30 August 2012

Ten years in the wilderness

Responding to a post from Felicity Dale, here is my story of spending time in the wilderness. For me it spanned a ten year period and began when our friends moved on to other things but we knew that we were to stay put. It was a lonely and seemingly bleak experience.

Part of Gale Crater on Mars
In a recent blog post, Felicity Dale asked the question, 'Why do we go through wilderness experiences?' Thinking about this I quickly realised I wanted to write much more than would fit into a comment. So here goes...

I became a follower of the Way some time in the period between 1968 and 1970. I can't pin it down to a particular time or date, there was a time when I did not believe, and later a time when I did, and between the two a process of searching and growing understanding.

In late 1970 Judy (my first wife) and I began hunting for a place where we could meet other people with similar faith and a heart to follow Jesus simply and intentionally. We hunted high and low around Bristol where we had a flat, but failed to find what we were looking for. Eventually we found a little ex-Brethren meeting, Zetland Road Chapel, less than a five minute walk from our front door and we knew right away that this was home.

In 1975, buying our first house in the nearby village of Yatton, we found a similar welcome and good fit at Horsecastle Chapel.

After a few years at Horsecastle, we were very excited to discover other believers in the village with remarkably similar ideas to our own. We began meeting in our homes together and quite soon there were fifteen or so of us. We soon discovered the gifts of the Spirit and realised we were part of what was known at the time as the Charismatic Renewal.

Eventually we left the chapel to fully immerse ourselves in this new thing that Jesus was doing. They were exciting times!

But after a few years people began to join the new organisations that were beginning at this time. There was Bank House Fellowship in Clevedon, a new group in Yatton with clear leadership by a couple we knew, and several others locally. Most people were looking for leadership and structure of one kind or another while Judy and I were certain that meeting at home and led only by Jesus through the Holy Spirit was the right way to continue.

Gradually we found ourselves on our own, our time in the wilderness had begun, probably by 1980 but certainly before 1985. How this wilderness time ended about ten years later is another story. But what did we learn through the experience? Several important things, I think.

  1. We learned not to depend on other people, but to depend only on Christ. This was a valuable (if painful) lesson. It's not so much that we felt let down by people, but at first we grieved over them because we felt they had lost the most important thing.
  2. It seemed to us that our friends were following other people at least as much as they were following Jesus. I know that they did what they believed to be right and with clear consciences, but neither Judy nor I could follow them there. At first Judy was very hurt, I tried to build bridges. We learned to let people move on without blaming them and without resentment.
  3. It would have been natural to return to Horsecastle Chapel where we had many friends. But we knew that was not what we were called to do. Doing what seems natural can be the wrong thing. Another useful lesson.
  4. We learned that staying where we are can be an act of obedience. Sometimes we are called to move into new and perhaps difficult situations. Sometimes we are called to remain in changing and perhaps difficult circumstances.
  5. And above all we learned the need to listen, hear, and obey. Judy and I shared Tony and Felicity's feeling that the Lord had somehow moved on and left us where we were. Even reading the Bible and praying seemed empty sometimes, yet we persevered because the Spirit had shown us we were to meet informally, in homes, and led only by him.
  6. We learned not to confuse stubbornness and faithfulness. Stubbornness comes from wanting my own way, faithfulness from wanting Jesus to have his way in my life. To those outside the situation the two may appear very alike.
  7. We learned to respect the leading that others have, even when it is different from our own.
  8. And finally, we came to see that the wilderness is a place of value. It builds character. It teaches patience. It breaks down pride and self-sufficiency. At first it seems a place of failure and defeat, but it proves in the end to be a place of new beginnings and victory. The wilderness is a place of preparation.
See also: Related article on Felicity Dale's blog.

2 comments:

  1. I too have learnt from being in the wilderness. During this wilderness period I read a book by Joyce Huggett called Formed by the Desert. It was a real eye opener to my spirit just how much we can learn if we desire it during this testing time. The other book I read during this time was The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen which was a real comfort to my spirit. Even Jesus retreated to the desert, so if the example by which we try to lead and live our lives retreats to the desert why shouldn't we? During this time was the first time I learnt about the holy spirit interceding on our behalf. It was the one thing that really spoke to me. The very fact that the spirit of Christ can stand in the gap for us without us even having to ask for it truly is an amazing event. God is SO gracious to us at our weakest point that the spirit of God himself intercedes and helps us. What an amazing God we worship. Lord I stand in awe of you.....

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  2. What's in a NameSeptember 25, 2012 at 9:04 PM

    Thanks for this Chris. We can confirm everything you list here. Really encouraging. Sometimes we can think that we're totally off the wall, as we are only five people at the most, but I can say that the Lord is slowly growing us (emphasis on 'slowly') to community.

    "We learned not to confuse stubbornness and faithfulness. Stubbornness comes from wanting my own way, faithfulness from wanting Jesus to have his way in my life. To those outside the situation the two may appear very alike."

    Oh gosh yes. And for me, who in the natural needs harmony and peace and understanding in relationships, it's tough when the many outside, with whom we still have contact think we have left the faith, or are nuts, or both. :)

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