There is a deception in the church today that concerns me. Like all deception, it is based on a measure of truth. But taken too far, it changes from a helpful tool for understanding spiritual seasons, to a prison in which we lock fellow believers and throw away the key.
This deception is the idea of a Christian being stuck “in the wilderness.”
The wilderness is a classic biblical analogy we find as we contemplate spiritual life. There are stories of Israelites wandering around the wilderness, and of Jesus being driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested. Many Christians testify to experiencing extended “alone time” with God prior to entering full-time ministry, or seasons of dryness and testing where they were “proved” in faith, emerging later, as Jesus did, full of power for ministry. The wilderness analogy fits such times; it is an adequate description of a common spiritual season.
But deception comes when God-honoring Christians start believing that they are “stuck” living in a wilderness. Preachers warn us against having a “wilderness mentality,” and yet sometimes the circumstances of our lives become such that it seems we really are lost in a wilderness.
Perhaps you have experienced this. Life seems to be going along just fine. You are active in your church or ministry, and feel that you are bearing fruit. Your family is reasonably happy and well taken care of. Then suddenly, the enemy strikes.
A job is lost, or a child goes astray. You are evicted from your home, or an aging parent requires constant care – at a price you cannot afford. At first, friends are encouraging - helpful, even. Money is raised to assist with your bills, or mercy and compassion extended if you are hurting. You will get through this, you think. It is just a matter of time.
You continue praying and confessing God’s promises over your situation. You somehow summon the strength to move through each day, believing against hope that tomorrow, things will turn around.
But they don’t. For a long time. And slowly, the wilderness deception creeps in.
"You've Been Wandering Around For Too Long!"
Friends stop comforting and begin accusing. “You must be doing something wrong,” they say. “This does not look like God. You’ve been wandering in the wilderness for too long.”
The promised “blessed life” evades you even as worry, anxiety, and resentment take hold. “You’re right,” you finally agree with your friends. “I need to pray harder, fast more, go deeper with God. Perhaps there is some unconfessed sin in my life.”
You spend hours searching your heart, hoping the Holy Spirit will show you where you went wrong, where you “lost” your blessing or missed the way. Everyone else seems fine. You just can’t seem to get it together, and things are getting worse. Maybe God is angry with you. You feel an unusual kinship with Job.
You dig deeper, study harder, pray more, and yet there is no change in your external situation. The previous winds of the Spirit you enjoyed now feel like the burning dry gusts of the wilderness, whipping sand and grit into your eyes until you can no longer see where you are going. You feel lost, isolated, and alone. God has led you into the desert like Jesus, but it seems He has forgotten you and left you there.
The Source of the Deception
Thankfully, nothing could be farther from the truth! Because of Jesus’s victory on the cross, believers will never again suffer the “wilderness” of isolation from God. Our salvation includes a complete deliverance from the curses of condemnation, separation, and rejection. The Holy Spirit is the seal of our “beloved” status in God, the manifest promise that God will never leave us or forsake us (See Romans 8:31-39; John 14:16-18.)
Our enemy, however, tries to blur the lines between unbelief or disobedience (which keep the unsaved wandering in a perpetual wilderness,) and trials and persecutions (which come to every believer, even when they are traveling the right road.) Satan wants us to believe that the trials and persecutions we experience in life are a sign of God’s displeasure.
Christians, especially Western Christians, can mistakenly associate God’s blessings with an easy or successful life. It is the enemy who wants us to assume that God’s blessings come solely in the form of financial prosperity or an unhindered life.
Satan uses other deceived people to propagate his lie. If he can convince us we are not blessed, or not living in our “promised land,” he can keep us trapped in the wilderness of doubt and self-condemnation, where we cease to bear fruit.
The Truth About the Wilderness
The Word of God is clear: believers will suffer trials, even when traveling the right path. Jesus is our foremost example. Called the “beloved Son” with whom God was well pleased (Luke 3:22), Jesus was driven immediately into the wilderness. He later suffered an agonizing death in which the Father seemed to “forget” to save Him from the cross. Instead, God turned away and allowed Jesus to be punished for our sins. God’s momentary rejection of Christ ensured He would never have to reject us.
In addition, countless martyrs for the faith, motivated by God’s incredible love for them, have considered it a “blessing” to be persecuted for their faith.
The book of Revelation makes it clear that God is as pleased with these martyrs as He was with Jesus, despite their difficult lives. Persecution is not a sign of God’s displeasure, but a path the believer willingly takes when empowered by the love of God. (See Hebrews 12:2-3.)
The danger we face is in judging fellow believers when their lives don’t seem “blessed.” To whom much is given, much is required. Persecutions and hardships, whatever form they take, have the unexpected blessing of drawing us closer to God, deeper into His love. That aging parent or impossible situation, while it may resemble a “curse” on the outside, is producing fruit on the inside that cannot be measured by human standards.
Deception takes root when we internalize the judgments of well-meaning (but deceived) Christians and resettle in the wilderness of self-condemnation.
Because Jesus overcame the enemy in the wilderness, we no longer have to live there! Believers are no longer under a curse, but under the Promised Land of God’s blessing. As Isaiah prophesied, the "day of the Lord" includes a highway that believers now travel to go through the wilderness. As we walk in the Spirit, we find streams of refreshing water gushing in that once-dry desert. (Isaiah 35:6-8.)
We must be careful not to assume that a life of blessing includes a life of comfort. The opposite is true. Jesus says that if we are following God correctly, we are to expect persecutions (see Matthew 5:12; 23:24; Luke 21:12; John 15:20.) Even in the Promised Land, Israel had to fight battles to defend what was rightfully theirs.
In a deception-breaking statement, Jesus calls the persecuted ones blessed:
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Are there seasons that feel like a wilderness? Yes, unquestionably. We can learn from Jesus’s example to hold fast to the Word and persevere in those times. But no believer is destined to live in the wilderness. We are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, adopted into a family rich with spiritual abundance, and blessed with all the resources we need to travel through this life!
There may be others in our family who have more talents that we do, or for whom things seem to come easily. It is not our job to compare (see John 21:21-23,) but simply to be faithful with what we have, where we are, and to trust that God will give us what we need as we seek to glorify Him.
If you have felt the bondage of condemnation or been discouraged by accusations of others, I pray that you will look again to the scriptures and see the incredible love of God for you. The only wilderness that can hold you today is the wilderness of unbelief. We leave that wilderness the moment we accept Christ as our Savior. Please pray this prayer aloud over yourself today:
Father God, I come back to You, believing that You are for me, not against me. I choose to believe today, once and for all, that I am IN the Promised Land that You have purchased for me. I am no longer a slave, wandering around in the wilderness, but a beloved son (or daughter), seated with You in heavenly places. No matter what this life of mine looks like on the outside, no matter how difficult it seems, I know that I am an honored member of Your Kingdom. I believe that I am blessed! I trust that when the dry winds blow hard, You will still take care of me, not because I am doing everything right, but because You have made me righteous through Your Son Jesus. I reject the enemy’s lies that I have failed You or displeased You in some unknown way. I renounce self-condemnation and I reject the “wilderness mentality” that the enemy has tried to put on me. You alone are righteous. You are good, and You have a good plan for my life. You make a way for me through the wilderness. I can endure whatever trials come, knowing that You love me and will never leave me. Amen!
c. Deborah Perkins / HisInscriptions.com
Deborah Perkins is the founder of His Inscriptions, a ministry focused on life-giving communication with God. Through her website, inspired teaching and a weekly blog, Deborah offers discipleship to those who want to grow their relationship with God. A ministry leader for over 25 years, Deborah is an experienced prophetic counselor, marriage mentor, and prayer warrior. She's also fond of her hubby, 3 sons, and dark chocolate - in that order!
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A severe hearing loss from childhood caused Deborah Perkins to develop what she now calls her secret weapon: tuning in to God's voice. A Wellesley College graduate and an award-winning writer, Deborah is now a wife and mother of 3 boys. Deborah has devoted over 25 years to professional and lay Christian ministry in New England and beyond. Her passion is inspiring people to cultivate greater intimacy with God.