Wildfires are crazy in their ability to wipe out forests, homes and even communities as we discovered in this past year. Their destructive ability is obvious, but what is not so well known is that fire is crucial for the forest to rejuvenate itself. The reason for this is that pine cones need extreme heat to open up and release the precious seed within. This nature lesson is important because therein lies a key truth about where the seed of uncompromising faith grows best. Just as pine trees need destructive fire to bring forth life, so to believers need the wilderness to bring forth uncompromising faith. The hardship and trials are where faith grows.
The difference between 'self' and spirit
After years of research, study and investigation, we have discovered that few people really understand just what a wilderness in the spirit means. Many people can, and do, proclaim that they have been through a wilderness, but even a simple look beneath the surface reveals a different story. The problem is not the wilderness but something more sinister; ‘self’. Most do not understand the beast of ‘self’ that lurks within each of us, let alone its capacity to deceive us.
In ignorance we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are in a ‘wilderness’ when the reality is God has withdrawn from us because we have refused to let our ‘self’ nature go.
Many people experience dry times, and what seems to be a spiritual wasteland with God. Those times aren’t necessarily where faith grows. Many times it is the result of them giving in to their ‘self’ nature. At the heart of the issue is a systemic lack of understanding of what ‘self’ is. This is a dangerous and duplicitous beast. To understand a wilderness with God, we need to understand the difference between ‘self’ and spirit.
The nature of 'self'
First off, ‘self’ is not our body, mind, emotions or will. These parts are created by God and given to us as a gift.
It is our responsibility to care for and nurture our mind, emotions and will. To aid in this process God has also given us a spirit, a part of Himself, to lead us into spiritual growth and maturity. When our spirit is in control of our body, mind, will and emotions they 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, so we 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, our body, mind, will and emotions will be twisted and warped, causing a great deal of pain to ourselves and others. If ‘self’ matures we will eventually be eternally separated from God because God has no part in ‘self.’
The ubiquity of 'self'
‘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 uncompromising faith in God these days.
Now I don’t mean the watered down, anemic spirit in religion 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 place where faith grows; the wilderness.
The war within
Our ‘self’ nature is at war with God and continually tries to undermine and destroy the spirit within us. ‘Self’ knows that God’s design is to destroy it, so ‘self’ uses many tactics to hide. It uses deception and deceit as its primary tactics. Remember 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 that lies continually all day long. As we listen to these lies we feed ‘self’ and let it grow. We do this at our peril, however, for the stronger our ‘self’ becomes the less likely we will nurture spirit and grow in God. To mature spiritually we must recognize ‘self’ and then make choices against ‘self’ and for spirit.
This is not a simple task and we need the Holy Spirit, Jesus and God the Father to guide us. As a wise person once said, “A person who defends himself in court has a fool for a lawyer.” The 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.
The basic definition of wilderness
When we surrender our life to God understand that He has one passion and that is to free us from the enemy of our own souls; our ‘self’ nature. It is God, and God alone, that has the power and means to take out the ‘self’ in each 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. A wilderness season is where God kills our ‘self’ nature so our spirit can mature. That’s it. Not complex at all, right? Every single person who goes through where faith grows will have unique experiences. No two are exactly the same because God made us all different. What will always be the same, however, is that ‘self’ will have been dealt a mortal blow. This is the only path to spiritual maturity.
It does not matter what our experiences in the wilderness are for it is the results that are most important.
An ugly affair
Our family had to go through some very extreme situations, but that was required to kill the ‘self’ in us. Every situation is unique but if, in the end, our ‘self’ nature is crucified then our wilderness was successful. Please don’t compare situations for God never designed the wilderness that way. There is no ‘right’ way to go through any wilderness, for they are brutal, ugly affairs. If we follow Him where faith grows, we find that we will not be leaning on ‘self’ anymore but leaning completely on our Beloved.
The wilderness is not about the experience but about the result.
The plumb line in Galatians
The result of any wilderness journey should always be that ‘self’ is dealt a mortal blow and is dying. We may not be able to tell this for ourselves, in fact I would recommend against it. I would ask those around us, those who know us best and are honest, whether our 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 us best, and are honest with us, say that our actions are more like Galatians 5:22-23, and they also see us growing in humility, empathy and sacrifice, then it is likely we are in a wilderness with God. He is breaking down our ‘self’ nature as He draws us to Himself. If, however, our friends see more of Galatians 5:19-21 growing along with pride and selfishness, then I am afraid the ‘wilderness’ we are in results from God withdrawing His presence from us because He is not welcome.
God is patient and long-suffering, but He will not contend with anyone forever.
Where faith grows is in the fire
Where faith grows is in the heat and fire of the wilderness. This place of affliction is where our ‘self’ dies and our spirit is brought back to life. If we are not willing to work with Him to kill our ‘self’ nature He will leave us be. Like any loving parent He works with us but if we continue to be stubborn and feed our ‘self’ there are consequences. He will let us have our ‘self’ nature until we either recognize our folly and repent or choose to follow ‘self’ forever. Note that if we choose not to repent of ‘self’ we will separate ourselves from Him for eternity. This is our choice. We must choose wisely. Our future depends on it.
Homer and Wanda