538 – My Personal Testimony
One day it dawned on me that some of the other Christian guys around me were getting very different–and enviable–results from their faith. So I called a time-out and decided to study the Bible to see if I could figure out what was going on. I thought that after a couple of weeks I would get it all sorted out, make the fix, and then really go and do something great for God.
But when God finally had my attention, it was like I had run into a giant swamp of refrigerated molasses. I couldn’t move. For the next two and a half years, I tried my best to get out of it, but I was stuck. Yet something more important was happening. All during that time, I was reading God’s Word, and He was speaking to my heart. He started working some things into my character–and working some things out of my character too. A transformation had begun.
At the time, I was so overconfident and prideful that I thought once I was “fixed,” the new, revised version of me could grow my business bigger and better than ever. But as I said, God is more interested in shaping our character than in improving our circumstances. And that takes time.
Also at that time, I was having debilitating headaches–mainly from the stress of trying to do more than I was created to do. One day I was reading 1 Peter 4:1: “Since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.” Did you hear that? When the body suffers, sin loses power.
The text continues, “As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God” (verse 2). Yes, the wilderness experience is painful, but God uses the pain like a can opener to get inside our hearts and open us up to the transforming power of His Spirit.
After reading these verses, I opened the front flap of the Bible my wife and kids gave me and wrote, “I want to live the rest of my earthly life for the will of God. 1 Peter 4:1-2.” I really meant it. Still do!
However, I was an immature believer, like Moses. Because I was an underequipped and, hence, overconfident Christian, I was thinking, Wow! Now that I’ve really surrendered my life to God, just imagine how much He can do with me on His side. What a trophy. Lucky God.
I wonder if that’s how Moses felt when he went out prematurely to rescue his own people.
In my naiveté I thought my surrender to the will of God meant that I had hit rock bottom. I thought that special day would mark the beginning of doing something great for God. And in a way, it did. But first God said, “Okay, now that I have your attention, I have some important things to teach you that you haven’t been willing to hear. So let’s get started.” Apparently, there was still too much Pat in Pat. So instead of bringing me out of the wilderness, He drove me further in. Over the next few months, my business was decimated. God leveled me right down to the foundation.
Thank God I had the right foundation, though. The Bible says no one can lay any foundation except Christ (see 1 Corinthians 3:11). So I had the right foundation, but I had not been building on it in the right way. I’d been building with wood, hay, and stubble. When I wrote that declaration of surrender in my Bible, it’s as though God said, “I really think you’re serious, Pat. The problem is you’ve given Me so little to work with that I’m going to have to start over with you.”
That’s because, like Moses, I had taken matters into my own hands. I didn’t wait for the Lord to lead me. Instead, I was building a business and life based on my own best thinking and ambitions. Essentially, I went before I was sent. God needed to humble me because I wasn’t strong enough to humble myself.
Men, if I had actually caught what I was chasing, I am almost certain that today I would be divorced, alienated from my children, filthy rich, eaten up with pride, mean as a snake, and bitter at the world. But what at the time looked like God letting me down was God saving my life. It’s the same for all of us. It’s a perspective–one we learn by going through the humbling wilderness process we’re talking about in this chapter….
What can you do if you’re in the wilderness right now because you went before you were sent?
One thing you most definitely don’t want to do is try to shorten the duration of your wilderness experience. As I said, a major reason God puts us there in the first place is to work some things into and out of our character. If we don’t go through it, then we won’t learn everything He has for us in it. You’ll never grow in faith if you keep dropping the This Is How You Grow class.
So instead of praying that God will shorten the duration of your hard times, pray that you will learn everything God has for you during your wilderness experience so that you won’t have to travel that road again.