Navigating Your Way Through a Wilderness of Purpose

Have you ever been stuck in a bad job? I think that might be one of the worst things we have to deal with in life because sometimes we really do feel stuck, like a caged lion or a wolf caught in a trap. You might be in one right now. If you are, I’m sorry. I’ve been there and know how difficult it can be.

How do handle it? Do you tolerate it until something better comes along? Do you do the bare minimum, pining away the days until 5:00 comes around, or whatever time you are freed for the day, praying for Friday to get here quicker? Are you so miserable that you make everyone else around you share in the suffering just by being in your vicinity?

If we’re not careful, any of these are real possibilities for us and when it happens, nobody is happy. We tend to drift towards our default in those situations which is to belly-ache (if you’re not from the Southern U.S., that’s complain or grumble…you’re welcome), become angry (which often leads to bad relations with your boss, fellow workers and family), or even despair, as though this is all there is and it will never get any better.

So, what other alternatives do we have? What should we do in those kinds of situations?

Lose the ‘Tude

I think attitude has a lot to do with it and, contrary to what many say, I don’t think you can simply will your way to a new attitude. You actually need a new perspective. When you think about it, your perspective is what leads to your attitude, so if you skip over the process of finding the right perspective and, instead, try and “white-knuckle” your way into a new attitude, you’ll never succeed because the underlying feeling about the situation remains unchanged.

Below, I’m going to give you some things you can do to help you develop a new perspective about the difficult situations which can lead to a whole new attitude which, in turn, can transform your drudgery into a new mission (read, purpose).

Before I do, though, I need to be clear on something which may determine whether or not you keep reading: I’m a pastor and follower of Christ. Therefore, my perspective is unapologetically biblical. I’m unapologetic because I don’t think you’ll be able to find a true inner joy in your work apart from a relationship with the One who gives joy. You find joy because it’s there to be found. There is reason behind it and that can only be real if it’s intentional, which doesn’t happen unless it’s there on purpose, and purpose, by definition, can’t happen by chance.

A world without God is a world without real purpose except what you invent (because, again, there has to be an inventor for it to be real and meaningful). If we are the inventors of our own meaning (Existentialism) then we’re essentially engaging in an exercise in self-deception (ironically, what many atheists accuse Christians of). Be that as it may, I’m speaking here from my own experience as well as many others who have experienced the same true joy in situations where there really should be none. So, if you’re open to hearing about it, read on.

1. Begin asking God, “Why?”

OK, you’ve probably already been doing this, but now try it with a new focus. Rather than something along the lines of, “Why did you do this to me, God?” or “How could you let this happen to me?”, start asking God if this is a wilderness of purpose.

The Wilderness of Purpose

God most often leads His people into the wilderness for one (or all) of three reasons: purification, protection, and/or preparation. If you are a follower of Christ, God is most likely working something into you, shaping you into what He wants you to be for the future He has prepared, or He is cleansing you from a wrong attitude, lifestyle, or impurity. Since that is usually a process, the situation He has you in might be a key factor in that. If so, then think about it: short-circuiting that process is the last thing you want to do since, in the end, you lose out on what He has for you.

The Primary P

Whenever we begin to sort through the possibilities of why we may be in our current situation, we always need to begin with the right “P”. Since God may have us in the wilderness, for purification, preparation, or protection, it’s important to begin with the question of purifiication. In Hosea 3, God makes clear that He is leading His sinful people into the wilderness to discipline them, which involves allowing them to despar until they turn to Him and away from the sin that would destroy them. God does the same with us. Start by checking your own heart to see if there is something that needs to be made right. Pray David’s prayer in Psalm 139:

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

If you find something, confess it and turn away from it. That is a primary purpose of God’s wilderness.

Divine Boot Camp

Once you are certain you are not being cleansed from one or more sinful attitudes or practices (which, itself, can take some time, so be patient), then assume God is working in you to prepare and equip you. Now, it’s time to ask God what you are to learn through this, because if you have been adopted by God through Christ, there is purpose!

If you can get your mind and heart around that new perspective, it can lead to a whole new attitude, allowing you to embrace the wilderness you’re in with a renewed sense of excitement and joy at what God is doing in your life.

2. Ask God “What?”

Once you have adopted a new perspective on a tough situation, it’s important to ask another immediate question: “What do you want me to do HERE?” You must ask that question first before you begin thinking about what God has for you later or you’ll miss the present opportunities and assignments.

It’s easy, once you’ve embraced the process, to look too far down the road. Remember, God has you where you are for a PURPOSE. Find out what that is. It could be that the very thing that drives you nuts about your current situation is your assignment for now. Through humility, you may need to serve that co-worker that drives you insane. By doing so, you become a blessing to them and you get the blessing of becoming more humble, servant-minded and Christlike in your thinking. Remember, this is the goal.

Maybe the role you serve is simply to learn to become a good worker, learning how to do menial tasks with a good attitude, giving honor to your employer whether you like him or not. All of these things are important things to develop in your life that will be useful in other situations.

While working on a ThM at Southern Seminary, my “pay-the-bills” job was working at Home Depot, which (though there is absolutely nothing wrong with working at Home Depot) is decidedly NOT what I had spent the past 22 years in education preparing for. Nevertheless, I walked through this process of taking a new perspective and it quickly became my mission field. It changed how I thought, acted, talked and worked! A menial job for me became an important mission field and served to build some important qualities in me that I use today in my current assignment which I love! I began to work with purpose, leading to a more joyous experience in almost intolerable tasks.

3. Determine to stick with it.

I’m hesitant to make that a blanket statement because there will probably be a time when you will need to move on, so don’t get too comfortable in the process. This is where discernment from the Holy Spirit comes through spending time with the Lord in prayer and the Word. If you’re patiently listening as you read and meditate on Scripture, you’ll know when it’s time to move on and will be able to confirm it through godly counsel and encouragement.

Until the time comes to leave, stick with it, even though it may get harder and/or more tedious. God never promised it would be easy. In fact, the Word is pretty clear we should expect the difficulty. The Enemy will most likely do everything he can to stop you because for you to master the process is greater victory for you and more glory for God…something he most certainly wants to thwart.

4. Embrace the Journey
God’s call on our lives is not about a particular destination, per se. It’s about a journey. We are a very goal-oriented people. We’re trained to be that way from the time we’re toddlers: “What do you want to be when your grow up?” We’re shaped into moving towards some thing. While that is not necessarily a bad thing in itself, it certainly does not encourage us to embrace the journey of walking by faith as we listen to where The Lord wants us to go and what He has for us along the way. We fail to see that obedience to will of God is the final goal as we make our way towards eternity with Him.

More than once, I have set a goal out before me, only to have The Lord move me in a different direction. Only later did I realize what He had prepared me for earlier equipped me perfectly for His “detour”. Of course, at that point, we have to be careful not to hold on too tightly to that call, as The Lord might still have another chapter that looks very much unlike what we’re currently doing. The Journey doesn’t end until we step into His presence.

No, it’s not easy, but by embracing our journey through a wilderness of purpose, we find a clearer picture of the nature and character of God. We also find that we are drawn in more closely to His presence by experiencing the provision of His grace.

Are you currently in one of these bad situations you’re trying to navigate through? I would love for you to either email me or tell me about your situation in the comments section below. I’d like to pray for you and encourage you, if possible. Have you been through a wilderness of purpose and made it out the other side? Please tell me about it. I’m sure others would benefit from your story, as well.


A song for the wilderness.

I talk a lot about “The Wilderness.”  All of us experience it and often we have no idea why we’re there or how or when we’ll ever get out.  We ask a reasonable question: “If God loves me, why doesn’t He deliver me?”  Well, I’ve often said that God is the God of the wilderness.  It’s one of the places His voice His heard most clearly because it’s the place where all of the other noises are drowned out and we get to a place of desperate listening.

Laura Story (writer of the hit song, Indescribable, recorded by Chris Tomlin) has written a song in the midst of walking through a wilderness of her own with her husband, Martin, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2006.  She has found the God of the Wilderness to be faithful even when all the questions aren’t immediately answered.  Does God bless in the wilderness?  Is there more than meets the eye?  Are blessings only related to prosperity and success?  Listen to Laura talk about her own journey in the wilderness and then watch Laura sing her song here.

Signpost for the Wilderness:

“Help me to see that although I am in the wilderness, it is not all briars and barrenness.  I have bread from heaven, streams from the rock, light by day, fire by night, thy dwelling place and thy mercy seat.  I am sometimes discouraged by the way, but though winding and trying, it is safe and short;”

excerpt from:

The Valley of Vision: Puritan Prayers and Devotion.

Walking Through the Wilderness (and living to tell about it!)

Yesterday at The Gathering, I read part of an old post I wrote for my former blog, Espresso Roast, in which I was struggling through a wilderness experience.  Through it, I learned to trust God where I was, embrace the wilderness, and grow through it.  I hope it encourages you, as well. ~ dp

Originally posted July 26, 2006

A Walk Through the Wilderness

Years ago, my wife and I took our dog, Sydney, on a short hike up one of the nearby mountains in Massachusetts. There was a trail that led straight to the top after a short, twenty minute hike, giving a grand view of the breath-taking Fall colors.

As we finished our time on the mountaintop and turned to head down, Sydney decided she wanted to play “King of the Mountain” with another dog coming up the trail and took off chasing it down a different path. After finally catching up to her, we decided to continue down the trail we were on as opposed to climbing back to the top in order to go down the way we came. After all, they both went “down” and looked as though they headed in the same, general direction. 

Three hours later, after a grueling hike up and down hill after hill, our hearts sank when we came to a sign on one trail that said “Connecticut State Land.” We were supposed to be in Massachusetts! We were clearly on the wrong side of the mountain! Lost, as it were, in the wilderness. We eventually found a street only to see Connecticut license plates. After four hours of hiking, we made it back to Massachusetts and our car vowing never to venture off the known trail again (at least not without a compass!)

It is no fun being lost in the wilderness. It is frightening, lonely and leaves one with a feeling of hopelessness as though he will never be seen again! 

Though I found myself lost in a real wilderness, there are any number of times through our lives that we experience some form of “wilderness” or another. Just recently, I discovered that I have actually been in one for over a year.

As some of you may know, I graduated last May from seminary with a ThM in Apologetics and Worldviews. Since that time, I have been looking for a job…fruitlessly. I have wondered over and over why this was so hard and why God would not lead me to something.

Two weeks ago, it all came to a head. I very angrily told God that if He didn’t want me in ministry, then I didn’t want to be in ministry. I’ve tried and I’ve tried to follow Him and be obedient while He remained painfully silent. I held nothing back. I confess of this raw display of emotion because when I came to God honestly (He already knew how I felt inside anyway), He began to really deal with me. It led me to a place in which I could hear Him…really hear Him.

Though my feelings of anger lasted throughout an entire weekend (the weekend of my camping trip), a weekend in which I had nothing to say to God, my faith in Him did not deteriorate. I knew that He existed. I knew that He was real and that He was God, therefore being worthy of praise in spite of my anger. I knew that He could do something. I also knew that He was choosing not to. I was hurt because I felt He had abandoned me and that, perhaps, I had done something to cause that. 

Eventually I began to work through my issues, but it was not until the following Sunday that it all came together. We were sitting in our Bible Study Class at church talking about the Children of Israel’s deliverance from the Egyptians, led by Moses through the wilderness (do you see a theme developing here?). As we were discussing the topic, my eyes came across Exodus 13: 17-18:

  Now when Pharaoh had let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near; for God said, “The people might change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.”

At that moment it hit me…hard. God led them in the wilderness so that they did not become afraid and turn back. How many times does God lead His people into a wilderness experience either for their protection or their preparation? The wilderness was God’s doing, but it was not for their punishment but rather so that He could fulfill in them what He had purposed. He did so to protect them from themselves; from their fear in that even though God could have defeated the Philistines, they may have been too afraid at that point to go forward. They simply were not ready. They needed more preparation.

Hence God led the people around by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea; and the sons of Israel went up in martial array from the land of Egypt.

God confirmed to me that I am, indeed, in a wilderness. The next day, I was mowing my yard listening to a sermon by Ed Young of Fellowship Church on the iPod in which he dealt with learning through, yep, the wilderness. Two days later, I had randomly downloaded a sermon which dealt with…you know already, don’t you?…lessons to be learned in the wilderness. OK, I got the message.

I am personally in a wilderness, wandering about while God does in me whatever it is that He needs to do. You know what? That’s OK. I may not be able to see the terrain for all the trees, but He does and He’ll lead me through mountains and valleys, through dried up ocean floors if necessary. But one thing is for sure: there is a “promised land.”

Through it all, just as God delivered men through history like Moses and Joshua, Joseph and Job, Daniel and the boys, King David and Paul, I know He’ll deliver me, too. See, the other thing I realized through the lives of these men is that God is a God of the wilderness. He has often used that as a tool; a training ground to prepare his chosen for the works He has appointed them to. So don’t be discouraged if you, too, find yourself in a wilderness. It just might be that the promised land is just around the bend.

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