Encouragement,  Faith,  The Modern Pilgrim's Journey

Faith and Courage Grow in the Wilderness

The Modern Pilgrim #24 Pilgrim is starting to appreciate the quiet of the wilderness with the Good Shepherd. It’s so much easier to hear his voice and she’s learning so much about herself and Him.

Staying thankful in a desert or wilderness is tough. I used to fail epically. Today, I’m thankful for my wilderness experiences and God’s workings in me.  Without them, I’d probably be a flippity jibbet, wasting God-given potential and destiny. Hard times force me to come to the end of myself. If not for the pits of life, I’d still not know, like really know, not just in-my-head-know, how amazing God is.

I used to fuss my way through difficulties. Give way to fear and anger. Spin my mind trying to find a way out from under. Talk to EVERYONE about it. Finally, I’d collapse in prayer. But my prayers would be like, “God, make this stop.” 

The dark valleys of sorrows are the places where God shows us the crud in our souls and the beauty of his presence, but only if we let him. If not, we come out of a trial, hardened. The wilderness will reveal ugly that’s easy to hide in a sunny meadow filled with flowers. When life goes sideways, what’s inside is exposed in thoughts, speech, and behavior. This is where we learn who we really are, not the person we imagine ourselves to be while we pick daisies in the sunshine.

I’m convinced that people who partner with God to do great things, spend significant time in deserts and valleys. This fact is often unseen and unknown by people who follow, listen to, read, or admire them. I’m always delighted when a mighty man or woman of God, shares their wilderness experiences. They inspire me not to quit or become bitter.

One of my favorite wilderness dwellers is Elijah, the prophet. The author of I Kings shares the story of Elijah’s seasons in the wilderness before the epic tale of his show down with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. (I Kings 18). Long before the miracle of holy fire on a water-soaked altar, Elijah spent years in wilderness and isolation. This is where he acquired the listening, obedience, and faith skills to partner with God in such a significant miracle. A miracle which turned an entire nation back to God.

I believe God is waiting to release numerous Mount Carmel level miracles in our day. He’s looking for Elijah’s who will spend time with him in the secret, hard places beforehand.

To turn nations back, once again, to God.

To show unbelievers and compromised believers there is only one true God who is worthy of worship.

Are you starting to see your wilderness times in a different light yet? Here’s a few thoughts I had about the different ones Elijah experienced and what God developed in him during those times.

  • God designs our childhood and upbringing for his purposes.

Elijah came from Tishbe in Gilead, a rough, mountainous region. His life before he appears before Ahab in I Kings 17, would be a very physical one, filled with the daily challenges of mountain life. When he appeared in Ahab’s court it would have been like a reclusive mountain man from the American Appalachians suddenly appearing in Congress.

God chose a man quite different from the people living in the heart of Israel who were trying to co-worship God and Baal. Why? All the courage and self-confidence Elijah acquired living in uncivilized Gilead, where wild beasts roamed and farming was done on mountainsides, would be needed to enter Ahab and Jezebel’s court. They weren’t the first snakes Elijah encountered, probably just the best dressed.

Remember, Obadiah the prophet served right in the same court and we laud him for secretly hiding 500 prophets from Jezebel. But he spent his days fawning over and serving those two snakes. Maybe God asked Obadiah to confront Ahab. We don’t know. We do know that he asked Elijah to do it and Elijah said, “Yes.”

Whatever inadequacies or failings of your childhood and upbringing you might see, they are tools in God’s loving hand. He designs our childhoods as part of our destinies. That may be painful to hear if you’ve survived abuse, but it is still true. Although God did not cause your pain and suffering, he desires to use the skills and strengths you developed to survive it.

My husband grew up in an unbelieving home with alcohol problems and experienced the pain of severe bullying as a child. I can point out strengths in his character from all of that, that I’m still working to develop. Nothing is ever wasted in God’s economy if we will put our disappointments and messes in his hands. He will create beauty from ashes.  

  • God deliberately leads us into deserts and valleys where we learn about his provision and faithfulness.

Elijah was a mighty mountain man, used to survival in extreme conditions and working hard for everything. God commanded him to go to the Brook Cherith and live alone with no means of providing for himself. As much as God delighted in Elijah’s strength and ours, he wants us to live dependent on him. Elijah relied on God-sent birds for meat. He started out getting his own water from the brook but then even that dried up.

I’m thinking Elijah became used to life by the brook and still somewhat fancied himself living somewhat by his own means. When the brook quit on him, God took him to an even greater place of dependence and humility. He directed him to Zarephath and commanded him to ask a starving widow for food. Try to imagine how humbling this must have been for a mighty man of the mountains.

God is not able to use us to the degree he desires if we are still depending on our own skills and strengths, even a tiny bit more than him.

The wildernesses of life are hard, dry places that come to every life, where worldly solutions and our own strength get stripped away fast. What happens after that is up to us. Will we complain about our situation or dig deep for God’s brooks of blessings? Will we tell our sad tale to everyone we meet or hunker down in the secret place with God? Will we allow him to expose the parts of us we hide? Will we listen and learn carefully during our desert journeys?  Lastly, will we be like Elijah and quickly obey whatever direction God gives us? I pray we will because our world is perishing, in part, from a lack of obedience and courage from God’s people.  

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