If there be, therefore, perpetual failure in your life, it cannot arise from any weakness or impotence in the Mighty God; but from some failure on your part. That failure may probably be discovered in one of three hiding places—imperfect surrender, deficient faith, or neglected communion. But when the intention of the soul is right with God, without doubt He will save. –F.B. Meyer, pastor and author
Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.”
Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.”
Psalms 95:7b-11 (ESV)
“For forty years I loathed that generation . . .” If ever there were a part of the Bible that I would not want to refer to me, this would be it! Stubborn and unbelieving, that wilderness generation of Israelites refused to trust and obey God—in spite of seeing His miraculous hand repeatedly work on their behalf. What would it take to change their attitudes? Nothing short of death.
It’s All About Control
We prefer not to admit that we are born with a stubborn, prideful, and unbelieving nature—one that ever seeks to dominate not only our own lives but all that surrounds us. Traumatic events further accentuate the unhealthy tendencies of a domineering nature to the point where the need to be in control becomes an all-consuming compulsion.
Looking back, the constant replay of well-worn mental reruns, and the immersion of quiet moments into swamps of regret can be forms of control seeking as we vainly attempt to rewrite the past according to our wishes. Looking forward, we secretly read our horoscopes, hoping that the stars will provide a cryptic message for a better tomorrow. Anxiety and depression then enter the picture as we grasp just how much in this world lies beyond the boundaries of our control.
Truth must be merciful, but real love never coddles sinful tendencies. Our old, fallen natures cannot be coaxed or redirected; the only path to freedom comes by killing what the Bible calls the old man (see Romans 6:5-7). We never fully experience new life in Christ without first dying to our old ways. I speak not of a physical death, such as suicide, but of death to our self-will in the form of spiritual surrender.
Those who embrace only the happy parts of Christianity will be sorely disappointed to learn that God fully intends a wilderness experience to be a “death march”—the most difficult struggle any of us will ever face—for the selfish will. We want what we want. There is just no getting around that reality. It should come as no surprise, then, that through the course of our journeys we will encounter problems and obstacles that cause the old nature to rear its head in selfishness, rebellion, and fear. Only one response to such situations will enable us to abide in the peace-filled life of God—an unconditional surrender to His will.
The call of any Christian is to follow in the footsteps of Christ. By both word and deed, Jesus demonstrated that He came seeking to do the Father’s will and not His own. The greatest all-time victory over the will, and the one that stands in complete antithesis to ancient Israel’s miserable failure, took place in the garden of Gethsemane as the magnificent Christ surrendered Himself fully to the heavenly Father’s will. If ever someone paid the price of self-denial in the midst of unbearable pain, it was Jesus!
How many of our vices are little more than the products of stubborn, unbelieving hearts? Unbelief and the stubborn will—the two feed off of one another like drunken criminals. Failing to believe in God, we grow more and more set in our prideful ways. And the more established our self-willed patterns become, the less likely we are to exercise any type of meaningful faith toward Him who is always faithful.
Of course, any professing Christian can attempt to follow his or her own will in the name of God, but such an approach doesn’t work very well. An unsurrendered life equates to a miserable existence. Try as we will, we have no other viable option but to yield ourselves entirely to God’s good plans and purposes.
How long should a wilderness season last? It is not within our power to set such a timetable. However, I can say with confidence that such a season will be unduly extended as long as a person’s will continues to diverge from God’s. The old, stubborn, unbelieving nature must be laid to rest in the barren landscape of the wilderness. Only then will God’s lasting peace become reality.