When I chose my word of the year this past January, I should have known God was going to send me circumstances, situations, and episodes that cultivated strength. Be careful what you pray for! This year has included some intense attacks that demanded mental, physical, spiritual, and financial strength. But you know, people can't see how great your God is if your battles are never fierce. I've been through some doozies! But one thing I have learned in my almost 12-year walk with Jesus is the desert, the wilderness, and the lonely places are where God separates His faithful from the fearful.
We can all name our battlefield. For some of us, it's our career. For some marriages. For some parenting. I believe that perhaps as we shift from season to season in life and overcome, and grow and mature, we move to different battlefields. I, for 17 years, have been at war earning my stripes in the arena of singleness and dating. Incredible how the enemy uses those we give access to our hearts, to strike the most devastating blows. How do the hurtful words and unwanted choices of those we entrust trust triumph in the psychological warfare part of the battle? We should learn that we can't give level ten access to our life to those who demonstrate level two or three responsibility with it. My most recent disappointment was the most deceptive, hurtful, and cruelest hurt I've ever had to process. The fight deeply wounded me, but I am healing and marching to holiness. It's only a lost battle if you don't find a purpose for the pain. I display my scars proudly because my God saves and my Father separates.
God sometimes pulls us away from people, paths, and possibilities to set us apart for our purpose. God always has a way when He wants to take you higher that He causes a season of separation to increase your holiness and prepare you for where He is going to raise you. The word holy means separate, set apart.
In the early part of my spiritual development, I was afraid of separation. I didn't know how to process it. I assumed it was punishment. But as I matured and studied, I saw that separation was a theme in the bible and that Jesus willingly chose separation.
In the earliest verses of the Bible, we see on day one there was separation.
"And God said "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw that the light was good and God separated the light from the darkness." (Genesis 1:3-4)
Later in the gospels, we see that Jesus separated (often referred to in some bible translations as withdrew).
Before Jesus began His ministry or before he ever taught a parable or performed a miracle he was baptized. During his baptism, God said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him, I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) Interesting. What had Jesus done to that point to deserve commendation from heaven with such acclaim and blessing? God wasn't pleased because of what Jesus had done but of whose Jesus was. Or perhaps, being God and knowing how Jesus' ministry would end before it began, God was encouraging Jesus. God was about to elevate His son.
In Mark, it says that immediately after His baptism when the Spirit descended on Jesus, the Spirit "impelled" Jesus to the desert for forty days and nights. It is important to note that Jesus faced the enemy as man, not the Son of God. we must not think that Jesus used His divine powers to overcome the enemy because that is what the enemy wanted Him to do! Jesus used the spiritual resources that are available to us today: the power of the Holy Spirit and the power of the Word. Jesus had nothing in His nature that would allow Satan a foothold, but His temptations were real just the same.
Metaphorically, the desert is a place of testing and transformation, of being divested of pride and the world. In the desert experience, the dreams, goals, and visions we create for ourselves in the flesh can be seen clearly, sometimes for the first time. The desert symbolizes the terrain in which we unlearn the world's perspective of spirituality, we divorce from our selfish desires, and it is where God tests us to transform us into His divine nature. The desert or wilderness is the most difficult place to be for a Christian. Besides painful, it is lonely, scary, and uncertain but it leads to the deepest development of our Christ-like character. While it is so very tempting to rush through or avoid the desert, don't! Stay in the struggle. Pain has a purpose. Pain has a sneaky way of pushing us back to the feet of Jesus and the presence of God. It creates a resilience in us that can only come from the struggle. The struggle is proof that the enemy hasn't overtaken you and that he is not bigger than your God. The struggle is the indicator that there is something more after this.
Just like on the first day, God wants to separate light from darkness in each of us. The grueling grind will produce in you what God wants to do through you. It is critical work and it is the only way are elevated and matured spiritually, and when we come heart-to-heart with our heavenly father.
Temptation was Jesus' struggle. God did not need to test His son in the desert, Jesus already had God's favor. God did not need to make Jesus holier, Jesus is God. But being fully man, in the desert, Jesus was fully exposed to the very things that we suffer through today. Anxiety, hunger, thirst, fear, loneliness, darkness. So wouldn't you think He would do everything He could to avoid being separated? I mean, which one of us voluntarily chooses desert time? Periods of God's pruning? Seasons of separation? I have had my fair share thank you very much! But Jesus chooses it frequently. Over and over again as depicted in the gospels He withdraws. To do what? Pray.
After the multiplication of loaves—Mark 6:46: And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray.
Immediately before choosing his twelve apostles—Luke 6:12: In these days he went into the hills to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.
Before Peter’s profession of faith that Jesus is the Christ—Luke 9:18: Now it happened that as he was praying alone the disciples were with him; and he asked them, “Who do the people say that I am?”
Immediately before the Transfiguration—Luke 9:28: Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.
Before teaching the Our Father—Luke 11:1: He was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
Before the crucifixion in the Garden of Gethsemane—Matthew 26:36-45; Mark 14:32-41; Luke 22:39-46.
Alone in lonely places is where Jesus sought intimacy with His Father. The only one we should allow to accompany us on our journey through pain, grief, and ultimately healing is God. We can't turn to sin to distract us. We can't turn to dysfunction to ignore it. We can't embrace vices to avoid it. God asks us to allow Him to turn our lonely places into sacred spaces. But to accomplish that, He needs to be invited there.
We can look to the world for affirmation, but only with God can we find worth.
We can ask our friends for understanding, but only God can give us peace.
We may want consoling from family, but only with God can we have comfort.
We may need empathy from others, but only God can ease pain through His presence.
We may long for someone to listen, but only with God can we be truly heard and known.
Brokenness is holy if we lay down our agenda to pick up God’s will. It leads to being surrendered to His way, His plans, and His path. We may not understand. It may be painful. But by staying in constant prayer our hearts will be filled with peace. Jesus withdrew. He separated to lonely places and made them sacred spaces. Our deserts provide just that. Our battlefields can be redeemed. And it is there, with Him, in the alone, that you realize you have everything you could ever need.
Let our pray in those times be "Dear God, I know the season of suffering and separation that I endured will add something to me. Very often we celebrate what we came out of instead of asking the question what did I leave with? I came out of this storm and I am leaving with wisdom, strength, and a holier perspective. Thank you that some of our greatest lessons come out of our most challenging separations in which you are creating our Christ-like character. I know, if you are going to take me through pain, tears and loneliness, I am going to leave with something so I can say like David, it was good that I was afflicted so that I may learn your statutes."