Worship in the Wilderness

I don’t cry easily.

I’m not a girl who is moved to tears by sappy commercials or Hallmark movies. I’m not saying I’m heartless, just not prone to weeping. But when I do cry, let me just say that I am the ugliest crier in the entire world! For starters, I don’t do simple tears. You know the dainty little single teardrop that flows quietly down a cheek? Nope, not this girl. I have two modes: my tears are guttural, or they aren’t at all. My entire upper body begins to shake—uncontrollably. Technically, I think this state is called “heaving sobs.” Whatever it is, it isn’t attractive. Finally, my face, my entire face, gets in on the action. I’m pressed for the right words here. Contorted? Sure. But disfigured is probably the better description. Like I said, hideous.

I should know that I am quite the ugly crier because I walked through a devastating season in the past where I found myself heaving sobs more times than I can count. So, why the waterworks? I believe, in nautical terms, that season of my life would have been called the perfect storm.

Heartbreak,
Rejection,
Disappointment,
Unmet desire,
and Despair.

But friends, I simply call this season the wilderness.

The Wilderness

Throughout the Bible, a wilderness season is a time of testing, trying, and training an individual. It is often marked by a period of isolation, loneliness, temptation, sorrow and waiting.  Why? Circumstances that try us, train us. Situations that break us, shape us. Such is the wilderness. In the midst of the “dark night of the soul,” we are often miserable, but there, we are made.

During that time, life quickly moved from a break-up to a battlefield. The fight was on, and this fight was for my faith. The enemy worked overtime in my thought life. The questions were the worst part. I’d lay my head on my pillow at night, desperately trying to fall asleep, and here they would come. The primary question targeted at my heart was sinister: if God is so good, then why do you hurt so bad? This question was followed by other tauntings:

  • I thought He (Jesus) loved you and had a wonderful plan for your life? Does this beautiful plan include public humiliation, rejection, heartbreak, and possibly life-long singleness?
  • It seems your God has blessings for everyone but you. You are such a fool.
  • You would be happier if you would just bail on following that Jesus.

We all have our tale of heartbreak. Whether it’s a break-up, miscarriage, personal failure, illness, financial crisis, infertility, divorce, death, abandonment…not one person reading this is immune to a wilderness season. Each woman’s wilderness just bears a different name. I know this much to be true because while I trekked through my own, I had friends facing some harsh terrain of their own.  A close friend dealt with the heartbreak of multiple miscarriages as she time and again hoped for a child, only to have her hope dashed within weeks of conception. Another girlfriend struggled to put her life back together after watching her precious mother lose a battle with cancer. A different friend waited for a job offer during a long season of unemployment, only to find closed doors at every turn. And then, I can’t count the number of single girls I know who are waiting for God to provide husbands.

The Question in the Wilderness

Weeks into my own wilderness I realized something dark and sinister was stirring. These doubts and questions about God’s goodness, faithfulness, and love that I usually never struggled with seemed to hiss and snarl at me from every turn. Although at the moment I didn’t fully comprehend my situation, now looking back I know the Enemy, Satan, was lurking. My mind swarmed with doubts about God’s love and taunts about my future… “If God loved me, then why doesn’t He answer my prayer, change my circumstance or end this waiting?”

Then one day I heard a sermon by Louie Giglio about worship. To paraphrase, Louie said, “We (humanity) are worshippers. That is why we were created, and that is what we do. It’s not a matter of if you worship. You do worship…the question rather is who or what do you worship.”  So I’m listening, nodding in agreement when Louie said the words that just about knocked me off my chair. “And right now, wherever you are, there is a war going on over your worship.”

Suddenly my circumstances made perfect sense. I was living in the middle of a battlefield!  I was in the battle for my faith. My passionate love for Jesus Christ was under attack. And the question the enemy of my soul kept asking during those dark days was this: “So, how much do you love Jesus now?”

Louie’s message exploded like a truth grenade. I was in a war. Satan, the father of lies, wanted me to bail on loving Jesus. It would delight Satan if I ceased worshipping God when life didn’t turn out as I planned. I know this is his motivation because robbing God of worship has always been Satan’s number one desire.

The Choice of the Will

For months, with mascara smearing down my face, I worshipped the Lord through tears. I don’t say this to pat myself on the back. No, I tell you this because corporate worship was a battleground.  I love to sit in the front row in church. But as I walked through the wilderness, my pride hated the front row because it became a public display of my misery. There’s nothing like going into melt-down-mode on the front row of a mega-church to boost one’s self-image.

During my wilderness season, engaging in corporate worship was a choice. For weeks I would walk into the sanctuary of my home church with that “I’m doing great” smile plastered across my face, find my seat, and then the music would begin.  And each week, without fail I might add, we would sing:

Blessed be your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be your name
Blessed be your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be your name
(lyrics by Matt Redman)

I learned quickly that worship is a choice of the will. To worship God and to give Him glory in the midst of heartache is a sacrifice of praise.  I would sing these words with tears racing down my face. The battle was intense, and the mascara sure burned my eyes, yet I was not about to let the enemy steal my worship. I fought. I lifted my hands and sang the words until the storm raging in my soul was quieted by the conviction of my will. To believe. To simply believe—despite how I felt in the moment or what I could see with my eyes—that my God is good and yes, he is worthy of my worship.

At some point in the wilderness, I realized this truth: there was no better way for me to express my love to God than by staying faithful to him in my pain. I learned that worship is a choice and the best way to fight back the enemy is to press into Jesus.

There was no better way for me to express my love to God than by staying faithful to him in my pain. –Marian Jordan Ellis

How to Worship in the Wilderness

Praise—the Bible teaches us that praise is the password into God’s Presence. When we experience the enemy’s fiery darts of doubt and fear, it is in those moments we must choose to turn up the praise. When we praise, we are ushered into the Presence of God where He ministers to our souls His love and grace and He fights our battles!

So let’s continually offer up a sacrifice of praise through him,
which is the fruit from our lips that confess his name.
Hebrews 13:15

So whether you sing or verbally declare God’s goodness by quoting a Psalm, whichever weapon you choose, you are winning the battle for your heart. And here’s why this works: the enemy will not stay around if we are actively praising God. This is the very thing he hates, and when we choose to praise in the midst of pain, we are fighting an invisible battle which rages around us. Friends, worship wins the war.

  • Worship Tip: Keep a playlist ready on iTunes that are your “go-to” worship songs when you feel the battle surrounding you. Also, keep a list of scriptures to help you praise God in moments of weakness. I love the Redeemed Girl “My God Is” scripture memory cards. I’ve used these as prompts to help my heart and mind verbally praise God for His goodness, character, and ability in the midst of my wilderness seasons.

 

Serve—Worship is not just something we do on Sunday mornings; worship is a way of life. It is choosing to say with our whole being, “Jesus, you are my God and I worship you with my everything” The Bible says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

  • Worship Tip: One way to fight the pull towards self-pity is to serve. Volunteer at your church and put your spiritual gifts into action. (There is nothing more thrilling than doing what God created you to do.) Or perhaps you could volunteer at a hospital or a local homeless shelter. One of the best ways to battle despair is to take our eyes off of self and minister to the hurts and needs of others.

I know there are many women out there who are currently walking through a wilderness season. Whether yours is an unmet longing, a broken heart, or a season of grief, the Redeemed Girl team would love to pray for you as you worship in the midst of your wilderness. Please let us know in the comments below how we can lift you up in prayer. We will choose one person from the comments to receive a copy of my book, Wilderness Skills for Women.

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