Why do we go through wilderness experiences?

I wish God taught us most when things are going well! But God’s training school is more typically on the backside of the desert.

Photo Credit: Vu Bui (Creative Commons)

In 1987, the Lord spoke to Tony, my husband, and me, telling us both independently that we were to move to the States. We were naively excited about the opportunity, assuming that the Lord wanted to take the ministry we had with doctors, nurses and others in the caring professions in the UK and see it expand there, as it had into several other nations.

Six months later, we, our four young kids and twelve of the largest boxes the airline would allow, arrived in Austin, TX, where a church had offered us premises from which to run the ministry. Other than that, we knew no one. Meanwhile, the Lord got on the next plane back to the UK–or at least, that was what it felt like. We loved the States–the wide open spaces of Texas were so different to the concrete jungle of London’s East End. But no one wanted to employ two unlicensed physicians, we didn’t fit into the American church landscape–even the good church we were attending was so different to the non-religious and vibrant life we were accustomed to. Worst of all, God stopped speaking to us. It seemed the heavens were like brass.

We were in the desert. God’s training school for us.

Don’t get me wrong. We had good times too. But the sense of God’s blessing on our lives was gone, and after a few years, it felt as though this was going to be permanent.

For a few months,  the house we had sold at a profit in the UK supported us. Then ministry travel overseas brought in just about enough money to survive. When that dried up, we had to make a living somehow, so we did the most menial jobs. We sold door-to-door and at flea-markets and eked out a survival with the assistance of our families. Not very dignified for two doctors, but oh, so good for us.

Seven or eight years into this, I had one brief experience that gave me hope. It was as though, for ten brief minutes, the Lord drew back the curtains, and I could see that all we were going through was for his glory and his purposes. But then the mists rolled in again. I lost the understanding of what he was doing, but the memory of that moment kept me going.

What did we learn?

  • We learned that God is good all the time, even when it doesn’t feel like it and everything is going wrong
  • We learned to get rid of the “Christian welfare” mentality–that somehow, because we’d been in “full-time ministry” we were entitled to support from others
  • We learned that even if God never spoke to us again, or never used us again, we still had to trust him. (Like Job, even though he slay me, yet will I trust him)
  • I had to learn that grumbling and complaining (and I did my fair share) just gives in to the enemy
  • We came to understand that our motives for Christian ministry were very mixed–we had to die to the desire for limelight and significance
  • We had to learn to be content in whatever circumstances we found ourselves

I wish we were faster learners, and even now I don’t know if we have fully learned the lessons! It took nine, very long, very painful years before God brought us out of the wilderness. Many times we were tempted to move back to England, where at least we could earn a decent living, but whether it was stubbornness or sheer stupidity, we never did so.

Finally God started speaking to us again.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I’m so very grateful for those years. I hope I never have to go through a similar experience again, but I recognize that God accomplished more in our lives and characters than he could ever had done through blessing. They were God’s means of preparation for all that he has us involved in now.
Has God taught you through a wilderness experience? What was it like? What lessons did you need to learn?

 

 

  • http://www.facebook.com/charbookguy Mike Burleson

    Currently there now. I get what you are saying about not complaining, and trusting even when you don’t feel like God is there, though ten years ago I wouldn’t have. As you say, we find an oasis or two along the way, and the water there taste so sweet, makes you want more!

  • JC

    I would say most definitely YES! Ours began when God moved us from a somewhat educated and progressive state out west to a very uneducated and backward state in the south. We have learned so many lessons from our 11 years here and we are amazed at where we are in our walk with him today. It took us 7 dry years to finally begin to find freedom. Something we might not ever have found had we stayed back home. I did my share of complaining. Especially after I obeyed him about things I really didn’t want to do in the first place and found out how hard it was going to be. For a while I was even angry. Eventually though everything has worked out better than I ever imagined. I now know God is good and faithful!

  • E Lizut

    That is where I am at, been here about 10yrs. When I saw how long you were there it made me feel better about how long I have been going through it.

  • E Lizut

    That is where I am at, been here about 10yrs. When I saw how long you were there it made me feel better about how long I have been going through it.

  • Christiane

    Thank you very much for writing this! It’s like reading my own story. God moved us from Switzerland to the US.
    I thank God for your timely post.

  • Chris Jefferies

    Hi Felicity! Like your other commenters, I feel it’s a little like reading my own story. I had too much to put in a comment so I wrote a post on my own blog – http://jesus.scilla.org.uk/2012/08/ten-years-in-wilderness.html

    Here’s my first paragraph. ‘Responding to a post from Felicity Dale, here is my story of spending time in the wilderness. For me it spanned a ten year period and began when our friends moved on to other things but we knew that we were to stay put. It was a lonely and seemingly bleak experience.’

    I listed eight things that we learned.

  • felicitydale

    Thank you all for commenting. I’m always amazed when I share this story how it resonates with so many others. I often tell those people who are in the middle of the wilderness, “Watch out! God is preparing you for something special. Learn all you can.”

    I highly recommend Chris’s blog that he wrote in response to this post at http://jesus.scilla.org.uk/201

  • Pingback: The end of the wilderness | Simply Church: A House Church Perspective

  • Bill

    The Lord spoke to me in a dramatic supernatural way 38 years ago when I was praying alone, indicating an exciting time of powerful ministry to come. Then He said “Wait.” I was only 21 years old then. Now I am 60 and still waiting. I have suffered much in many long times of wilderness. The Lord has never been gentle with me. I don’t think many folks believe me anymore……….. Nobody wants to wait.

    • felicitydale

      Bill,

      And I thought nine years was bad!
      That’s a tough one! There are no easy answers. Sometimes we have to wait; other times we have to actively pray things into being. I pray your time of wilderness will end soon.

      • Bill

        Hi Felicitydale. During this time of waiting I have been crushed, lonely, filled with wondrous praise and worship, praying with all my might, in despair, filled with expectation, howling in agony in prayer, rejoicing In the presence of God with unspeakable joy, wanting to die to escape the trials, seen amazing miracles of instant healing in my own home, and all this time I keep praying “When, O Lord, when?” There is not much time left………

        • felicitydale

          It sounds wonderful and terrible at the same time. God is preparing you for something way bigger than you have imagined…

  • YJ

    We are in the midst of our desert right now. This post has been SO encouraging these last months since you wrote it. I have come back to it again and again. If I may ask, would you be willing to elaborate on what your life was like when God was silent? It sounds like you went to church (we are not). Did you have conviction you were to attend this church at that time? Did you consider stopping your attendance? I’m assuming you still spent time in the word and trying to pray? What really brings us down is a spirit of doubt, feeling like we are in the desert as a result of disobedience (which very well could be the case!), and wondering if we are ‘missing’ what God is trying to say to us because we are in the wrong places, doing the wrong things. Satan’s way of paralyzing us, for sure, but it’s hard to get out of it. Your selling door to door experience, for example. We are considering work we would rather not do (though not sales!). If God was silent, did you simply decide to do it because it was a way of making money, and not look back? We get stuck because if we make a choice and it doesn’t turn out wonderfully, or with a million confirmations that God indeed was in this choice, then we wonder if we missed His REAL call for us and now we have disqualified ourselves from His best. How did you deal with this?

    • felicitydale

      YJ, I’m so blessed to hear this post has been an encouragement to you. Here’s what I remember most about those times:

      I was anxious all the time about finances. We were barely eking out an existence. Finally (after 9 years) I came to the conclusion that we hadn’t gone without a meal yet so maybe it was about time I stopped being anxious and trusted him.
      We did continue to go to church. I guess, having been brought up in an era where Christians had to go to church we felt guilty if we didn’t. Actually that’s not strictly true. Tony worked at weekends and so I went with four kids as an apparently single mom. It was fascinating to see how differently I was treated (mostly ignored) because of that status. I wish we had felt free not to go. I think one of our kids is still suffering as a result of our insisting on it, and he probably picked up on the fact that we were going out of duty rather than because it gave us life.

      I too felt that we were in the wilderness as a result of disobedience. I confessed everything I knew, but still no change, Finally I fell back on the fact that if God wants to convict us of sin, he tells us the details and how to deal with it. If Satan is behind the feeling of doubt it comes as a general condemnation with nothing specific and no way to deal with it. You’ll have to ask the Lord, but it sounds to me as though you are going through the latter.

      In terms of God being silent over what work we were to do, we did what came to hand. I think we probably worked on the philosophy that if that wasn’t what we were to do, God would find a way to stop us. We really didn’t have a choice–we had to do something. But all the time we were praying that God would give us an idea to create wealth–which he eventually did.

      Hope this helps

      • YJ

        Thank you Felicity, it really does. Things are beginning to look clearer already. He is pruning us so that we can bear more fruit, NOT preparing to cut us off.

        • felicitydale

          Praise God. You are right!

  • Lee Mullen

    SO WHAT HAPPENED THEN??? HOW DID HE GET YOU OUT OF THE WILDERNESS??? C’MON YOU CAN’T JUST HOLD IT THERE FFS!!

    • felicitydale

      God sovereignly moved. I don’t recommend this, but eventually we gave God an ultimatum. Either things changed or else we were going back to England. Over a period of several months, he started speaking to us again, we began the business that now supports us and we started a group for non-believers that eventually became a simple/organic church.

      A prophetic friend from England came to visit us shortly after this. During one of our times together, he sat Tony and me on a couch and covered us with a large sheet. Then he removed the sheet and spoke over us that God had had us covered and hidden up until now, but he was removing the covering and we would be seen again. It was around that time that we helped start House2House.