God’s Prep School for Kingdom Men and Women by James Ryle

“And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.” Luke 1:80 (NIV)

It was said of John the Baptist that he grew and became strong in spirit – “while he was in the desert.”  Something about hard and difficult places make us stronger than when we lounge about in cozy beds of ease. We grow when we are challenged.

And notice that this growth is primarily spiritual. The fact is that no growth is complete that leaves out spiritual development.

Jesus in wildernessI often heard Bill McCartney tell his football team, “The spiritual is to the physical as four is to one.” By this he meant that a man with his spirit set right by God had far more going for him that a man with nothing but muscles. Take a guy who is physically fit and infuse him with the Holy Spirit – and you have a formidable package! That’s what John the Baptist was like.

Notice the scripture goes on to say of John, “He was in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.” Hmmm. I wonder if the Lord sometimes puts us in the desert in order to have us grow and become strong in spirit. It certainly would seem so, looking at John as an example.

A gem is not polished without rubbing, nor are godly men and women made without trials. Think about it. Haven’t the greatest strides in your spiritual journey always come during times of significant difficulty and hardship? “Many men and women owe the grandeur of their lives to their tremendous difficulties.” (C.H. Spurgeon).

John was in the desert until his showing forth unto Israel. Might not the same be true of you? This pattern certainly holds true for many of God’s champions.

Paul was himself in the desert for three years, and then sidelined in Antioch for fourteen years before the Lord brought him forth into his apostolic ministry. Joseph endured the hostilities of false accusation and unjust imprisonment long before God exalted him in all of Egypt.

Moses tended sheep for forty years before leading the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage and into history. David was faithful in the unseen and uncelebrated duties of ordinary labor, and there secretly slew a lion and a bear, long before God brought him out publicly to slay Goliath, and lead a Nation.

It seems clear enough that God uses the dry and desperate times in the desert to effect a spiritual maturity in our lives.

Jesus is our best example of patient growth during un-noticed years of quietness and apparent inactivity. Luke writes of Jesus that He “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52, NIV).

Mentally, physically, spiritually, and socially ~ these are four areas of life in which God wants us to experience healthy, balanced growth. Are you growing in these areas? In which one would you say are you the most undeveloped? Might this season of dryness be a gift to you from the Lord to develop that one area?

A lesson from nature will suffice here to make a simple point. Healthy growth requires shade as much as sunshine. A plant needs the dry season, as well as the rain. If this is true of plants; might it also be true of you and me? Could it be that God is effecting a significant transformation of your life during this season of disconsolate dryness and seeming barrenness?

I think so.

As we look at how God used the desert experience to make John “strong in spirit.” We can pose the possiblity that He just might do the same to you and me.

Hey, when God wants to make a squash, He takes about six weeks. When He wants to make an oak tree, He takes about twenty years. So, what do you think He is making of you?

the-school-of-hard-knocksIt seems He is in no hurry when it comes to the growth of His children. His principle work is that we mature into men and women of Christlike character and conduct in this world. Such maturity demands that we be weaned from a dependence upon spiritual euphoria. Instead of raindrops falling on my head….itsrocks!

There comes into our lives by the will of God seasons of spiritual inactivity, boredom, setbacks, frustration and confusion. At issue here is this: are we loving and serving God simply because of how wonderful it makes us feel to do so? Or do our motives have a nobler end? Indeed, shouldn’t they?

As one author wrote, without the desert experience we could very easily settle in a place where we “enjoy the fruits of worshipping God (i.e., our feelings) more than we enjoy the God we worship.” (Gary L. Thomas)

Also, without significant dry times humbling and testing us, it is likely that we would become puffed up with a false sense of our own legendary spirituality.

Can’t you recall those first days of faith when you were born again? All things seemed possible; you were ready to save the world! Then, after the initial season of discovery and delight, didn’t it happen to you as it does to so many others?

First there is a subtle sense of slight spiritual superiority and smugness, followed by the need to let others know just how much you know. This in turn leads to an attitude of judgement and faultfinding with others who, in your opinion, aren’t as devoted as you.

Ah, the desert can put the squeeze on such thinking quicker than anything! And thus, the Lord ordains for us those necessary draughts that we be not so high and mighty in our own esteem.

The Psalmist wrote, “Lord, I am not proud and haughty. I don’t think myself better than others. I don’t pretend to know it all. I am quiet now before the Lord, just as a child who is weaned from the breast. Yes, my begging has been stilled” (Psalm 131:1~2, Living Bible).

God must wean us from a childish preoccupation with our need for nurture, in order to mature us with a compelling sense of destiny and significance.

Nurture and Destiny. These two things must be balanced in our lives or else everything ends up out of sorts. When all we seek is nurture, we remain childish and co-dependent. If all we ever think about is destiny, we become short-tempered and obsessive with achievement.

God wants to balance our lives with nurture and destiny. He must first wean us from the breast and then lean us on His chest. Dry times serve His purpose best in this intrepid transition. This is God’s Prep School for Kingdom men and women.

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