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.)

We Crave

Sing it with me: “All I Want is You, Jesus. All I want is You.” How many times I remember the band Isaiah Six leading us in worship with this song at B.A.S.I.C. College Ministry conferences. They were powerful mountaintop experiences in the presence of God!

Photo by joeb - MorgueFile

LIARS! LIARS! LIARS! Every one of us! At those moments in those times we mostly meant what we were singing, but deep in our hearts lurked a zillion other desires. If we took the time to write them out, the result would look like a selfish child’s Christmas list. “I want a happy marriage . . . and I want a nice house in the burbs with 2.1 kids and a white picket fence . . . and I want two new cars (one being an SUV for sure) . . . and I want to vacation at the beach every year . . . and I want a new fishing rod . . . and (at the top of the list) I want food  . . . and I want . . . ! I’m sure you get the picture and I’m sure you can relate.

A God-designed wilderness experience is intended not only to prove our faith, but also to purify our cravings. Again, we can see evidence of this in the lives of the Israelites as God delivered them from Egypt.

Wikapedia Photo by Steve F-E-Cameron- GNU Free Documentation License

To better understand their struggles we need to realize that Egypt was once one of the most successful civilizations ever known to man. For almost 3,000 years Egyptian nobles and priests lived in peace and luxury. At the time of the Exodus they were at one of the pinnacles of their supremacy. Almost all of the treasured goods of the known world made their way to and through Egypt. And the Israelites, mired in oppressive slavery, watched with envy the freedom, ease and extravagance of their captors. In short, Egypt was what Israel wanted to be.

But God had a new and different plan for His children. Israel couldn’t be Egypt if they were to truly be Israel. And so He lovingly led them into the wilderness in order to purify their desires. Unfortunately, that generation of Israelites didn’t respond so well. (Quail anyone?)

I don’t think that our current U.S. government will endure for 3,000 years, but we have certainly had an incredible taste of prosperity. And, truth be told, we always want more. We crave so, so many things. And in some twisted way, we’ve developed a mentality that expects, even demands, a loving God to fulfill at least most of our wants. For some odd reason, however, our King doesn’t appear willing to conform to our self-absorbed plans. Can you say, “wilderness”?

It helps for us to understand that God doesn’t want to remove all desires from our lives. Some must die, to be sure, but mostly He seeks to purify our longings. An aesthetic lifestyle doesn’t necessarily equate with a life of victory over sin. Attempt to put all of your desires to death and you will be left with a pretty miserable existence.

So how do we respond in a way that honors God and shortens the length of our desolate, wilderness experiences? We surrender and we delight.

A season of fasting is a great way to surrender our desires to God, to deliberately lift them before His throne and to lay them at the foot of the cross. Some of those desires God will keep. Others will be returned to us in sanctified form.

Another key is to learn to delight ourselves in Him. He will then write His desires upon our hearts. And we, we will finally be free to truly enjoy our land flowing with milk and honey!

“Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4 (NASB)