Am I a Desert Warrior?
I´m not sure I can answer that question yet. Perhaps a better question is whether I even want to be one.
The answer to that question surprises me.
For years I avoided getting too deeply committed to anything, especially to the fight that was going on in my own heart. I was a Christian but I feared the emotional effort of battle. I was a coward, I guess. I simply had no power, no spine, no faith that I could even get close to winning, so why bother. Yet, today, I want to learn to be a Desert Warrior. I am looking forward to the training even though I know it will be hard work. Something happened and it makes all the difference in the world.
I want to share my experience with you as we journey together through the desert toward the Promised Land and discover together the Way of the Desert Warrior.
The Desert Warrior is first and foremost a prayer warrior. Prayer was a burden for me for years. That burden has been lifted and a conversation with my Father has begun in earnest. On this journey we will rediscover the proper context for prayer, the true nature of prayer, the practice and power of prayer and the ministry of prayer. The Desert Warrior is both a king and a priest, part of a royal priesthood. He is also, like Moses, a prophet that speaks the truth to the people.
The Desert Warrior is known by many names – a spiritual warrior, a mature disciple, a hero of the faith. We may not be comfortable with those titles and, at this point, that is probably a good thing. But, our Father intends for us to become a Desert Warrior and we made a vow to Him that we would enter upon that training when we accepted His salvation and promised to follow Him.
He has saved us out of Egypt and the slavery of our former life. He has led us through the Red Sea of our baptism and destroyed the power of Pharoah, our old slave master, over our life once and for all.
And now, the Pillar of Fire is going deeper into the desert away from the safe trade routes and expects us to follow. He will teach us to worship at His mountain and to study and obey His commandments, to learn holiness, sacrifice and prayer and to live and work together with our brothers and sisters as a fighting unit to do battle against His enemies and to accomplish His purposes.
These are the spiritual disciplines of a Desert Warrior.
That doesn´t mean that we don´t have a choice – we most certainly do. We have to want to be a Desert Warrior before we can take the training. The offer is open to all but not all will take up the offer.
We may think that there is safety in staying with the mass of God´s people and not stand out and be noticed but there is no safety in the crowd. We may end up as part of Korah´s rebellion and be destroyed. We may simply lack the faith to take God at His word and enter the Promised Land. We may end up wandering in the desert and dying there without ever having seen or experienced the abundant life. Or we may become like Joshua and Caleb and become leaders of God´s people, dedicated to becoming Desert Warriors whatever the cost.
The desert is a place of scarcity, the Promised Land a place of plenty. But it is in the desert that one discovers the power to live in the Promised Land. Or not, as the case may be.
Many discover their weakness and simply give up and die. Others discover God´s power and live the abundant life even while they are in the desert. They discover that the Promised Land, the kingdom of God, is not just a destination at the end of the journey but rather they discover that the kingdom of God is within us.
A Desert Warrior desires God above all and therefore has already entered the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey, and can lead God´s people to that same place.
But I don´t want to be a leader.
Can I be a Desert Warrior and not be a leader? No. God´s intention for you is leadership, plain and simple. Leadership and mature discipleship go hand in hand. Leadership development may include more than discipleship training but it does not include less.
Leadership is about who you are first of all. What you do and how you do it is also worthy of study, training and godly effort, but it is rooted in your relationship with God first and foremost.
Jeremiah shares with us the desire of God´s heart for our leadership ministry. God is speaking through Jeremiah and he says,
Their leader will be one of their own;
their ruler will arise from among them.
I will bring him near and he will come close to me,
for who is he who will devote himself to be close to me?”
declares the LORD.
“So you will be my people, and I will be your God.”
Jeremiah 30:21 (NIV)
This is a great leadership passage. It is a prophetic promise by God through Jeremiah to the people in exile about restoring their fortunes as a people. Perhaps the reference is to Zerubbabel, who was a descendent of David and led the return from exile and became the governor of Israel and helped rebuild the altar and the temple. Perhaps the passage has a Messianic flavour and refers to the coming of Jesus Christ as the true leader of God´s people. Or is this a passage that we can more broadly apply to all godly leadership? Probably, all of the above, but with an important distinction.
I believe the message of the New Testament is that we are all called to be leaders (as part of, and the application of, our discipleship) and that all leadership is rooted “in Christ”.
There is no more distinction between those that lead and those that follow. Peter, in his sermon at Pentecost, quoted the prophet Joel who foretold that “in the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people” (Acts 2:17 NIV). Not just Samson and David and Elijah but everyone. Leadership is not about roles but about gifts. Paul says that “it was he (Jesus) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God´s people for works of service…” (Eph. 4:11, 12a)
But if everyone is called to be a leader, who will follow? Everyone. We are all followers and leaders – that is the discipleship model that Jesus gave us. We all “disciple” and we all “are discipled,” we simply do it in different ways according to our gifts.
Leadership is nothing more (and nothing less) than exerting influence over someone else as an individual or in a group. We do that all the time anyway, for good or evil.
C.S. Lewis, in his book The Weight of Glory, tells us that “the weight of glory” is not merely our own glory, but the glory of those around us, the glory of those we influence every day towards one destiny or another. The weight of glory is our responsibility for the eternal glory (or horror) of those we come into contact with on a daily basis, our family, our friends, our church, our co-workers.
Perhaps leadership starts with the recognition of the impact of our lives (and our walk with God or lack thereof) on the people we love (or hate) and know (or who know us) and taking responsibility for it.
We all follow Jesus as his disciples first and foremost. But we are also influenced by the example and exhortations of other people whom we recognize as followers of Christ. There is a general leadership influence on our lives from those we recognize as spiritual leaders. We are also discipled by specific people who have spiritual authority in our lives to hold us accountable. But the spirituality (or lack thereof) in the lives of ordinary Christians has the greatest influence of all on preparing the human heart to receive the gospel. We can become a stumbling block to someone or an inspiration.
Leadership is influence. Discipleship is training in the ways of the Lord.
It is based on the spiritual disciplines of the desert warrior and seeks to make God our one desire and to be useful to Him. The Lord brings people into our lives that we are responsible for, either in general terms or in specific – discipleship training – terms.
Until someone gives you the authority to disciple them and hold them accountable, it means you have only a general relationship with them in which you can pray for them, be an example to them and perhaps give them some counsel or ministry time.
But when you are granted the spiritual authority of a discipleship ministry in the life of someone, they have entered into the Way of the Desert Warrior.
This is the model of discipleship/leadership that Christ has given the church with his own example and it is through this model that the church will grow in maturity and fulfil its mission to bring the good news to the world.
God is seeking leaders from among His people that He will use to further His kingdom in the hearts of men.
I will bring him near and he will come close to me.
Leadership is about being close to God. It isn´t about what you do first of all, but who you are. It is an overflow of your walk with God. All of the theories and strategies and wisdom about leadership take a distant second place to this truth. Are leaders born or made? Godly leaders are born again as well as made and developed into leaders by God Himself in the intimacy of their daily walk.
I will bring him near.
Certain natural gifts and even personality traits can lend themselves to the role of leadership and even those gifts are from God. But without a close fellowship with God, their leadership will not influence others towards God and the things of God. Likewise, God can use people without natural gifts or inclinations toward leadership who simply desire Him above all and make their walk with Him their highest priority. These people are leaders whether they occupy roles of leadership or not. They are the backbone of God´s influence in the lives of His people.
I will bring him near and he will come close to me.
This isn´t just a causal relationship where God acts and man can do nothing other than to respond. It is deeper than that. This is the mystery of God´s stirring up and man´s response. Although we are entirely dependent on God bringing us near to him, we must respond to that divine initiative and draw near to Him. Paul exhorts us to “draw near to God and he will draw near to you”. That is a promise that we can pray for in faith and boldness.
For who is he who will devote himself to be close to me? declares the Lord.
As if to drive the point home even further, God asks a question. “Who will devote himself to be close to me?” It isn´t first of all about being a leader but about living close to God. It isn´t about using your walk with God as a means to become a leader but rather about God elevating you to a ministry of leadership through prayer, example and exhortation because your highest desire is to be close to Him.
You “devote” yourself to be close to Him.
It takes time and energy, and certainly sacrifice, to know God and enjoy Him forever. This is the chief end of man according to the Westminster Catechism. Take note of those words “enjoy Him forever.” This is not meant to be a drudgery (even though it may be hard work) but rather a joy. Your deepest joy will come from a closer walk with Him.
The invitation is in your hand. God´s eternal question for his people is before you. “Who will devote himself to be close to me?” If you respond, you will begin a journey of effective ministry and you will find the true desire of your soul and, whether you like it or not, you will become God´s leader among His people to show them the way.
So you will be my people and I will be your God.
This is the great covenant statement of the Old Testament. It comes to us over and over again at every turn to describe the heart of the covenant and God´s intention to have a relationship with His people. Let´s not miss the connection with our passage. This is the purpose of the covenant, the miracles, the redemptive work of God in the Old and New Testament. “So (in this way) you will be my people and I will be your God.” This is God´s intention. This is God´s purpose for us. By choosing to devote ourselves to be close to Him, we act like His people, we act like the children we are, and He can, therefore, draw near to us and be our God and be our abundant life.
One day, you will realize that a life lived in the presence of God is its own reward, the rest is just garbage. Yes, that´s biblical. It´s all rubbish. Paul said it this way, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish…” (Phil. 4:8).
God made this relationship possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If we have accepted His salvation and His authority in our lives, we are saved and the presence of the Holy Spirit is a guarantee of our salvation (Eph. 1:13, 14), but we still need to “work out (our) salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 1:12).
On the one hand, Paul is confident that “he who began a good work in (us) will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). God is the one who draws him closer and sanctifies him and creates the character of Christ in him. On the other hand, Paul says, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:12-14).
That “press on” which describes so vividly Paul´s passion and singlemindedness, is directed toward a goal. Paul describes that goal in the passage directly before this one. He says, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 4:10,11). Don´t read that “somehow” as a statement of doubt but rather one of mystery. I want to follow the path that Christ took, Paul is saying. He wants to become “like him in his death” and therefore also, in some mysterious way, also to be like him in his resurrection.
Paul wants to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings. To be like him in resurrection power, we need to be like him in his death. We need to share the fellowship of his sufferings as much for the sake of the ministry as for the process of becoming like him in character and purpose.
The Way of the Desert Warrior is mapped out for us.
We have been saved from a life of slavery and we have been baptized in the Red Sea. Now the pillar of fire is moving deeper into the desert.
God wants to draw you closer. Now He wants to ask you a question. “What do you want? Will you devote yourself to be close to me?”
If the answer is yes, welcome to the desert – the training ground for God´s Desert Warriors.
The Way of the Desert Warrior by Bert A. Amsing
Copyright 2012 by vanKregten Publishers. All rights reserved.