Some of us were challenged to pray one of those "dangerous prayers," giving God permission to change our status quo. Everything was going our way in our Christian walk and something or somebody challenged us to go deeper into God. Because of that event, we dared to ask God to make us more like His Son. In my case, it all began when I was challenged by some dear old saint to ask God to show me the way He sees me instead of the way I thought He saw me.
When we try to gain spiritual maturity by our own efforts, we usually make things worse, not better. Believe it or not, even after we have received Christ, we can be deceived, and most often we deceive ourselves. Before we set a foot on the kingdom path, our enemy does all he can to get us to either settle down in "Christian City" singing, "I Shall Not be Moved," as God continues to call us forward. Sometimes he uses our zeal to get us to take a spiritual detour, such as joining Christian cults, where we end up in delusion.
In his zeal for God, David wanted to go all the way. The Bible records that he was a man after God's own heart, zealous for the things of God, yet he decided to pray one of those so-called "dangerous prayers." In this psalm he had just been breathing out hatred for those who hate God, feeling pretty good about His standing with God, and then almost on a dare he prays, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24). I can guarantee that what God showed David was pretty ugly. If God looks at us and sees anything that is not the image of His Son, He is displeased with it and wants to change it. Often He is waiting for us to see how spiritually ugly we are and ask Him to change us.
I have met many Christians who have asked God to dig deeper in them and change them from the inside out. They have come to a place in their lives where they became tired of themselves, where they knew that God had more for them than attending a Sunday service every week while living lives filled with selfish goals and desires. Then one fateful day they prayed that Star Trek kind of prayer, "God, boldly take me where no man has gone before. Get down to basics in me and start building Your heart's desire in me instead of my own." If you have prayed a prayer like this, God will begin stripping you of everything in you that is not His Son. This is not a fun experience to the natural man's way of thinking.
Enter the Wilderness
Israel spent almost 400 years in bondage under the hands of their Egyptian task masters. It was not always that way. At first the Hebrew people found favor in the eyes of Pharaoh, but it was not long after that king died that the following rulers saw them as a threat. Since we gave our lives to Christ, many of us found that our time at our jobs, among old friends, or even in church fellowships have followed this same path. The green pastures beside still waters turned into a walk through "the valley of the shadow of death." Enter the wilderness.
The wilderness? What does this have to do with following Jesus? We read in the book of Hebrews that all the things in the Old Testament were written as an admonition for us; they are a shadow of things to come. You might be asking God about now, "What did I ever do to deserve this kind of treatment?" Once this kind of testing starts, the spiral down into the pit happens mighty fast and the long climb back out seems arduously slow. In my case, all my wonderful church connections, ministry, fellowship and friends, went "Bye, bye!" almost overnight. I was cut off from every comfort that let me know that I was still loved by God. I even ended up in a literal wilderness in the remote parts of Alaska, alone and without the nearby support of my family, much less the saints of God.
Many years went by as I slogged along in life wondering if this death would ever change. I was reunited with my family after I had learned a deeper appreciation for what God had given me in them, but it was not until the wilderness was getting to the root of the problem that I quit blaming everyone else--including the Lord--for what happened and acknowledged Him as God, not me. A supervisor at work had a coffee cup with a message that seemed to sum it all up for me. It simply said, "Me boss, you not!" Once I acknowledged from my heart that God is perfect and I agreed that all His ways in my life were what I needed to bring about His desires in me, the light started to come on at the end of my tunnel. For once it was not the headlamp of an oncoming train!
Why the Wilderness?
At the end of Israel's wilderness journey, after about two and a half million of them died in their rebellion during those forty years, we read God's words to the ones who overcame:
And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:2-3 RSV)
For forty years He humbled them in their arrogant pride. He tested them to know what was still in their hearts, whether they would obey and serve Him alone. They lusted after the dainties of Egypt and He let them hunger and be deprived of these things all the more. He kept them alive with something that was strange and did not feed their lusts and they called it manna (Hebrew for "what is it?"). Have you men ever sat down to a meal prepared by your wife, taken a look at a new dish she made with loving care and asked, "What is it?" If you haven't, don't! The cook will not be pleased. God was not pleased with their reaction, either.
So why did God provide this manna, why this angels' food (Psalms 78:24) when they lusted after the food of Egypt and meat? For the same reason He takes us into a spiritual wildernesses to answer our prayers to be more like Jesus. I actually prayed, "Father, make me like your Son, so I will only speak the words I hear You saying and only do the works that I see You doing." After that He began to strip away everything that was not of Him, so I would know that "man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD." Does this sound familiar? Jesus told the devil this very thing while He was being tempted in His wilderness. Once your eyes are open to this principle, you will see all through the scriptures that God used the wilderness in the lives of His called-out ones.
How many of us can say, "I live only by every word that proceeds from my Father's mouth"? Yes, many of us have tried to live by the words recorded in the Bible. We read something in it that we think we can do to please God and then set out to do it. Yet it always seems to end in failure and defeat, and we wonder what went wrong. Church programs come and go, but nothing seems to change. We resolve to change or to do some great thing for God, but it crashes in failure. Jesus did not say that we were to live by all the words of God recorded in spiritual books. Satan tried to run that scam on Him during His temptation in the wilderness. In Matthew's gospel we read:
Then the devil took him up into the holy city, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, And said unto him, If you are the Son of God, cast yourself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning you: and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest at any time you dash your foot against a stone. (Matthew 4:5-6 KJ2000)
Was He the son of God? Yes. Did He set out to do everything in the Book that seemed to apply to Him? No! For Him, that would have been tempting God, not obeying Him. Did Jesus fulfill all that was written in the scriptures about Him and His coming as the Messiah? Yes, but only as His Father told Him to do it. He lived by every word that proceeded out of the mouth of the Lord. It is the Father's desire for all mankind to live that way. Am I saying that the Bible is no good? No! Not at all. But I am saying that unless what we read is inspired by God and spoken into our hearts by the Spirit, what we set out to do will end in failure, often because it was spawned in rebellion from our unregenerate hearts.
What a delusion we get into when we say, "God said so and so in the Book and I'm going to do it!" Israel said the same thing when the law was given to them by Moses (see Exodus 19:7-8) and then broke every part of it. As my mom used to say, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." He lets us grab the ball and run with it until we finally come to the place when we can see our hearts as God does and say with Paul, "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not" (Romans 7:18 KJ2000).
The German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, "When God calls a man He calls him to come and die." All we can "do for God" is die. Once the soulish drive in us is weakened and put in check, we can say with Paul, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20 KJ2000, emphasis added). God is not interested in what we can do for Him! He is only interested in what Jesus can do for Him in us. Our faith in Him isn't even good enough. We must walk and live by His faith. To do that the wilderness and trials must kill the old Adam in us, that old sin nature that thinks we can be like God. Wasn't that the first temptation in the garden regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5 RSVA). There is nothing in our natural, un-crucified nature that can do God's work or even obey Him, much less be like Him. Only Jesus can do that.
In Matthew we read:
From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from you, Lord: this shall not be unto you. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get you behind me, Satan: you are an offense unto me: for you consider not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16:21-24 KJ2000)
A few verses earlier, Peter was given a revelation from the Father and Jesus had commended him for listening to His voice, but here a few verses later we find carnal Peter speaking up once again from his old nature. Jesus equates this with speaking for Satan and desiring the things that are desired by men. What a slap in the face that must have been for poor self-willed Peter!
But the passage doesn't end there. Jesus gives Peter and us the solution to the problem. "If any man would come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." We can not get away from the cross or the wilderness if we are to follow Jesus. There is only one cure for the fallen nature of Adam, and that is death. There is only one way for God to do His will in us and that is through Jesus' resurrection life. The cure for our sins was the death and resurrection of Christ, and the same cure enables us to do the will of God. Our old man dies and Jesus rises again to new life in His power within us.
The Dark Night
In our pursuit of God, some of us have heard about "the dark night of the soul." In the lives of many of the Lords called-out ones, He initiates a time when it feels like He hides Himself from them and cuts off all the outward signs that He is still in their lives in order to do a deeper work in them. Just as a surgeon puts a person to sleep to operate and go deep into his body to remove a growth, so God puts us into a kind of "spiritual sleep" to get to the root of an embedded problem. The deeper the cancer of our carnal will in us, the deeper He has to go. But if we are serious about going all the way in Christ, He will get to the root of that thing that holds us back.
Watchman Nee, a Chinese brother who died in a communist prison for his testimony of Christ, wrote about this in the book The Normal Christian Life. In chapter thirteen we read:
But the difficulty with many of us is that dark night. The Lord graciously laid me aside once in my life for a number of months and put me, spiritually, into utter darkness. It was almost as though He had forsaken me--almost as though nothing was going on and I had really come to the end of everything. And then by degrees He brought things back again. The temptation is always to try to help God by taking things back ourselves; but remember, there must be a full night in the sanctuary--a full night in darkness [the author refers here to Aaron's rod that budded--see Exodus chapter 17]. It cannot be hurried; He knows what He is doing.
We would like to have death and resurrection put together within one hour of each other. We cannot face the thought that God will keep us aside for so long a time; we cannot bear to wait. And I cannot tell you how long He will take, but in principle I think it is quite safe to say this, that there will be a definite period when He will keep you there. It will seem as though nothing is happening; everything you valued is slipping from your grasp. There confronts you a blank wall with no door in it. Seemingly everyone else is being blessed and used, while you yourself have been passed by and are losing out. Lie quiet. All is in darkness, but it is only for a night. It must indeed be a full night, but that is all. Afterwards you will find that everything is given back to you in glorious resurrection; and nothing can measure the difference between what was before and what now is!
I was sitting one day at supper with a young brother to whom the Lord had been speaking on this very question of our natural energy. He said to me, 'It is a blessed thing when you know the Lord has met you and touched you in that fundamental way, and that disabling touch has been received.' There was a plate of biscuits between us on the table, and I picked one up and broke it in half as though to eat it. Then, fitting the two pieces together again carefully, I said, 'It looks all right, but it is never quite the same again, is it? When once your back is broken, you will yield ever after to the slightest touch from God.'
That is it. The Lord knows what He is doing with His own, and He has left no aspect of our need unmet in His Cross, that the glory of the Son may be manifested in the sons. Disciples who have gone this way can, I believe, truly echo the words of the apostle Paul, who could claim to serve God "in my spirit in the gospel of his Son" (Rom. 1:9). They have learned, as he had, the secret of such a ministry: "We... worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh" (Phil. 3:3).
Yes, once we have gone through His dark night our "biscuit" will never be the same. God never lets us go skipping down the street, doing His work, without the cross remaining a daily part of our lives. Even after Jesus was tempted for forty days in the wilderness and overcame the wicked one, He often returned to that same wilderness to be alone with His Father. Once we were filled with joy at the thought of being "used by God" before men, but now we would rather live in obscurity and draw no attention to ourselves. Something of that old self-willed Adam in us that wants to "be like God" has died.
Are you willing to pray that God does whatever is necessary that Christ might be made perfect within you? Or are you inclined to pass on that one and just attend church and recline beside the still waters and eat the pulpit food your pastor pre-chews for you and drops into your mouth every Sunday? The choice is yours: to pray those "dangerous prayers" or continue in Egypt where the old Adam is safe and comfortable in his padded pew.
My dear brother and sister in the wilderness, are you at the point of wondering what you have gotten into and if it is all worth it? I was, but I am here to tell you that it is worth it and there is an appointed time when you will cross over into that heavenly kingdom wherein dwells righteousness.
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel. See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. His voice then shook the earth; but now he has promised, "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven." This phrase, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of what is shaken, as of what has been made, in order that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:22-29 RSV)to top