Why did God make wilderness places anyway? Certainly, without them it would be difficult for us to appreciate trees and green pastures. God also knew that the wilderness is an ideal place to test his people and to help them learn faith and endurance.
We don’t do a good job as Christian believers telling unbelievers that sometimes, even with Jesus, life is hard. We like to tell them, “Life is hard. Give your life to Jesus. Everything will be better, then you go to heaven.” We forget to tell them about the middle called life. Life is hard. You meet Jesus and it gets harder, and then it gets better when you see Him after death or when He comes back which ever comes first. The Christian life is the best life, but it’s not the easiest life, and sometimes the closer you are to Jesus, the more opposition you receive, just as Jesus received opposition.
Since the wilderness is a common experience of our faith, we need to learn about it and especially we need to learn the rules of spiritual survival in this wilderness. We might ask the question, when are we most likely to experience the wilderness? Strangely, these experiences often come on the heels of great spiritual breakthroughs.The children of Israel were just miraculously delivered through the sea as they escaped from Pharaoh and Egypt. They had also just received the law and had experienced the very presence of the Living God in smoke and fire. Very soon after their mountain-top experience they had to wander in the wilderness. Many centuries later, after Jesus was baptized and after He heard the voice of God speaking to Him from heaven He was led into the desert to be tempted by the devil forty days and forty nights. Mark 1:9-12(HCSB)9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. 10 As soon as He came up out of the water, He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending to Him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: You are My beloved Son; I take delight in You! 12 Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness 40 days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and the angels began to serve Him.
What can the wilderness do for us? It can make us rugged, tough, and strong in faith. It can cause us to develop endurance and to acquire maturity.
James 1:2-4(HCSB)2 Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. Joshua and Caleb were survivors of the forty-year wilderness journey. In Joshua 14, Joshua had the strength and maturity to lead Israel into the land and to gain victory over a numerous and well-armed nation of people. Caleb, at age 85, was able to take the mountain of Hebron and drive out the giants who had lived there for centuries. There were many other examples in Israel’s history of wilderness experiences. David was a man that spent many years in the wilderness in caves and hide-outs. Much of the Book of Psalms was written as a result of his sufferings in the wilderness. Elijah was another person who spent time in the wilderness right after the epic showdown between himself and the prophets of Baal,
1 Kings 19:1-5(HCSB)Ahab told Jezebel everything that Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “May the gods punish me and do so severely if I don’t make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow!”
3 Then Elijah became afraid and immediately ran for his life. When he came to Beer-sheba that belonged to Judah, he left his servant there, 4 but he went on a day’s journey into the wilderness. He sat down under a broom tree and prayed that he might die. He said, “I have had enough! Lord, take my life, for I’m no better than my fathers.”, and so was John the Baptist who was referred to as “…a voice of one calling in the wilderness…”
Matthew 3:3(HCSB)3 For he is the one spoken of through the prophet Isaiah, who said: A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make His paths straight!
Then there was Jesus, coming directly out of the wilderness to begin his ministry in Galilee. Not only does the wilderness breed character; it also breeds humility. When Moses lived in Egypt the was a man mighty in word and deed. Acts 7:22(HCSB)22 So Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in his speech and actions.
However, when God finished with him with many years in the wilderness, Moses was unable to talk and had to have Aaron go along as his spokesman.
Exodus 4:13-16(HCSB)13 Moses said, “Please, Lord, send someone else.” 14 Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses, and He said, “Isn’t Aaron the Levite your brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, he is on his way now to meet you. He will rejoice when he sees you. 15 You will speak with him and tell him what to say. I will help[g] both you and him to speak and will teach you both what to do. 16 He will speak to the people for you. He will be your spokesman, and you will serve as God to him.
God humbled him and he became the meekest man on earth.
Numbers 12:3(HCSB)3 Moses was a very humble man, more so than any man on the face of the earth. Therefore, God was able to do mighty things through him. God desires to break down our self-indulged life in exactly this way so that He can get the glory.
The wilderness can be a lonely place. Many of us try to escape the wilderness and God’s plan of testing for our lives. The challenge of the wilderness is that we don’t control it. We can throw a hissy fit and it will not go away. In fact, the wilderness feels like it will last forever… as though God really has forsaken us. The reality of the wilderness from Job to Joseph to Jesus to Paul is that it does not last forever. It is a season, quite often a short one. The healthiest response is to receive the wilderness as part of our assignment from Jesus and allow it to have its effect on our character and faith. The wilderness deepens our hearts in maturity in a way that success cannot.
The wilderness can feel like it will last forever. The greatest danger of going through a season in the wilderness is building a thought process that suggests it’s normal, permanent and hopeless. The wilderness is a season, not a way of life. It produces a fruit and serves a purpose and then comes to an end. It is only the devil who would like to convince us that the wilderness is permanent.
The wilderness with all its testing is precious 1 Peter 1:6-7(HCSB)6 You rejoice in this, though now for a short time you have had to struggle in various trials 7 so that the genuineness of your faith—more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. When we think back over all those trials, it often brings tears to our eyes. It softens our hearts. It is such a vital part of the salvation experience, and it deeply affects the way we relate to and minister to others.
3 THINGS GOD DOES SAY ABOUT TRIALS
James 1:2-4(HCSB)2 Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. What he does say is that life is sometimes hard. “Consider it all joy.” “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you experience various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”
1. YOU ARE GOING TO GET TRIALS
Three things he says. “Whenever you experience various trials” He doesn’t say “if.” You’re going to get trials. A hundred percent. New Christians, don’t be shocked by this. “Oh my gosh, a trial came. Christianity isn’t working.” No, it’s working. James starts there. Welcome to Christianity 101. It’s going to hurt when trials come.
So, point number one, when trials come, don’t say, “God, how come, where, why? I don’t understand. What? I had no idea. Had I known this, I would have—what, what?” God says, “No, I told you they’re coming.” Some of you are in them right now. Some of you see the clouds on the horizon.
2. KNOW THIS: IT’S A TEST AND AN OPPORTUNITY
“When the trials come, know this.” It’s very strong. “Know this.” Don’t forget this. Hold this truth in your hand. Cling to it. Here’s your life vest, right? Like, keep it close. Know this: when a trial comes, it’s a test. A test can be a good or a bad thing. It depends on how good you are at taking the test. If you pass the test, it’s actually really encouraging. How many of you have taken a test, maybe even in school? You’re like, “I took the test. It was a little stressful. I got a good grade. That was pretty awesome.” Life is filled with tests, spiritual tests. A trial is a test.
Here’s what it means: it’s an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to prove who you are in Christ, to see who you’re becoming in Christ. When it first hits, a trial feels like an attack. And he says, “I want you to know this. It’s a test.” and whether you fail the test or pass the test you will learn something from it. Sometimes we learn when we pass it and sometimes we learn after we fail it to never do that again.
3. YOU WILL GET TRIALS OF VARIOUS KINDS
The trials are of various kinds. Financial, emotional, physical, spiritual, mental, relational, marital, vocational. Various. He says, “experience various trials.” You know what this means? You don’t know where it’s coming from next. It could be coming from anywhere. Any aspect of your whole life, a trial could come from there. And they don’t always come one at a time.
How many of you have noticed that? Ouch, ouch, ouch, hey! various trials. And sometimes what happens is, you get through a trial in one area of your life, you’re like, “Glad that’s over,” and then there’s a trial in another area of life. I got my finances in order, and then my relationship fell apart. Now I’m in another trial.
The thing about trials is that it is supposed to produce, pain. Many of us do not like pain,I say that because some may and y’all are freaks. Pain is God’s way of telling us there is something wrong that needs to be fixed. But we humans do not like pain so we try to numb the pain instead of fixing it and thats where addictions come into play.
DON’T COMPARE TRIALS
Do not compare your trials with other people’s. See, some of you, you have great wisdom and experience in some areas and other people have other wisdom and experience in other areas. So, some of you, let’s say, financially, you’ve got a lot of experience and wisdom. If a financial trial comes into your life, you have some wisdom on what to do with that.
Some of you are like, “I don’t know, finances So, when it comes to balancing a budget and setting my finances, I feel very overwhelmed very quickly.” Well, it’s not fair for this person to say, “That’s not a big deal. That’s just a little trial.” It’s a very big deal to them.
On the other hand, this person might have an enormous emotional capacity and a large capacity for relationships, trauma, and drama, and this other person might have a spoonful. Well, it’s not fair for this person to say, “Well, hey, come on, just roll with it. You need to be, you know, more emotionally present and compassionate.” They’re like, I like numbers, not people.”
We’re all different. We get various kinds of trials. And God doesn’t cause evil to come upon us, but he’ll use evil for our good and his glory. And sometimes God allows a trial to come in in our area of weakness. And so what’s hard for you is easy for someone else, and the same is true on the other hand.
STEADFASTNESS & MATURITY
So, he’s telling us that trials will come. We need to know that they are a test and that we shouldn’t compare our trials to others. And ultimately if we’ll avail ourselves to them, it could produce two things: steadfastness and maturity.
Steadfastness is this perseverance, this fortitude. The Bible uses the language elsewhere of, “Stand firm.” It’s like a command to a soldier, “Hold your post.” Steadfastness. You endure, you persevere, you weather the storm, you make it through, you don’t give up, you don’t give in. And he says, “If you will receive it as a trial, a test, and an opportunity, and produce steadfastness, then it’ll result in maturity.”
What this means is you’ll become more godly, you’ll become more like Jesus. The trial will be used to transform you. OK, how many of you want to be more like Jesus? How many of you want a trial? OK? Just so you know, they’re the same question. Right, it’s like, “I want to be buff without working out. I want to learn a lot without reading books.” It doesn’t work that way. Cause, effect; reap, sow. Steadfastness produces maturity.
The reason why some of you are immature is because you have no steadfast.
But if you have a hard relationship and quit, and have another hard relationship and quit, and have a hard job and quit, and have another hard job and quit, and go to a church and have a conflict and quit, and go to another church and have a conflict and quit, you know what you don’t do? Mature, because you don’t have endurance. Paul says it this way: “Endurance produces”—what? Character. Romans 5:2-4(HCSB)2 We have also obtained access through Him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, 4 endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.
James is saying the same thing. Endurance produces maturity. What that means is your godliness is not in spite of your problem or around your problem, it’s what God will do in and through you through your problem. And he says, “I need you to know this so that when you’re in the middle of it, you receive it as an opportunity from God and not an obstacle.”
Maybe what’s happening to you isn’t good, but God is. That’s James’ next point. So, his first point is that life is sometimes hard. And then he says, “But God is always good.” And this is foundational. James 1:5-8(HCSB)5 Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith without doubting. For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 An indecisive man is unstable in all his ways., “If any of you lacks wisdom.” OK, let’s just stop right there. Raise your hand if you lack wisdom, OK? Anyone who didn’t raise their hand really lacks wisdom.
God’s asking, “Does anybody need help?” “Ask God, who gives generously to all.” That includes you and me. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done. “Without reproach, and it will be given to him.” There’s a promise. Tie your joy to that.
“But let him ask in faith, without doubting, for the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord; An indecisive man is unstable in all his ways.” He says, “When a trial comes, it’s like a storm.”
So all of a sudden, he wants our imagination to set sail out on the sea. He says, “Now think of a storm, like the one that Jesus and his disciples were in out on the lake.” What happens in a storm is the clouds roll in, it gets dark, you can’t see land. You don’t know where safety is because it’s not near. All of a sudden, everything becomes very unpredictable and violent, things become unstable and uncertain, and you feel unsafe. And now it feels like forces that are far beyond your control are in control of you, which means you feel out of control. It’s anxious; it’s stressful.
He says, “When those storms come”—how many of you are in a storm? Not just normal life storm. How many of you came through one not too long ago? How many of you are fearful because you see one on the horizon? He says, “When that happens, you need wisdom.”
There’s a difference between wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge is not bad, but knowledge is not enough. Knowledge is knowing the truth, wisdom is knowing what to do with it. Knowledge is theoretical; wisdom is practical. Knowledge fills your mind; wisdom guides your life. Knowledge is truthful; wisdom is useful. Knowledge provides information, wisdom provides transformation. Knowledge tells you what to believe, and wisdom tells you how to behave. You can have knowledge without wisdom, but you can’t have wisdom without knowledge. That’s why wisdom has very little to do with your IQ. There are smart people who make dumb decisions.
Don’t make a dumb decision today, use wisdom today and repent. There is salvation for you, there is the complete forgiveness of sin, but you need to make a pathway through the wilderness of your heart, a pathway of true repentance and embrace Jesus Christ as Savior. Salvation can’t come from man. If we’re ever to be delivered from sin, if there’s ever to be comfort for anybody, any sinner, the Lord has to bring it Isaiah said, the Lord is coming. But tell them this before He comes, there will be a voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.” Before the Lord comes there’ll come a prophet pointing to Him and that’s John. John’s the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3-4(HCSB)3 A voice of one crying out: Prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness; make a straight highway for our God in the desert. 4 Every valley will be lifted up, and every mountain and hill will be leveled; the uneven ground will become smooth and the rough places, a plain.
And what did John say? He came along and preached forgiveness of sin. According to Matthew 3:1-3(HCSB)In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!” 3 For he is the one spoken of through the prophet Isaiah, who said: A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make His paths straight!, he said there’s forgiveness. Your sins can be forgiven. Your sins have been paid for. Your warfare is over. I’m telling you there is forgiveness. But if you want that forgiveness it calls for repentance, it calls for repentance that’s deep. You say, “What’s that all about?” Well look back at verse 3. It was written in the words of Isaiah in Isaiah 40, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness,” we know that’s John, he’s telling people make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight, get His path ready. And Isaiah and here, of course, in John’s case and Luke, they’re using an analogy. If a king is going to come to a town or a village, he would send a herald or a forerunner ahead a few months and say you’ve got to get ready, the king is coming, you’ve got to make the road ready so he can come with ease and dignity into your city. That’s what John did. He said the King is coming, Messiah’s coming, you’ve got to get ready and ready means you can…you need to have your sins forgiven and that calls for repentance and a deep repentance that even acknowledges you’re outside the covenant. But John is saying to them, look, if you want to be ready to receive the King as a nation, it starts with individual repentance.. And repentance is described in the analogy.
How do you make ready the way of the Lord? How do you make His paths straight so He has access? How do you do that? Well, you take the low places, the ravines, you bring them up. You take the high places, you bring them down. You take the crooked places, you just straighten them out. You take the rough places, you smooth them over.
What’s he talking about? Well let’s just make it simple. The wilderness here is your heart. The voice is crying in the wilderness, “Get the pathway through the wilderness ready.” The wilderness is really the heart. It’s the sinful heart, the sinful mind through which a path must be made. And that path is the path of repentance. And this is a magnificent analogy of what repentance is like. Here’s where it starts. Every ravine shall be filled up. What’s that? Low places, comparable to the low, dark, hidden things of the heart.
See, repentance involves an honest dealing with the depths of wickedness in your heart and mine. You’ve got to go down deep into the ugly muck of your sinful life and bring it up. And then he says, “Every mountain and hill shall be brought low.” You know, we are not only good at hiding the filth down low, but we are really good at elevating themselves in self-righteous ways. You’ve got to… You’ve got to knock down the proud, haughty, self-righteous attitudes.
And then you’ve got to take the crooked places and straighten them out. That’s the word skolios, from which we get scoliosis, which is a curvature, the devious, the deceitful, the lying, the perverse.
So you’ve got to dig deep into the filth of the hidden things. You’ve got to go high and pull down your pride and self-righteousness. Then you’ve got to deal with all the perverse, devious, deceptions of the heart.The wilderness shows us where the low and the highs are.
And then he says, “And the rough roads smooth.” What’s that? I’ll tell you. Anything that…anything that’s laying out there on the road of repentance. Could be self-love, could be love of money, could be love of the world, could be lust of the flesh, could be indifference, could be apathy, could be unbelief, any of that.
You want to get the path ready through the wilderness of your heart? Then repent and that means deal with the deep, base, hidden, secret, dark, low things. That means deal with the pride of your life; bring it all down to where it needs to be. Deal with the deception, the perversity, the wickedness, the devious elements and everything else, all the junk laying out there in your life that needs to be wiped clean.