Thursday, January 04, 2007

In Desert Places

“I’ve been asked to lead a small community, but I lack the confidence to do it – there are others in the group who have all kinds of experience that I don’t have. And my life isn’t at all stable at present. I feel lost. Is it even possible to lead other people, when you are in such a place?”
That, in essence, was the issue brought to me by someone earlier this week. I think the question-bringer expected me to agree that the timing wasn’t right, that they needed to work through x and y and z before they could lead others with skill, or even integrity. Perhaps they even hoped that I would. I didn’t.

I started by suggesting that the question to ask was: What has God already given to me that he wants the group to receive?
We spoke of the boy with his loaves and fishes, used by Jesus to feed a multitude. There would have been all kinds of things that the adults in that crowd had, or had experience of, that the boy lacked – but that was beside the point. What mattered at that moment was what the crowd lacked, and needed: food, the one thing that the boy had…

Then I touched on stability. We can be in a great place with God when our lives are stable; or, we can operate in our own strength. Stability is neither good nor bad; it’s how we engage with it that matters. Likewise the uncertain place, the lost place, the wilderness: it can be confusing, even frightening; or, it can be an adventure.

We returned to the question, what has God given me to share with others? And I observed that that very thing needed to be broken before it can be shared. The little boy’s loaves and fish might well have fed five; once God had broken them, they fed five thousand.

Which brought us back to the wilderness, for the wilderness is where God takes us, and blesses us [there is blessing, even in the wilderness, if we have eyes to see it], and breaks us, so that what he has given us can be given to others. So, for example:
God gave Joseph the ability to be a visionary, an ability that would take him to the place where he coordinated the aid distribution for a shattered sub-continent; but before that could happen there was the breaking that took place in slavery and prison…
God gave Moses a passion for social justice, a passion that would result in the emancipation from slavery of his whole people-group; but before that could happen there was the breaking of forty years spent herding sheep…
God gave David a song to sing, that would result in a body of work still listened to [and covered] three thousand years later; but first there was thirteen years as an outlaw, the leader of a band of outlaws, living in caves…
God gave Jesus the ability to build housing stock among a Galilean population swelled by incoming Gentiles from the north and Jewish re-settlers from the south, an ability that would be fulfilled in building a kingdom on earth and heavenly rooms for Jews and Gentiles alike; but first, forty days of solitude and fasting in the Judean wilderness…
God gave Paul a brilliant mind only matched by a stomach for life on the road, a combination that would set the known world on fire; but only after three days of blindness and fourteen years sat in a cave in the Syrian desert…

Is it possible to lead others while you are yourself in the wilderness? Well, Joseph held positions of leadership both as a slave and a prisoner; and David led his Mighty Men who followed him into the wilderness. So, it is possible; and, if we are honest to ourselves and open to others about the wilderness we are in, it can even be done well. On the other hand, looking at Moses and Jesus and Paul [and I could choose many other examples…], I’m not sure it is possible to lead others well until you have spent time in the wilderness…

And so I was asked one final question:
“Do I have to know what it is that I have, that needs to be broken, before I can lead; or do I find it out in the leading?”
To which I replied, we discover what it is that we have and needs to be broken as we step out in faith, not before. Otherwise, we’d never move on in the journey God wants to take us on.

Which all leaves me asking myself, what has God given me…?



  1. cheers for that, pretty useful as i'm sbout to start leading a small group