From Spiritual Mountaintop to Spiritual Wilderness

original photo credit: Peter Rivera via photopin cc
original photo credit: Peter Rivera via photopin cc

Dramatic. Powerful. Intense. All are words that I would use to describe the weeks following my conversion to Christianity. Surrendering my life to Christ was without question a calculated decision; I was not crying out to God in a moment of crisis. Still, I was a broken person and the Holy Spirit moved dramatically to meet my need.

On one particular evening, while studying for a physics final, I saw two visions that I inherently understood to be from God. I’ll not go into detail, but one of the visions provided a future image of a successful ministry. I was at the top of the world! Not only had the Creator of the Universe lovingly plucked me from the depths of sin, He had visibly shown me a hope-filled future.

Not long after that glorious season, I found myself painfully trudging through the trenches of life; that mountaintop experience felt like nothing more than a blurred memory. My challenges were so difficult and my struggles so deep that I questioned whether any of the good experiences had ever even happened. Worse yet, my expected road to Christian ministry turned in a most unwanted direction, apparently leading away from—instead of toward—the vision God had given me.

Fast forward over thirty-three years. I’m still walking with God and am now involved with “full-time” Christian ministry. As of today, I still have not seen the complete fulfillment of the vision God gave during my college years, but at least the path of my life has turned back in what I would consider to be the “right” direction. For me, the call of God continues to be very much a faith walk, but I can now see its fulfillment through the eye of faith. That’s a lot more than I can say for the long, dark portion of wilderness territory that I once traversed.

photo credit: Zest-pk via photopin cc
photo credit: Jonathan Kos-Read via photopin cc

I wish I could say that my experience is unique—that I stand alone amongst all the men and women of God who have gone before me. I cannot say that. What happened—and continues to happen—to me is part of a pattern frequently used by God. Mountaintop vision to desolate wilderness to fulfillment of the vision—that’s the way the pattern works. Or at least the way it is supposed to work. Sadly, not everyone emerges from a wilderness season as a spiritual champion for Christ. Indeed, many go to their graves mired in the bitter-tasting muck of unbelief—as typified by an entire generation of ancient Israelites who perished in the Judean wilderness.

Often, it’s very difficult to explain why a wilderness season came to be. Sometimes God is clearly the author; other times He seems to have little to do with the situation. But regardless of how our time of spiritual dryness and isolation came to be, the manner of overcoming is always the same: we emerge as champions by responding to negative circumstances in a manner that honors God.

photo credit: Zest-pk via photopin cc
photo credit: Zest-pk via photopin cc

Our heavenly Father always has the best interests of His beloved children at heart, but there is something that He has sought after since the creation of the human race: our fruitfulness (Genesis 1:26-28; John 15:8). The Creator of the Universe passionately desires to see us bear the sweet fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and to see that fruit multiplied in the lives of those we serve. This is really what the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is about. A spiritual wilderness experience can reflect the glory of God as He mystically brings the fruitful out of the barren, or it can reflect the sinfulness of humankind as we spiral downward in cynicism and unbelief. The choice, my friends, is ours.

(This post is loosely based on the content of my new book, Champions in the Wilderness, which will soon be available for sale. Also, when our new SfMe Media website is complete, our blog posts will be switched our new ministry website, and this blog site will be phased out. You can subscribe to by entering your email in the subscribe panel on the right-hand side of the new website.)

Bats Are Our Friends

Photo by Furryscaly — CC BY 2.0

I saw recently that a local school district must spend more than $60,000 to relocate bats before they can build a new school. Many of the locals think it is a senseless waste of money but I disagree. In spite of their ugliness, bats are our friends. Did you know that one bat can eat 600 or more mosquitoes in only an hour? I hate mosquitoes (and their disease carrying tendencies) so much that it makes me like bats—even though they give fresh meaning to the word ugly. With the number of bats dropping precipitously due to disease, it makes good sense that bats would be protected as they are.

All of this makes me wonder if perhaps there aren’t other unlikeable things in life that we should actually appreciate more than we do. I am not especially fond of difficult times but the Bible strongly encourages a perspective of trials and tribulations that differs vastly from common thought.

 When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence. James 1:2-4 (Phillips)

We aren’t exactly certain if the author of this passage was James the half-brother of Jesus or not, but based on the modern perspectives of the Western Church, it is all too obvious that James didn’t have a clue about his subject matter. It only seems appropriate that we rewrite the passage to bring it more in line with modern times.

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When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, let your hearts be filled with resentment because such difficulties are unwelcome intruders. Realise that anything that threatens your personal comfort and security can be declared to be the arch enemy of God. Being mature and complete, lacking in nothing has nothing to do with enduring through difficult times, and everything to do with developing a sense of personal entitlement. James 1:2-4 (Contemporary Western Version (CWV))

Perhaps my CWV interpretation leaves something to be desired, but if I were translating the text based on the evidence of how Christians are responding to our current times, I honestly don’t think it would be much different.

Photo by B Rosen — CC BY 2.0

I get it. Really, I do. I understand that we are deeply concerned about the future. I see our religious freedoms unraveling. I am also well aware of the huge hole we have dug with our national debt. But is it possible that our ever-faithful Father is using “momentary light affliction” to produce within us “an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison”? (2 Corinthians 4:17)

photo credit: bogdog Dan via photopin cc

Is it possible that the trials of this life are like bats? They are mysterious and creepy, yes, but in the end they may well be better friends than we realize. I, for one, would rather have an ugly bat fly by my head than the West Nile Virus incubating in my blood. Just a random post-election thought.

If God Is for Us, Why Is So Much Against Us?

Original Photo by doctor_bob - morgueFile

I know, the title of this post quotes Romans 8:31 incorrectly. It and the verse following should read:

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (NASB)

But before we get to a place of such confidence in the midst of adversity, we must know deep in our heart of hearts that our heavenly Father is indeed for us, and that the Holy Spirit is in our corner, not only cheering us on, but interceding for our every need to be met.

For a small percentage of us, this is a no brainer. Growing up in a stable family with loving parents always there for support, it makes obvious sense that God would do the same. This is especially true for those who also experienced a loving church environment where a healthy perspective of the heavenly Father was both taught and displayed. This small number of people (and unfortunately I believe it is quite small), seem to traverse the challenges of life like gifted athletes tirelessly and speedily covering long distances.

Photo by familymwr - CC BY 2.0

But when the rest of us attempt to run by faith, it often feels as though every joint and muscle in our bodies throbs with pain as we get knocked about by various forces. And when we survey the landscape before us, well, it sure looks as though God is nowhere to be seen; the corner of our ring, it appears, is empty. I mean, after all, if He is all-powerful, and all-loving, and is truly for us, then surely our circumstances would be different.

May we never forget that the image of an absentee God is but an illusion! And if Christianity is all about a relationship with Him and not mere religious activity, wouldn’t it make sense that we need an accurate perspective of who He truly is and how He sees us?

Abiding in grace is really about abiding, that is, living in a vital relationship with, Christ. If we are ever to live fruitfully in this type of intimate relationship with our heavenly Father, we had better know something about Him as a person and how this relationship works (and doesn’t work). If we continually focus on our sin, for example, we become self-absorbed, no longer living by faith.

When we live by faith, we put the appropriate confidence in both the cross of Christ and God’s character, aligning our lives with His divine order. Meanwhile, all of the forces of hell (and some of earth) continue to work overtime to keep us from living in His presence. But as long as we choose to abide, no force in this universe can separate us from His love!

“Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written,

Original Photo by doctor_bob - morgueFile


But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:33-39 (NASB)

Our loving heavenly Father has already paid the ultimate price in delivering His own Son over to be brutally tortured and killed on our behalf. What else more can He do to demonstrate His love. It seems to me that the appropriate response to our difficulties in life is not to respond by asking where God may have gotten to, or to wallow in our unworthiness, but to actively believe He is continually working on our behalf–even if we don’t see it. If we want faith that matters, this is where it starts!