I was 17. I had my whole life ahead of me and yet, there I found myself, wanting it all to end. I sat silently in a stark white hospital room, broken, hurting, and alone.
How did I end up here? Not more than a year earlier, I had been basking in the attention and enjoyment of excelling as an athlete, being a part of the “in” crowd, and confident in the path I was taking.
Suddenly, everything began to unravel. Through a string of events, my hard-earned dreams of excelling as an athlete came to a devastating halt. I became angry, defeated, confused, and unsure of who I was anymore. The loss of what had become my identity, and the hurt I felt from those I had trusted, sent me spiraling out of control and running away from those who loved me. I began seeking my identity in whatever would bring a temporary sense of security and confidence. This only led me down a path of destructive choices, leaving me deeply wounded.
I was running from what Christ was trying to do in me but, the more I ran, the deeper I sank into despair and darkness. Eventually, in his amazing love for me, he said, “enough.” He allowed circumstances to bring me to a place of desperation where I cried out for help. It was at my lowest point that I ended up in a hospital, a battle being waged over my very life. Yet, it was all part of God’s sovereign plan to bring me to a place of complete surrender, preparing me for the wilderness journey that lay ahead.
Alone and wondering how I had come to be in this place, God awakened my soul to see lies I had believed and to realize that my true hunger was for Christ. As he broke through my stubborn heart, I cried out, “Lord, I am empty, lost, and confused. Take these burdens, hurts, unfulfilled dreams, and satisfy them with your love.”
Oh, what a sweet moment that was. The weight of the world was lifted off of my shoulders, and I felt hope and joy for the first time in a long time. Yes, I still had a long wilderness journey ahead of me, but in accepting what Christ had allowed, and surrendering wholeheartedly to his control, I had peace.
How God Uses the Wilderness
Since that day, Christ has been faithful to continue answering that prayer. However, much of his faithfulness has been in the form of wilderness provision, rather than rescuing me from my wilderness journey.
As I’ve felt weary and broken much of the last several years due to heavy circumstances in my life, I have often been drawn to David’s words in Psalm 63, written during his time in the wilderness when he was weary, running for his life, and desperately longing for the Lord’s presence.
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me. (Psalm 63:1-8)
Have you found yourself in a dry and weary land where there is no water? Have you worked hard and sacrificed for something, only to find it suddenly stripped away? Have you seen God’s hand leading you in a certain direction, only to find yourself redirected, confused, and uncertain of the future? Have you lost something or someone in your life causing you to wonder if and how you can continue living with such a gaping hole in your heart?
At times, in our sin, God lovingly allows us to wander in the wilderness so that we lose our earthly resources and come running back to his living water. But other times, God leads us into the wilderness for his sovereign purposes to draw us out of our comfort and into a perfect terrain for heart transformation, where we learn dependence and endurance, to draw our affections back to him. Whatever God’s purposes were for David’s wilderness journey, we can learn from his experience and see how it applies to our own lives.
God used the wilderness to teach David to earnestly seek satisfaction and dependence in the Lord, rather than a crown and a kingdom of his own.
Whether we recognize it or not, we all thirst and hunger to be filled in the deepest parts of our soul, but we are easily satisfied with short-term happiness. However, the wilderness provides an opportunity for those temporary means of pleasure to be removed, exposing the state of our hearts and, hopefully, driving us to recognize Christ as the only One who can satisfy us.
When we find ourselves stripped of something we long for or have found as part of our identity, it can provide the perfect landscape to reveal how much we are seeking our identity in something outside of Christ. Although this is often a painful process, it is incredibly freeing to realize how empty and worthless a pursuit it is to tirelessly seek a name for ourselves, protect our reputations and ambitions, and seek satisfaction in our bank accounts, status, comforts, and even relationships.
Therefore, God lovingly prunes those areas of our life in order to draw our heart’s affections back to him and satisfy us with his presence. This not only prepares us to take up our cross and follow Christ no matter the cost, but it also causes us long for heaven for the sake of being in the unveiled presence of Christ. The more we yearn and thirst for him, the more glorious and motivating our heavenly home becomes.
Now, when I reflect on that painful season of my life, I praise Jesus that he loved me enough to take away what was preventing me from experiencing freedom, a secure identity in him, and a joy in serving him with gifts I never knew I had!
If you find yourself in the midst of a wilderness that leaves you confused and crying out for relief, I encourage you to cry out to the Lord instead. Trust that, as he fills you with himself, he will be faithful to bring beauty out of the ashes of your life.
God used the wilderness to prepare David for his work.
Picture David: worn out, alone, and running for his life in the wilderness, after being promised that he would one day be king. I’m sure that he had all sorts of questions going through his mind. If I were David, prior to this moment, I think I would have already begun picturing myself as king. I would have been tempted to feel invincible, strong, and confident, knowing that I was next in line for the throne. Yet, here David found himself as far from a palace experience as he could have, fearing for his life, and uncertain of how his promised future would unfold.
We, of course, have the blessing of seeing this story unfold from a bird’s-eye view of David’s life and can learn that, although this part in the story seemed confusing, lonely, and life-threatening to David, it was actually God’s gracious and loving preparation of David’s heart. This was the beginning of David becoming a man after God’s own heart. As it does for most of us, this heart change began in the wilderness, not in the palace.
I imagine that David’s wilderness experience gave him a greater reverence, humility, and dependence on God when he finally received his promised crown. I wonder if he would have been ready and equipped to handle the responsibilities and privileges that came with running a kingdom if he had never experienced such utter dependence on the Lord to protect, provide, and satisfy him in the wilderness.
I am amazed to see how God has faithfully done this in my own life as well. He has taken all the pain and hardship that he has allowed and used it to prepare me for the work he has called me to: raising a special needs child and all the painful ripple effects that come with it, writing and speaking to encourage others with gospel truth, learning to love Christ more each day, serving him with the gifts he has grown in me, being set apart for the gospel, and sharing it more boldly.
Learning from the Wilderness
Have you seen this in your life? Or are you currently finding yourself in your own dry and weary land, unsure if you will ever see an end to it?
As we saw in David’s life, God often uses these wilderness experiences to prepare us to wholeheartedly love and serve him in the unique ways he has created us. So will you trust him to be faithful to use this barren land to bring forth fruit in your life? Could it be that he is allowing this season to prepare you for what he is calling you to in the future?
For some, it may be the high calling of raising children in a counter-cultural, gospel-centered home. For some, it may be the call into full-time vocational ministry in a time of increasing persecution. For some, it may be to proclaim the gospel on a larger and more public scale. For some, it may be through your leadership skills as CEO of a company and standing firm on a biblical conviction that goes against the expectations of society.
For some, it may be leaving everything comfortable behind to spread the gospel in an area of the world that has yet to have received it. For some, life on earth may be cut short due to illness, but they are given the unique call of honoring Christ even in the face of death, showing the world that because of Christ, death has lost its sting!
But we all must be prepared to stand firm and live zealously for the gospel. What greater way is there to learn such endurance and unshakable faith than in a wilderness experience which teaches us to trust fully, cling more closely to, and be filled and satisfied with Christ.
For David, the wilderness prepared him to be a man after God’s own heart and able to handle the call of receiving the crown. For us, it prepares us to become more like Christ, to be equipped for our calling to serve the Lord and, to receive the glorious eternal crown that awaits us!
Praise the Lord, for his steadfast love is better than life!