This is an excerpt of a letter sent to a young man in prison struggling with his appeal process to reduce his sentencing time in prison. But I thought I would add it to my blog and maybe encourage someone else although we may not be in prison… we all have our “prisons”, “deserts”, “wilderness” experiences.
These are thoughts after spending over 20 years in ministry and missions work about learning patience and truly waiting on God’s perfect timing. Some of the things I desired for a certain ministry or mission to take place often took years and I was often frustrated things didn’t move faster than I would have liked, but God’s timing is always perfect. I would often remind myself that it is not the end result but the process of growing in the journey closer to God. God is not so much concerned about what we do for Him as to how our relationship is growing with Him.
I am reminded about Moses spending 40 years in the desert tending sheep a time of preparation and drawing closer to God. Then there was David who killed Goliath and later became King, but he spent many years in the wilderness tending sheep and facing his own battles learning to trust God to direct his paths. Elijah spent 3 years in the wilderness in a time of drought being fed by ravens and living in a cave. There was also John the Baptist growing up from childhood in the desert until the time he was to reveal Christ to the world by baptism. Saul who met the Lord on the road to Damascus and became the Apostle Paul spent 14 years in the desert drawing close to God before going out and doing missionary work. The Apostle Paul spent many years in and out of prison and many of his letters or epistles as they are called in the Bible were written while he was in prison. While the Apostle Paul was in prison, his life so reflected Christ that many came to salvation because of his witness in prison – even the guards.
Outside of scriptures there are numerous great people used by God to do great and mighty things who spent years in a wilderness or desert of some sort. John Bunyan who wrote one of Christianity’s classic books, “Pilgrim’s Progress” wrote it while he was in prison for several years.
So let me encourage you with some scriptures from the Apostle Paul:
Philippians 2:5-10: ” Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Philippians 4:4-14 ” Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you. But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction.”
The final verses are ones out of 2 Corinthians 4 that I especially took heart in when in difficult times: “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God… But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed… Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
I am always reminding myself that God’s most important work is in our hearts and not in our ministries or what we do for God. That we are to work out our salvation, meaning that we are to constantly work on our heart to become more like Christ in whatever situation we are in and trust God to work out His perfect timing and plans for our lives.
My other favorite verses are Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
And Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
So our life takes many turns and often not the way we planned but looking back it is God’s perfect plan and we can see his hand in all things. Even when we have made mistakes, done things we are not proud of, been disciplined by the hand of God (sometimes from the law, sometimes from man, but it is all from God), God is working on our character, our personality and our hearts to form us into the very likeness and image of Christ so that our light will shine without and shadows and the water that flows out of us will be living water purified and not stained.
So consider this time in “prison”, as a time in the “wilderness” or “desert”, a time where God has set you aside to draw you closer to Himself and to reveal Himself to you in a deeper way.
It is a time of examining our hearts and seeing how much we are truly willing to sacrifice and to “die to self” for the sake of the Gospel and for the sake of Christ.
We cannot see or make plans for the future, we have to make the most of today and make sure our hearts and minds are purified and holy before God so that if today or tonight he decided to take our life and call us home we are ready.
May you ponder on these rich nuggets of gold that I have learned from God in my own “wilderness” experiences. I wish you blessings from heaven dear brothers and sisters in the Lord.