I believe that sooner or later the Holy Spirit leads all believers into the wilderness. It is a time of discipline, proving, learning -- a time when the Holy Spirit takes us on an uncharted journey uniquely our own. It is a time when God learns if we will follow Him no matter where He leads.
"And you shall earnestly remember all the way which the Lord your God led you in the wilderness to humble you and to prove you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and allowed you to hunger and fed you with manna which you did not know... that He might make you recognize and personally know that man does not live by bread only, but man lives by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord."
Deuteronomy 8: 2-5
These days many Christian leaders are promising good times, success, health, and prosperity as the gifts of God to believers. The present day approach in many Christian circles is to add God to your everyday life, expecting Him to give you your heart's desire.
But cannot anyone follow God when things are prosperous and times are good? The vital question is: "Will we follow when the Holy Spirit leads us in to a situation where faith is not only possible but essential -- where the foundation of our human world collapses, our security vanishes, and our only hope is our trust in God? When we are alone to learn how we will react?" John Wesley describes this time in the Christian life as the "hour of darkness". This hour comes after he has walked with God for a time and Jesus calls him to "come out" away from the world.
Jesus' wilderness experience began after He was filled with the Holy Spirit. In the Judean desert He was proved to show God what was in His heart; whether He would do the will of His Father or would misuse the power of God to do His own thing, build His own concept of the kingdom, prove to the world who He was, polish His halo, feed His vanity, or indulge His need for creature comforts.
Jesus was tempted to run back to the world to use the power of God to further His career as an evangelist, prophet, faith healer, teacher, and preacher. But in His heart He found that His desire was to do the will of His Father. How many desires had to be dealt with and destroyed before this one emerged triumphant, the Scriptures do not relate. Look at Job! What a wilderness experience he had.
"And the Lord said to Satan, 'Have you considered my servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.'
Then Satan answered the Lord, 'Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth your hand now and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face.'"
We are familiar with the calamity that came upon Job. His friends thought that he must have sinned to receive such treatment -- such devastation. But Job said, "Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?"
In my wilderness experience God has taken from me, one by one, all those earthly things that I have held dear, all possessions that made me feel secure, all hopes and dreams with which I filled my life. Here on this uncharted journey I have learned that all human things are futility and vanity. For the barren area into which the Spirit leads us is empty, dead. Only the Holy Spirit enables us to survive there. Only the eternal treasures are of value. Earthly possessions hinder, bind, and tempt us to look back or retreat. Bonhoeffer puts it this way: "The call of Jesus teaches us that our relation to the world has been built on an illusion."
The pertinent question here is the same as it was for Job. Will we still serve and follow God when our human world falls apart and everything we are and have vanishes? Will we echo the words of Job: "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord"? We'll find out when the Spirit leads us into the wilderness. And so will God.