As a believer in Christ for many years, I have covered a wide range of life’s “terrains”, including lush pastures, gentle streams, raging waters, wilderness and desert. During some seasons I walked a fairly easy trail, other than typical ups and downs. God lets the young see His splendor, even more than the seasoned ones. As newlyweds, my husband and I saw it often, especially in the young marrieds class we were heavily involved in at church. So many stories of “God in Action” with exciting outcomes for both our friends and for us as a couple, as we birthed six beautiful, healthy babies over the years and added an adopted child, too. A house full of kids and a little farm with extended family nearby had to be somewhat like heaven on earth. There were also a few times I may have subconsciously stolen a little of God’s glory, too. It’s so easy to do that when everything is fairly simple, going well and seemingly in my control. As Oswald says in the May 7 devotional, “Is God going to detect in His searching fire that we have built on the foundation of Jesus some enterprise of our own?”
I wasn’t alone in the young Christian trap of taking notice of the scriptures that seemed to fit into the “God is about me or what I can do for Him” paradigm. In her book “Extravagant Grace”, Barbara Duguid says “the baby Christian gravitates toward those Scriptures that tell him what to do, and there are many…the baby Christian is experienced primarily in the realm of feelings…his faith is weak, but his heart is warm. He tends to mistake the nature of these gifts from God and think they are his…that he will always have them. He believes he is right and strong because he has them, and he is prone to feeling superior to believers that don’t…He thinks that there is nothing left now but to walk through life with the victorious hand of God on his side, and then to enter heaven forever. He doesn’t yet know that, like Israel, there is a huge desert to cross before entering the Promised Land. The desert he has yet to see and grapple with properly is the wilderness of his own sinful heart.” At the parting of the Red Sea, and the subsequent praise dance, the Israelites could not have seen the 40 year trek in the desert just ahead, where many of them died off before entering the Promised Land.
Maturity in Christ, for me, has meant some desert or wilderness times, in which I am stretched beyond what I ever dreamed. In order to get a drink of the Living Water in these seasons, it is critical that I deepen my roots even more into Christ, my Savior, sometimes for even the next thought and breath. “My” thinking and “good works” is something to despise more than to purport. Difficult “terrain” requires much time in the Word, in worship, in prayer, in meditation and in seeking good Christian counsel, which God is faithful to supply. It is also an important season to be consistent in a journal in order to remember His answers, see the desert or wilderness experience from His perspective and to record this and any particularly encouraging words offered by friends and acquaintances along with scripture promises to stand on in faith. God’s perspective on my experiences often doesn’t look anything like how others may see it; nor how I see theirs. That’s because, unless we are interceding and seeking God’s perspective for others, it’s not our business.
The unbeliever may or may not experience overwhelming hardships in life. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. (Matt. 5:45) As believers, however, we can count on them, but by our loving God and for glorious purposes.
If I can only hang onto the “invisible” perspective of God during stretching experiences, then I can walk above heartbreaks and disappointments while in the wilderness, and so can you. In Him I live and move and have my being. My clay feet sometimes step down into the waves of the storm, or get tired in the wilderness and my vision can get obscured there; however this is usually not an issue of backsliding, but a need for encouragement. We question Peter’s faith (as Christ, rightfully did) when he struggled, but Peter was the only one who even tried to walk on the waves!
Duguid again offers that, “the greatest heroes of Scripture are deeply flawed throughout their lives.” And speaking of her women’s Bible study ministry she says, “It is a common occurrence to have someone confess their struggle and weakness in a certain area, only to be rebuked and censured by a younger sister in Christ, who eagerly shares the three easy ways they can overcome the problem….Simplistic answers to complex problems can be discouraging to weary strugglers….We should, therefore, practice great caution in evaluating the spiritual maturity of people around us.”
I’ve been guilty of judging (at least silently) with my idea of God’s standards, rather then just watching for fruit, praying, encouraging and leaving the rest to God no matter how different the progress may be in someone else. Anyone honest would have to admit this also, at some time or another. After all, it’s too easy to default and compare to each other, but it’s a tendency to kick out, not adopt. God will carry His work to completion in each of us in His time and through whatever means He chooses, and in the end, there will be fruit in those who are His. I hope to be an encourager to those along the path near me, especially those who are going through a trial of some sort, and I am blessed more than I can say by those He uses to give me manna in my wilderness journeys.
What kind of terrain are you on right now in your life? It will likely not be the same in a few years. Have you found encouragement if your path is rough? Have you purposed to encourage someone else? If you’re in “lush pastures” right now, write down all that God has favored you with and remember it for dryer seasons. No matter the terrain, the “God actions” are there, even if the wilderness obscures your view of them.