I've abandoned the vocabulary of "mountains and valleys" to describe the variations in the Christian life. It seems that the seasons (in my experience, maybe) are more of "seasons in the wilderness" and "seasons of fruitfulness." (Graham Cooke describes seasons of hiddenness and seasons of manifestation in a similar way.)
Fruitfulness is when we see the cool things happening: our prayers are answered quickly, our ministry thrives, we are seen for who we are in Christ and welcomed (or not). These are seasons of fruitfulness, and as we all love bearing fruit, we tend to love these seasons. We tend to know a fair bit about these seasons because we're always praying for them: "More souls!" "More revival!" "More provision!" are all praying into this season of fruitfulness.
Wilderness seasons, sometimes called desert seasons, are where the foundations for fruitfulness are built. And while many of us have never been taught to expect wilderness seasons (I certainly was not), pretty much all of the great saints had their seasons.
- Moses: Tried to fulfill his destiny, but it really didn’t work out, so he fled to the wilderness. Met God in a Burning Bush in the desert. Then he took three million people with him back into the wilderness, where he was led by pillar of fire/cloud for 40 years. When they got thirsty, he brought water from the rock. Twice! And they ate “What’s that?” (AKA “manna”) for supper every day for 14,600 nights! Moses is famous for making the “Tent of Meeting,” and later the tabernacle: the wilderness is where he learned how to do that, and more important, he learned how to hear God.
- David: He was anointed by God to be king, and immediately went back to tending sheep in the hills. He killed Goliath (using methods he learned in the wilderness with the sheep), served the king for a little while, and then fled to the wilderness when the king tried to kill him. There he learned how to encourage himself in the Lord, he wrote powerful & intimate Psalms, and he trained an army, and went raiding with them in order to kill Israel’s enemies and feed his friends.
- John the B: Luke 1:80: “And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to
.” He’s famous for eating grasshoppers, but in the wilderness, God taught him his assignment (forerunner for the Messiah) and how to recognize him. Israel
- Jesus: Jesus didn’t “flee,” but Mark 1:12 says, “the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness.” Of course, it follows up with Luke 4:14: “Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to
Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region.” Something good happened to him out there.
- Apostle Paul: Here’s another guy that tried to walk out his calling, but ended up fleeing for his life into the wilderness where he was trained by God. 2 Corinthians 12: describes part of what happened there: “I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— how he was caught up into
Paradiseand heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” He later taught doctrine both from the Old Testament and from the revelation he acquired in the wilderness (for example, 1 Corinthians 11:23).
I see some common trends here:
o A season in the wilderness regularly precedes being released to do what God has called us to do.
o God provides for us in the wilderness, but it’s usually not what we wish his provision would be. For the Exodus, it was 40 years of “What’s that?”; for Elijah, it was water and roadkill (1 Kings 17:6). John had grasshoppers, and for Jesus, it was 40 days of fasting.
o The wilderness is the place where God teaches us how to hear Him. Most of us relate to God through other people (pastors, friends, leaders) until we visit the wilderness, where we learn to relate to him directly as sons.
o It seems that the wilderness is where we learn God’s strategies for the things he’s called us to do later in life: Moses learned how to hear God; John learned that the Messiah would be the one that the Spirit lands on like a dove; David learned to lead powerful soldiers; Paul learns doctrine.
I have begun to see the wilderness through the eyes of Hosea 2:14: it's there that God allures me. It's quiet there. There are burning bushes in the wilderness, and water from rocks, visions of the third heaven. But mostly, God is there, and if I listen carefully, he teaches me his ways: things that I'll need when I next go back to the city. I have learned to love the wilderness!
Don't get me wrong: the wilderness is difficult, but there are treasures there. For me, the difference was perspective: once I learned about the treasures, I began to treasure my seasons in the wilderness.