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, searchforme.info 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.)

Advertisements

Time to Switch Careers!

Photo by Kimberlykv - CC BY 2.0

For some reason Christians often believe that blessing and difficulty are mutually exclusive words. Unlike peanut butter and chocolate, blessing and difficulty don’t seem like good traveling companions.

When God blesses our lives shouldn’t our circumstances work out with ease? Shouldn’t we prosper in every aspect of our jobs? Shouldn’t others like and respect us? Shouldn’t our ministry efforts go smoothly? After all, God certainly has the ability to make things happen, why wouldn’t He—all the time? Shouldn’t the Christian life be a piece of cake?

Thinking about the Apostle Paul, we would all concur that there was a man who lived a blessed life! But when we survey the actual details of Paul’s life, he experienced difficulties for Christ that would make a Navy Seal wince. Even at the end of Paul’s life, most of his traveling companions had abandoned him. And yet he was blessed!

Apparently Peter’s thinking also fell along these lines: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you…” 1 Peter 4:12 (NASB).

I think it’s safe to say that not only are we surprised by fiery ordeals, we often find ourselves incredulous that God would have the audacity to even allow them. Isn’t a fiery ordeal a sure sign of an uncaring or absentee God?

As I said in my last post, an integral part of God’s agenda is to form us into champions of the faith. Perseverance through adversity breeds proven character; everything good and true must be tested. If our Christian lives don’t in some form stretch our faith to its limits, I’m not sure that we’re walking with God.

During a profound moment Jesus told His followers not to work for physical food, but rather for eternal provision. Whether confused or upset I don’t know, but they responded with a question: “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?”

Photo by Kevin P. - morgueFile

Surprisingly, Jesus responded with “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”

Um, well, not exactly what your average pastor would say on any given Sunday. But I think I get what Jesus was saying. The foundation for all of life is an absolute trust in our heavenly Father. Out of faith flows redemption and peace with God. Out of faith flows physical provision. Out of faith flows fruitful labor for the Gospel.

In a sense Jesus was saying, “Don’t be a laborer. Switch careers and be a believer! Don’t expend all of your energy to fill your stomach. Feed your soul on the Bread of Life! Don’t walk by sight. Walk by faith!”

Did you know that some (not all) forms of depression are reactive? We become discouraged and depressed as a result of our reaction to circumstances that are not what we want (or think they should be). We hold onto an idealized form of reality, while growing increasingly negative in our view of life. Some (or all) of our reasons for being bothered may truly be valid, but when our expectations morph into an attempt to control our circumstances and the people around us, everybody loses.

All of this means that we need to periodically reevaluate our approach to life to ensure that we are deliberately processing everything through the eye of faith. Personally I find it necessary to sometimes slow the pace of life, taking extra time to prayerfully reflect on issues that may be bothering me. Concern for a loved one, an unanswered prayer, frustration with our government, or a reluctance to move in a new direction in life can all be things that weigh on me over the course of time. I begin to feel burdened without really knowing why. As I take the time to honestly identify specific issues, surrender them to God, and choose to exercise faith, I can sense the burdens immediately begin to lift.

Photo by Magic B - CC BY-SA 2.0

Christianity is a full-time faith-walk. Not a comfort-walk. Not a security-walk. Not a spectator-walk. But a faith-walk. Until we come to grips with this reality; that every facet of life must be processed through the eye of faith, we’ll not only be discouraged, we’ll be continually plagued by a deceptive sense of powerlessness.

God has so much more for us than we are currently experiencing. Let’s get on with our new career!