A preacher writes that his ministry is under attack, his church is in turmoil and his church leaders are torn between Christ and legalistic religion. He feels deserted, exhausted and as if he is in a wilderness. Can I offer any encouragement?
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Wilderness time can provide meaningful spiritual preparation and training. God readied Moses to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage during 40 years as a wilderness shepherd. Elijah found inner renewal in the wilderness. David attuned himself to God’s heart while away from people with his sheep. John the Baptist ministered in the wilderness. Jesus first encountered Satan there, and faced him down. Following his conversion, the Apostle Paul went into the desert of Arabia to be taught by God. Church history overflows with examples of God’s servants whose journeys included seasons of rejection and isolation. A cluster of ancient theologians are known as the “desert Fathers.” Sometimes God has to get our attention to do his best work in our lives, or to best use us to bless others. We are so easily distracted by busyness, and we so often depend on something besides God himself.
I can speak here from personal experience. A quarter-century ago, after considerable schooling, preaching for 14 years, writing several books, working as a publisher and so forth, I found myself unemployed, expelled from my position as a preacher, crudely fired from what had been my family’s business and blackballed by my religious community. My wife and I had a new baby, an old car and mounting bills. I had done nothing wrong that I knew of. After a year of near-unemployment, I spent the next six-and-a-half years working as a typesetter in a printshop while preaching without pay for a little church of 20-30 people meeting in a renovated barn.
Those were what I called my wilderness years. These were also, for me, years of enormous spiritual growth, incredibly satisfying ministry, precious friendships and prolific writing — including the 500-page research volume The Fire That Consumes. I had no idea what God was doing with this detour from the life I had envisioned. I tried to be faithful day by day with the opportunities and talents he provided. I cried out to God: “You’re all that I have left — please help me. Use me to your glory. Let me know You!” God was indeed faithful. So I encourage you: Treasure the wilderness years. Make them times of precious communion with your wife. Pray together about these hard circumstances. God will draw near to you in ways you cannot imagine in advance. He is in charge. He loves you. He knows what he is doing.