Coming Out of the Wilderness
If you asked me to describe the passage of scripture that best summarises the last 17 years of my life it would have to be Matthew 4:11.
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
First let me say, that in now way am I saying I am Jesus. He was unique in that He came as God and put on human flesh, totally divine, always eternal, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, a glorious revealed mystery. There has been and neither will there ever be anyone who can come close to matching the uniqueness of Jesus. But for those who follow Him and are called His disciples, we should expect to see some of the principles that shaped His life, in our life. Jesus himself said to his disciples, “ as the Father is sending me, so I am sending you” (John 20:21).
So why does Matthew 4:11 capture exactly where I am in life today? In this verse we see Jesus having just come out of an intense 40 day wilderness bombardment and test of all of his human and divine senses. Hungry and weak, His spiritual strength was tested by Satan’s subtle and desirable triune temptations. Jesus character was being tested and after 40 days he came through, yet was in need of rest and Divine strengthening. This was in readiness for the start of His short yet world changing 3 year ministry. Looking at His life we could say that there are three key stages that shaped His ministry and therefore should shape ours. Call, wilderness testing and ministry realities. After his Baptism by John the Baptist, it is really important to note that before any miracles, signs and wonders were done, the Holy Spirit led him into the desert to be tested by Satan. That same Spirit led Him out and now restores Jesus in readiness for the real battle of front line Ministry.
I sense that this is where I am in life. My short 3 month course at the BCW, is a time of God restoring me after a long and frustrating 17 year wilderness testing. Before stepping back into full time ministry, I need three things, 1) Restoration. 2) Joy of Salvation, 3) The Power for Service. Why do I need them and how can I be sure this is the season of my life? I have been a Christian for 17 years. Saved and baptised in the year 2000. God called me to study at Moorlands Bible College for three years and gain my degree in ‘ Applied Theology’. Three years in Norway as a missionary to the youth followed and invites to speak at youth conferences around Norway grew. In 2008, I sensed God was calling be back to Wales to come aside and rest, then I moved to England to work in Christian homeless hostels and a modern secular school.
On the move again in 2015, I came home to Wales and worked in an international college for one year, before suddenly, the job ended along with the flat I lived in. After 17 years as a Christian it seemed that nothing was permanent. Jobs came and went and I had moved over 17 times. Even though God had used me to save souls, I was left confused and frustrated with regards to short term jobs and homes. Until, God spoke and showed me that from the time I was baptised, the same Holy Spirit that had led Jesus into and out of the wilderness, had led me into and out of my own God shaped testing ground.
Up until God speaking, I had felt a failure and sensed other Christians saw my life as having failed for Jesus. After 17 years of following, I now stood as a 47 year old man who had no wife, job or home. Just a car, a suitcase and a bible. A failure in the world’s eyes maybe, but in God’s eye a person who by God’s grace and strength alone had passed the wilderness tests and was ready to see God’s call to ministry rise up. Knowing that God had planned the last 17 years blew away the sadness and confusion of many shattered hopes, dream jobs and homes. When you are in the desert trails, nothing is permanent. The trails are God’s way of proving ‘ character before calling’. He keeps us in the refiners fire until the character needed to stay the test of long term ministry is established. In the wilderness it may seem God is distant and does not care, or that you are failing and crushed by Satan’s temptations, until God almighty brings you out and starts to bring revelation and strength to you again by the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Knowing the season you are in with God can make all the difference to your walk with Him. Often you do not know you are in the wilderness until He brings you out, helps you to look back and see His hand, before restoring you and pointing you forward with a vision for the future. Wilderness tests produce deep rooted character. In the wilderness you are tested before taking hold of the realities of calling and ministry. This was what Jesus went through, baptised, wilderness and ministry. You could say there are three stages to Christian discipleship and a period in the desert is the second stage. This pattern is seen all the way through the bible.
Firstly Joseph, who had a God given destiny given to him in a dream. A destiny that would see him save his family by being placed above his family as a ruler of a nation. Yet, a wilderness testing in the form of a pit, slavery, and prison shaped his character in readiness to rise up and manage a worldwide drought, thus saving his family as they came and bowed before him in Egypt. Therefore Joseph was called, tested for 17 years and finally established. Moses who had a call to help the Jews escape from Egyptian slavery, blew it and run for his life into wilderness obscurity for 40 years. God however, at the right time restored Moses and used him to help the Israelites escape from Egypt and defeat the mighty Egyptian army. In his own strength Moses defeated one Egyptian. In God’s strength Moses looked victoriously over an entirely defeated Egyptian army ( Exodus 2). Moses, called, tested for 40 years and finally established.
The Jewish nation that had escaped Egypt, now went through it’s own baptism in the Jordan and crossed over into the wilderness tests. These tests were to prepare the nation for the permanent blessing of the promised land ( Exodus). Israel, called, tested for 40 years and established. Think of David, who as a young lad was anointed by God to be King over Israel, yet spent many years on the run from Saul. David lived and slept in caves as his life was continually in danger for the pursuit of Saul. Rejected by Saul, the Philistines and His own people David strengthened himself in God (1 Samuel 30:6),and after 20 years he was anointed for the third time and finally became King over Israel and Judah. Called, tested for 20 years before being established.
These three stages continue into the New testament. As mentioned Jesus modelled this and recapitulated Israel’s history by being Baptised, tested in the wilderness,before starting His three year ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, baptised, tested for 40 days and finally established in ministry. Finally, let us look at the disciples. Jesus called them with the 1st follow (Matthew 4:19).
They thought they were being established to reign and rule with Jesus, yet Jesus was leading them around the wilderness, putting things to death with temporary trails and a birds eye view of His ministry and how it should be done. Jesus dies, the disciples flee, yet after the resurrection Jesus comes to these failed disciples and restores them, and recomissions them. It seems the 3 year ministry of Jesus also served as a three year wilderness test for the disciples. The 2nd ‘ Follow Me’ to his disciples was the start of the real ministry. A group of disciples who had no strength left in themselves but were now filled by the Holy Spirit for service.
In conclusion, it seems all three stages are set by God’s own initiative and timing. His gracious initiative to call us from our sins to the call of the cross and the Gospel. Followed by the wilderness trails that break our own self efforts and bring us to the end of ourselves. Finally as God restores you and strengthens you, you are ready for long term promised land ministry, in which only wilderness tested character will do, along with the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit. It is key to know the season you are in with God. I write this article one month into my 3 month course at the BCW. By God’s oversight and care, He called me in the year 2000, led me into a 17 year wilderness, and now His angels restore me through a loving Christian community, incredible teaching that spiritually feeds my soul, as the main event of the ministry call hovers in the Horizon. Much like Rees Howells, I know I am saved and the joy that comes with it, yet I seek and wait for that which is never given in the wilderness, the Infilling and power of the Holy Spirit for service. I am out of the wilderness and being readied for the promised land of ministry. What season are you in? Remember God goes before you.