At times in our lives we all have wilderness experiences’times when we face despair and feel alone in the world. Elijah was a prophet in the Bible who had a literal wilderness experience. His time in the wilderness forced him to practice three spiritual disciplines that freed him from his dependence on the world and encouraged him instead to depend on God. We might learn from his example.
The first discipline Elijah practiced was solitude: and it served at least two purposes. It protected him from King Ahab who wanted to kill him. And it provided an opportunity for him to deepen his faith, to draw closer to God. Next, Elijah’s wilderness experience gave him a time to practice silence, which allowed him to listen for God’s voice. And finally, Elijah practiced a form of fasting. Strictly speaking he didn’t abstain from food, but his food was controlled by God’s special provision. Periodically, God would send ravens carrying food for Elijah to eat. In this way, Elijah learned to trust God to provide for his daily needs.
A wilderness experience can play an important role in our spiritual growth. Are you going through one now? Don’t miss what it might be offering you. Like Elijah, withdrawing from your normal routine will remove you from distraction and lead to an intimacy with God. Silence allows you to listen to God. And fasting teaches you to depend on God to provide for you.
Spiritual growth is a fragile process. Without vigilance and encouragement from others, you live with the prospect of slipping back into sin. In the face of this, you need help from others who have courage and sensitivity toward your situation. Harsh condemnation will not help you, but neither will friends who flatter you with falsely positive words. Working with faithful support is what you need.
Consider John’s short letter in the book second John. In this letter, John balances condemnation and encouragement, proving himself to be a wise counselor and a great example to us. Recognize the past successes of others and affirm your brothers and sisters in Christ. At the same time, be willing to point out hazards ahead when you see them. Share your hard-won wisdom with warnings when necessary. Pointing out the obstacles ahead and encouraging others to be careful is the loving thing to do.
Loving one another is the most basic act of obedience to God. It’s also an essential element in your spiritual growth. At times, you may tend to focus inward and become self-centered. We live in a dog-eat-dog, every man for himself world. But that’s not Christianity. Remembering to be loving toward others will not only please God, but it will also help you to think of others and build good relationships.
Americans have traditionally valued a strong work ethic. We believe the harder we work, the greater our chances for success. But if unchecked, you can get carried away and you’ll end up devoting all your time to work and lose the balance that allows you to grow spiritually. Are you sacrificing healthy, family relationships, connections, friendships, and your walk with God so you can achieve more and advance in your profession? Perhaps you can relate to Solomon. When he became king of Israel, he asked God to grant him wisdom. Pleased at this request, God gave this young king honor, wealth, and a long life, in addition to wisdom.
Then Solomon started building the Temple. He built his palace and fortified his country against intruders. All of these projects were done on an enormous scale, even by today’s standards. In order to accomplish these tasks, Solomon sacrificed important relationships with his people, with his family, and with his God. He taxed his people heavily and required them to work hard on his building projects. He failed to teach his son how to use wisdom to rule the people. He also stopped listening to God and disobeyed him by marrying numerous pagan women and by worshipping their so-called gods.
It’s easy to lose yourself in work and achievements and to forget the source of your strength and success. Whenever anything in your priorities of life is placed above God, it’s time to stop and rethink just what your priorities need to be.