The Work of the Wilderness
| Seth Lewis
From a prison cell in Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the believers in the city of Colossae, and shared with them a prayer that, at first glance, seems underwhelming. After praying that they would know God more and live lives worthy of him, he goes on to ask that they would be “…strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.”
Strength. I need it. I can get behind a request for power and glorious might. Yes! Give me that! And with the glorious power of God himself give me…
Great endurance and patience.
Is that all, Paul? Couldn’t we pray for a stunning victory over all obstacles and opposition, all trials and troubles? Isn’t God’s glorious might enough to ask for more than just patience?
It is, of course. And there are times when Paul does ask for immediate deliverance. There are also times when God says “not yet”—like when Paul asks three times for the physical suffering caused by his “thorn in the flesh” to be removed, and God says “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Which means that when Paul prayed this for the Colossians, he knew very well that there are times when God doesn’t immediately save us from the hard things in life, and he also knew very well that God always has his reasons. Sometimes, God’s glorious might is given to us in the strength to endure, not in immediate release. Sometimes, these seasons when we have to walk through the wilderness of weakness and trouble are the times when our faith grows stronger, our priorities grow sharper, and our character, compassion, and confidence in God grow deeper. James takes the same point even further in his New Testament letter, telling us that we can “consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Who wouldn’t want to be “mature and complete, not lacking anything?” But who would want the many discomforts that lead us there? The road to maturity is never an easy one, but God loves his children too much to deliver them from the path that leads to such a good destination. The Bible is full of times when God left his people in the wilderness (both literally and figuratively) for a season, and while they wandered in wastelands, he worked. He worked in them, focusing their attention on the things that really mattered, teaching them to rely on his strength and provision day by day, and laying the groundwork for work he would do later, through them. In the wilderness, where nothing grows, their faith and endurance and maturity grew. Their time in the wastelands was never wasted.
After asking for endurance and patience, the next line of Paul’s prayer for the Colossians speaks of “giving joyful thanks to the Father” for the gift of salvation. I don’t know about you, but “joyful thanks,” “great endurance,” and “patience” are not words I typically think of to put next to each other—but Paul did. I should learn to, as well, because if I belong to God, then the salvation I’ve been given is bigger than the wilderness I’m in. Even when the path he leads me down is long and difficult, I can trust God’s glorious might and follow in the strength of his power. I can endure with patience and joyful thanks, knowing confidently that God will do his work, even while I walk through the wilderness.
Lord, by your glorious power, give me great endurance and patience!
|Seth Lewis is an elder at Midleton Baptist Church and leads the Carrigtwohill Baptist Group. He also works with Munster Bible College and Munster Christian Camps. Seth writes weekly at sethlewis.ie
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