The Wilderness. Moses hid in it. Elijah ran to it. Jesus was tested by it. And Church leaders today still encounter it.
We enter the wilderness whenever we:
- Try to hide from our responsibility like Moses did.
- Try to escape danger like Elijah did.
- Need to be tested like Jesus did.
My wilderness was Maryland. After a rocky first ministry and a failed church plant I was ready to run, hide, and escape. I had convinced myself that I wasn’t cut-out for preaching ministry. I was hurt, wounded, and needed healing, so I ran away to my wilderness: a teaching job at a small, Christian school on the Eastern Shore. I thought I could carve out a new career and still serve God, albeit in a different capacity.
I was wrong.
Maybe only preachers can relate. But I felt like Jeremiah. I was weary from carrying the fiery Word of God shut up in my bones. I was born to preach, and I would be miserable if I didn’t. I suffered during these wilderness years. I was depressed, and my work suffered. I was angry, and my family suffered. I was tired, and my spiritual life suffered.
But I also learned a lot about myself, and about what’s needed to get the most out of the wilderness.
Perhaps the most valuable thing I learned during my time in Maryland is that even when you feel all alone, God still shows up. I didn’t have a burning bush moment like Moses or a “still small voice” like Elijah. What I did have was a small group of good Christian friends to encourage me, challenge me, and be there to lift me up when I needed it. And through it all I had the Holy Spirit weighing my heart down with the burden to preach. As I look back on this period of life, I realize that even at my loneliest times God had never abandoned me or His purpose for my life.
The Wilderness Teaches You About Yourself
I had a lot I needed to learn, and God placed me in a position where I had to learn these things in order to survive. I had to learn time management, organization, people skills and advanced planning. All of these are skills vital to the ministry. But I also had to learn about myself. Whenever God tests us it is not to teach Himself about us, He already knows everything there is to know about us. When He tests us it is so we can learn about ourselves. I had to learn that it’s okay to ask for help. I had to learn humility. I had to learn my weaknesses so that I could surround myself with people who were strong in those areas. Most importantly, I had to learn my limits and how much I could put on my plate and how much would make everything topple over and fall apart.
The Wilderness Prepares You for the Next Stage of Life
Moses learned to be a leader by being a shepherd for forty years. Elijah learned that he was not alone by being alone. Jesus faced temptations early in ministry so that He could overcome them late in ministry. God uses wilderness moments to prepare His people for action. After four years of teaching my elders had a meeting with me. My contract would not be renewed. They knew I was a square peg in a round hole, and they wisely encouraged me to get back in the pulpit. I felt like Moses arguing with God. I made every excuse I could think of to avoid going back into preaching ministry. But God always wins arguments. Through the encouragement of my wife and prompting of the Holy Spirit I found my way back to the pulpit.
And because of the wilderness I was better prepared than ever.