Testing sounds bad until you realize it’s a privilege – God’s got an agenda and you’re involved in His great plans…Testing is reserved for those with the greatest destinies.”
About 9 months ago, I started listening to a podcast, “Forty”, by Toby Slough at Cross Timbers Church. It was an extensive series (over 20 weeks) on the book of Exodus. I highly recommend it, no matter what season of life you’re walking through, but in the last 3 months I decided to read through the Old Testament, so I read through Exodus again. I have read books, listened to other podcasts, attended a recent conference, and this concept of embracing the wilderness and walking THROUGH the wilderness has been so evident so I want to share my journey and what God has been teaching me.
We have now lived in Kraków for over 6 months and in many ways, I feel like I have been walking through the wilderness. Almost everything I do, say, and hear is different than what I used to do, say, and hear and some days have just been plain out hard. But each day, I have a choice: Am I going to stay in the wilderness or walk THROUGH the wilderness? And what will be my outlook: Will I feed faith or fear today? Am I expecting the worse or giving hope a chance? Will I just grudge on, complaining along the way, just surviving, and just waiting to finally get to the other side so things are better and maybe there is “peace,” or will I live through the unexpected with joy, peace, and hope standing firm in who God is, not focusing on just what is going on around me, but knowing that He is good and wants to use this season to develop who I am for what He’s calling me to on the other side?
I love that God is not stagnant. I am learning that we never arrive and there is always more to experience because He wants to continue to use us to bring heaven to earth, but that only requires more trust in the Father. He is a God of next. He walks through the wilderness with us, never leaving us. And as I look back, when I’ve walked through the wilderness, I have grown closer to Him and He always takes me to another level with Him and within myself that only prepares me for what He is calling me to next. So why do we still reject the idea of walking through the wilderness?
In Exodus, the Israelites just wanted to get to the Promised Land and could have been there in a 2 weeks journey (Exodus 13:17), but God “did not lead them by way of the land.” What was delay, was God’s protection. In the wilderness, God is in control. He is not in a hurry – His promises don’t have expiration dates. He has your best interest in mind. Toby said, “God is not nearly concerned with where you are (circumstances). He is far more concerned with who you are becoming.” The Israelites needed to go through the wilderness to renew their minds regarding their slave mentality as well as trust God’s character and promises before they were ready to enter the Promised Land. And as the story continues, we see the Israelites progress in their thinking and dependence on His presence in Exodus 33 and again in Numbers 9 in that they refuse to go without His presence. Even when an angel was offered by God to be sent, they still said no, we will not go without you. And when the cloud remained for “two days, or a month, or a longer time…the people of Israel remained in camp and did not set out, but when it lifted they set out.” Which results in asking the question that Eric Johnson inquired: “Am I just chasing His presence or His promises?” Recently, I find myself wrapped up in the doing, even if good things, and in asking God what He can do which is good, but my focus should be on living in who He is. “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here” (Exodus 33:15). What? They’re going to give up getting to the Promised Land, even with an angel? Presence over promises!
The next thing I’ve really been challenged with is embracing this time and the unexpected. It seems we constantly are chasing around the idea that “when life calms down, or after this happens then I will have time to rest, or if only nothing out of the ordinary happens today, etc…” However, life is unexpected and I have yet to really reach a time when that “perfect day or time in life” happens (“Beloved friends, if life gets extremely difficult, with many tests, don’t be bewildered as though something strange were overwhelming you” 1 Peter 4:12). Christine Caine states, “We need to realize that He never expected us to live boring and predictable lives, even though we work hard to create regular routines.” So then the question becomes, “How do I function in the unexpected, living life full of joy and peace instead of frustration and stress?” I think the answer is focusing on His presence and not the circumstances; it’s not about denying reality, just its power to control me. When I look at people like Jack Taylor that seem so steady even during wilderness times, I see people that confidently trust in who God is, therefore, not much seems to ruffle their feathers (John 16:33). They don’t become easily frustrated, offended, or caught off guard by daily unexpected events, but instead are so aware of His presence, resting in His character and promises, and asking themselves, “ok Father, what are you trying to show me in this? What are you doing in this?” The focus becomes on Him and what He is doing and saying. He is walking with us through it and knows what’s on the other side; the unexpected is not a surprise to Him (“…You remain close to me and lead me through it all the way…” Psalm 23:4). So learning how to not get frustrated when we can’t see ahead, or trying to run ahead when we are meant to walk hand in hand with the Father is vital. It all starts with a continual awareness of His presence and living life from His Kingdom perspective instead of what we can only see in the natural.
Lastly, I have learned that we all go through wilderness times and “weakness is not sin.” If you look through the Old and New Testament, it’s full of times in the wilderness – even for Jesus. I think we often view times of hardship as negative, but when you look back and even think about creation, nothing grows without disruption and interruption—without the unexpected. And if we focus on God and what HE can do more than the unexpected circumstances, like Moses did so many times in Exodus, then what God sees and thinks will reign in our hearts and minds and the fruit of the Spirit will be our natural response. The wilderness is an opportunity to let go of our desire to control, and embrace more of God (“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” Isaiah 43:19). These are the times to press into His presence, give up our pride of control and independence, and times for honest conversations with the Father about what is going on in our own hearts. “God wants us to learn how to accept every unexpected event as an invitation to trust Jesus and his Word, to expect His goodness all the way through. A life lived like that is one of the most powerful forces on the planet—because there’s a momentum of courage and faith that propels us into new places” (Christine Caine, Unexpected). “So now we must cling tightly to the hope that lives within us, knowing that God always keeps his promises!” (Hebrews 10:23)
Every time God unsettles you it’s to bring you to a place of greater purpose.”