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THE 4 PHASES of THE WILDERNESS

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  • THE 4 PHASES of THE WILDERNESS

    THE 4 PHASES of THE WILDERNESS

    by Anonomous


    In this rather long article, I would like to show you that periods of

    involuntary isolation are usually divided into 4 stages. It can be

    helpful to precisely identify them, so that we have hope and

    perspective of what we should feel and do.


    1) Stripping and breaking


    We are typically led into desert times by surprise, or by...

    progressive shocks that get us deeper and deeper down into what

    seems like "the valley of the shadow of death". Positions,

    possessions or securities are usually lost in a way that we never

    expected, such that shame, anger and confusion are feelings

    which are not uncommon at this early stage. There can be various

    painful means that force us to enter desert times: a severe

    sickness... the loss of someone or a secure job, or even

    persecution...


    One way that makes it particularly painful and confusing is after

    we did something righteous, we end up being treated unfairly. For

    instance we wanted to improve things within our church, our job or

    our family, and we end up being criticized, misunderstood or even

    rejected. Moses, for example, tried to do something for God and

    he got "rewarded" with the unfair treatment of being led into a long

    desert time. The same happened to Elijah after he spoke to Ahab,

    as well as Joseph when he shared his dream.


    2) Struggling to find God and ourselves


    The second phase determines whether we simply have a life crisis

    that will eventually pass, or we have entered a desert time.


    The way to find out is through the following 3 signs:


    1- The first one is that after spending enough time to forcefully

    change our situation, with every possible wisdom and discipline,

    we eventually realize that we are "stuck". Nothing has really

    changed, and we have absolutely no perspective of when it will

    ever finish. We have been put aside, isolated, most people cannot

    really relate to what is happening to us, and our professional

    situation is definitively not what we had chosen. Worse, we start

    to have this nagging feeling that God Himself had a plan to bring

    us into this dry and isolate place where no one will want to join us

    (isn't that what deserts are?). As it is written: "the Spirit led Jesus

    into the desert" (Matt. 4:1).


    2- The second sign of a desert is that we are being tested in how

    we see ourselves. For instance, the three times that Jesus was

    tempted in the desert always had to do with his identity ("if you

    are truly the Son of God...."). The reason that we go through an

    identity crisis is that before we entered our desert time, our whole

    person was tied and shaped by an environment and responsibility;

    once those have been removed, we have a hard time to know who we are.


    3- The third and most evident characteristic that we have entered a

    desert time is the confusing feeling that God is somehow silent.

    He does not seem to hear our prayers, and worse, we cannot

    really recognize His familiar voice. In the worst cases, some

    Christians start to even battle with the emotions of loneliness,

    depression and "spiritual cynicism" that are so very precisely

    described in the third chapter of Lamentations:


    "I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath. God

    has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than

    light; indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again,

    all day long. He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has

    broken my bones. He has besieged me and surrounded me with

    bitterness and hardship. He has made me dwell in darkness like

    those long dead. He has walled me in so I cannot escape; he has

    weighed me down with chains. Even when I call out or cry for help,

    he shuts out my prayer. He has barred my way with blocks of

    stone; he has made my paths crooked. Like a bear lying in wait,

    like a lion in hiding, he dragged me from the path and mangled me

    and left me without help. He drew his bow and made me the target

    for his arrows. He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver. I

    became the laughingstock of all my people; they mock me in song

    all day long. He has filled me with bitter herbs and sated me with

    gall. He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in

    the dust. I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what

    prosperity is. So I say, "My splendor is gone and all that I had

    hoped from the Lord." I remember my affliction and my wandering,

    the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is

    downcast within me."


    Of course, the primary reason that we cannot HEAR God is that

    we cannot SEE ourselves clearly. Since we do not know any more

    who we really are, we cannot hear God in the same way as before,

    such that He seems to be silent. In other words, because our

    identity is being changed, so is the way in which we perceive God.

    During that confusing period, many Christians are forced to ask

    themselves: "What has God really created me for? Who am I now

    that no one recognizes me any more for what I used to be?" In

    essence, we struggle with the following question: "Who am I now

    that I have no past and no future, and how much God means to

    me in all this?"


    3) Finding genuine intimacy and peace with God


    There comes a point when eventually our mourning and bitterness

    must cease. We can either keep on with the depressive feelings

    of the second phase, or we can cry out to God until we find

    enduring peace and real intimacy with Him. We cannot remove

    ourselves from the desert, but we can choose our attitude in it.

    This, in turn, determines how long we will stay in it. For instance,

    most Israelites were meant to go through a short time of

    wilderness after Egypt, but because they chose idolatry,

    bitterness and unbelief, their desert became a long process of 40

    years and most of them never entered the Promised Land. Deserts

    are not meant to kill us spiritually, but to prepare us for a better

    stage in life. They cannot be shortened, but our attitude can make

    them longer.


    This is when we must choose to seek God with a different attitude.

    This is the kind of situation where we have absolutely no other

    choice. Either God is nowhere, or God is now here! We

    desperately need God, and a quick fix through Him will not do it.

    However long it may take, we must press on through surrender,

    prayer, worship, fasting or whatever "breakthrough" that works for

    us, until we finally start to perceive His voice and find real peace.

    Now, it is very important that if we are going to seek God, we

    seek him with the right motivations. Often, even unconsciously,

    we pursue Him for the following 2 wrong reasons:


    1 - The first wrong motivation is to seek Him so that He gives us a

    precise plan of action of what to do for Him. The reason is that

    unconsciously we want to do something so at to redefine our lost

    identity. In itself there is nothing wrong to build our self-esteem

    through some activity, but there is a danger that we miss the

    whole point of the desert. During such times God wants us to slow

    down, take a lot of time in prayer and discover who we really are

    as we discover who He really is. At this point in our lives, our

    being matters more than all our doing. God wants to transform the

    way we see ourselves through Him. He does this by revealing all

    the prideful and egocentric motivations we had in our "former life",

    to show us that He does not see us through our jobs, our positions

    or even through all the people we loved. In the desert, God does not

    see us as "the prince of Egypt", as "the preferred son of Jacob",

    or as "the prophet of Israel". He sees us as we really are - sinners

    who do not need to prove ourselves to Him or to others.


    At the same time, we are not just sinners, but dearly beloved

    children of His, who have a priceless value to Him. The more we

    understand this paradox of our identity, the deeper we are being

    transformed. It is precisely because in desert we have nothing to

    show for ourselves that we can understand our true value before

    God. It is a time when our self-esteem cannot be defined by our

    accomplishments, and therefore we must find it in our intimacy with God.


    2 - The second wrong motivation we have in seeking God may be

    the fact that we seek more temporal and earthly answers than

    God Himself. Unconsciously, we seek Him to get back the job,

    the house, the mate, the ministry or the situation that we have lost.

    Now, there is nothing wrong with seeking such blessings, but

    there is always a danger that they become more important than

    God Himself. Idolatry is never a danger with bad things, but with

    good ones. We get so much blessed by God that we forget Him

    and become self-centered and self-deceived. Desert times are

    meant to bring us back to seek God just for Himself, beyond all

    that He can give us: the Giver is more important than all His gifts.

    When a human being has reached the point that God's presence

    matters more than all other blessings, pleasure and securities in

    this life, then such a person is truly blessed. This is why

    Christians who have endured long times of prison with God usually

    come out with an authority, a peace and a love that cannot be

    explained in human terms. This is why God allows even his best

    people to be thrown in prisons. From time to time the reset button

    of isolation-desert times needs to be pushed, so that we see life

    through the Giver rather than through His gifts.


    The most obvious sign that we are "successfully" going through

    the third stage is the sense of peace and surrender that

    characterizes us. If we can genuinely say to God: "however long

    you want me to stay in that unchangeable situation, I trust you

    and praise you for this, because your presence matters more than

    anything else in my life", than peace will certainly rule in our hearts.


    Another sign is that we become transparent and humble. We do

    not have any more to prove ourselves to anyone.


    Another encouraging sign is the miraculous favor of God for our

    physical needs as we learn to supernaturally depend on God. For

    instance, Jesus was served by the angels and Elijah was fed by the ravens.


    Directly related to this is the ability to walk in the supernatural.

    Joseph became an expert at giving interpretation of dreams,

    Moses had his burning bush experience and miraculous signs,

    and Elijah was raising the dead and multiplying flour and oil.


    4) Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and patiently exiting.


    At the beginning of this final stage, God usually gives us some

    signs in advance that our situation will end, in order to encourage

    us. It can be a supernatural revelation, a dream or an intuition that

    shows us that things will take a different turn, or it can be through

    people or conditions that give us a clear confirmation of what is

    already in our hearts. Usually, if we have fully surrendered and not

    put false hopes in people or circumstances (as we used to do in

    the early stages of our desert times), then we can recognize

    God's voice for ourselves. It is very important in this final phase

    that we keep on with the same attitude of trust and peace that we

    had in the third stage, by not forcing out the final outcome. Often,

    when we see the light at the end of the tunnel, we can be tempted

    to speed up the final process, instead of having the patience to

    wait on God. He has the perfect timing, and sometimes this final

    stage of the whole process may take longer than we hoped.


    The reason we do not have to speed up things is that desert times

    usually finish with dramatic turn-around: After 14 years the slave

    Joseph becomes prime minister overnight; after 40 years the long

    forgotten Moses suddenly comes back and within days two

    nations are completely shaken; after 3-4 years Elijah radically

    revolutionizes everything in one day at Mt Carmel; after 30 years,

    Jesus, who is not known before, ends up his desert and starts his

    ministry with a spectacular demonstration of miraculous power.

    God may keep us a long time in the waiting, but when He moves,

    it is fast and with power!


    The way I described each sequence may not be as "extreme" for

    some of us, but they still include the following characteristics:


    Summary of the 4 phases:


    In the first phase, we are progressively or suddenly being removed

    from our secure environment and role.


    This leads us in the second phase in which we experience some

    "dark night of the soul" as we struggle to find God and our real

    identity through Him.


    The third phase begins by a desperate seeking of God until we

    finally find surrender, peace and genuine intimacy with God.


    In the final stage, we receive early on encouraging signs that the

    whole process of isolation will eventually finish.
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