Remember the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert/wilderness for 40 years after their Exodus from Egypt? Have you ever studied why they were denied entry into the Promised Land? In short, it was a matter of trust. God comes to Moses who is tending his father-in-law's flock in Midian and announces that He has come to earth "to rescue His people from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey" (Exodus 3:8).
As they approach the Promised Land, God instructs Moses to send 12 spies to survey the land. After 40 days of exploration, ten of the spies gave a bad report ... "We look like grasshoppers to them"! Only Joshua and Caleb said, "We can do this"! And who did the people believe? The doubters! And because of their doubt and unbelief, God sentenced them to wander for 40 years before allowing them to enter the Promised Land -- one year for every day they explored the Promised Land. It was a time of apostasy (Gold Calf) as well as miracles (manna from Heaven); a time of failure and of ultimate victory.
So, this is what lack of trust in God and His promises looks like. We would do well to take note. America has always been seen as the land of milk and honey, but what can we expect if we show contempt to [and for] God like the Israelites did? And what is it like if you find yourself in a desert or wilderness not of your own making? Is God still the God of promises? I suspect that we may yet know what that looks like in our lifetime.
But I would like to share a personal testimony that will give you hope of how God provides and protects when we walk by faith and not by sight. This is a story of the period in my life that I refer to as “My Seven Years in the Wilderness”. But I don’t associate my “wilderness” as it is usually ascribed in the Bible. As I stated above, most will think of the Golden Calf and the failure to follow God’s commandments. Those were definitely deserving of punishment, which is how we usually see that episode of history. But we fail to see that those 40 years were also a time God was calling the Israelites back to Him; to reveal Himself to them and begin to prune them for a greater purpose.
Likewise, my seven years in the wilderness were not a form of God’s punishment for any rebelliousness or disobedience on my part. On the contrary, it was a time of drawing me out of the world and into a place of refining and removing the obstacles to our relationship. It was where I learned to rely on Jesus. Let me explain… The year is 2001. My husband, Mark, has been gifted by God with an amazing artistic talent and he had come to me five years prior, saying that he wanted to leave his corporate job and pursue a professional art career, believing that God was calling him down this path. I knew and believed in his talent and didn’t want him to one day be 70 years old and wish he had trusted his instinct. So we agreed that I would continue working my job, supporting us with my paycheck as he got his career off the ground. We happily sacrificed to embrace this new adventure, and true to His promise, the Lord was faithful to Mark as he worked hard to develop his natural skills and grow in reputation due to his talent.
At the end of five years, he came to me and said if he was going to advance to the next stage of his career, he needed my help to take over the business end, i.e. building and maintaining a web site, scheduling shows, ordering supplies, handling travel arrangements and applications to art shows, and all the accounting duties. He needed to free up his time to meet the growing demand for his art... (Gulp)! We’d gone from two guaranteed paychecks to one, and now, could I go from my guaranteed paycheck to no paycheck? Could we make it on the sporadic (and definitely unguaranteed) income of an emerging artist? I used to laugh when Mark would say that “artist” was the only occupation that had the word “starving” preceding it. That didn’t seem so funny now.
But how could I say no? I believed more than ever in his talent and that we had made the right decision, but the fear of lack of money that I had inherited from my father was soon my constant companion. I had been raised to never be late paying a bill, and to always make sure you had the money in the bank to take care of all your expenses. My father did not possess trust in the Lord, and while I was saved and knew in my heart that He was leading us on this journey, I had to confront that generational bondage of fear and learn to throw off those chains.
I’m not lying when I say that it was a struggle for me. The cost of living was too high in Austin, where we were living at the time, and we knew we had to move from a home his parents owned. So, I turned in my resignation at my job, and prepared to take the biggest leap of faith at that time in my life. We had friends who arranged for a seven-year lease on 169 acres outside a dusty little town situated 90 miles west of San Antonio. There was a little farmhouse on the property, which was going to need to be renovated to be habitable, and although we were only leasing, we decided to take out a small loan to remodel it and make it comfortable for the next seven years.
So, we spent the next couple of months buying supplies and traveling the two hours back and forth from Austin to Sabinal, tearing out walls, pulling up orange shag carpet, refurbishing hardwood floors, and installing new cabinets. It was bright and early one Tuesday morning in September, when we exited Lowe’s with our cabinets and turned on the radio in the truck to hear that the first plane had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York. We looked at each other in utter shock, knowing our world was about to change in a drastic way, and Mark said, “Well, it’s a great time to be an artist”.
But while my mind authomatically went to fear and doubt, I was blessed to be married to a man who dug deep into his faith and soldiered on, believing that God would never abandon us. He deserves so much favor from God for the patience he showed me in those years, because the Enemy knew right where to aim his fiery dart. I was going to have to learn to adjust on many levels. I had a strong work ethic, and was used to working an 8-5 job and putting in long hours when needed to make sure I did my job well. I no longer had that structure and I found myself lost with how to occupy and organize my time and new duties. I actually felt guilty if I wasn’t doing something every hour of the day. I didn’t know how to enjoy the freedom of being self-employed and the rewards of being in control of your own opportunities and destiny.
On top of that, I was struggling with the change [and real] difference in our income. I had to learn how to budget differently because in the art business, you never know when a sale will come your way. You might be rolling in the dough one month and make zilch the next. I was constantly aware of how much was in the bank and looking at the stack of bills before me. I prayed for God to take the fear from me, and to help me to trust Him. I knew my doubt and unbelief were a sin, and I had to decide to just walk in faith and lean on Jesus to provide. I would do good for a few weeks and then, Bam! An unexpected expense would arise and the devil would have me in his clutches again. It was a couple of years of taking one step forward, and two steps back.
But I was determined to overcome my fears and learn to rely on the Lord for our provision. I worked hard at taking my eyes off the stack of bills and rejoicing in all the small, yet incredibly blessed joys of living a simple life in the country. I began to see how God was removing me from the trappings of the world and was giving us freedom to become all He had designed us to be. Things that would have sent me spiraling downward just a year ago, now didn’t seem so earth-shattering. I was able to look back at how God had delivered us from a similar situation months before, and began believing that He would do it again. I was building a history with Him. And my husband and I were growing in our faith together; seeking a bigger understanding of our relationship with Him, and enjoying a Bible study on the Book of Daniel. Then the devil decided to come calling again.
If you could see my husband with our animals, you would know how much he cares for all of God’s creation. One afternoon, I was in our bedroom, working on a novel I was writing, and I heard one of our dogs barking and then making an unusual crying sound. I alerted Mark and he went outside to check, and a 6-foot rattlesnake had attacked our dogs, mortally wounding his favorite Jag terrier. We ended up losing two dogs that day and the pain I saw my husband experience ripped my soul apart. He had been my strength during my period in this wilderness, and now it was my turn to return the blessing. I knew the Enemy had struck where Mark was most vulnerable, and it would have been so easy to abandon our studies and step away from God for a spell, but I continued to speak into Mark that we would not let the devil deter us from getting closer to God. We would not give in to the devil’s plan to separate us from our growing faith. I prayed that night and clung to the strength that is Jesus; remaining in Him through that night, and was rewarded with Him remaining in us through the following days as we climbed out of our grief and plunged ever deeper into His Word. The devil would not win that battle!
We continued our studies, learning more and seeing our spiritual knowledge expanding. And while finances didn't get easier, we were now more focused on what we had in our changing relationship with God, and not so much on what we were lacking in money or material wealth. We had good, Godly mentors in our life, and it was during this time that my prayer life grew and I started recognizing that I was beginning to hear from the Holy Spirit and was actually finding joy in my wilderness. And I have never forgotten the day that I heard in my spirit, "If you will be faithful to Me, I will be faithful to you". I knew that I had crossed a threshold in my faith. I was content with what we had ... it wasn't much by the world's standards, and there were still times that nothing was left in our bank account at the end of the month, but I was beginning to fear less and trust more! I was determined to remain steadfast and faithful, and I believed in God's promise that He would do the same.
That was 16 years ago. And at the end of that 7-year lease, God had humbled me, taught me obedience and to rely completely on Him. Ultimately, He led us away from 129 acres and a house that belonged to someone else, to our Promised Land: 3 beautiful acres, a home we designed [and took an active part in building], and a studio for Mark. We are still far from a huge bank account, expensive cars, and opulent vacations, but we are prosperous in the ways of the Lord. Here in our Promised Land we have been sanctified and anointed to serve Him in an Inner Healing Ministry and been blessed to have all our financial needs met. We have grown so much in our relationship with the Lord and have come to know other faithful and obedient people. We are finally at a good place in body, soul, and spirit.
But we see the storm clouds on the horizon. The world is teetering on lawlessness and the Lawless One is making himself known. Will the world plunge us back into a wilderness where contempt and loathing for God and each other will bring more testing? I pray that there are enough of us who are praying and repenting that God will spare our rebellious nation. But if not, then I know what it is like to walk in the wilderness and still seek Him; to feel like the darkness is encroaching, but still see the Light; to hear the whispers of defeat from the Enemy, but hearing the voice of my Lord declaring He is with us and victory is ours! No matter what comes, we cannot give in or give up! God will never take us where His grace will not cover us nor His power deliver us! So if "the wilderness" is in your future, remember this: if you abide in Him, the journey will not be permanent! He has a plan for your life. Live for Him in obedience, reliance, and steadfastness, and your journey will bless you hundredfold!
Isaiah 40:3-5 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”