40 Days or 40 Years?

How God Develops People and Identities

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By Van Moody

When we think about how God leads us through the process of spiritual and personal growth, which certainly includes getting us firmly established in our identity, the three words we need to know are: out, through, and in. This is exactly what He did for the nation of Israel and it is a picture of what He does for us in modern times.

Israel was enslaved in Egypt, a geographical location in Old Testament times just as it is today. But in biblical symbolism, Egypt is more than a country; it’s a metaphor for bondage, difficulty, and oppression. It represents any type of bondage or bad situation you might find yourself in today. God called Israel out of that hard place because He had something better for them; the same is true for you. God led the Israelites through the wilderness in order to do what we read in Deuteronomy 8:2, to test them and humble them so they would trust Him fully and to know what was in their hearts. Only after their testing and proving in the wilderness was God ready to fulfill His word to them and lead them into the Promised Land.

The problem with many of us today, and perhaps with the ancient Israelites too, is that we want out of the wilderness now! Given the choice, most of us would probably skip the wilderness altogether and go straight from our negative situations into the things God has promised us. When we face obstacles or difficulties, we want God to turn them around overnight, to move us quickly from our hard places into the Promised Land. But God doesn’t work that way.

Everyone who wants to grow in God has a wilderness experience. It’s usually not a vast outdoor space, as we might imagine. It’s almost always an internal place, a location in our hearts and minds. It may be a time of illness or grief; it may be a season when a son or daughter brings heartache and concern instead of joy; it may be the loss of a job for some reason you think is wrong and unfair. Your wilderness could be any number of circumstances. While I cannot describe the specifics of your personal wilderness, when you’re in it, you know it. It’s a lonely, frustrating place and in the midst of it, the voices of doubt and the devil are often easier to hear than the voice of God. You find yourself confused and wondering how to get out, while also saying, “God, I thought You led me into this.

In 2014, General Motors (GM) had to recall more than 39 million vehicles. The reason for the recall was that the cars, trucks, and sport utility vehicles had not been thoroughly tested. A number of deaths were linked to faulty ignition switches, and GM ended up paying hefty fines to the families of those who lost their lives. In addition, the company sustained serious damage to their credibility as people who once trusted GM lost faith in the once-reputable car company. The tragic loss of life could have been avoided, had GM simply put their vehicles through a proper testing process.

This story about GM proves how vitally important a good testing process is. It’s true for the car manufacturers and it’s true for you. God is so committed to His will for your life that He will not release you to your next step of destiny until He knows you are ready and until you have proven your readiness to yourself. That only happens in the wilderness.

From God’s perspective, the wilderness is the proving ground of our identity; it’s the place where we pass or fail the test of knowing who we really are. The destiny to which you are appointed demands that you know who you are, and identity that has not been tested is not identity at all. Your identity is not determined by what you say or what others say about you. It has to be confirmed and sealed in your heart. There’s no better place for that to happen than the wilderness.

When you go through a really difficult experience, when you feel lost and alone and God seems far away, you’re in the wilderness for sure. But more than that, you are in the place God has chosen as your testing ground. This is the place where God wants to strengthen you and solidify your sense of identity so you will have the internal resources you need for the good future He has planned for you. The wilderness may look desolate, but be encouraged: It’s designed to help you grow, and on the other side of this growth process, God has something great for your life. How can I be so sure? Because Deuteronomy 6:23 says, “Then He brought us out from there, that He might bring us in, to give us the land of which He swore to our fathers” (NKJV). God brought the Israelite out of Egypt, through the wilderness and into the Promised Land. That’s the same pattern He uses in our lives today when He wants to lead us into something wonderful.God has applied the same pattern of out, through, and in for generations. If we look at the biblical accounts alone, we see that He did it for Abraham, Joseph, David, and Job, and Jesus in addition to the nation of Israel. And He does it in the life of anyone who commits to living for Him. Jesus entered into the wilderness, made good choices, demonstrated maturity, honored God, and came out after forty days. The Israelite went into the wilderness, made bad choices, showed immaturity, dishonored God, and did not come out for forty years. The wilderness is inevitable, but how you handle it and how long you stay in it is up to you.

Van Moody serves as pastor of the Worship Center in Birmingham, Alabama. In addition, he is on the board of Joel Osteen’s Champions Network, is a member of Dr. Oz’s Core Team, and is an associate trainer in Japan for Dr. John Maxwell’s EQUIP leadership organization. Moody, his wife, Ty, and their children, Eden Sydney and Ethan Isaiah, live in Birmingham, Alabama.