By Jesse Morrell
Lonely Lane is a hard road to travel on. It's always been hard, still is hard, and forever will be hard. Only the toughest and the greatest have gone on it. With all the group studies and the fellowship dinners it is easy to stay around people all the time and therefore harder to get alone with God. Social Street, Popularity Place, and Entertainment Avenue seem to be the roads most traveled. John Bunyan's "Vanity Fair" is certainly still the most visited hang out. Lonely Lane itself has been getting lonely. The bible has an even better name for this place. It's called the wilderness.
In the wilderness there is no water, no food, no supermarkets or malls. There are no libraries filled with books. There is absolutely nothing at all, except for God. You know you could be in the tallest sky scraper in New York or the greatest castle in England with all it's splendor but if God is not there then it's no place at all. Better the wilderness with God then the mansion without.
"The wilderness and the solitary place" is completely cut off from the society and all its many influences. But it completely opens you up to God and His influence. We can get so caught up in the newest big book that's been published or the next huge Christian conference with its big named speakers that we can all together miss what God truly wants to share with us though His Word and His mouth. You can let others tell you what they've experienced going after God or you could experience going after God for yourself. You could hear everything about God, talk only about God, read all there is about God, serve God in every way, and still not know God Himself. When you enter into the desert you desert everyone and everything to be absolutely alone with God. Luke 3:2 "The word of God came to John son of Zacharias in the wilderness." It's in the wilderness when you're cut off from everything else where God speaks to you. If you walk with man you will have the wisdom of man. If you walk with God you will have the wisdom of God.
It takes strong faith in God to walk into the wilderness, strong faith to walk through the wilderness, and strong faith to walk out of the wilderness. As rough as the road may be, you'll be a better man when you come out then when you went in. If you're strong enough to go in, you're even stronger when you come out. The man who shuts himself up to be alone with God is a wise man, but wiser still he will be afterwards.
In the wilderness you can encounter God. Who goes into the wilderness to see "a reed shaken by the wind"? If you merely wonder into the wilderness for nothing then that's all you'll probably see. There are no jobs, stock markets, or money making opportunities there. Don't even look. But if you go in to experience God, then you will. "He who seeks (after God) finds (God)." Jesus "Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed." The best place to find God is where there is absolutely nothing else but God. Christ withdrew even from His disciples. Not even Peter, James, and John would go with Him. They would wake up some days and have to search for Jesus because He had secretly left them to go pray before the sun came up. On a Friday night when everyone is going to the movies for a few hours, how many of us stay behind to instead pray for a few hours? While the rest of the world is sleeping in their beds, how many of us are praying in our prayer closets?
Praying through out the day is one thing but actually withdrawing yourself as Christ did is completely another. It's one thing to snack on candy throughout the day and another to sit down for a meal. If Christ had to cut Himself off from everyone and everything to be with God then how much more so should we? It is good "for a disciple that he be like his teacher." Philip E. Howard, Jr. said in his Biographical Sketch of the Life and Work of Jonathan Edwards that "It was Mr. Edwards habit when in good health to spend thirteen hours every day in his study." Some say "sure that's easy for a man to do when he has no family." Your right it is but it must be even harder for someone like Jonathan Edwards who had a wife and many children. David Brainerd, the famous missionary to the American Indians, would himself often get alone with God in the woods all day long for secret prayer, fasting, and meditation. On February 15th , Tuesday 1743 Brainerd said "I walked into a neighboring grove and felt more as a stranger on the earth, I think, than ever before; dead to any of the enjoyments of the world as if I had been dead in a natural sense." Brainerd sowed greatly therefore Brainerd reaped greatly. The man which sows the most will reap the most.
Like Moses you may meet God when you're all alone in the wilderness, or like Christ you could meet the devil. It is not only a time of teaching, but also a time of testing. Matthew tells us that Christ was "led up by the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil." A mother may lead her child to the playground, a commander may lead his troops into the battleground, but the Spirit of God will lead His servants into holy grounds and the testing grounds. Israel, before entering into the Promised Land, was in the wilderness forty years. Often they were without food and drink in order for the Lord to test their trust in Him. Hebrews 3:8 says it was "the day of trial in the wilderness." And Deut. 8:2 says "And you shall remember the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not." The wilderness will definitely humble a man. Moses "was humble, more humble than all men who were on the face of the earth." It was because Moses was in the presence God more then all the men who were on the face of the earth. How can a sinful man who walks with a Holy God be prideful?
In the wilderness you will find either:
Pain or pleasure,
Burden or blessing,
Fears or faith,
Death or deliverance,
And grief or grace.
There you will be broken or built. You will shatter or succeed. When Enoch was alone God came to him. When Christ was alone the devil came to him.
How do you pass the period of tempting? It must be by faith. Christ throughout the entire temptation by the devil had faith. He fought the lies of the devil with the truth of God. His weapon was "it is written." He held by faith the truth of God. When Adam and Eve were tempted they fell because Satan had them doubt God's word by saying "you will not surely die". To pass the testing, "hold fast that word" which God has spoken. If you're tempted to sin then claim the scripture "If any man be in Christ he is a new creation."
Notice how Satan came to tempt Christ when he thought Christ would be the weakest but I believe He was the strongest at that point. It was when He had fasted forty days and nights" when "He was hungry" that He was tempted. I don't really know what was happening during the forty days. Maybe for the forty days He was with His Father or Moses and Elijah. I do know that at the end that that fallen angel came to tempt the exalted Lord. Satan is more intelligent then I'm sure any of us think He is. Let us never underestimate him. Since he is smarter then we are let's fight him with God's wisdom that is smarter then he is. It worked for Jesus because He was "tempted in all points, yet without sin."
You can go into the wilderness and encounter God; you can go in to the wilderness and encounter Satan; or you could live in the wilderness all together. I heard it said that God will take you though the wilderness but you don't have to stay there. That's true, unless you're John the Baptist. We all know the story about the boy who was raised by wolves, well John the Baptist is probably the closest we will ever get to that. John was in the temple of God as a baby, in the wilderness growing up, and put in prison as a man.
Luke 1:80 says "And the child (John) grew, and became strong in Spirit, and was in the desert till the day of his manifestation to Israel." What does it say John did? He grew and became strong in Spirit. Well where did that happen? Was it in Seminary? No, it was in the wilderness. So without any books, teachers, conferences, and bible colleges, John grew strong in the Spirit. You know he didn't even have a bible? That should put all us bible owners to shame. He did so much without a bible, yet we do so little even with one. So ask yourself then, who taught him? The answer is: God. Now I'm absolutely not saying we need to all be mystics but there is a lesson to be learned here. You ask those graduating from seminary this year who are about to go into the ministry if in all their studying and classes if they've had their wilderness experiences. Both John and Jesus didn't go anywhere near the ministry until they've both graduated from "The School of Silence".
Oh I could only imagine the things that could be written about John the Baptist. The wilderness made him a wild preacher. He was from a wild place which made him a wild man who did wild things. He had such an inward experience that it affected him outwardly. His eyes were focused on God for so long that he didn't care about anyone else. He obviously didn't care about human opinion even in the least bit because he was clothed with camels' hair. He ate locusts and wild honey. How do you suppose your Sunday morning congregation would feel if your pastor showed up Sunday morning dressed like this man was? No matter their response, "among those born of women there has not been one greater then John the Baptist." He was a man who was "before the face of the Lord".
He was a "voice crying out in the wilderness." The incredible thing is that people went all the way into the wilderness to hear him, even Romans. How many of this big youth groups would have the same amount of people coming to them if it wasn't for the fancy youth room with all the games, the free pizza, and the amusement park trips? I believe as John Wesley did that if you get on fire for God, people will come to watch you burn. That's what happened with John. We need preachers like that today! The candy and the games are being used to make up for the lack of fire.
A King came to hear John preach once. I'm sure when the presence of the King hit the scene it got every bodies attention. So what was it that John did? Did he put on a good show for the King and then ask if he could perform in the palace? No way! John believed in truth over honor. Rather then exalting the King, John publicly pointed out the sin of this King. Imagine if the President came to hear some of the preachers today. They would try to make contact with Him to further their own ministry. Well John wanted to further the truth because truth had fallen in the streets. There had not been a prophet for a few hundred years until John appeared out of literally no where. What if a missionary in a foreign land had the King of the land come to hear his message? Would he warn the King of sin as John did? Maybe the missionary would think that if he warned a man of such position of sin then he might compromise his mission by being thrown out of the country. The compromise is not in doing it, but rather it is in not doing it.
John was not out to make a name for himself or to build a ministry empire. Any man who starts his sermon by saying "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" is not out to win the praises of men but rather the praises of God. When Christ's ministry became more popular then his own John said "He must increase, but I must decrease." He didn't hang around the religious elite of his day to try to impress them. I don't think anyone knew he even existed except for a few people until he was manifested to Israel. How many ministers who occupy our pulpits today set out from their bible colleges to make a name for themselves? How many preachers have gone before them to exalt their own names rather then God's name yet are long forgotten today while the memory of John the Baptists wilderness ministry lives on?
The wilderness is the best place for you to be if it is the place where God wants you to be. Whether your there to meet God or to meet with the devil, to be taught or to be tempted, or if your even going to be there forever, remember "The School of Silence" has had more of Gods greatest ministers graduate from it then any other school.
To the wilderness your Spirit leads
So not on bread but on your Word I'll feed.
Away from all I love and know
To obey your call, I have to go.
Temptations come to test my will,
This nature of mine you'll have to kill.
Lord, send the fire, the consuming fire.
Burn away my sinful desire.
To walk with you as Enoch had.
To leave the world that has gone mad.
Please cleanse and clean this soul of mine,
For eternity, while there's still time.