Please forgive the following indulgent, hypothetical dialogue to illustrate something important:
“Have you arrived?”
“Yes, I arrived into town yesterday, but it was a bumpy flight.”
“No, no, what I mean to say is have you arrived in your personal and professional goals with respect to maturity?”
“Well, because you phrase it in those terms, I must answer no. I’m still on the way, but I’m closer than I was last year. I’ll be closer still next year.”
Over the last decade, I have immersed myself off and on in the realm of inner healing ministry. In fact, Desert Stream Ministries (www.desertstream.org) has been a key avenue of transformation and ministry, especially its Living Waters program. This was not my first choice, but I came to the conclusion that Living Waters was the wisest choice.
One of the things I remember constantly from the leaders in Livng Waters was their reminder that everyone is in process. There is a human tendency to check things off of a list, which means that I am done. I discovered pretty quick that there are levels to my sin and brokenness, which means that the sanctification process (or inner healing) will occur in stages. What is wrong with me will not be fixed all at once.
Because the sanctifying work of the word and the Spirit focuses on the soul’s condition, there will be seasons that appear to be covering the same ground. It is in those seasons where I bellow out, “I thought I dealt with this blasted stuff three years ago, or four or five.” It is in those moments that I recall the words of the Living Waters leaders, “You will not arrive to total healing (or sanctification) in this life. That occurs either when Jesus comes back, or he calls you home.”
What I am not saying is that healing is not possible in Christ in this life. The Lord has set me on the path to freedom from perfectionism, the fear of man, and embracing false images and beliefs about others and myself. In general, I see an ability to assert and engage in life with others and myself that far exceeds anything I have ever known over the last decade. What used to trip me up in the past no longer has that same ability. By God’s grace, he has given me the eyes to see such traps, and the ears to listen out for subtle schemes.
When I reflect on these past ten years, I see the intensity of the sanctification process bearing much fruit. The harvest is rich, but it has required self-discipline and the will to remain in the refiner’s fire. Now, I want to say at this point that the Lord does not keep me indefinitely in the fire. That would cause long-lasting harm. There is wisdom and patience in his use of the flames to bring out more of his son through me. This has meant learning to trust God throughout this last decade in ways that overthrew my shallow understanding of his character.
In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, there is a wonderful section of God’s wisdom and patience. The Holy Spirit inspires Isaiah’s pen to equate a farmer’s insight into handling specific crops with God’s wisdom in handling the various lives and life stages of his people. I do not have time to get into the specifics, but here is the address: Isaiah 28:23-29. The key point in this Old Testament passage is in the last verse: “…he is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom” (Isaiah 28:29b, ESV).
Each of the farming examples in the twenty-eighth chapter of Isaiah depict the wisdom of an everyday farmer. This person knows the right times and seasons to prepare the soil, plant the seed, fertilize and water it, and then apply specific methods of harvesting the crop in order to preserve and prepare it for eating. I understand this to mean that my soul is the field, and the Lord is the farmer. He knows the exact times and seasons for harvesting righteousness in my life. Do I trust that God is wonderful in cousel and excellent in wisdom as he sanctifies me through his word and the Holy Spirit?