WILDERNESS AND TESTING TIMES.
My husband and I had a male AKC German shepherd named Dylan. He was gorgeous to look at, and funny as all get out. His toys were his motivation; his play drive was off the charts! I could write a book about his antics concerning play time, which usually lasted from the time we got home from work until we went to bed. We had lots of toys, and he knew each one by name. He also knew where he left each one. For instance, when we said, “go get footie,” he ran off and got his football. Likewise, with “dots ball”, “racing eights”, “purple ten” (the purple tennis ball rather than the green, red, or yellow one), and so forth. If he didn’t go for it, he knew it was either outside or in the truck. He got super excited when he got something new. He had a comical procedure when he got a certain type of chewy stick. He would wander around the house looking for the perfect hiding place. The sofa was his preferred spot. He’d go through the digging and burying motions, stuffing it behind a pillow or between cushions. Then he’d get down, stand back, and inspect his hiding work. Most times he wasn’t satisfied until the third try. Another quirky routine he had was with new toys -- they all had to spend the first night outside. Who knows what his reasoning behind that test was. Maybe to see if they stick around? It happened with each ball or stuffy, all the new members of his team.
I was listening to a song this morning called “Intimate.” The lyrics talk about a time in the wilderness, which made me think about Dylan and his toys “in the wilderness” of our back yard. The lyrics speak of how our time in the wilderness allows for deeper intimacy with Father God. Every one of His children goes through wilderness seasons, from early on in our walk with Him until He calls us home. Right now, however, I want to give some more thought to that initial wilderness experience.
I am so thankful to the dear, sweet Sister who, on the Sunday after I was baptized, warned me about this testing process, otherwise, I may have missed the point of it and its benefits, and instead believed the lies slung at me, like, I’m being punished, or “God doesn’t want you,” or “this is too hard, you don’t want to do this,” or “you like the other stuff much better,” etc. This season lasted for about six months. I remember it so well. Everything changed: my job, my circle of people, I quit smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, I started my gold-digging expedition in the Bible, and writing devotionals and poems; my husband didn’t like me anymore… Yes indeed, huge changes took place. Then came that morning in September, while I was getting set to go in the shower; suddenly, I started laughing, non-stop, for hours! I got a taste of that inexpressible joy Peter mentioned in his first letter (1 Peter 1:8).
The Israelites had their time of testing. It lasted 40 years. They resisted, they kept jumping from one side of the fence to the other, and did the things God specifically told them not to do (Numbers 25:1-4). Their unbelief kept them wandering. God proved Himself to them over and over, yet, they didn’t believe (trust) Him. They even preferred returning to the hard life of captivity God rescued them from rather than keeping the promise they made and surrendering to Him. In the end, only three from that generation went on to see the land God promised to them: Joshua and Caleb the two scouts who believed God (Numbers 14:1-10), and Eleazar the Priest (Joshua 21:1). All the others died there in the wilderness. Moses led the people out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and from place to place, but he didn’t set foot on the land because of an act of disobedience. Out of anger, he used his staff to strike the water rock instead of speaking to it to get water, as God told him to (Numbers 20:6-13). God took Moses to a high point to show him the land before he died (Deuteronomy 34:1-6). Even through all this, God fulfilled His word to Abraham that through him (his descendants), the entire world would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). Jesus, a Jew, is Abraham’s descendent; Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and the entire world is blessed. Let’s not fail to acknowledge the many ways Israel is blessing the world today, i.e. technology and medical breakthroughs. God always keeps His word.
Jesus was sent by Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan (Matthew 4:1-11). This took place after Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. He fasted for 40 days, and His human body was weak when the assault started. Jesus responded to Satan and each temptation with Scripture. Now that’s using the Sword of the Spirit! He resisted the devil, and the devil left him (James 4:7). Jesus didn’t get a “get out of the wilderness free” card, so why would we think we should? Jesus, being fully God and fully human, had to experience all that we do (Hebrews 4:15). He is our example in all things.
Saul, the Pharisee and zealous persecutor of Christians, met up with the risen Christ as he was walking along the road to Damascus to deliver orders and permission to go after the Christians there (Acts 9:1-19). Saul, who we know by his Greek name Paul, was struck with blindness for three days. He spent his initial wilderness time blind, praying and fasting. He spent another period isolated in the desert. During this time, he was taught by the Lord. He went on to be the Apostle to the Gentiles and wrote a big chunk of the New Testament while imprisoned.
We can receive God’s purpose for testing us as for our enlightenment. He already knows our hearts. We may think we do, but surely not like He does. He shows us the stuff we no longer see because we are so used to it and justify holding on to it by claiming ignorance, or saying, “that’s how I am”.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which is taking place to test you [that is, to test the quality of your faith], as though something strange or unusual were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12 AMP). We all go through it. I heard a cliché, “you are either in a test, coming out of one, or getting set to go into one.” Like our school years, each test gets more difficult as we advance; unlike school as some know it, you don’t move out of testing in an area until you share Christ’s victory over it. It’s pass or fail. You’ll get the same test over and over until there is victory, just in different ways. God says He corrects those He loves, and His desire is Christ-likeness in us. Let us know that testing and wilderness times are for our benefit and God’s glory, and we would be wise to not resist His careful, loving Hand.