The ability to persevere in times of hardship is directly related to how a person focuses on Jesus. Christians are called to the wilderness.
“God creates out of nothing. Therefore, until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him.” –Martin Luther
In the spring of 2006, my wife and I resigned our teaching jobs near Chicago, sold our house and furnishings, and crossed the Atlantic with our 1-year-old son to join an international school in Khartoum, Sudan. When we landed at 7 o’clock in the evening on Christmas Eve, it was still 95 degrees, and we found out later that night the country’s capital was experiencing a cool spell.
The next day, after opening a few presents, we drove around to see the landscape. We kept the windows in the car rolled up so as to not let the heat in. The heat in Sudan is often compared to the exhaust from a jet engine. As we drove, there was little to see except brown sand, brown houses, and brown air from the dust. A few black rocks and colorful plastic bags stuck to thorn bushes were the only colors dotting the landscape.
We later walked our neighborhood streets where the smell of garbage and open-air toilets filled the air. Chaotic, unpaved roads became our charted course. The sounds of children playing or getting yelled at in Arabic were not uncommon. Khartoum was an interesting place indeed.
The Spirit led us to a wilderness experience. Full of excitement, we unknowingly entered an environment that became a place of spiritual transformation.
The wilderness has an important setting in the Bible. God appeared to Moses at the burning bush in the wilderness (Exo. 3:1–6). God taught the children of Israel important lessons while traveling in the wilderness. Elijah encountered God and received instruction in the wilderness (1 Kings 19:3–18). John the Baptist ministered in the wilderness (Mark 1:4). And after being baptized Jesus was led into the wilderness (Matt. 4:1). God was with all of them in the wilderness the entire time. Each of these wilderness encounters taught new truths or reemphasized old ones, and gave special revelations of God.
In Sudan Jesus revealed himself in overwhelming ways. Through adverse conditions in an unfamiliar environment, we spent extravagant time reading the Bible, praying, and worshiping. In the wilderness, our life as followers of Jesus shifted from a mind to heart experience.
Carl Meadearis in his book Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism wrote, “The kingdom of Jesus has somehow become a religion of the mind rather than a spiritual response of the heart. We focus on psychological compliance rather than spiritual dependence upon the teachings of Jesus and the guidance of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.”[i]
Intimacy with Jesus was experienced in profound ways as we engaged in His plan and spent time in His Word. Luke 24:32 became a favorite Scripture passage. After Jesus left two disciples on the Emmaus road, they said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” The travelers were right—when given the right opportunity, Jesus captivates the heart in radical ways. By moving from comfortable surroundings we gained a better awareness of Jesus. Our hearts began to burn “within us” and Scripture came alive.
Francis Chan had similar experiences and gained a wild love for God. He says, “Until just a few years ago I was quite happy with how God was working in me and in the church. Then God began changing my heart.”[ii] What brought about this change in his life? It came through reading God’s Word in the midst of the wilderness in third-world country experiences.
The wilderness is important for spiritual health, renewal, and vision.
Embrace wilderness experiences and receive a fresh vision for your life. Wilderness moments are part of spiritual development. In them, a person is challenged to keep his eyes on King Jesus and persevere. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1–2).
Small Group Discussion Starters
- How has a wilderness experience shaped your life?
- What are some practical ways to keep your eyes on Jesus and keep your focus on heavenly things?
- Have you experienced moments of deconstruction? If so, are you willing to share what was accomplished in your life?
- Sometimes we choose the wilderness, and sometimes the wilderness chooses us. Knowing the benefits of the wilderness, how could you intentionally pursue a wilderness experience?
Consider taking a wilderness experience as a group—take a day for a prayer retreat, sign-up for a short-term opportunity to overseas service, or help someone else through a wilderness moment. Pray for the Lord to give you strength in the wilderness, a greater awareness of His design in your life and a fresh vision of Him.
[i] Carl Medearis, Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Non-Evangelism, (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2011), 54.
[ii] Francis Chan, Crazy Love, (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2008), 17.