Through the Desert

“We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”
(Acts 14:22)

Every person used greatly of God in the Bible went through a personal wilderness – one that shaped their character and enabled them to fulfil their destiny. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Paul – they were each tested in the desert (some literally, others figuratively) and sanctified by God. The desert experience wasn’t an attack of the enemy, it was God’s doing. He led them through it, not in spite of but because of His goodness, mercy and love. God’s commitment to our receiving His abundant life means that we might need our character refined as we hide in a cave or languish in a prison. Paul speaks of his trials thus:

“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14)

If we try to avoid the desert, then we sacrifice character, courage and spiritual power. There is a dangerous form of teaching in the body of Christ that would suggest that because Jesus went to the cross, we don’t have to pick up ours. In other words, if as a Christian I am suffering, something is wrong. But Paul clearly states that if we are children of God, then we are heirs: “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him …” (Romans 8:17) Even Jesus “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). Adversity introduces a man to himself. So don’t waste your trials!

There is an equally dangerous teaching that defames God of His innate and miraculous goodness and promotes Him as author of sickness as a means of disciplining us. Sickness is not the desert that God ordains. Bill Johnson writes, “It is inconsistent to have Jesus pay a price for healing and for us to believe it is not God’s intention to heal.” As Jesus clarified: “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:25)

“You don’t really know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have,” writes Tim Keller,’... Suffering is actually at the heart of the Christian story.” (Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering). The truth is, the cross of Christ gives us salvation, healing and deliverance, by grace and through faith alone. But our personal “cross” gets us our destiny; it forms Christ in us.

Take some time to meditate on this beautiful metaphor from Watchman Nee: “The breaking of the alabaster box and the anointing of the Lord filled the house with the odour, with the sweetest odour. Everyone could smell it. Whenever you meet someone who has really suffered; been limited, gone through things for the Lord, willing to be imprisoned by the Lord, just being satisfied with Him and nothing else, immediately you sense the fragrance. There is a savour of the Lord. Something has been crushed, something has been broken, and there is a resulting odour of sweetness.” 

On the other side of the wilderness lies the promised land. We must embrace the cross of Christ but also take up our cross daily, dying to self and eschewing the comfort of complacency. A Church without true discipleship is emasculated, robbed of its authority.

It’s time to embrace the challenge. Do we want to be entertained and follow a Christian faith that makes us happy alone? Or do we want to follow the way of the cross that ultimately leads to unsearchable glory and unfathomable joy – even though at times the road may be a hard one?

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…” (Romans 5:3-4)

This article is an extract from 

God Hunger: Meditations from a life of longing

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