Wilderness Experience

A Call to Change

By Jim Allen

What did Jesus mean by saying, "abide in me and I will abide in you" (John 15:4)? Is this a call to change? The Apostle Paul thought so. In fact, he wrote that when we look upon the Lord of Glory we will be changed into His image (2 Corinthians 3:18). Change is a strange experience, strange in the sense that transformation of the soul can be confusing because we take a path never before walked.

While the old path leads back to the world, the new path leads into the wilderness, a place where change is sure to occur. In the wilderness, everything we know about God and ourselves will be redefined. Everything we thought true will be revealed for what it is. Nothing held sacred in the old life will survive in the wilderness.

This was true of Israel when set free from slavery (Exodus 2:2325). Before entering the Promised Land, they had to endure the wilderness, the test of faith.

My wilderness experience began shortly after I became a believer. I was invited by a friend to attend a party. Some high school and college friends were attending too. Young in my faith and somewhat nave about life, I reasoned it would be good to see them again. Entering the smoke filled room I noticed the drunkenness, vulgarity and debauchery on a scale I'd never known before.

Now realizing I had made a terrible mistake, I turned around and walked out into the cool air of the night. There were no goodbyes because my separation from the world had begun. Standing and while looking up into the night sky, I thanked the Lord for the power to walk away. I went home.

What was once familiar and acceptable became strange and unwanted in my new life. At times, my walk would seem more like a valley than a mountain top. For every step forward there were the chilling sensations of being drawn back to the world. Often confused, everything looked the same and yet different. Everything was changing and yet the same. I sensed a deep loneliness that only the wilderness can bring.

Believers are beginning a wilderness walk, coming to the end of one, or finding themselves somewhere in between. Regardless of where you are, the struggle is real, and on occasion we wonder where God is. May I assure you, the Good Shepherd is there, real, and always aware of our progress.

As a parent, I was very involved in helping my children learn to walk. At first, they took one or two steps. But as they grew, it was necessary to increase my distance to stretch their walk. It was essential for them to trust the process in the same way we learn to trust God's process in changing us (Hebrews 12:2).

The wilderness is a place of many steps and each give the impression God is increasingly more distant. But He's not. The wilderness experience and the ensuing change is the high call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). It's His idea. If we stumble, His long reach is able to lift us up to walk upright (Leviticus 26:13).

In the wilderness we encounter difficult questions and look endlessly for answers. We sense loneliness because we've left friends and family behind. In time, our grasp on the world lessens as we travel farther into the desert. We release a little of the world at first, but then more and more over time until we learn to abhor all that is not of God (Titus 2:12).

John the Baptist spent time in the wilderness to detach himself from the world. For John, it was a serious commitment. It was the only place he could be. But more importantly, his time and purpose in the wilderness was to prepare the way of the Lord (Matthew 11:10). John preached repentance to show the need for change that is part of the wilderness experience.

Jesus also spent time in the wilderness to undergo a time of God-ordained testing (Luke 4:1; Mark 1:3). His tests were many, the most important of which was to resist temptation and live by the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). He relied on the indwelling Holy Spirit as an example for us to do the same (Galatians 5:16). Jesus' walk to Calvary was a wilderness experience like no other, a time of great distress and testing (Matthew 26:39).

About the wilderness experience Got Questions writes,
A wilderness experience is usually thought of as a tough time in which a believer endures discomfort and trials. The pleasant things of life are unable to be enjoyed, or they may be absent altogether, and one feels a lack of encouragement. A wilderness experience is often a time of intensified temptation and spiritual attack. It can involve a spiritual, financial, or emotional drought. Having a wilderness experience is not necessarily a sign that a believer is sinning; rather, it is a time of God-ordained testing. (Source)
The wilderness experience can be a long journey and at times demanding, if not impossible. But at some point we begin to notice that God is making the impossible possible (2 Corinthians 4:7-10). One notable change for every believer is the growing longing for a closer walk with God. About this new yearning one unknown author writes,
One thing, however, is this overpowering desire to be close to the Lord Jesus. This single thing will cause us to shed ourselves of everything that's not of God. The comfort zone of a fleshly church will not satisfy us. The ramblings of those who seek a kingdom in this world will actually wear us out. Everyone in our ambience; even the professors of our faith, will think that we are out of sorts; thereby giving new meaning to a peculiar people. (Source)
If loving God makes one peculiar, I'm in! Though we may sense isolation and confusion, we continue the journey. Even though feeling alone we are never alone (Hebrews 13:5). God's enduring presence is a promise (Psalm 16:11). God is like a parent with outstretched arms. His gaze is fixed on us and His word is assured in our hearts (Psalm 119:105).

Living apart from the world will make us a peculiar people. We will be misunderstood by most, even by those who know us best. But, here's the thing. Abiding in Christ is the endgame for every believer even though at times we don't feel it. To know He is real apart from how we feel is a sweet discovery.

In the wilderness we learn to let go of yesterday and its problems to claim today and its promises in Christ (Romans 8:28). And once we've experience Him, nothing in life will be able to hold our gaze and nothing less than His abiding presence will satisfy (Psalm 63:1-5).


Image Credit: Unsplash; untitled"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Hardships  |  Personal-Life

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Published 1-27-16