The Desert Waiting Room: God's Ultimate Training Academy
Whether you get thrown into the wilderness for forty years, or sold into slavery in Egypt, or left to contemplate life while undergoing chemotherapy, or forced to work in a difficult job, or anything and everything that causes you to persevere and wait, God does his best work on our character and heart in this simple act of delay.
Why is it the best training ground for spiritual growth? It’s pretty simple. You have nowhere to turn to but heaven. Yes, some turn to the TV, computer games, shopping, and other distractions. The wise turn to God.
It amazes me how easy we get caught up in distractions and forget to seek our Maker. Days fritter away with meaningless activities like surfing the web, watching people eat bizarre foods, viewing someone hit a white ball into a hole, or slinging angry feathered creatures into a bevy of grunting pigs. It’s meaningless activity but somehow we gravitate toward the mundane. We gravitate towards useless things.
Others fill their lives with wall-to-wall activity. I call these people the high achievers or low perceivers of spiritual things. It’s how you look at it. They can’t seem to rest. They answer e-mails all day, work late at night, eat their granola while running on the treadmill, enroll their kids in fifteen million things, and always read how to improve books before they go to sleep. Their time with God is saying grace at meal times or spouting the emergency prayer when someone is sick. These things are not bad in themselves, but if it is the extent of someone’s spirituality, then, sad to say, it’s really shallow religion, not real Christianity.
Many Christians swim in these murky, turbulent waters. God has the perfect rescue line: the waiting room or desert. Don’t despise it. Embrace it. Drink deeply from it.
Let’s take Moses as a good example. He took a big swig of the desert, forty years of forty-proof liquor to be exact. It’s the type of spirit that would make you grimace in pain while chugging it down and while eliminating it in the morning. You know what I mean.
He entered the land of scorpion and sand an accomplished leader trained in all the arts of Egypt. By the time God tapped him for service he was reduced to a blubbering wimp, scared of his own shadow, content to live out the rest of his life with sheep.
You would think that if you were talking to the creator of the universe, God, Jehovah, Yahweh, the guy that engineered existence, then saying no to his requests would be stupid. That’s how broken he was. He didn’t believe in himself anymore. He was saying no to The-Guy-Upstairs. The dude was confused.
Well, to make a long story short, God got angry and Moses wisely changed his mind. “Good move, Moses.” He agreed to go to Egypt with another gum smacking, AARP, octogenarian, who agreed to be his mouthpiece. They must have been a peculiar sight in the court of Pharoah. No wonder Ra on earth did not take these two senior citizens very seriously. He wasn’t going to lose to two burnt out shells. He wasn’t going to bow to two old farts.
Moses’ forty years definitely melted him down and caused him to rely completely on God. His brokenness eventually allowed God to break pharaoh. Humility beats pride all of the time. Moses just had to obey and God would do the rest. Moses flowed with The Father.
I do not want to be too hard on the man because his task was daunting. It would be the equivalent of going to the President of China and asking him to lay down Communism and allow the Chinese people to have a freely elected Democratic government. To even think of attempting such a gargantuan feat would be an act of sheer lunacy. Yet, God asked Moses to do the impossible. He asked him because Moses drank the desert. He drank God. The Israelites eventually said ‘bye-bye’ to Egypt because of Moses’ leadership. The desert did its good and abiding work on the man of God.
As you can see, the waiting room does a world of good for those who take up the challenge to wait. It’s just that while going through this insanity, there are times when you want to run into the middle of Kalaukaua Avenue (a street in Waikiki) and scream your head off. Most of the time cooler emotions prevail and you do productive things like reflect on life with God.
I began to look back at my sojourn with God. I reminisced on my conversion at a Southern Baptist church in my neighborhood of Honolulu. I always chuckle at the thought of God using a predominantly white, southern speaking, sweet tea, ‘hi y’all doing’, kind of church, to lead a Portuguese, Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese man to himself. They loved Jesus. They loved evangelism. They loved me.
I got saved during their annual revival month. For some reason they chose March as revival month; a time when God would supposedly pour out his Spirit on thirsty souls. They must have prayed because I chose to ride my bike to church without anyone asking me to come. I just decided I needed God. The Spirit was definitely poured out on my little house on sleepy Kaumakani Street. He drew me to church.
I listened to the messages and received Jesus two weeks later. My journey as a Christian began in earnest. God started to the great work of refinement.
He first directed me to study under great leaders, teachers, churches, and schools. I also saw his hand of provision as a student at the University of Hawaii, as a missionary in Japan, as a missionary in the Philippines, as a seminary student in Massachusetts, as a pastor in Honolulu, and throughout my whole Christian life. He provided in miraculous ways.
I reminisced on how he visited me in a night vision as Wisdom, spoke audibly to me at 3:20 AM in the morning, sent an angel to speak to me in front of McKinley High School, and other supernatural occurrences that made it clear that God was very much a part of my life. Joy started to well up in my heart. I realized at a deeper level how much God loved me. I remembered. I gave thanks. I was humbled.
Reflection causes one to gain the right perspective. In the busyness of life you lose your way and in my case my ministry became a task, a goal, an idol, instead of an overflow from a thankful heart to God. Reflection causes one to be thankful. That’s why God told the Israelites to remember what He did in the past. This would keep them thankful about eating their manna bread without complaining. “Can you imagine eating the same thing for forty years?”
Reflection caused me to be thankful again. It helped me to realize that God really loves stubborn mules like myself. It helped me to recognize at a deeper level that God really exists and that he chose me to serve him in some specific and important way. I felt the fear of God in a deeper more profound way. Remembering the goodness of God pointed me to a healthier future.
The desert also acts like a cleansing agent. It dislodges spiritual and emotional gunk that would lie hidden in the midst of activity and distraction. Unforgiveness, judgment, lust, anger, jealousy, pride, impatience, and other filth comes to the surface in the purifying waters of delay. Like a dirty mop, sin and fear continually appears until our hearts become like pure water. Love, joy, peace, patience, and other fruit of the Spirit then take their place. David stated in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” The holy sand of God’s desert scours away everything.
The waiting room causes one to simplify and go deep. The life of a modern day senior pastor is filled with busyness. Multi-tasking should get its definition from the lifestyle of this crazy but rewarding profession. Like all things, it’s a calling. It has to be. What deranged human being would ever think of putting themselves under such torture, especially in today’s entitlement culture?
When I was relieved of my many responsibilities, I was left with a lot of time. Initially, I cried out for my busy life again. Like a drug addict crying out for a fix of cocaine, I pleaded with God for tasks to accomplish. I needed the adrenaline rush. I needed just a gram. I needed my life to be filled with activity.
I eventually got tired from pounding the walls of my spiritual rubber room and began to focus on the things God gave me to do. I started to focus on writing, prayer, family worship times, meditation on Scripture, counseling, reading, and the few teaching opportunities handed to me. I went deep on these things. God refined my character. He honed my skills. Like Elijah receiving food from the ravens, I grew to patiently wait for the food of work. I did only what he asked me to do. A spirit of rest embraced me. Actually, more like tackled me. It worked.
I used to think that the ultimate goal was to get out of the waiting room and onto the road of destiny. God showed me differently. He showed me that there is joy in the journey. Finding God in the midst of the internment camp becomes the goal, the joy, the prize, the number one thing . The future call or ministry now becomes the overflow. It becomes secondary. The opportunity to partner with God in a new adventure becomes the greatest source of happiness. It takes first place in our hearts. We meet God. We walk with Him forever. That’s all that matters.
The desert waiting room did all this for me. It can do it for you. It’s time to count your blessings. It’s time to move forward. It’s time to stop fuming and to start fellowshipping with the one who loves your soul. You will never be the same.