Israel’s “wilderness of opposition” actually began as a “wilderness of promotion.” Their disobedience delayed their promotion for forty years. God’s original plan, however, was to train Israel in the desert only for a short time – no more than two years. But why would God train His people in a desert?
God promised His people that He would “bring them up from [Egypt] to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8). This land would be their home forever (Isaiah 60:21); the “glory of all lands” (Ezekiel 20:6); the place from which Israel would keep the Lord’s commandments (Psalms 105:44-45), and radiate His greatness to the other nations (Isaiah 42:6). In their land, Israel would flourish as heaven’s kingdom on earth, a supernatural light embodying the glory of God’s character to the world.
That is an awesome destiny. God blessed Israel with a heavenly call to global privilege, leadership, and service. Such a calling requires extraordinary humility and loyalty. So God brought them through a desert. He was testing them to see if they were worthy of their calling. He was preparing them for a unique and incredible promotion – a place in history beyond compare. So it’s easy to see why God had to test them. He had to know He could trust them with such an important assignment. He had to prepare them to be His noble ambassador to the nations.
“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you” (Deuteronomy 8:2-5).
Read that last line again. The Lord’s discipline is not merely corrective. It is preparatory. It is a loving Father training His children for a royal birthright in the Kingdom! “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? ... He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:7-11).
The Lord wanted future generations to understand that the wilderness was not originally intended to be discipline for sin. Nor was it a mistake, or God’s inability to keep His promises. Israel’s desert was a training ground for greatness. It was their “wilderness of promotion”.
It is the same for us. God has given each believer the highest calling conceivable – to “share His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). What does it mean to share His holiness? Listen to the way Paul puts it. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:28-29).
Each of us is called to be like Jesus. That’s what it means to share His holiness. We are called to share His nature – to personify our Lord in love, character, wisdom, and power. This is why God saved us. He justified us so He could mold us into the image of His precious Son. Then the world could see the glory of God – live and in person – through us. Is there any higher calling? Is there any more grand and noble purpose? What a privilege to be called into God’s family. And just as our general call is to unveil Christ to the world, our specific call is to unveil Him within our particular spheres of influence – our relationships, vocations, neighborhoods, and gifts.
This means we need training. We must learn how to rely on God and not ourselves. We have to allow God to turn us into beautiful, whole vessels of the Holy Spirit that no longer live out of our fleshly desires, but out of Christ’s character. How priceless is His image in us! Just as our souls could not be purchased with gold and silver, but only with precious blood, so Christ’s image cannot be cultivated cheaply. Yes, it is a gift given freely when we believe. But its “working out” in daily life is costly (Phillipians 2:12). We cannot become seasoned saints, expressing Christ naturally in the most pressing of circumstances, overnight. Such maturity doesn’t happen in a microwave. We need more than a class or a church meeting. We can’t even catch it at a revival service. (Though all of these settings are necessary and provide us with valuable spiritual treasures.) No, becoming like Jesus only occurs in the rough and tumble of real life.
That is the purpose for the wilderness. When God wants to promote us to a new level of spiritual authority, He doesn’t just whisk us into position. He prepares us. He trains and refines us before He can lift us into a new dimension of our destiny. If we resist the process, we resist the promotion. It’s that simple.
The wilderness is the process. It is a dry, difficult time when God strips us of self-support and compels us to look to Him in a new way. God does not want superficial people. He does not want children who know how to act spiritual in church or when life is easy, but when serious pressure or injustice come, react just as the world would. God wants a people like His Son – fully developed, spiritual people who have gone through raw wastelands and emerged shining like stars. “When he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).
God’s hammer and chisel forge into such people real character, faith, and maturity. They’ve had a genuine, ground level experience with God. Now they look like Jesus: meek, loving, powerful, and real. You can’t get such results quickly. You can’t get them cheaply. They come only through God’s painful cauldron, and result in the sweet spirit of Christ’s character.
Israel’s path to the Promised Land went through the wilderness. Because they resisted through complaints and rebellion, the first generation wandered in the wilderness till they died without destiny. Likewise, before Joseph fulfilled his dream of greatness, he was molded in the dry outback of rejection, pit, and prison. Through it all he remained loyal to God and became the most powerful man in the world next to Pharaoh.
But he had to be prepared for such glory. The teenager who boasted of his dreams may have been a good boy, but he was hardly ready for ruling Egypt. He needed years of serious heat to become God’s man. Even Jesus, “although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:8-9 ESV). Before promotion there must be process; before resurrection there must be death.
We cannot bypass the Lord’s discipline. Some have tried and brought compromise or ruin to their lives. They sought to bypass the wilderness because “they did not know My ways” (Hebrews 3:10 NASB). They wanted the prize without the price, the success without the school, the crown without the cross. But God doesn’t work that way. The path to glory passes through barren lands. So assess your situation. Consider if you are in a wilderness of promotion.
Perhaps the Spirit is using this booklet to confirm your spiritual location in the wilderness of promotion. If so, you have a wonderful advantage. You can accurately assess your situation, know what God is doing, and know how to respond. Repent if you’ve fought God and complained. Turn to the Lord and listen to His Spirit. Take heart. God is with you. Believe His promises no matter how they contradict your circumstances. Confess them with real faith before it gets too easy to matter. Insist on obeying and trusting Him. Let the process mold you into Christ’s image. You will have great reward and fulfill your destiny. As Smith Wigglesworth said, “Only melted gold is minted.”
When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!
How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!
How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And which every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendour out–
God knows what He’s about.
~ Author Unknown