Most of us have been there. We’ve had those seasons—sometimes very long seasons—when God has felt terribly distant. Seasons when life feels hollow, foggy, and often dark. They are times when doubtful questions fill our minds, while meaningful answers are slow to be found.
I’ve spent more than my share of time in desolate spiritual territory and so I know it all too well. Through the process, I’ve come to a powerful realization: the outcome of a wilderness experience—and all of life, for that matter—depends upon our perspective.
Those who attempt to navigate a spiritual wilderness from the resources of human wisdom will emerge—if they emerge at all—bitter, hardened, and cynical because of the difficulties they’ve faced. On the contrary, those who learn to see their challenges through heaven’s eyes will find themselves stronger, braver, and more compassionate. Their faith in God will not have waned, but have flourished.
When trust is lacking, life feels harsh and difficulties unfair. Through the eye of faith, however, God’s glory and love abound—even in the harshest of environments. It all comes down to how we orient ourselves when things don’t go our way, or when life appears to make little sense.
Living in our own, isolated worlds, our minds are often overrun with dark musings. Life looks bleak. Hopelessness abounds. People become our enemies. God appears to have abandoned us. It is only as we reconnect with God—and with godly people—that we become aware of our heavenly Father's faithfulness and the good that surrounds us.
Two particular stories from the Old Testament provide powerful testimonies of our need to focus on God and live by faith. The first deals with the exodus of Israel from slavery in Egypt. God had powerfully delivered His people from the brutal hand of Pharaoh, and yet, apart from Joshua and Caleb, an entire generation of Israelites went to their graves in the wilderness. The King of the Universe was by no means pleased with their faith-deficient attitudes.
The second deals with Joseph and has become one of my favorites. Rejected by his own family and sold into slavery, Joseph continued to put the full weight of His trust in the One who is always faithful. Even after being falsely accused and cast into a dungeon, Joseph overcame all feelings of despair and bitterness. All of this took place not over the span of a few weeks, but of several years. Joseph became a spiritual champion as he emerged triumphant over the potential darkness of his own soul.
In the end, Joseph was exalted by God, but he was not the only one to benefit. An entire region, Joseph's own family, and, ultimately, the lineage of Christ were preserved because one man, by God's grace, chose to trust God in the midst of unjust and unwanted circumstances.
Let’s face it. Life on this earth will be filled with challenges, difficulties, and injustices of many sorts. Only by gaining heaven’s perspective can we keep hardships from becoming grievous. In fact, learning to see through heaven's eyes in the midst of a spiritual wilderness is the only way that our spiritual vitality can survive desolate territory. But we can do more than survive! We can emerge as champions, bearing the sweet fruit of the Holy Spirit and becoming more usable for God's life-giving purposes.
How a person comes to be in a spiritual wilderness may have little or nothing to do with personal choices. How he or she emerges, however, is a matter of deliberate focus, perspective, and trust. No matter what others do for cruel or uncaring purposes, God will turn to the good of those who respond in a way that honors Him.
Bob Santos is the founder of Search for Me Ministries, which is devoted to helping to form and equip a generation of world changers for Christ. The material in this post is loosely based on a devotional, Champions in the Wilderness, recently released by SfMe Media and available in multiple formats. Be sure to check out the short video trailer below: