Hey all, this one will come in 3 parts. At the end of each part, He has led me to share a prayer habit that has helped me in the walk. Welcome to part 1 of ‘Dead Freakin’ Cactus’!!!
The title of this thread best described to me the whole idea: what it means to go all the way through the wilderness with Him in victory. John Bevere writes a book of just that title: “Victory in the Wilderness.” I am sure I will be holding in several overall points he made in the book. I have just started the book actually, but I have already read and made notes from “A Voice of One Crying.” The interesting thing about these books is their timelessness! They read as if written in the post 2000’s. My wife and I (and quite a few others I know) are long into our wilderness experiences. A whole other set of people I know are going in, and a few are coming out of it. I feel led of the Lord to share some of my road and what He teaches during it all. I have heard concepts through Bevere, Perry Stone Jr., and others that I may swerve into at times. The main encouragement I want to offer everyone is that even when you see a cactus dying before you, the Lord has not abandoned you!
What is it that creates uneasiness about the entire mental picture of the wilderness? Are we not simply willing to soldier on? I find that people’s tendency is to be upset with God when going through hard times. Let’s take a quick look at your rank. My rank, what has my rank got to do with it? I will cut right to the chase with this concept. The Lord led His only Son to the wilderness for 40 days as you know. Was it a time of celebration and prosperity? Was He there for hap-hap-happy times? No, He was there for temptation to show us how to handle it. I guarantee the Lord showed us through this many things. If Jesus was not spared this wilderness experience, what makes you think you are going to avoid it? I see too many believers who think God has turned His back on them every time they come off the mountaintop experience! Should we really question and get angry with God every time we are not getting everything we want?
A key thing we must contrast too is how God recreated a wilderness scenario. Would you rather your wilderness experience be like Moses/the Israelites or like that of Christ? I don’t imagine that answer took long to come up with. No matter what you see in your natural life, remember this key point: it all boils down to you and the Lord. While other tools (books, sermons, other believers) may be helpful for prayer and advice, what is done in the prayer closet will carry you through the desert past the dead cactus! The Israelites showed us how to walk in the flesh and Christ showed us how to be driven by the Spirit! The Spirit led Christ to the wilderness and inspired Him on to the other side. The Israelites kept denying the Spirit of the Lord and His purposes and there they died! What a contrast can be seen in these two stories. Is it our money and security that makes us confident? We have to all admit, we never thought we would see our blessings as Americans ever really challenged. What we must keep in mind is that He always wants our victory to be celebrated on the other side of the wilderness. We can imagine that it broke His heart to have the Israelites suffer after all He did for them. He tried to get the Egypt(flesh) out of His children, but they constantly desired to go back to it! I see this every day. People want the victory; they may just not be willing to go through the wilderness to get to the promise land. I am not claiming it is easy and neither will He. What He has taught me is that we have the rights to blessings and curses. We have to decide which one we want and do the work with Him!
The whole understanding of recognizing we have entered the wilderness may take some time. I spent a lot time wondering (and wandering!) where I was at and what He wanted me to do. This included spiritually, financially, career wise, and more. There is a verse that the Lord passed on through a friend: In 2 Chronicles 20:17 it says “You shall not need to fight in this battle, set yourselves, stand ye still and see the salvation of the Lord with you…..(don’t recall version).” We know the battle is His but somehow we can’t stay out of the way enough to allow Him to defeat the giants in our lives. I testify that the Lord reworked every area of our lives in our wilderness days. It has been 8 to 10 years now and I do hope the Promised Land is close! Though I accept His work in it, one can be fatigued with it all. I will extrapolate on the key areas to better illustrate how we have seen His work in our lives. I know that He will work differently in us all, but the illustrations will testify to His hand in it.
While several areas have been under construction during the process, I see a primary area as important. Before He can lead us through to the Promised Land, He must first deal with our spiritual core being (my descriptive term). He wants to test by fire our traditions, theologies, motivations, and every spiritual interaction. If the Word says that He comes for a church spotless and blameless, will it contain the common carnal Christianity we so often see in the average church? As His return grows closer, the separation of wheat and chaff must occur. Expect it friends! I remember a gospel tune from Praise on XM, I believe the title was “Tried in the fire” or “In the fire”. I haven’t heard it in awhile, but the lyrics come to me often. Phrases like “Have you been tried in the fire?” pierced my heart because we tend to want to avoid the purification process. We are darn American aren’t we? We will do anything to not feel the pain or go through it! Food, drugs, friends and family, church, entertainment, and many others are fillers! We will use anything we have to in avoiding the core issues. As long as it makes us ‘feel’ better, it must be good! I see a trend among us all to avoid the fire of testing He wants to take us through. Why do we feel we have the right to shape what ‘blessed’ looks like? How many blessings have we missed when fire testing came and we said “Oh Lord, this is raw, it can’t be from You”. All those who got that, raise your hand! The rest of you repent for lying! Isn’t it stark how off we can be? We can’t even be trusted in ourselves to go through a testing without the Spirit! We must always be able to say in our hearts “The Holy Spirit showed me…” or “I felt the Holy Spirit lead me…”.
It reminds me of Hansel and Gretel. Hansel and Gretel that is what all this reminded you of? I didn’t say my mind worked ‘normally’, I simply see what I see! Of course I have a four year old, so keep that in mind. If we have bread crumbs in our wilderness experience, will we not be able to find our way back home? The father was taking Hansel and Gretel away because of hardships at home. Our father is the opposite: He takes our hardships for us so we don’t have to bear the burdens ourselves! It may seemingly take forever to get through our w.e. (I tell you what, I am not typing two big words every other sentence, I don’t need help beefing up the deal here), but your talking about God here. He took 40 years to work the Israelites in the wilderness. I would guess it was about year 30 when He tried to wipe them out! He kept the Israelites in captivity for 70 long years. God simply doesn’t get in a hurry!
A quick aside here: have you ever wondered why so many ministers never find their groove? I wonder if it is because they didn’t wait long enough! Jesus didn’t do anything until age 30. He, being God in the flesh, still prepared Himself for ministry. Some may say, “Oh, we have all the theological learning of the past 2000 years at our disposal.” If that were true, the Church would be better off, not in the shambles of disrepair the North American Church is in now. We haven’t gotten smarter as a whole, in fact lower morally and devoid of the Spirit. I understand that “we” have a cute little theological system that must be followed here, but God qualifies the call, not a professor. From the fruit I see in the Body, theology school has become a hindrance to hearing the voice of God.
So how does daily life look when your in the midst of w.e.? It will of course look different for everyone, but from talking with others a couple of common threads connect us all. Generally speaking, I would expect it to get worse before better! The ‘peak’ of your w.e. seems to be when every cactus around you is dying and life hits a tipping point. He may try and work out some of our baggage during this period. No, He probably just will be! He wants to strengthen our weaknesses, expose personality flaws, and test our lives by fire. I won’t speak for everyone else about what this period is like, but I know for me it is a major battle. It is tiring in several ways: mentally, physically, and spiritually. I guess that is all the ways! No matter how you may want to avoid this w.e., you must remember some key points. 1) If you don’t enter into it, you will not be prepared for what is next. 2) Those very weaknesses God tried to pluck out of you may hinder you going forward 3) Not submitting can totally negate what God has called you to do. You may move forward, but what is started in the flesh, must be finished in it! 4) No matter how much it feels like God has dumped you, He is always just ahead. 5) Anything that God has blessed us with spiritually, needs to be tested in the fire so only the purities remain!
So how does life actually look sometimes? Raw and uninspiring, but hope always remains in spite of what we personally see. Everywhere I look right now I see issues. My wife’s father is late in his battle with cancer. We just changed churches due to issues (the Lord told us to leave actually). Business is sporadic as is our finances. The ministry my wife and I work with is struggling financially and with personnel issues. The world stage is a pure mess right now. AUTHOR: Update here: this was written several years ago. Since then both of my wife’s parents have died, He has given me great relationships in not only church…but also ministry opportunities besides with people I love! He has created stability of work in a pretty darn good situation for me right now! I wanted you all to see hope DOES come.
There is a lot of spiritual principles here to consider. I want to lay out some of the lessons of the last month, and more of what is going on. My w.e. got a lot more intense before it settled down! About two weeks ago now, I felt huge waves of dark, oppressive, heavy numbness. It was powerful enough that I could hardly pray. I knew that this was something altogether different than I had experienced before. At first, I thought it was about the despair of finances and direction of my life. I soon began to question that. Surely all this heaviness is not related to my little old life here! A feeling of dread permeated my heart, an intense burden of anxiety tied to it. In habit, I Skyped with my missionary bud (our weekly standard). The Lord guided the process and began to unearth what lie beneath. Our first round ended without total understanding, but the Lord began to pull out of me some of the ‘lacks’ in my life. Our mentalities can be rooted in unchallenged foundations. I never fully understood how the Israelites performed the way they did in the desert. Now I can totally understand that I too could die in the desert!
I did seem to notice the dark waves would come at certain times of the day. The first few days of it struck at just before bedtime, creating some really short nights! My wife and daughter were out of state post funeral, so I had a few restless nights by myself. Naturally, I attributed this dark wrestling to my own life first (most of us start there). I begged for peace from God for several days. I knew He wanted to show me something, I had no idea what. The second Skype experience proved more fruitful for what He wanted to show me (and my bud too). The Lord led my bud to lead us through Psalm 77, reading 3 verses at a time, and praying through it. We both felt the Spirit strongly leading us to His presence! I remember feeling His loving presence fill around us.
The pain of the previous days was dormant now, and tears flowed as we sensed His presence bringing comfort to our dry spirits! We knew that He was here even in the depths of the darkness. It showed us that when it feels darkest to continue to pursue His face! In Psalm 77 there are three ‘Selahs’, dividing the chapter into three sections. In this Psalm, it gives you the feel of three separate readings within one chapter (ok, at least it does me). I want everyone to understand: the despair and darkness felt during this period is not of the “so and so is having a bad day variety”. This was the darkest and heaviest burden I have ever felt in my life. So heavy that I could not really pray! It was in a word: overwhelming to my spirit! If someone were to experience anything heavier (or worse I guess), I am not sure how you would know the difference. I am not throwing in the mix something experienced through great tragedy, circumstances, etc. We are talking about a whole different animal here. In the next few paragraphs I will be sharing some of the ‘lessons’ He has since shown me.
The intense period lasted about a week if I am remembering correctly. I had several restless nights through the week and picked up the girls from the airport on Saturday night. The men’s prayer group sensed the heaviness also and prayed diligently on Saturday morning. I did feel a good covering and sensed some relief and burden lifted then. My wife and I prayed together Saturday and Sunday night to lift burdens so I could sleep, or to reveal what was needed in prayer. Saturday night I slept fine, but Sunday was an altogether different engagement. I was restless again during bedtime on Sunday night. I Skyped my bud at midnight to check his availability. He was doing his online language lessons and had but a minute. He quickly prayed and planned to see me in about five hours. I told him I am sure I will be ‘fresh’ and ready to go! He has become downright essential for this period of time in my life. I know the Lord would have done it differently if necessary, but this has been more than helpful to me with my bud’s spiritual mentorship!
A ‘good’ four hours of sleep followed… I woke expectantly though, knowing the Lord was drawing near in all this. This 24 hours was the heaviest of it all. I could sense it was big, and that it had far reaching implications. The pain of it was numbing though! In it was a rawness, a sense of anxiety/dread: it also felt like an evil oppression (I know, as opposed to ‘good’ oppression). I knew it was essential to have someone walk through with me, to bear burdens with me. Sometimes being heard and talking it through helps too. My bud felt what I felt and totally flowed with it. The Lord spoke to him in those couple of hours and what followed was healing, release, and His presence. One interesting note was how the Lord used this event to minister to him also. There were parts of his past experiences that needed healing also, and you know how He works: kill as many birds as you can with one stone! Isn’t He such an incredible multi-tasker?
The Lord brought him into Psalm 77, which for this time, the NIV version was perfect! For those who are stuck in the KJV only mindset, you will miss some blessed opportunities in some cases! Thither thou risest and knew not! May thy quiver be not full of burdensome stone. May the sword swiftly defend thy Word. Just having fun with the KJVers! What did I say there? I am not sure it was anything, but if you are a devoted KJVer, you may be searching still… I am going to include the full chapter here (NIV):
I cried out to God for help:
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
At night I stretched out untiring hands
and my soul refused to be comforted.
I remembered you, O God, and I groaned;
I mused, and my spirit grew faint. Selah
You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.
I thought about the former days,
The years of long ago;
I remembered my songs in the night,
My heart mused and my spirit inquired:
Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
Has His unfailing love vanished forever?
Has His promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has He in anger withheld His compassion? Selah
Then I thought, “To this I will appeal; the years
of the right hand of the Most High.”
I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes
I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will meditate on all our works and
consider all your mighty deeds.
Your ways, O God, are holy.
What god is so great as our God?
You are the God who performs miracles;
You display Your power among the peoples.
With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendents of Jacob and Joseph. Selah
The waters saw you, O God,
the waters saw you and writhed:
the very depths were convulsed.
The clouds poured down water,
The skies resounded with thunder;
Your arrows flashed back and forth.
Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
Your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.
Your path led through the sea,
Your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.
You led your people like a flock
By the hand of Moses and Aaron.
As we prayed following each three verses, the presence of the Lord increased and built to a crescendo. When we got to the beginning of the last section (verse 16) about the waters and clouds pouring down water, he fired up “Let It Rain” and I cried like a baby. My tears were like rain in the best possible sense. In a word: broken! God had a firm grip on everything now. I could feel a freeing sense of His Spirit meeting me there to carry me. I knew He fully understood my pain, my sense of helplessness, and my dependence! Over the last decade, I have felt like I have had many ‘mindjobs’ thrown at me. Most were not of the comforting variety, so this was an incredible new sense of ‘I’ve got your back’. It was like the big breakthrough after many battles to win the war. Something was allowed to break in our spirits to put the fuller sense of His Spirit in us.
Prayer thread: Have some of you felt the difference in the atmosphere around you? Could you feel more peace or darkness as you entered a building, house, or specific area? What I have learned over these past few years is that every place on earth is shaped spiritually by history. I don’t have the space to go into all that now, but I wanted to ask the question to be able to share how my wife and I use protective prayers in our life. Perhaps that will be a complete writing unto itself sometime.
I know if from ‘our’ music if nothing else, we all understand a war against darkness rages daily. In this war we must do all we can to protect ourselves! Biblically, it is similar to the Israelites using the blood on the doorposts to keep away the death angel (ain’t nobody needin’ no death angel round here!). The good news for us is that we don’t have that kind of deal now. What we battle is the daily grind over time.
There are three areas the enemy will attack: people, places, and things. The enemy uses his demons for an ‘in’ anywhere he can find one! I realize that I am givin’ y’all a nugget in place of an entire teaching, but pray it through and ask Him how it applies to you. In the spiritual realm, I have come to understand that the enemy attaches demonic spirits to the three areas. The great news is He has power and authority over all that! I apologize for having to make this a brief thread, it is a condensing of a 5 year learning curve! Here is an example of a nightly protective prayer He developed over the years. Don’t turn it into merely a religious habit, ask Him how it can be effective for you and over you for the night!
Lord, we invite your presence here into our house tonight. We ask You to remove anything from the day from all people, places, and things. Send them away (the hogs Jesus sent a packin) in Jesus name for …name each person (of your household). We invite your Holy Spirit to place a hedge above, below, and all around us as we sleep. Place Your warring angels on their posts to protect personage(us),(our) property, and(our) possessions. In Your holy name, Amen.
Brothers and sisters: I am not doing a “thus saith the Lord” here. I am sharing what He has taught us through various experiences and sources over these years. Pray it through for you! Be blessed in Him