“And not only that, but we glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:3-5 (NKJV)
“I’d rather be in a tiny, broken-down rowboat with only half an oar in the middle of a horrific storm with no land in sight if that is where God wants me to be as opposed to sitting on a beautiful white sandy beach under an umbrella enjoying the shade and light breeze, sipping on a cool drink if that is not where He wants me to be.” Not that long ago in a far away and distant lifetime that was my unwavering proclamation. Times were good with fewer worries or concerns when those words were uttered. I didn’t say them flippantly or insincerely mind you. No, I said them each and every time with confidence in their truth. At the time my relationship with the Lord was strengthening and growing after years of my neglect so the thought expressed by these words was anything but casual. Yes, I said these words with firmness because I believed I understood the truth they embodied. I had personally seen God move in our lives in ways I had never imagined before so there was reasonable cause to say them as my confidence in Him continued to grow. And then…circumstances changed practically overnight, and I found myself no longer sitting on the beach enjoying the cool shade of the umbrella. In fact, that beach is nowhere to be seen in any direction from even the crest of the mightiest storm wave that my uncomfortably small rowboat has now found itself precariously perched upon.
“…In the world you will have tribulation…” John 16:33, partial (NKJV)
“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.” 2 Corninthians 1:8 (NKJV)
As carefully chosen as these words were they were lacking true depth and grit. “How so?” you might ask. To answer that question the Lord’s perspective must be given voice. “Really? I know you believe what you said, but do you really and truly know from the deepest reaches of your heart and soul that what you just said is absolutely true? It’s vital, my child, that when you utter such words that they convey far more than what you think to be true. You must know beyond a shadow of a doubt they are true. They must become living words. They must become words with My breath in them that are capable of speaking life into heartache and suffering. You have experienced the beach with Me as well as a few storms but have you experienced such a storm as you’ve just described with Me? Until you do these words don’t carry the full weight of My presence. When you have experienced the truth in these words for yourself then, and only then, can you passionately and effectively share Me with utmost passion and conviction to others in need.”
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NKJV)
How do you know what it is you really believe about God until you find yourself in a situation that tests those beliefs? It’s one thing to say you’d choose God and the beat up rowboat in a storm seemingly hell-bent on destroying you from your easy chair on a magnificently delightful beach, but when push comes to shove and you find yourself actually experiencing such a storm, well, isn’t that when you find out exactly what your faith, your trust in Him, what you actually believe about Him, truly looks like? There’s a well known phrase that captures this thought: “Faith isn’t fact until it’s tested.” Indeed. Each storm that comes our way has value in this regard, but there are those certain storms of storms that take us to places no ordinary storm can. These are life altaring (purposely misspelled) storms that literally compel you to at long last come face to face with the raw, stripped down guts of your faith. Circumstances that are completely beyond your control have a way of making such an improbable, and let’s be brutally honest here, the vast majority of us, undesirable meeting possible. After all, how many of us would really be all that comfortable having our faith made completely naked and exposed? Yet, such a place of desperation where our true foundational faith rubber is brought out of the shadows and into the light by the stark reality of the road being rowed, is absolutely necessary for our own spiritual growth and maturity. You say that you know He is faithful, but are you utterly convinced of that? How can you truly know this unless you yourself have experienced it? How can you speak true life into others who desperately seek hope in their own lives unless you have lived it yourself?
“It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Your statutes.” Psalm 119:71 (NKJV)
Even now as I write this it’s literally storming outside as if to help serve as an in-the-moment physical reminder of the severity of my circumstances. The waves and wind relentlessly pound my little boat tossing and turning it around and around as it bobs helplessly up and down. There is no rest. There is no relief. By default I am the supposed captain of this little boat, but it is not mine to steer. Captain? Hardly. No, I am a drenched, weary, often frightened and reluctant pilgrim and no more. All appears lost as wave after unrelenting wave crash over and into the boat that I’m desperately clinging to with all of my might. Surely it will sink and take me along with it! Where can hope be found in this storm?
“And Peter answered Him and said, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ So He said, ‘Come.’ And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’ And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.” Matthew 14:25-32 (NKJV)
Jesus comes to us in the midst of our storms and invites us to let go of the boat we’re desperately clinging to and join Him. It’s not until we leave the false safety of the boat, join Him, and then return with Him to the boat that the storm abates. Tony Evans says that, “Faith and movement go together, and that if there is no movement there is no evidence of your faith.” We must take that first step of faith towards Him as He beckons to us, “Come.”
“The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save, He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17 (NKJV)
Why is this sort of experience so important for us as believers? Because while it’s tempting to say it’s about us, the truth is it’s not just about us. There is far more at stake. Seriously, how can such a defining, wilderness “moment” be only about us? Surely there is a higher purpose and calling at work here. Is it possible you’re the glowing, red-hot block of steel that the blacksmith purposefully hammers into a glistening sword? “Well, maybe,” you reluctantly say, “But why?” For the answer listen closely to King Darius’s question found in Daniel 6:19-20 (NKJV), “Then the king arose very early in the morning and went in haste to the den of lions. And when he came to the den, he cried out with a lamenting voice to Daniel. The king spoke, saying to Daniel, ‘Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually been able to deliver you from the lions?” Friends, non-believers and believers alike all want to know the answer to this question: Is. Our. God. Able? Daniel’s faith in our God Who is indeed able and is worthy of all praise and glory couldn’t help but leave an indelible mark in this world as seen in Daniel 6:25-27 (NKJV): “Then King Darius wrote: To all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree that in every dominion of my kingdom men must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel. For He is the living God, and steadfast forever; His kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed, and His dominion shall endure to the end. He delivers and rescues, and He works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, Who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.”
As tempting as it is to cut the wilderness experience that God is using to shape and mold you short don’t give into the urge to do so. Would you tell the blacksmith to stop forging the sword before it’s finished? Resist the impulse to run away never to be heard from or seen again. Instead, embrace Him and together let this storm run its full course believing He has only your best true-self interest at heart. After all, Jesus knows a thing or two about wilderness experiences. Could we ask for a more experienced and understanding guide? Trust Him in this process that has eternal ramifications for not only you, but undoubtedly a host of others. As the saying goes, “that’s gonna leave a mark.” Indeed. How can it not, and besides, isn’t that the real purpose anyway of such a profound, life altering experience?
What sort of mark on this anxious world will your wilderness faith experience leave concerning hope? Such precious faith He has now birthed in you can’t help but proclaim hope through your personal experience of God’s unlimited mercy, grace, and love. It is through your own encounter with Him in your wilderness journey that compels your voice and heart to joyfully sing and reach out to those in need, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills-from whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2 (NKJV)