When we started on our journey in 2007 we had a vague idea of what a wilderness season in God meant. We had read many of the Christian classics, Tozer, Guyon, John of the Cross, Thomas a Kempis, Theresa of Avila and others describing wilderness seasons. From there we learned a little about what a wilderness looks like but we never truly knew until we went through it ourselves. With our experience in this area I will attempt to define what wilderness is, and is not, for our current time. This will not be a comprehensive definition but enough to help you determine if you are in a spiritual wilderness with God or not. From there you can get a much better understanding of where you are in the three stages of spiritual growth.
We have done some research online about what people think constitutes a wilderness. We have also talked with a number people about what it means to be in the wilderness as well. From this investigation we have discovered, over many years, that often what people think is a wilderness experience with God is really not. Many, many people grade themselves and fail to see the cloak of deception that ‘self’ has thrown over them. In doing so they deceive themselves into thinking that they are in a ‘wilderness’ when the reality is God has withdrawn from them because they refuse to let their ‘self’ nature go. What a number of people experience in dry times and what seems to be like a spiritual wasteland with God is really just the result of them giving in to their ‘self’ nature. The problem is that believers have not had a proper understanding of what ‘self’ is and how dangerous and duplicitous it is. So to truly understand a wilderness with God you need to have an understanding of ‘self’ and spirit.
First off, ‘self’ is not your body, mind, emotions or will. These parts of you are created by God and given to you as a gift. It is your responsibility to care for and nurture them. To aid in this process God has also given you a spirit, a part of Himself, to lead you into spiritual growth and maturity. When your spirit is in control your body, mind, will and emotions will be healthy and strong. The problem is that long ago, our forefather Adam, let in sin or, as we know it, the ‘self’ nature. This ‘self’ is not from God but from satan. ‘Self’ is the exact opposite of spirit and so can also call it ‘anti-spirit.’ Instead of leading us to God ‘self’ leads us away from Him as we pursue our own selfish interests. When ‘self’ is in control, your body, mind, will and emotions will be twisted and warped, causing a great deal of pain to yourself and others. If ‘self’ is allowed to mature you will eventually be eternally separated from God because God has no part in ‘self.’
So ‘self’ and spirit are within you, me and all of mankind. They are constantly at war with each other, inside and outside of us. Each is vying to destroy the other. ‘Self’, unfortunately, has a massive advantage over spirit because the world, media, friends, family, church, schools, government all support and encourage ‘self’ within us. ‘Self’ is commonly accepted and practiced all around the world. In fact it is highly unacceptable and even dangerous to promote spirit and real faith in God these days. Now I don’t mean the watered down, anemic spirit in what calls itself the church but the real experiential spirit that lives by faith. In this atmosphere one has to fight overwhelming odds just to recognize ‘self’ let alone defeat it. Recognize it we must if we are to understand the wilderness.
Our ‘self’ nature is at war with God and continually tries to undermine and destroy the spirit within us. It knows too that God’s design for ‘self’ is to kill it so ‘self’ uses many tactics to hide itself. Now ‘self’ is clever and tricky so the use of deception and deceit is one of its primary tactics. Remember that the ‘self’ nature within us came from satan and acts like him. Our ‘self’ nature will also blame others and our own spirit for the evil that it perpetuates. This is an evil enemy within us that lies continually to us all day long so we feed it and grow ‘self’ up. We do this at our peril, however, for the stronger our ‘self’ becomes the less likely we will nurture spirit and grow in God.
In order to mature spiritually then we must begin to recognize ‘self’ within us and then start making choices against ‘self’ and for spirit. This is not an easy task and we need the Holy Spirit, Jesus and God the Father to guide us in this. As a wise person once said, “A person who defends himself in court has a fool for a lawyer.” You see a basic principle is that ‘self’ cannot destroy or kill ‘self.’ It is not physically or spiritually possible. The only way ‘self’ can be destroyed is if we follow God and allow Him to do the work within us. There is no other way for that to happen. None. When you surrender your life to God please understand that He has one passion and that is to free you from the enemy of your own soul, which is your own ‘self’ nature. It is God and God alone that has the power and means to take out the ‘self’ in each one of us but only if we allow Him to do so.
Now all that preamble was necessary to get down to this basic definition of wilderness. What a wilderness season in God is a season where He kills the ‘self’ nature in you so that your spirit can mature. That’s it. Not complex at all, right? Every single person that goes through a wilderness with God will have different experiences. No two are exactly the same because God made us all different. What will always be the same, however, will be that ‘self’ will have been dealt a mortal blow and the person will be maturing spiritually. It does not matter what your experiences in the wilderness are for it is the results that are most important. For our family we had to go through some very extreme situations but that is what was required to kill the ‘self’ in us. Your situation may be totally different but if, in the end, your ‘self’ nature is crucified then your wilderness was successful. Please don’t compare your situation to anyone else for God never designed the wilderness that way. There is no ‘right’ way to go through any wilderness for they are brutal, ugly affairs but if you follow Him through it you will find that you will not be leaning on ‘self’ anymore but completely on Him and Him alone.
So the wilderness is not about the experience but about the result. The result of any wilderness journey should ALWAYS be that ‘self’ is dealt a mortal blow and is dying. You may not be able to tell this for yourself, in fact I would recommend against it. I would ask those around you, those who know you best and are honest, whether your actions look more like Galatians 5:22-23 or Galatians 5:19-21. Keep in mind that Paul uses the word flesh to what I refer to as ‘self.’ If those who know you best, and are honest with you, say that your actions are more like Galatians 5:22-23, and they also see you growing in humility, empathy and sacrifice then it is likely you are in a wilderness with God. He is breaking down your ‘self’ nature as He draws you to Himself. If, however, your friends see more of Galatians 5:19-21 growing along with pride and selfishness then I am afraid the ‘wilderness’ you are in is simply the result of God withdrawing His presence from you because He is not welcome. God is patient and longsuffering but He will not contend with you forever. If you are not willing to work with Him to kill your ‘self’ nature He will leave you. Like any loving parent He works with you but if you continue to be stubborn and feed your ‘self’ there are consequences. He will let you have your ‘self’ nature until you either recognize your folly and repent or choose to follow ‘self’ forever. Note that if you choose not to repent of ‘self’ you will separate yourself from Him for eternity. This is your choice. Choose wisely. Your future depends on it.
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Definition Of Wilderness
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