The Wilderness of Sin: How God Gives the Gift of Dependency

It was some time ago that I heard an interview with Ann Voskamp in which she talked about how she usually reads a few books at a time, and lets the books “have a conversation with each other.”

I know exactly what she means. How God, sovereign over the most minute details of our lives, can weave together concepts in the books we’re reading,¬†sermons we’re listening to, conversations we are having, our daily experiences, and so forth. ¬†I know many of you also know what I’m talking about here. When it happens, our hearts skip a beat. These sorts of things cannot be coincidences.

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Lately I’ve been struggling with a particular battle with sin. I’ve been crying out for the Lord’s grace, His strength and help. I’ve been trying so hard to change, yet knowing if He does not change me, it is impossible.

Ever been there? Ever been so fed up with something, with yourself, and seeing no progress, despite doing what you only know best to do: crying out to the Lord, finding and clinging to promises in His word, accountability, prayer, trusting?

Yep. That’s where I’ve been for quite some time.

What’s become hardest about it has been “doing all the right things” within my power to do, yet not seeing victory. Knowing and believing with all my heart that God wants my victory too, that God hates my sin too, that God is able to do what is impossible for frail flesh, and yet not experiencing that “sufficient grace” in my weakness that Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 12:9.

This is what has been most painful. Where are You, God, in this? Why does it feel like You not helping me? Am I not Yours?

Those questions were largely met with silence for some time. And I agonized. Sleepless, restless nights were had. Hot, ugly cries to my husband were had. More prayer, more scripture. More silence.

THEN.

These words from Jerry Bridges in his incredible book, Transforming Grace:

“Often God’s word is not made effective immediately. In fact, there are many times when I struggle over an issue for a period of days, mulling over several pertinent passages of Scripture and crying out for grace, before the Holy Spirit finally makes them effective and gives His grace, helping in time of need. The Spirit of God is sovereign in His working, and we cannot squeeze Him into the mold of our spiritual formulas–for example, pray for grace, quote some verses, and receive a guaranteed answer.

God not only has His own ways of working, but also His own timetable. Sometime He grants grace to help almost immediately as He did in my most recent experience [shared in the book] with 1 Peter 5:7. At other times, He allows us to struggle for days, perhaps even weeks or months, before we receive the grace to help. But regardless of the delays He may impose on us, we must continue to come to the throne of grace believing His promise to grant grace to help, and we must continue to resort to appropriate Scripture until He makes it effective in our hearts. It is our responsibility to take up the sword of the Spirit; it is His prerogative to make it effective.”

Those words were balm to my soul. It felt like the first hint of an answer in a very very long, silent, lonely struggle.

Encouragement. Comfort. Companionship of others who have gone before.

But still this niggling question: why would God do this? Yes, to teach me to wait on Him. To persevere in the asking. To test my trust when my feelings and experience don’t match up with His Word. But it didn’t seem to get to the root of it. I know He is good and “in Him is no darkness whatsoever” but still, why leave me hanging in sin for so long? When He could immediately deliver?

{Sidenote: ¬†Keep in mind that I am currently studying Exodus and the wilderness wanderings of God’s people after His deliverance from Egypt in my time in the Word.}

I have finished Bridges book and now am reading “Extravagant Grace” by Barbara Duguid. {Whoever you are: you. MUST. read.} The concept of her book, which is basically a summary of the teachings of John Newton, is that God has great purpose in allowing us to continue to battle and struggle sin and our sin-nature as Christians. He is able to set us free from sin totally and perfect us completely at the point of salvation, and yet He doesn’t. Her book is a study of how God is more glorified in our continual battle with sin than He would be were He to perfect us on earth. Mind-blowing and ground-shaking.

Anyway, (I hope you are still following me here! Bear with me!) tonight I read these words from Duguid’s book:

“When a Christian struggles with a besetting sin in the form of an addiction…God may change their will long before He actually gives them the spiritual fruit of self-control in that area, and Newton tells us that God has as a profound purpose in this. When God changes the will and gives someone a great desire for obedience but not the strength to withstand temptation, He is putting His child in a painful and difficult position. Yet He does this in love and not with judgment or punishment in mind. He is humbling this child in a powerful way and crushing the child’s self-reliance. This can feel like a curse, when it is actually a great gift.”

My heart nearly stopped. Yes. That’s it.

Self-reliance.

And immediately the Spirit reminded me of a passage back in Bridges book about the wilderness and self-reliance. Since I’m an outdoor enthusiast and studied Outdoor Education in college, it leapt off the page to me when I read it previously:

“The wilderness makes or breaks a man; it provides strength of will and character. The strength provided by the wilderness, however, was not the strength of self-sufficiency, but the strength that comes from a knowledge of the living God.”

See, I know a lot of outdoor enthusiasts. People who live to test themselves against the elements of the wild, to prove their self-sufficiency.  Unfortunately, more often than not, the wilderness wins even over those most experienced and prepared.

When God drives us into the wilderness where we are tempted and accosted by our sin nature, we are never more aware of our desperate need for Him, for the Gospel, for the grace found in Jesus.  Similarly when you are in a physical wilderness, you are quickly reminded of how small you are when one simple thing goes wrong.  When God drove the Israelites into the wilderness after their (read: His) tremendous victory in Egypt, He knew there was a faster/easier route to the Promised Land.  But He also knew their hearts were not ready.  They needed to know just how dependent they actually were on Him.  For everything.  And so He led them into the wilderness.

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Judean wilderness (http://www.waynestiles.com/the-judean-wilderness-the-ultimate-getaway/)

As an act of mercy, He led them to a place where the failure, rebellion, grumbling that had always lived in their hearts would be exposed.  He knew their hearts, He would never be surprised by their behavior.  But they needed to see their hearts.  And they needed to see Him stay with them, abide with them, even at their very worst and least deserving.

This is the gift God gives us when we cannot seem to experience victory over sin.

And this grace-starved girl has never loved Him more than when He abides ever with me, even when I make my bed in hell.  He is not surprised by my continual failure, like I am.  He sees me in Christ: Perfect.  Clean.  Righteous.  Redeemed.

Unfathomable grace.

If to heavens heights I fly, You are still beside me
Or in death’s dark shadows lie, You will stay close by me
If I flee on morning wings far across the gray sea:
Even there Your hand will lead
Your right hand will guide me.
(see Psa. 139:7-12)

 

 

 

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