As we enter the new year, God has planted a great sense of anticipation in my heart. I have an overwhelming sense that God has great plans for me in 2014. I feel as if my years of wandering in the wilderness are coming to a close, and I am on the verge of entering the promised land God has planned for me—a place where I will experience the culmination of God’s complete restoration following my years of grappling with loss from adultery and divorce.
Interestingly, my daily Bible readings have me in the midst of the Israelites’ wilderness wanderings and their entrance into the Promised Land. A few days ago, I came across this verse that captured my heart:
Remember that the Lord your God led you on the entire journey these 40 years in the wilderness, so that He might humble you and test you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands. Deuteronomy 8:2
Wow! God takes us into the wilderness to see what is in our hearts! As I reflected on this scripture and the past four years, I began to wonder exactly what God had found in my heart as I wandered through the wilderness. As I reflected on all God has done in me, I began to piece together some of the lessons I have learned, some of what God has found in my heart. I must admit, the lessons from my wilderness wanderings are not very pretty.
Pride. I gave my life to Christ at a very young age and never looked back. My relationship with Christ has always been my first priority. As a pastor’s wife, others came to me looking for wisdom, hope, and encouragement. I was in many ways a rock in my family and community.
When my life fell apart, I was the one in need—and I didn’t know how to receive from God or others. The thought of needing help—financial help, child care help, emotional and spiritual help—was a foreign concept to me. God had to strip me from a place of leadership and teach me to simply sit and soak up His love given through His tender mercies and His people. It was a very humbling experience to have everything I held dear—my position, my reputation, my financial security—ripped away. I found myself with nothing but God—and He was more than enough!
I am capable of great sin. In the early days of my wanderings, I thought I was above the temptation of certain sins (more pride). However, I discovered that the heart truly is more deceitful than anything else (Jeremiah 17:9). As I ran from God and pursued the sinful pleasures of this world, I found that I am not nearly as strong as I thought.
So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall. No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it. 1 Corinthians 10:12-13
The beauty of sin is that God can use it to open our eyes to so much! As I ran from God, He left the 99 faithful sheep and pursued me—the one lost sheep who had wandered away. He begged me to turn to Him for my security. I came to realize just how much I need His forgiveness. I came to a greater understanding of His love for me. Because of His great love for me, because of His amazing gift of forgiveness, I now have a deeper desire than ever before to walk in purity and obedience before Him.
I have lived a judgmental life. How often did I join the masses condemning well-known Christian leaders who found their private lives collapsing in a public manner? How often did I see others trapped in sin and wonder how they could be so blind? How often did I—in my pride—see myself as superior to others because I had lived such a good life?
I now understand that it is only by the grace of God that I am where I am, that every good thing I have comes from my Father. Instead of looking down on those who are trapped in sin or whose lives are falling apart—often by no fault of their own—I beg God to help me look at them with compassion, as sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). Instead of casting stones, I find myself longing to come alongside them and offer them a word of hope and encouragement. I no longer want to cast stones; instead, I want to give them the love of Christ—a love that He has so lavishly poured out upon me.
I didn’t really know my Savior. Despite giving my heart to Christ at the age of six, I never really knew my Savior. While I could quote scripture and tell others about God’s great love, I had never truly experienced it myself. I had a tremendous amount of head knowledge, but my heart knowledge was limited. My faith was immature and untested.
After four years in the wilderness, I can truly proclaim God’s faithful love and the never-ending supply of His mercies that are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). I’ve discovered that my Great I Am is everything I need exactly when I need it. I’ve discovered that faith is fleshed out, stretched, perfected when it is tested and tried. I’ve found that while the true condition of my heart is ugly, God loves me so much that He wants to open my eyes to see what is there. It is only when we are aware of the true condition of our hearts that He can make us pure in heart so that we can see Him (Matthew 5:8).
Today, I find my wilderness wanderings coming to an end. The promised land is just ahead, and God is calling me forward, promising to give me possession. God is calling me to sanctify myself for He is about to do amazing things (Joshua 3:5). He has given me a glimpse of what is to come, and it is a good land, a land where I will lack nothing (Deuteronomy 8:9).
I am so excited about my future, but I had to camp in the wilderness before I was ready for what God has planned. I had to embrace the time of wandering, the time where God revealed the true condition of my heart. The wilderness has been a place where He was the only thing I had—and He has been more than I could ever need. I will forever look back on these years with tremendous gratitude for a God who loves me so much that He refuses to leave me where I am.
Do you find yourself in a wilderness season? Have you been pulled from your comfort zone and find that everything you valued has been stripped away? Let God reveal the true condition of your heart. Let Him be what you need exactly when you need it. Let Him embrace you with His love and tender mercies. Let Him lead you on every step of the journey. While you are in the wilderness, trust Him with every aspect of life. Trust that He has great plans for you, a promised land where you will experience the abundant life He has planned for you. Allow Him to purify your heart so that He can do mighty things in your life!