Updated: Oct 10, 2020
Do you feel as if your constant prayers of “God use me, anyway, anyhow!” are going unheard? Do you find yourself confused, because you have just experienced the power of God in your life working in you and through you, and now that season seems to have abruptly ended?
You’re ready for what’s next, ready to be used in even mightier ways. Instead, however, you find yourself in a transition phase that’s lasting much longer than expected. You think, “Does God not want to use me anymore? Is He finished with me already?”
If this is you, know that you’re not alone. I for one, kinda feel this way. My first year of college has been sweet in many ways, but there are days in which the mundaneness of life really gets to me, and I feel as if I’m not doing anything of purpose for the kingdom of God. What does it matter how much Philosophy I stuff in my head? Why do I have to read Aristotle when his sayings carry no spiritual value whatsoever? I felt more used by God before coming to college than I do now. It feels like I’ve been uprooted from all the ministry I was doing back home. I really believe I was following God’s lead when I decided to attend the University I’m currently in. But if that’s the case, why has God put a ‘pause’ to some of my kingdom activities? Why has he taken me from where I thought I was being fruitful and placed me in something that looks more like a wilderness than a mission field?
I don’t claim to have all the answers to your questions or mine. But God has shared a few things with me. So for any of y’all who think you’re in the wilderness, or that you’re on a ‘pause’…this is for you!
In Exodus 13-14, we see that the Lord is at last leading the Israelites out of Egypt. The Israelites had just witnessed His amazing power through the miraculous ten plagues He’d brought upon Egypt. They had seen firsthand God’s mighty deeds. They felt the sweet delight of victory as they left the land that had held them captive for so long. The awe-inspiring Lord was on their side, and He was leading them to the Promised Land! From now on, they were going to slay every enemy in their path, they were going to seize property along the way, they were going to…
Go on a camping trip? You have got to be kidding me.
I kid you not. In Exodus 13:17-18, it says that the Lord did not lead them along the road to the land of the Philistines even though it was nearby, because the Israelites would “change their minds and return to Egypt” if they faced war. So, as it says in verse 18, God led the people around the Red Sea along the road of wilderness. Although the people were not yet to fight any enemies, it says that they left Egypt in battle formation. Even in our ‘pause’, we always need to have a soldier’s mentality. If God is leading us in the wilderness, it is not so that we can drag our feet, complain, and dwindle away our time in a state of idle lethargy. It is so that we can actively practice putting on the armor of God and prepare for battle, even if there seems to be no battle present. In other-words, the wilderness is our military boot-camp. It is our time to study God’s word, our time to be on our knees in prayer, our time to be vigilant soldiers in training. Because once God gives us the “go” sign and we once again start working in ministries where we are surrounded by Philistines, we’ll be toast if we have no knowledge of how to use the spiritual weapons we’ve been given.
In Exodus 13:21-22, it says that the Lord led the Israelites by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire by night, and that “The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night never left its place in front of the people.” If God has taken us to the wilderness, it is not to remove us from the work/people we are investing in; rather, it is so that we can step away from all our busyness and greater acknowledge the presence of our Savior as we learn to see Him more clearly with open eyes of faith. Often in ministry, we become so busy working for God that we lose God in all of it…though we mean well, we become too busy to sit at his feet and hear from Him, too busy to spend time in His presence and be refreshed by who He is and who we are in Him. As Christians, we are not just called to do something. We are called to be something. Christ wants to mold our character to be like His, and that can only happen when we dwell in His presence. The people Christ calls us to invest in will still be there. But we can’t pour into the lives of others if we don’t first allow Christ to pour into us. We can’t do kingdom work if we don’t first allow kingdom work to be done in us.
In Exodus chapter 14, the Lord had the Israelites camp facing the Red Sea. Can you imagine how the Israelites would have felt at this moment? What was God doing? Why had He led them out of Egypt only to be trapped by a giant sea in the middle of nowhere? What were they supposed to do now…sit back and enjoy the view? How boring! How mundane! What’s more, the Lord says in verse three: “Pharaoh will say of the Israelites: They are wandering around the land in confusion; the wilderness has boxed them in.” Unfortunately, being ‘paused’ in our ministries doesn’t mean that people around us won’t think we’ve gone wacko and voice their critical opinions. Perhaps you’ll hear others say something like, “You moved to where God was calling you…but it doesn’t seem to me as if you’re serving Him in any way. You seemed much more fruitful last year. Are you sure you heard Him correctly?” What some often don’t seem to get is that sometimes God ends a season of our life without starting the new season right off the bat. There is often a transition phase in which He teaches us and equips us before ultimately placing us where we need to be. This ‘wilderness’ stage, where nothing ‘kingdom-ly exciting’ seems to happen looks to others like a stage of confusion, in which we misheard God and are roaming about without direction. Let me encourage you, dear friend. It’s okay to doubt if you heard God correctly. But take that doubt to God. If we are indeed where God wants us to be, we can’t waste the precious time we’ve been given to know Him more deeply drowning in the futile doubts of others. When we take our fears to God, He will speak to us, and show us if we are in the center of His will. True, He doesn’t give us a blueprint of our life…at least, He hasn’t given me one. But rest assured that if we fully trust in Him, He will never let us wander astray. Be blessed by Isaiah 30:21: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it.”
If the Israelites wondered why the Lord had made them camp facing the Red Sea, they soon knew the answer. In the midst of a mundane camping trip, God showed up, dividing the Red Sea in two so that the Israelites crossed to the other side on dry ground. The Egyptians tried to pursue them, but were drowned, as the Lord in His power caused the water to “come back on the Egyptians, on their chariots, and horsemen.” In our wilderness, God can make Himself known through the mundane activities of our life. His extraordinary power can be revealed even in the midst of the ordinary. So yes, you may find yourself at the moment working a job that seems to have nothing to do with your kingdom calling. You might be a student, studying late into the night for an exam that has no kingdom value. And you ask, “Why Lord? What’s the purpose to all this?” Well, could it be that God has placed you where you are now to reveal His extraordinary power in your ordinary? Could it be that in seeking Him in the mundane, you will come to see Him in a whole new dimension? Could it be that the patience, perseverance, thinking skills, social skills, etc. you are learning in the process will help you fulfill your kingdom calling? Could it be that while being ‘trapped’ in the wilderness you will come to greater appreciate a God who thinks outside the box? God doesn’t need extraordinary situations to show His extraordinary power…in fact, that’s what I would argue truly makes His power extraordinary.
Dear friend, God is still using us. He is not finished with us yet. If we are truly following His every step, we are exactly where He wants us to be. Yes, the wilderness is hard. Yes, its difficult to be on a ‘pause’ when we want to go, go, go. But there is beauty in where we are, because we have the privilege to dwell in the Presence of Christ! When the time is right, God will eventually place us where we need to be. But for the time being, where we need to be is where we already are. And perhaps it is here, in our wilderness, that we will experience our greatest spiritual growth. So persevere, my fellow believers in Christ! The work God does in the wilderness is preparing you for what’s on the other side of it.