The prophet's wilderness

The prophet's wilderness. What a subject. May this writing help steer and stabilize developing prophets! Though I will address mainly prophetic persons, these concepts are relevant on some level to all Christians.


The desert experience, or wilderness, is God's mandatory prerequisite to the prophetic calling. A prophetic person never looks worse than while he/she is in-desert; and, he never looks better than when he emerges as gold, mature in character and ace in prophesying. Even though all Christians experience certain desert seasons, the prophet's wilderness is unique in that it is typically longer in duration and broader in revelatory production.
Biblically, the desert is constitutional to prophetic identity.

Moses stumbled upon the burning bush and his prophetic calling in the desert (Ex 3:1-10). David blossomed in his desert strongholds, writing many of his psalmic prophecies while there (1Sam 23:14). Elijah, when overcome with despair, ran to a prophetic fetal position--the desert (1Ki 19:3,4). John the Baptist championed the prophet's wilderness, living there in seclusion for extended seasons and even years (Lk 1:80, 3:2). Jesus, the promised Messiah-Prophet, willingly resorted to desert places (NKJV Mk 1:45, Lk 5:16). Though desert places can be dry and wanting, maturing prophets come to find a safety there, a place where their intense and introspective disposition can find relief and equilibrium in God (Ps 55:6-8).

The wilderness forces dependence

A prophet's greatest enemy is himself, not Jezebel or religious crustiness or a satanic nemesis. Giftedness has greater power to lure a person into prideful self-sufficiency than the Deceiver himself. Many profoundly gifted prophesiers have shipwrecked their lives and ministries through such self-reliance or gift-reliance, drifting away from daily dependence on Jesus Himself. Such prophets are runaway trains racing toward a head-on collision with humbling and reckoning.

The desert is a place of lack, whether it be relational, social, ministerial, financial, or some other personal need or want. Though God ultimately intends to fill what is lacking, He will not do so until every semblance of self-sufficiency and self-dependence is burned, baked, crushed, stomped, and obliterated by the heat. The burning desert sands will scorch our pridefully calloused feet until, at last, we break and fall to our knees in permanent dependence on Him. Hosea 13:5: I cared for you in the desert, in the land of burning heat. God uses the desert to become our Caretaker, melting away our "I can take care of myself" sickness. We will only come up from the wilderness when we are sufficiently leaning on our Lover, not our self or our gift. See the symbolism in Song of Songs 8:5: Who is this coming up from the desert leaning on her lover?

The wilderness cultivates intimacy

Hosea 2:14 tells us God uses deserts to cultivate intimacy with us: I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. The prophet's temptation is to become so intercoursed with his gift so that he forsakes sweet intimacy with the greatest Gift of all, our First Love Jesus. The greatest commandment is not, "If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it" (Ro 12:6); it is, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength" (Mk 12:29,30).

Just as God will not allow self-sufficiency, so also He will not allow us to intercourse our souls with anything above Him. Like David, He will keep us in that desert stronghold until we are daily singing and writing romantic psalms to Him. Like Israel, He will allure us into the desert until we cherish His tender whispers, until that voice becomes the central focus of our daily life and emotional well-being. Until personal intimacy is greater than prophetic ministry.

The wilderness acutes spiritual hearing

Deuteronomy 8:2,3 tells us the desert trains and sharpens our spiritual hearing, making us acutely accurate in perceiving God's voice. Hosea 2:14 says God "speaks tenderly" in the desert, and Psalm 29:8 says "the voice of the Lord shakes the desert". Luke 3:2 shows us how prophetic messages come to the prophet in the desert. God loves to open up and talk in deserts! Consequently, we learn how to hear Him.

You see, in the desert key blockages to perceiving God are dealt with and removed. Loud negative emotions are faced, resolved, and silenced. Competing dreams are shattered, leaving us blank and receptive to God's dream. Comfortable patterns are disrupted, exposing misleading voices that spring from routine. Anytime our soul and body are afflicted by lack, our spirit rises to attain the voice of God to sustain our total being. During extended or repetitive deserts, the Christian becomes keen in perceiving divine communications and movements. Since correct spiritual perception is the essence of prophetic ministry, God will bake His prophets in deserts until their perceptive blockages are melted, until prophetic purity with no mix is reached.

The wilderness transforms character

Prophetic power captivates to such a degree that character problems can be obscured and overlooked. Christian history is stained with almost-prophets who shipwrecked their lives and ministries through egocentrism, emotional mismanagement, pernicious habits, wildfire appetites, unhealthy relationships, major doctrinal deviations, and so on.

We all come from Egypt, a place of sin slavery. We all need multiple deserts to get Egypt out of our psycho-emotional root system. Some of the most destructive people in all of Christianity are not false prophets, but true Christian prophets who are unwilling to declare war on personal sin patterns. They possess a measure of prophetic grace that draws followers, yet they wind up damaging those very followers through their dysfunctions. They leave many wounded in their wake, hurting prophecy's cause and credibility as well. If you read David's psalms that he wrote while living in desert places, you will find him consistently mentioning personal sins, inner healing, breaking codependence, and so on.

The wilderness transforms character! The time is fading fast when low character prophets are allowed to minister publicly. Churches are tightening their grip on who holds the mic, being led by the Spirit to place a higher premium on character quality and soundness.

The wilderness destroys codependence

The Lord said in Jeremiah 17:5,6 that He uses the desert to deal with codependence, people-pleasing, and fear of man. Of all ministries, the prophetic is probably most easily polluted by codependence. Stories litter the Old Testament of false prophets telling people what they wanted to hear simply to gain their approval. They muddied the oracle of the Lord, prophesying from their imaginations and emotions.

Many, if not most, of our desert experiences pertain to people--their rejection, persecution, gossip, misunderstanding, non-spiritualness, indifference, mockery. God thrust us into this desert because we care too much! Oh how quickly our heat would turn to cool waters if we would only become de-peopled! We all have a human need to be loved and affimed by others. This is not wrong. This basic need morphs into a sinful obsession when our emotional wellness is tied to people and their reactions more than to God.

A prophesier must be so de-peopled that he senses a free-flowing confidence to be, say, and do whatever he needs. God will loose the desert dogs on us until we simply do not care anymore.

The wilderness creates individuation

One recurring problem I continually bump into is the lack of prophetic individuation. I weary of hearing uniform "prophetic words" that are not very prophetic. Rather, they are more of a regurgitation of the current spiritual fad. These "prophecies" are thoroughly unmoving, fail to bear witness within, and exploit the ideals of immature Christians. Sometimes I ask myself, "Does God not have more to say? Either He is not very relevant and original, or some of these prophesiers have a high flesh-mixture diluting or blocking the authentic word." I am well aware that God speaks thematically and consistently. Equally so, He speaks with uncanny relevance and uniqueness in different contexts. We need greater prophetic individuation.

Individuation means "the quality of being individual, distinct, unique, or original". The desert creates this individuation. Because the fervent heat melts away pretense, in-desert prophets are able to find their truest prophetic voices underneath the wanna-be facades. Those voices may have similarities to other prophets, but should also have noticeable uniqueness and innovation. What Moses discovered in the desert about his prophetic identity is quite different than what Elijah discovered. And David. And John. These prophets all emerged from the desert with some similarities, but also great individuality.

The wilderness intensifies anointing

The wilderness increases our prophetic power. As crucial transformations happen, the Spirit has more liberty to rest upon us in stronger measures. Check out the subtle symbolism in Song of Songs 3:6: Who is this coming up from the desert like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and incense made from all the spices of the merchant? When Jesus came up from His desert experience, He was encompassed by the smoke of God's glory, perfumed with powerful anointing for ministry (Lk 4:1-19). Psalm 92:10 says something similar: ...fine oils have been poured upon me. This fresh oil of power came upon the psalmist because he battled his enemies and overcame (v11), he grew spiritually very much (v12), and he made God his intimate dwellingplace (v13).

We too increase in the power of the Spirit by being fully faithful to the desert developments. We will face our enemies and we must overcome them. We will be challenged to grow personally and we must swallow our pride and do so. Ultimately, we must plant ourselves in God and His presence. We must let the desert's fervent heat melt anything and everything in our life that keeps us from finding our all in all in Him and only Him. Then we will see Him increase His anointing portions upon our ministries.

Junior Desouza