that you don’t go about and do many of the things you would be doing with those opportunities, titles, and positions. It is the process of progressive faithfulness where you are faithful with small and seemingly insignificant matter and you are rewarded with the chance to do something greater next time (Luke 16:10). It is like the parable where those who were faithful with financial responsibilities were rewarded with the ability to oversee entire cities (Luke 19:17).

It is the process of progressive faithfulness where you are faithful with small and seemingly insignificant matter and you are rewarded with the chance to do something greater next time

How can you dream of being a great evangelist like Reinhard Bonnke or Daniel Kolenda if you refuse to go about your own community and preach the gospel? How can you dream of being a great pastor if you don’t have a heart for the people in your present church? How can you desire to be a mighty teacher if you don’t take any opportunities to teach even one or two people? All of the great things we want find their roots of their fulfillment in the little things we do today.

I’ve had to go through this as well, I’ve had times and seasons where I taught small groups but I didn’t see it as a burden or a waste of my time. It was an opportunity to learn how to teach, write and communicate with people so I could develop the skills I felt God was trying to refine in me so I could do greater things. There are times when you will feel like it’s not worth the extra effort, but it always is.

At one church I was a member of I taught mid-week “adult Sunday school” for a couple of years. It was a curriculum that I had put together and the first year I taught it I had nine people attend. I was happy with that and the 20 lessons that came out of that course I still use today and they have shown up in my articles and books. I still benefit from the work I did back then because I was faithful with the process, I treated those notes as something which could become greater later in life and I didn’t see that small class as being beneath my calling.

I was really challenged with this in the second year I ran the course, I had seven people sign up and only one showed up to the first night. That is a real challenge to not only your desire to be faithful but also your pride as well. The one person that showed up wanted to learn and that was all that I needed to know, so for the next four months we met ever Tuesday and I taught that material with the same zeal and quality I would if there was fifty people in that room.

In that moment I could of bailed on the class using the excuse that it wasn’t worth my time, or I could of thought about the times I spoke in front of hundreds of people and feeling like God had demoted me some how. Instead I saw it as a moment of testing where God wanted to see if I wanted to be a success rather than a servant. It’s not easy going through those times, I’ve taught in rooms full of people and I’ve had days where no one showed up, but I feel that it’s in the times when no one shows up that God is examining our hearts the most.

Instead I saw it as a moment of testing where God wanted to see if I wanted to be a success rather than a servant.

Impurities in gold only rise up when it’s in the furnace, and that’s what the seasons of training and wilderness does. It takes the proverbial gold of our life and calling and heats it to the point where all of the dirt, flaws, and imperfections rise to the top so they can be scrapped off. But we resist going through this process because we fear what we could lose in the process, or we fear what might be lurking inside of us so we avoid the process and remain content with being less than what we could be.

People Will Eventually Recognize Your Calling and Support You

Often what you will find is that when you have a legitimate calling on your life and you demonstrate consistent character and faithfulness people will begin to recognize those things in your life and help you take the next step. We see this idea play out between David and Jonathan where the calling of God and the faithfulness of David forced Jonathan to embrace what God was bringing into reality.

1 Samuel 23:17–18 “17 And he said to him, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Even my father Saul knows that.” 18 So the two of them made a covenant before the Lord. And David stayed in the woods, and Jonathan went to his own house.” (NKJV)

We can’t be demanding about this, it has to come naturally and through the leading of the Holy Spirit. I strongly believe that God wants to use other people to help establish you so you can maintain a covering and protecting offered by the church community. Even with myself the majority of “opportunities” I’ve received in the church have come by a pastor or leader taking me aside and saying that God spoke to them or impressed upon them to bring me in to help in a project or a ministry. This has happened repeatedly in my life, I haven’t had to advertise my gifts or callings because I was always faithful with whatever was placed before me and I had a lifestyle which matched up with my calling.

It is that faithfulness and devotion to loving God that opens up doors in your life and not begging and petitioning anyone and everyone to give you an opportunity.

It is that faithfulness and devotion to loving God that opens up doors in your life and not begging and petitioning anyone and everyone to give you an opportunity. Really if you want to be in ministry and get opportunities all you have to do is A) show up B) be faithful and C) don’t sin. At one church I was made the “volunteer” youth pastor because I showed up to the launch of the new youth ministry and wasn’t discouraged when barely anyone showed up and all of the other volunteers ran off. I was asked to create curriculum for one church because my pastor at the time got an impression from God to reach out to me about that program. Although with that example I had already served for over two years teaching and helping out with the youth program (ages 10-12), again faithfulness brings promotion and opportunity.

This is all the personification of what it says in Proverbs 18:16, “A man’s gift makes room for him, And brings him before great men.” We can see this idea also play out in the relationship Barnabas vouching and supporting Paul (Acts 9:26-27) or even to a lesser extent Baruch’s support of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 36:4, 10).

It is through the people God leads into your life which helps you fulfill His purpose in the world, as long as your life and character lives up to that calling. Because having people supporting isn’t always about them promoting you it can also be about correcting you and protecting you. We see this play out in 1 Samuel 25 with the story of Abigail and Nabal as David was (justly) prepared to retaliate against Nabal for denying him the commission soldiers would receive for protecting a shepherd’s flock. But in that moment Abigail who saw something greater in David than just being a mercenary for local shepherds intervened and saved David from making an impulsive decision and preventing God from intervening in the situation (1 Samuel 25:32-33).

Not All Opportunities Bring God’s Favor

Something else I believe must be addressed whenever we talk about thriving in the wilderness season is that not all opportunities are from God, or even bring more of his favor into our lives. This is a critical revelation that we must face head on if we’re to survive the wilderness. Because there is no guarantee that you make it out of the wilderness morally, spiritually or naturally alive. You could go in the bar of gold and come out being nothing more than dross (or the sludge which floats to the top).

Where many people go wrong is that they see an opportunity to take a shortcut out of the season of apprenticeship or activation and go directly to being announced (or made king in David’s case). It could be through unethical means, or through something completely innocent but either way it is an attempt to bypass God’s plan and hurry the intended results. We all know how this mentality worked out with Abraham and Hagar, but we tend to think that we are immune from such mistakes.

It could be through unethical means, or through something completely innocent but either way it is an attempt to bypass God’s plan and hurry the intended results.

Not once but twice David was offered one of these shortcuts to his destiny, in 1 Samuel chapters 24 and 26 David has an opening to kill Saul and take the crown. David’s followers tried to convince him to strike (1 Samuel 24:4) but each time David refused because of the legacy of God’s anointing on Saul (1 Samuel 24:10, 1 Samuel 26:9). Even when David only cut off and took a chunk of Saul’s robe while he was going to the bathroom in the cave there was apprehension and regret for doing that (1 Samuel 24:5).

Most other people, including David’s top lieutenants wouldn’t have hesitated to kill Saul in that moment, but David’s honorable actions forced even Saul to publicly profess David’s future as the king of Israel. Although this didn’t stop Saul from trying to kill David again later.

1 Samuel 24:17-22 “Then he said to David: “You are more righteous than I; for you have rewarded me with good, whereas I have rewarded you with evil. 18 And you have shown this day how you have dealt well with me; for when the Lord delivered me into your hand, you did not kill me. 19 For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him get away safely? Therefore may the Lord reward you with good for what you have done to me this day. 20 And now I know indeed that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand. 21 Therefore swear now to me by the Lord that you will not cut off my descendants after me, and that you will not destroy my name from my father’s house.” 22 So David swore to Saul. And Saul went home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.” (NKJV)

I know today we don’t have to worry about killing Saul (or our pastor) to advance our calling or ministry in the wrong way. There are still many things we can do to compromise our walk with God in exchange for a Fast-Pass to our calling. Some people use manipulation, others teach corrupted doctrines, others play politics, but the most common seems to be the desire to abandon their current church and move to greener pastures. Now I’m not saying that you have to remain at one church for the entirely of your Christian life, rather I am talking about stepping outside of God’s plan and taking matters into your own hands.

Yes, there are times when God may call you to move from one congregation to the other but that is according to his will and not your own. Often people get frustrated and imagine that everything would be better somewhere else at a place where their gifts and abilities will be recognizes, praised and put to work. But the reality is that those kinds of advancements come from faithfulness and following God’s guidance in your life. At times he will leave you were you are and at other times He will call you to another place, much like how a soldier gets transferred from one base to another.

Often you will know that it is God calling you to move if your initial reaction is pain or loss, if its relief or joy then it may be your own mind trying to lead you astray. I’m speaking from personal experience here and I’m basing this on the many people I have known who have transferred churches with and without God’s guidance. Those who did do it with God’s leading were blessed and took the next step in their calling, while those who rushed into “greener pastures” faltered and remained in the wilderness.

Thriving Today and Tomorrow

Like David we will all face challenges to bypass God’s plan for our life, or we end up like Eve who questioned God’s goodness and nature in exchange what she had for something else. The wilderness is that place where we can face these challenges with the least amount of collateral damage to ourselves and to the church at large. It’s the place where God can correct us and strengthen us before we have the pressures of the world, ministry, or the full weight of our calling placed upon us. This is done out of love because God wants not just the church to thrive but the people who make it up as well, because when one succeeds the other does also. However, God’s measure of succeeding is often much different than our definitions.

How to go from just surviving in the wilderness to thriving and developing in you calling? It’s done through faithfulness, integrity, character, hard work, devotion and the heart of a servant. You begin to thrive in the season of the wilderness when you accept that you are in that season and you use every opportunity to prepare your heart and spirit for the future. The seeds you sow in this season will become the fruit you eat when you are placed in the fullness of your calling, it isn’t the other way around.

How to go from just surviving in the wilderness to thriving and developing in you calling? It’s done through faithfulness, integrity, character, hard work, devotion and the heart of a servant.

You will thrive in this place when you begin to see mountains as opportunities, and you learn how to walk out your calling by living in part as if you have already “arrived” at the place God has called you to be. You can’t be lazy or dormant in this place because if you are you will never leave the wilderness, and you may even become stumbling blocks for those who come through the wilderness after you.

In this entire process of the “4 A’s” of Anointing, Apprenticeship, Activation and Announcement there’s no guarantee that you’ll make it through all four stages. At any point you can get derailed or lost on the journey. Matters such as work, faithfulness, and relationship with God are mandatory or you will find yourself endlessly repeating the same stage over and over again just as the Israelites continued in the same cycle of blessing, idolatry, judgment, and deliverance for hundreds of years.

You can’t just rely on pleasantries between you and God to carry you through this season, this is the time where you develop your relationship with Him. Otherwise if you fail to learn these lessons, you neglect your relationship with God, or you take a shortcut out of this season you’ll just end up launching a ministry where the only god you serve is yourself.

Creative Commons LicenseFrom Surviving to Thriving in the Wilderness Pt. 2 Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.