20 years ago last month (May 1989), I completed my formal education. Two months later (July ’89), I found myself enrolled in a different type of graduate school. While I had finished my schooling, I was about to get an education. I was in for a crash course in character development that began with seven months of unemployment. God sent me into the desert to grow up. Being the slow learner that I am, it would only take me 12 years to learn the lessons.
In July 1989, I was asked to resign from my position at College Church in Wheaton, IL. While I had not done anything wrong, I had also not done enough right and the church wanted to make a change. As they explained it, I wasn’t a leader, though they could not define what that meant. That remark, while vague, caused me to become an intense student of the subject of leadership. As a result of my personal study, I learned that a leader’s primary tasks were to have a vision of where he wanted the organization to go and then to communicate that vision so that everyone was moving in the same direction. Based on that definition, I had been a good manager, but a poor leader. Since that time, I have worked hard to learn as much as I can about leadership and to place myself in situations which would help me develop as a leader. While it was a very painful time in my life, God used it as a catalyst for my greater growth. It was a painful and expensive education, yet well worth the price of tuition.
In April 2001, my wife and I attended L.E.A.D. (Leadership Evaluation and Development) at Dallas Theological Seminary’s Center for Christian Leadership. The workshop helped me to understand that the way I lead is through preaching and teaching. That realization helped me to understand that I failed at College Church because I was in a position which was primarily administrative. Consequently, it was not a good fit or match of my strengths.
I was reminded this week of this lesson as I prepared to preach on Exodus 2:15-25. As I studied the passage and prepared my message, I discovered that God often speaks to his people in the desert. In Deuteronomy 32:10-12, the passage describes how God took care of the nation of Israel in the desert.
10 “He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. 11 Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, 12 the Lord alone guided him, no foreign god was with him.
I learned that the Hebrew word for “desert” is also the same word for “mouth.” They both come from the root word, “to speak.” If it is not too much of a stretch, I think we can conclude that God speaks to his people in the desert. These verses also point our four things that God does for his people during those experiences. He encircles us . . . cares for us . . . keeps us . . . and guides us. During difficult, dry days of despair, we may feel alone, but we have never been abandoned. What a great comfort!
I also discovered that God often uses a wilderness experience to train his servants. It was in the wilderness that Jacob saw a stairway to heaven (Genesis 28) and Elijah heard the still, small voice of God (1 Kings 19). The wilderness is where John the Baptist began his ministry of preaching repentance (Matthew 3) and where Jesus won his first triumph over the devil (Matthew 4). It was also in the wilderness that Paul searched the Scriptures for the Christ of the Old Testament (Galatians 1:17). And as Exodus 2:15-25 points out, Moses went into the wilderness to meet the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
While I wouldn’t put myself in the category of the great heroes of the faith, I do share something in common. God trained us in the “howling waste of the wilderness.” Thank God that he did.