I heard your lesson on 'The Wilderness is Your Training Ground, and it was an eyeopener for me. How do you come to embrace the training rather than run away from it?
There is an infamous scene from the 80's movie, FAME, in which actress Debbie Allen, playing the role of a hard as nails, no nonsense choreographer, says to a room full of wannabe dancers, "You got big dreams. You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying. With sweat. And the better you are, the more sweat I'm going to demand. So if you've never had to fight for anything in your life, put your gloves on and get ready for round one. "
As a young actress just beginning my career at the time, this scene both motivated and terrified me. I loved entertaining so I just wanted to entertain. What was this hard work thing she was talking about? It sounded so scary. Yet I learned over time that truer words couldn't have been spoken, I had to embrace the fact that it was hard work, not just love, that would ultimately get me to where I wanted to go.
The fear on the faces of the young actors in the scene sums up what I believe many of us feel and experience today when God leads us into the wilderness. It's not at all what we expect so it's like ice water being thrown on our otherwise perfectly rosy dreams. And maybe that is the point, God is calling us to wake up from our dream because being a 1st century Christian has never been warm and fuzzy.
We often feel at these times under attack by Satan. Contrary to what we may believe, not every attack is of the enemy. The wilderness is the place of revelation. It exposes what’s inside of us like nothing else. The wilderness is our training ground, our sparring partner, and is not meant to break us, but to prepare us, for the battles ahead.
With the Olympics drawing near, we all gear up to cheer on our USA favorites and in our minds eye pretend to be them. The difference between being a champion athlete and pretending to be them, is in the investment of training they were willing to put in.
Olympic great Michael Phelps, in peak phases, swims 80,000 meters a week (50 miles). He practices twice a day (more if he's training at altitude), 5-6 hours a day, six days a week. WHEW! I'm exhausted just reading those stats. But in an interview when asked, "how do you remain calm in those close, come from behind races" he said, 'it's what you train for.'
I know we're not looking to be Olympic champions or even stars on our local soccer teams, but there is something to learn here; training is needed for future preparation. It is our sparring partner, someone who intentionally challenges you, forcing you to build upon your strengths and acknowledge your weak spots.
So, how do you come to embrace the training rather than retreat?
Step one for me, was accepting that the wildness was a gift from God, not an attack from Satan. I came to that as I combed through scripture and I began to see a pattern that I hadn't seen before, there are nearly 300 mentions where God leads his people into the wilderness. Therefore our wilderness is intentional. My wilderness is intentional. That means I was no longer a victim to what Satan and his minions were throwing my way (Rom 12: 2, being transformed by the renewing of your mind). Biblical wilderness is an in-between place where ordinary life is suspended, identity shifts, and new possibilities emerge. Through the experiences of the Israelites in exile, we learn that while the Biblical wilderness is a place of danger, temptation and chaos, it is also a place for solitude, nourishment, and revelation from God. So I stopped fighting against God's leading.
Step two, (again for me -we are all very different) was accepting why I was there. My "M.O." (modus operandi) is to hold my breathe and wait for things to pass (retreat/ hide), but nothing is learned through that process. So God what is the reason you've led me here became my question and the answer was, to train and prepare. As in my FAME analogy earlier, I had to accept that loving God was only half the battle, I also had to learn how to take a punch. Fact: about 2 million marriages happen in America every year because of love, however, 50% end in divorce, simply put, because we don't know how to take punches.
In boxing, inexperienced fighters always go for the knock out punch, but most fights are actually won by wearing down your opponent. It is Satan's goal to wear us down, so that we leave ourselves open, we grow weary in defending the blows and take ourselves out. My time in the wilderness was where I trained to take the punches coming at me and that can't be learned by reading a book or in a discussion group, it has to be experienced and developed through the struggle. The greater the fighter, the greater the sparring partner. You might be surprised to find that many boxing champs have also served as sparring partners to other champs. Why? because you are training for the level of challenge coming against you.
Obviously, we are not all called to be a David, Samuel or Ruth in the bible, but we admire them, similarly as we do a Michael Phelps, because of the intense training in the wilderness God put them through, and what they endured to become who they are. We are, each of us, a David, Samuel or Ruth in someone's life around us. I believe God is calling us all to a higher level than what we have trained for, and we'll only get there if we embrace our training in the wilderness.
I was content with the level I was on, but ill prepared for the level God was calling me to.
It comes down to, where is God trying to take you and are you willing to go the distance to train to get there.
Training in the wilderness, though hard, is for my good.
I'm trusting, that If God led me into it, He will lead me out of it.
Therefore, I have nothing to fear.