It often happens in the Christian life, that after the blessing comes the battle. After the mountain top comes the valley. After feeling so close to God, there comes a time when you feel so very far away from God. Sometimes, the greatest temptations follows the greatest victories. The greatest trials follow the biggest triumphs. This is true of most of the great leaders of Scripture.
Remember Elijah? He went to Mt. Carmel to have a contest of gods. He took on the 450 prophets of Baal. And if you have read the story in 1 Kings 18, you remember that it was a great victory and a great display of power for the Only True God in Heaven, and Elijah was so excited that, on his way back to town, he was able to outrun the horses pulling the chariot. But then, only one chapter later, in 1 Kings 19, we see Elijah as low as he has ever been. He’s hiding out in the desert wishing he could die.
The Apostle Paul is another example. He received a revelation from God on the road to Damascus and believed in Jesus for eternal life.
According to Acts 9:20, Paul immediately tried to start a ministry to his Jewish brethren. It says he was winning arguments and debates with them. But even though he was winning debates, he wasn’t winning any people. Instead, he almost got himself killed. So he fled to Arabia for three years, probably to study Scripture in light of his new belief that Jesus was the Messiah (Gal 1:17-18). Then, after three years, he probably decided he was ready for ministry again, and so he returned to Damascus and then went to Jerusalem to see if he could help the apostles in their work. But the disciples there wouldn’t trust him (Acts 9:26). Nevertheless, he went out and tried to start a ministry to the Hellenistic Jews in Jerusalem. But again, the only fruit of his ministry was that he kept making people mad, and he almost got killed again (Acts 9:29). The apostles decided they had to get rid of him, so they sent him off to Tarsus.
The account in Acts 9 is very humorous. It says that after they sent Paul away, the church began to prosper (9:31).
Can you imagine what Paul is feeling? Jesus Christ told him on the road to Damascus that he was going to be used greatly by God, but every time Paul tried to be used by God, all he did was cause problems and make people angry, to the point that even the apostles didn’t want him around. And it is only after he leaves, that the church begins to prosper! And so what did Paul do? Well, he served, quietly, in a church, in the boondocks of Tarsus. For 14 years he was there. He was unknown (Gal 1:22). He was unrecognized. People forgot about him. He probably began to think that God had forgotten about him too.
But God had not forgotten. God sent Paul to Tarsus, I am convinced, to teach him humility. To teach him how to get victory over his temptation of pride. God put Paul on the back burner for 17 years in order to teach Paul how to speak the truth in love. And when, after 17 years, Paul had learned this lesson in the wilderness of Arabia and backwaters of Tarsus, God said to Paul, “OK, now you are ready to be used.” And Paul did turn the world upside down for God. But he had to spend time in the wilderness learning getting molded by God.
Even Jesus was not immune to such wilderness refinement and preparation. The first four chapters of Luke are all about Jesus’ preparation for ministry. Chapter 1 contains the events leading up to His birth. Chapter 2 relates His birth and an event during His childhood years. In chapter 3, He was prepared for ministry through the baptism of John and the affirmation of God the Father.
This baptism was a mountaintop experience for Jesus. He came up out of the water after being baptized by John, and God thundered out of heaven, “You is my beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.”
But rather then immediately launch into a successful ministry, the Spirit takes Jesus out into the desert, not to the adoring multitudes. Immediately following the blessing is the battle. Jesus goes from the heights to the depths. From the lush banks of the Jordan and hearing the voice of God, to the barren wasteland of the wilderness, where He is confronted and tested by the devil.
All of us experience such wilderness times in our own life. And if you haven’t, you will. Your spiritual life and ministry landscape will become hot, barren, and dry. Sometimes, this lasts a day or two, or maybe a month or more. Sometimes it lasts years.
When you find yourself in the wilderness, realize that such periods help you gain strength, maturity, and humility. Use these times to gain victory over temptation and sin. Grow in your knowledge of God and His Word. And wait patiently on God. When the time is right, He will raise you up, restore you to life, and through you, advance the Kingdom of God.