God uses the hard realities of life to expose our deepest fears and internal struggles. These experiences make us more self-aware so we can cultivate the spiritual disciplines necessary to lead ourselves and others well. Consider what happened to Moses, the humblest person on earth (Num. 12:3). After the people complained about their misfortunes yet again in the wilderness, Moses was miserable. He cried out to the Lord: “What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised? … If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me” (Num. 11:11–12, 15).
Who would have thought that the humblest man in the world could fall so deep into despair? Have you ever found yourself in such a state of weariness? There are many days in my life when I find myself praying: “God, please don’t let me become weary in doing good, for I know that at the proper time I will reap a harvest if I don’t give up. Help me to press on and do good to all people, especially to those who belong to your family” (see Gal. 6:9–10). This prayer is particularly helpful when I’m going through a wilderness experience or dealing with difficult people. Prayer disciplines us to humble ourselves before God, and it also provides revelation for how to move forward.
The Downward Path
The opportunity to journey through the wilderness is a sacred invitation from God. The wilderness brings us to the humble path. It reminds us of the great charge to take up our cross and follow Jesus (Mark 8:34).
I am thankful that I have people in my life like my spiritual director who remind me of this invitation. I keep a quote from him on the desk in my home office in a beautiful turquoise frame with white vines, so I do not forget:
As you grow in your giftedness; as more and more doors of opportunity open, the temptations of your enemy will increase. Your only hope, Natasha, to remain a good steward, is to embrace your cross and take that downward path we so often talked about; the pathetic path brings death to you, but life to others (2 Cor. 4:12). In this way, you will become more and more like Jesus; the life that you’ll live is the life of Christ Jesus.
There is nothing glamorous about the teachings of the wilderness. In solitude and isolation, we learn how to do the internal work, how to surrender to God. And he teaches us how to lead ourselves so we can effectively lead others on the sacred way. Growing in humility gives us proper perspective. We soon realize that reconciliation and redemption are not ours to bring about; that’s God’s responsibility. If we respond in obedience to his invitation, we may experience the miraculous goodness and grace of his transformation in our own lives. Then he can make us his ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:20).
Leading Broken People
Maya Angelou’s famous advice —“When people show you who they are, believe them”—resonates with many. At one point it seemed logical to me as well. When I looked at the history of the United States, my personal history, or even my leadership and ministry journey, I saw people who were sometimes hateful, selfish, greedy, or insensitive, and thus I concluded that’s exactly who they were.
The problem with this life philosophy is that it is only partially true, and it was not helpful for those I observed or for me. My limited perspective may describe a person, but it does not define their full identity. I have learned as an idealist that sometimes I just need to lower my expectations.
I’m so thankful for Bryan Stevenson’s humble reminder in Just Mercy that “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. … If someone tells a lie, that person is not just a liar. If you take something that doesn’t belong to you, you are not just a thief. Even if you kill someone, you’re not just a killer.” By God’s grace, these same people can learn to tell the truth, to work so they do not lack, and to love instead of hate. We all need compassion and mercy. Our fallenness is a humble reminder of the power of God’s grace, and that is our greatest hope.
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Source: Christianity Today