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by Teri Lee Earl

On more than one occasion, I have read testimonies from prophets who say they have been in a spiritual desert. They often relate how they were once stubborn or rebellious or proud, and God had to take them through the desert to cure them of it. People find their testimonies comforting because their story fits into some sense of order, control, and justice. It is, after all, of common religious opinion that generally speaking, people experience hardship or spiritual dryness because they have somehow displeased God. If people deserve their hardship, then it stands to reason that all they have to do is figure out what is wrong with them, repent of it and change it, and then God will relieve them of the trials (disciplines) He has thrust them into.

Coincidentally, these "I went into the desert because I was rebellious or prideful and needed to be straightened out" stories also fit into another, more specific theme that many people hold to: That is, that all prophets have a rebellious streak in them, that many of them fall into pride because of their higher gift, and that since these faults must be broken, God puts them into the desert to break them of it.

So goes popular religious opinion.

While it is true that a person may experience a spiritual awakening about their own rebelliousness or pride in the middle of great hardship, it is not true that all hardship is caused by God in order to elicit such an awakening. Indeed, oftentimes God does not have to cause hardship at all.  I find that many people, prophets-to-be or not, cause much of their own pain and isolation by the natural results of their own behavior (Psalm 68:6).  In such cases their desert time is more self-imposed, than God-imposed.

This writing is not for such cases though.  Although it will acknowledge the value of God's discipline (Hebrews 12: 5-8), it will not address the wilderness experience as if its sole purpose is to break one of rebellion, pride, or some other deep and dark character flaw.

Instead, this writing is for those who have a different kind of desert testimony--a testimony that is absent of quick explanations as to "why" they have been in the wilderness. This is for the people, --and the prophets--, who have suffered great illness or tragedy or long-standing pain for no apparent discernible reason. These prophets cannot just arbitrarily point to their desert time and then say, "I know it happened because I was rebellious or proud or obnoxious, and this was the only way God could get through to me was by this great of suffering."  They cannot comfort people with such a simple "if this, then that" formula. Indeed, if these prophets were to speak, their story would mostly likely make their audiences squirm in their seats, because their story does not and will not fit into any popular or common religious opinion or formula for prophets.

I write this because simple religious formulas and stereotypes too easily fall into the hands of the 'Job's friends' who all too easily use them against the 'Jobs' of our spiritual landscape--our suffering brothers and sisters in the Lord. I write this for the prophets who do not need more judgment or condemnation or postulations at to what their problem is or was, that God would find it so necessary to put them into the hot, dry desert. They do not need more false guilt heaped upon them. They especially do not need their fellow prophets secretly or openly assuming that a hardship or "wilderness experience" is really caused by some character flaw, or that it is caused by the same character flaw they once had. Instead, they need to know that we may never fully understand all of God's reasons for the wilderness experience, and that there are other reasons besides the "rebellion" theory. They need encouragement to walk out of the desert when that time is over.

Reasons For The Desert

God loves us so much and knows that "we are dust" (Psalms 103:14), and yet He decrees for us a season of spiritual dryness. Why? Why did Moses have to spend forty years of his life in the desert before God appeared to him in the burning bush? Sure, Moses did react to oppression and his brethern misunderstood him (Exo. 2:11-14; Acts 7:24-35), but why forty long years? It seems like such a long time, and wouldn't God have wanted to use that time better by having Moses in the work of His service? Or was it that God was waiting for the conditions in Israel to be right for the 'Deliverer' to come? Yes the Lord often sends His best---you and me---into our spiritual desert on purpose, and there is no getting around it. Even His Son Jesus was directed by the Spirit of God into the desert (Matt. 4:1).

Yet oh , there are preparations that occur in the desert that we could have no foreknowledge of needing. Moses spent his forty years of desert time pastoring sheep. Did he know that he was going to lead the sheep of Israel for forty years? I have spoken to a pastor in Hutchinson, Kansas who has pastored sheep (the animal) for twenty-five years. He will tell you it is a special art! Sheep are clever, he says, and not as stupid as we Americans have often been taught in our Bible classes. Was the forty years necessary to 'break' Moses of a fit of rage over slavery, or was the forty years to protect him from the eyes of Pharoah while he learned the skills necessary to 'pastor' the sheep of the Lord, or was it both?

Young David the psalmist spent the early portion of his life tending sheep. Before he went up to challenge Goliath with his slingshot, he said to Saul, "Your servant has been keeping his father's sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." (1 Sam. 17:34-37)

So we see that the desert or wilderness can be a time of training for unanticipated things. Moses did not anticipate that he would be leading the sheep of Israel, and David did not anticipate that his skill at the slingshot was being developed for his day with Goliath. When Goliath presented himself though, David's spiritual eyes were opened and understood that his deliverance from the lion and the bear were foreshadows of his conflict with Goliath.

Prophets often have so much zeal for the Lord that they forget that mundane matters need to be taken care of too. They often do not realize that they grow in Christ through the proper carrying out of these so-called 'nonspiritual' tasks.  As we have seen by the example of David and Moses, so-called 'nonspiritual' or 'nonministry' times are not necessarily wasted times at all. God is sovereign and we have to trust and believe in His wisdom as He watches over our lives. He is not anxious to send us into battle or send us into ministry before we are prepared. He cares about our well-being in Him as His servant, as well as the health and strength of the ministry we are being prepared to do in the future.

While it is true that when we obey the Lord's commandments to love one another we find ourselves as His friends, it is also true that he prunes back those who bear fruit, so that they may bear more (John 15:8-17;15:1-2). When we are 'pruned back' and our spiritual gifts are suddenly dry, we need to keep in prayer and go about our business. We need to keep obedient to His last directive, and remind ourselves that love is more important than giftings (1 Corinth. 13:2). And we can love one another without prophesying.

Worrying too much over the absence of our gift could be a sign of ignorance to His pruning back process, or it could be a sign that we place too much of our egos into the spiritual gifts. We need to consider that God may be giving us a grace period. After all, if we are always busy prophesying, then we would also be contending with persecution more often. God may just care for our mental or physical health. We might also have people 'follow' us by depending upon us for "words" from the Lord while neglecting their own relationship with the Lord, which is not the goal of any true prophet. So we get a break from that possible scenario, too.

The desert or "dry times" could be a time of preparation, or they could be a time of pruning, but they are definitely a time of testing and purifying of character. In the recounting of the history of Israel after their exodus from Egypt, it was said:

"And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD." (Deu 8:2-3 NASB)

God strips away all distractions so that we learn our dependence upon Him. The bleakness of the desert causes us to appreciate the Life in His Word (Matt. 4:4).

And when that season of dryness is over we can walk out of the desert. Or can we?

Now that is an interesting thought. What if it is time for us to leave the desert, and we don't? What if that is the final test of the desert? "Okay," God says, "now it is time to leave the desert!" Yet we stay and grumble and fret and suffer.

What if we did that?

Desert Keepers

Except for Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, the entire post-Exodus nation of Israel was not allowed to enter the Promised Land. Instead, the Lord God decreed that they would stay in the desert until their natural deaths. They had tested God so often and so severely that He called that generation an "evil congregation" (Numbers 14:35). The author of Hebrews in the New Testament sums it up this way:

"And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief." (Heb 3:19 NASB)

Faith or unbelief is a choice, as is disobedience. The children of Israel had no excuses for their disbelief. God gave them everything they needed: Moses the Prophet and Aaron the priest, manna, a cloud by day and a fire by night, and yet almost all of them failed the test, over and over again.  In the same way, we are given everything we need from God to obey Him. If we refuse to acknowledge it and if we turn away from Him, we are held accountable. We will not enter His rest with hardened hearts (Hebrews 3:7-4:11).

So the people of Israel are an example to us so that we do not anger God in the same way.  However, when God calls us out of the desert, we had better not play the false humility game of arguing with God about our capabilities nor entertain the thought that we are unworthy of leaving the desert. Did Moses obey the Lord when He appeared to him in the burning bush after he had spent forty years tending sheep in the desert? Yes, he did. However, if you look closely at this passage, you will find that Moses almost did not obey the Lord. This was because of a sense of 'humility' that God found unacceptable. In fact, God began to get angry with Moses after his protest over his lack of eloquence (possibly stuttering) and his attempt to get out of the assignment (Exodus 4:10-16).

Surely if we have learned anything, we have learned that the fear of the Lord is wisdom (Proverbs 1:7). No matter what our estimation of ourselves or what our counsel would be to God, reverence for God will lead us to concede to His wisdom and obey. Unbelief, pride, and false humility will lead us into disobedience, because disobedience claims that we know better than God. Bottom line: we disobey because of pride, for obedience is an act of humility (Phil. 3:8).

Walking Through the Storm

"Thus says the LORD, 'Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD. For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; But its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.'"(Jer 17:5-8 NASB)

"Hope" here in Jer 17:7 is the Hebrew word mivtah, and could be rendered "confidence" or "trust." Isn't trust the same as faith? Not exactly. On some level it is, for trusting in God is just as much a choice as faith is. Yet trust is a process of relationship, while faith is more object or fact oriented, being the acceptance of something not yet proven (Heb. 11:1).  In other words, we trust someone because we know them and have learned that they are steadfast and reliable. Faith, however, can be had without as much prior knowledge or past personal experience of their character.

When we became new Christians and believed that He would forgive our sins and make us white as snow, we knew nothing yet of the Person of Jesus, right? We knew only the facts about Him: that He had died for us because He loved us, to forgive us of our sins. Because of these basic facts, we had faith (trusted) that the gospel was true and that He would indeed take away our sins. Yet, we had not yet experienced the joy that comes with the righteousness (cleanliness) that He bestows upon us before we prayed for it, right? We knew it only after we had taken this leap of faith. Thus, we trusted the message before we knew the Person whom the message was about. This is not the same as trusting the Person because we know His character. Trust is a deeper level of faith. When we trust God, He may do things we do not completely comprehend or even agree with, but we will still trust that He has good reasons for what He does (Rom. 11:33).

Now think about, if you will, the scene of Peter who walked on water after our Lord:

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd.  After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." "Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water."  "Come," he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?" (Matt. 14: 22-31)

The simple plot to this story is that Peter had faith at first, stepped out onto the water, was distracted by the wind and waves, took his eyes off of Jesus (we presume), and then he began to sink. Okay, but Peter did have some faith, at least. Otherwise, he would not have stepped out of the boat in the first place, right? How did he acquire this faith? How did he even have hope that he would not immediately plunge into the depths of the sea? The answer to this is that Peter had just been with Jesus only a few hours ago, when He fed five thousand men plus women and children with only five loaves of bread and two fishes. That was is in addition to the many other miracles great or small, that Jesus had already performed in Peter's presence.

One of the miracles that Peter had witnessed earlier was more to the point. Shortly after Jesus had healed Peter's mother-in-law, a crowd of people gathered around Jesus and He gave orders that they should cross the lake in a boat. Jesus went to sleep in the boat and was in such a deep slumber, that he did not notice a furious storm that arose suddenly around them. Waves washed into the boat and the disciples feared for their lives, so they woke Him up. Jesus arose and rebuked the storm and it calmed immediately. This was a stunning miracle to all who were there (Matt. 8:14-27).

Now it is later at different storm, at another time. When Peter stepped off of the boat during this storm, do you think it is possible that he expected Jesus would calm these winds like he did the winds in the earlier storm? I think it is quite possible. But Jesus did not calm the storm this time.  Instead, He expected Peter to walk right through it, with unwavering faith, toward Him. By now, Peter should have trusted that if the storm really needed to be calmed, Jesus would calm it.  But perhaps it was because Jesus did not do all that Peter expected, and perhaps it was because the storm seemed bad enough in Peter's estimation, that Peter doubted Jesus and so failed in his faith.

Hebrews 4:12-16 admonishes us to "hold firmly to the faith we profess". Peter let go of his simple faith while he walked on water because he was distracted by the storm. This was because his beginning faith had hinged on outside events (the miracles that he had long witnessed Jesus perform), and so it also failed by outside events (circumstances), too.  His faith was not based on knowing the Lord (His character/His love) as much as it was based on observing events that did not match what he thought he understood.

Now let us go back to my original scripture in this section:

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream And will not fear when the heat comes; But its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit."(Jer 17:5-8 NASB)

In this passage, the tree had extended its roots toward the water of the stream. Therefore, even in the midst of drought, it had a water supply. We are to be like that tree in order to survive any 'drought' in our lives. This takes more than a little faith. Our root system must be deeper than the beginner surface roots near the top of the soil -- the ones designed to catch the rain. Constant water supply is there for us but we must seek it and send out a tap root into it. These roots take a little time and effort to grow.

The Sting Of Failure

How fair would it be for someone to apply the short passage of Peter walking on water to any of us who have suffered for a very, very long time? If we have traveled through reams and reams of bleak desert, choking on the sand and baking in the sun, and if that is all we have seen or known for a very long time in our lives, will the admonishment, "Just have a little faith" really apply any more? I am going to take a huge risk of offending you here by saying no, it does not apply. See, there is a problem with religious folk who misapply matters of little faith to matters of big trust.

Just what do I mean by that? Well, how many of us can say that we can ignore the beating of the wind and the fury of the storm? If we all glibly think that we can do that, then we have probably not been through much of a storm. We ought to be careful to avoid foolish overconfidence (1 Corinth. 10:1-12, especially verse 12).

Developing a real relationship with Jesus means having a faith that will not fall apart easily --a faith that will 'weather the storm' so-to-speak. A "little faith" is as small as a mustard seed, and it can either grow as large as a mustard tree or it can fail in its growth, due to factors other than just the seed. Just take a look at Matthew 13:5-6 where the seed fell on the shallow soil and had no root, and so it faded away. It was just beginner's faith and fell upon the shallow soil, so it dies soon. Troubles come, distractions come (in the case of the seed among the thorns) and it is found no more. We must put our faith into practice or the storm will overtake us (Matt.7:24-27). This is because faith without works is dead, and if we are not abiding and growing in Christ then we are dying in something else.

We believe that God exists, but that belief alone does not bring us closer to God. If it is important that we have faith enough to know the Lord Jesus exists (Heb. 11:6), then it is even more important that we actually seek this Jesus that we now know of (Acts 17:27; Jer. 29:13). The man who does not seek the Lord cannot abide in Christ and therefore has "no root" (Matt. 13:21).  It does not matter whether your beginner's faith got its start from dramatic miracles or events, or not. Nothing is wrong with whichever way God chooses to reach us, as long as the gospel was presented to us and we responded to it. It matters that we grow in Him, afterwards, though.

Our faith and character must be proven and strengthened by our works (James 2:14-26), just as God proves Himself with His works. How fair is it if we do nothing, but we expect God to do everything? We are not the Judge of God, but He is our Judge. We learn to trust in Him, and He begins to trust us because of what is in our hearts and what we do (faithfulness) (Luke 19: 12-27). There is no getting around that. After all, relationships are made or broken over a period of time by what each person says and does, and since God does not sin and is not a liar, that leaves us people to muck it up, if we choose to. Or, we can follow God's advice and build up our character in Him (2 Peter 1:5-11).

God's interventions to inspire us out of a destructive spiritual condition and into a more constructive and fruitful one, can be painful. Just before our Lord's crucifixion, Peter made a promise he could not keep (Luke 22:31-32). He could not keep it because again, his promise (faith) was based on what he thought would happen with Jesus' ministry, rather than what God's ideas were (Remember Matt. 16:21-23. Jesus tried to warn Peter that it would not end as he thought it would!) When Peter failed by denying the Lord three times, his pride was busted. I am sure Peter felt like a real loser!

Yes, Peter found out his heart was not as strong and sure as he thought it was, and it was a crushing blow indeed. Yet, it was a blow that Jesus had compassion upon (John 21:15-18). And it was at this point and no sooner, that there began a real, sustainable trust between Peter and the Lord Jesus. Yet, who trusted who first, or the most? That is an interesting question.

Peter was the first to recognize the Christ (Matt. 16:15-19). He loved Jesus and cannot be thought of as the same as the grumbling Israelites who tested God for so long with unbelief and disobedience (in spite of the many miracles and provisions they had seen and known) that finally God decided to let them live out the rest of their natural lives in the wilderness. He cannot be thought of as the same as the idolatrious nation of Israel who caused God to withdraw himself like a scorned lover (Hosea 2:8-9).  Oh yes, Peter overestimated his abilities and trusted the strength of his heart to stay the course when it could not, but then again he was no Judas.

God sees into us much much more clearly than we can see into ourselves. He knows both the good (the redeemed/the honorable) and the bad (that which is in error/the untransformed). Jesus saw both and had to address both, but it was not as if the 'bad' was all Peter was. Even so, this 'bad' would destroy Peter if left unchecked.  Peter simply could not go on to greater things without further help. We can surmise this by the fact that Peter's spiritual problem was so serious, that God could not wait until after the day of Pentecost to let it be tested and dealt with (Luke 22:31).

Peter kept trusting in human insufficiency instead of the Lord's sufficiency, and kept getting in trouble for it. How encouraging it is though, that it was Peter who, later on, wrote much about the role of tribulation and steadfastness in his epistles! Therefore, we can take comfort in the fact that a few failures do not make a man, and they need not destroy our future in the Lord.

Yet, there is something else that is powerfully poignant and special about Peter's story.  That is, although it is true that the greater burden of holding unto our faith and trust in the Lord is upon us and not upon God, God is not so legalistic that he will not make the first move. He knows something about our needs that we may not. He knows that just as our trust in God is what can get us through, sometimes it is the reverse: God's trust in us is what gets us through (1 John 4:19). He just has to completely humble us first sometimes to get His message through, because some of us will not really believe or know God's grace, and others of us will not listen to His instruction (wisdom), until we are at the end of ourselves and are broken by the sting of our own failure, and until we repent.

May our confidence be found in the Lord, Who is sufficient in all and for all (2 Corinth. 3:4-6).

The Innocent And Highly Esteemed

Who can forget the story of Joseph? Joseph had the enthusiasm of many young and naive prophets: he blurted out his visions and dreams without regard to whom he was speaking to, and these dreams elicited the jealousy and murderous inclinations of his brothers. His brother Reuben tried to secretly save him but Judah had a better plan: that they should sell him into slavery and take the money (Gen. 37:3-36).

We all know the story from there. Joseph became a slave to Potiphar in Egypt, and later became the chief slave (manager) of Potiphar's household. He was falsely accused by Potiphar's wife and was thrown into prison. While there, he interpreted a dream of the king's chief cupbearer and eventually, Joseph was given audience with the Pharoah (Gen. 41) In the end, Joseph saved his own people from death by famine, because the Lord was with him.

It is good to note that Joseph's dreams did come true and that ironically, God used Joseph's enthusiasm to begin the events that eventually made the dreams come true. Joseph was not being punished for his youthfulness. Instead, it fit into the greater scheme of things.  So no matter what we think of the desert, one thing we do know is that there are greater reasons and greater purposes for these desert experiences, and these reasons will not be clear as we go through the desert. God's purposes will often not be found out until many years afterward, and our understanding will never be complete until our time in heaven.

And what of the prophet Daniel? He went through a very unusual training. As a 'guest' of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, Daniel was forced to learn the ways of the occult in a foreign land. Like Joseph, he was innocent of wrongdoing. He kept himself pure and upright during this time of 'training', and found himself at the right place and the right time when Nebuchadnezzar needed a wiseman. It is possible that Daniel wondered about his standing with the Lord during a time of distress (Dan. 9:2-3;8) because the Lord took the trouble to send him messages that he was "highly esteemed", not just once, but three times (Dan. 9:23; 10:11; 10:19).

So we see that contrary to popular religious thought, not all prophets can be put into the 'rebellious' category in their younger years at all.  In fact, most prophets in Scripture were not like this. David tended to king Saul with his harp, killed Goliath and was a successful warrior against the Philistines. And yet for all his innocent loyalty and service, Saul was soon chasing him all over the countryside, trying to kill him. Yet again, similar to Daniel and Joseph's story, the prophet's opposer was inspired by jealousy and an evil spirit (Sam. 18: 9-10).

We know this tribulation went on for a number of years for David, because he was thirty years old when he finally became king (2 Sam. 5:4) Many times David felt like giving up and even felt like God had abandoned him (just read the Psalms and you will find this to be true!), but God did not chide David or reject him for his feelings during these times of hardship, and neither will He reject us today as we approach Him with our distresses and weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15-16).

With You I Am Well Pleased...

"And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert..." (Mark 1: 11-12)

When Jesus traveled from Nazareth to see John the Baptist, one might think that the purpose of his visit would be to check up on John or add to his ministry. But Jesus did not do that. Instead, He humbled Himself to John's ministry, and was baptized in water. When he came up from the water, the Spirit descended upon Him, and God said that He was "well pleased."

So Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit and God was well pleased with Him, and yet Jesus was immediately "led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil." (Luke 4:1-2) What was the point of sending Jesus into the desert for forty days to be tempted? Clearly, Jesus was not being punished. He was being strengthened just prior to his ministry for the days ahead.

Jesus gives us an indisputable example of God being well-pleased with a Servant of His and thereafter leading him straight into a place of severe testing. Has the Lord ever led us or sent us out on some task of His, and then we find ourselves in the wilderness? Suddenly, we are all alone without the palpable presence of God, and surrounded by hardship and the temptations of the devil. What distress! Rest assured that it is not necessarily because we missed the leading of His Spirit. Neither is it necessarily that he is displeased with us. In fact, the opposite is very likely true: We are full of the Holy Spirit and He is "well pleased" with us.

Many Christians make the quick assumption that a serious hardship or a series of unfortunate events means that God is displeased with them, but this is simply not necessarily true. Perhaps a person who has been sent into the desert has been, metaphorically speaking, thrown into a pit by their jealous brothers and sold into slavery like Joseph was. Clearly they were betrayed and sinned against, through no great fault of their own. Perhaps they have endured great losses or other mishaps, again through no great foolishness of their own.  Perhaps they were completely innocent. Their pain and loneliness are great and deep. They begin to wonder, "Where did I go wrong?" or "What have I done to deserve this?" or "Did I miss God or displease Him in some way?"  To make matters worse, they may suffer the additional complication of those who are quick to put them down.

The theory that outside events indicate greater guilt or God's punishment, was as popular in Jesus' day as it is in our day. This is what Jesus had to say about it:

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them--do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." (Luke 13:1-5)

Condemnation is not the stuff of God.  If any man says he has no sin he is a liar (1 John 1:8), but if any man speaks against someone the Lord is pleased with, he is a liar too (Matt. 5:11). Therefore, people ought to take care that they are not speaking as Job's friends would, who would essentially say, "bad things happen to bad people." They ought to fear the Lord more than that (Luke 10:16). But sadly, they often do not. Therefore, they are quick to religiously judge their brother or sister without a thought.

Sometimes, condemnation is spoken to someone at a very vulnerable time and place in their life. Sometimes they are shunned and treated as though they are guilty when they are innocent, and they are gossiped against. This is a strategy of the devil, designed to discourage someone into despair and stagnation, or worse. I have suffered this, and I can say that even though I knew this condemnation was not from the Lord at all, and even though I was well versed in the spiritual gifts and workings of the Spirit, I still found myself in a life or death struggle, with lingering damage to my mind, soul, and spirit.

Though I cannot make this paper into a detailed instruction on how to get out of condemnation or self-condemnation, I can say that God must bust through religion by his Spirit (2 Corinth. 3:6; Romans 8:1-2) and He must release us from any heavy yoke that is not the Lord's (Matt. 11:29-30).  Counseling, repentance (renouncing and turning away from any form of self-loathing or self-rejection), acceptance of God's favor ("I am well pleased with you"), avoiding the 'friendship' and teachings of the religious or abusive (Matt. 7:6; Matt. 16: 6-12; 2 Corinth. 11:3-15;19-20; 2 Tim. 3:2-5) and prayer for healing or deliverance from bondage and verbal 'curses', are all often necessary to varying degrees.

The Pain Of The Desert

By the example of Jesus, Joseph, and Daniel, we see that the desert time is not necessarily about character defects at all. All of their stories include the devil tempting them in some way, even while they hold true to God's ethics. If they were going to be true anyhow, one might ask, then why must these prophets be tested? Was it to prove it to God, who already knew the outcome, or was it to prove it to the devil, much like the story of Job? Was it to prove it to themselves? We may never know, but we do know that when we share in the sufferings of Christ in these situations, we will share in His resurrection too (Rom. 6: 1-11;8:17; 1 Peter 4:12-13).

What I have written in this text may seem elementary to you, or it may seem a little incomplete. It may also seem academic to you, as if I am just throwing out theories for their own sakes. I assure you that what I am writing is not academic for me at all. I have been through the desert myself. I would say it was about 15-17 years. The entire first half of my life (assuming I live to be 70 years old) has been one of enormous suffering.  By the time I was the age of  35, I would count only 6 years of my early childhood as relatively happy or normal, and then after my conversion, only 1 year of my Christianity I would count as happy or without severe tribulation or sorrow. That means, all told, only 7 years of my life were without deep sufferings by the time I was middle aged. That was in spite of all my efforts--sometimes herculean efforts--to live a balanced, fruitful life.

How can this be, one might wonder? What did God have in mind? This question I asked myself, many times. The better question though is: How did I survive it and not only that, how did I triumph?

When I was shortly out of the occult, I accidently caused a couple of people to become afraid when I spoke of my past. I learned to be more careful. In later years, I accidently caused someone to cry a great deal after telling too much of my other sufferings at once. I have most often said nothing, and was too quiet for many years, but God was not interested in my total silence of course, for a variety of good and useful reasons. Nevertheless, it wise and kind to sanitize or simplify the stories from my life so that I do not shock the other person's mind with graphic descriptions of betrayal, cruelty, and the like. It is only necessary to go into descriptions if those descriptions serve a specific purpose, but most often they do not, because they are simply so very bad.

Regardless of their experiences in life, some people are in so much bondage to religion or so unhealed themselves, that any revealing of certain sufferings will invoke a variety of rather bizarre assumptions and reactions. No sooner do people like myself open our mouths to testify of God's healing, when a variety of things are instantly thought about us, from the outrageous to the mild to the almost humorous, merely because of the subject matter. No sooner do we reveal the devil's strategy, when we are attacked by it ourselves. Even while we are fully obedient to the Spirit and to Christ, reactions will occur. This is an inevitable consequence of being in the world. Sometimes it is an an opportunity to minister. Sometimes, it is an indication that it is not time for ministry. Sometimes we are not to offer up ourselves, our "pearls" as it were, as an occasion for another to sin against us (Matt. 7:6).

Sadly, many people believe that everyone has an almost 'magical' overcontrol of people or outside events, based on how perfect they manage to be, or how perfectly they manage to do things. Therefore, they are compelled to judge others to be "worse" than themselves in order to protect themselves. They live in a world where God would never allow certain bad things to happen to them because they are shielded by their own goodness, piousness, foresight, or cleverness. However, in the real world, this is not so.

I have found that no one can go through such things as I have, no matter what degree of faith they have, without it adversely affecting them (Prov. 18:14).  My greatest sorrow was to feel so separated from God and humanity for so long, even though I knew by faith that there was no such separation (Romans 8:35-39). It was like being forced into a house of mirrors that was not your own choosing, and each mirror (lie) had to be destroyed as you found your way out.  Too often asking for help invited more difficulty,.

Eventually, after many years, I became bolder with the Lord and wrestled with Him out of desperation. God did answer me in ways I did not expect, and I trust He will do the same for you as you seek His face.

But as for pain and suffering? Yes I have known more than I would ever wish upon anyone. I have experienced miraculous healings and grace from the Lord too. And, although my own efforts to follow Him were sometimes not enough, I do not regret these efforts. After all, as the Bible indicates, if I had not persevered and applied His ways to my life, the results would have been far worse. I could have never recovered. I could have even died.

The following is a poem that I wrote one day by the Spirit, as a tribute to the harshness of the desert:

The Desert

The hot sun has mocked you for so long, telling you God doesn't care;
The only embrace you know is the cruel, dry wind across your face,
Whispering of His cruelty, to leave you out here for so long.
Your body is weary, your mind so tired, The fight has become a battle,
and the battle a war; A war without end, just like each step you take.
Is this all an exercise in certain futility?

Unwelcome thoughts and biddings come, temptations to fall;
You shake your head again to try to clear it.
You squint your eyes to try to focus,
You listen for something to distract you from the pain,
But the cry from the thirst of your tongue drowns all out.
Your eyes unreliable now in the face of the mirages up ahead;
You've forgotten how to think, or what you were supposed to hope for.

The Desert

Exhausted, your knees buckle again and you crumple to the ground; A
heap, face to the ground. This time, there is no strength to get up to
finish the marathon.

The Desert

You thought it would be over soon and it was not,
You thought you had the strength for it and you did not,
You were sure you would never fall, and you did.
You thought you could see forever, and you lost sight;
The shocking thing that wasn't in your heart was there

It was more than you ever imagined

Just as you are certain you are doomed to die,
and just as you are dead,
You feel a drop of water,
But you don't notice it;
You're too tired.

You've lost the enthusiasm to hope, and all confidence
to tell anything by your senses
"It's just a long lost memory", you think as you drift off to sleep
A dream of rain drifting through your mind,
Only a forgotten memory,
A fantasy for sure.
Nothing more.

The Desert

A cool breeze lifts up your hair and playfully caresses your face,
And suddenly you awaken.
The soothing rain falls all around to bring
a carpet of color and life.

The Desert

You thought it would never end and it did,
You thought you had to do it alone, and you could not,
You were doomed to being lost but you were found,
You couldn't see before and now you do,
The beauty in your heart is there forever.

It was more than you ever imagined.

I can testify that 27 years of my life were essentially lost, and yet are being found again (Joel 2:25-27). I hope that I can remind people to be kind to those who have been used, abused, and falsely accused. For those who have suffered from foolish words and foolish teachings, I hope that I can show them the truth of what the scripture really says, and thus make their recovery time shorter.  I hope that my life will demonstrate that if I can walk out of the can you.

by Teri Lee Earl, Copyright 1998 (poem) and 2003 (article written) HarvestNETwork,

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