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THRIVING IN THE DESERT — February 13th

A Book Review by Stu Cocanougher

THRIVING IN THE DESERT

 A recent internet search on leadership books produced titles like The Power of Positive Leadership, Fired Up, Leadership: Essential Selections on Power, Authority, and Influence, Shift: Creating Better Tomorrows: Winning at Work and in Life, Leadership Gold, Empowering Leadership, and Be A Boss.

A similar search for books about Christian discipleship produced titles of books including: Radical Christian Discipleship, Kingdom Disciples, Brave New Discipleship, Moving Mountains, Soar!, and Discipleship on Fire.

It seems to be a given that books on Leadership and Discipleship need to have titles that are positive or inspiring.  For this reason, I was surprised when the Christian leadership book Isolation by Dr. Shelley Trebesch was recommended to me. Many of the words used in the titles of these books (Soar, Power, Winning, Brave, Transforming, and Radical) are attractional words that make you think of success.  Yet, the word “Isolation” sounds like something that happens to you when you have a disease. It did not help that the book, published in 1997 to a very small publishing company, had the overall appearance of a book that you would see in a discount bin for 75% off.

Yet, as I delved into this powerful little book, I was amazed at how much meaning and depth was packed into a mere 76 pages.

As Christians, most of us have had “mountain top” experiences when we had a supernatural sense of God’s closeness.  Those times are filled with joy and excitement.  Yet, there are also times in our lives when we feel like we are in a spiritual desert.  During these times our hearts are heavy, and we may even feel like God cannot hear our prayers (or worse…is ignoring us).

When we face times of feeling like we are stuck, injured, or abandoned by God, the word “isolation” seems appropriate.  Yet, while most books that I have read view times of isolation as something to avoid at all costs, Dr. Trebesch makes a case that these times can be a critical part of our development as leaders (and as followers of Jesus).

In Isolation, Trebesch highlights the Biblical examples of Joseph, Moses, Elijah, Jesus, and Paul as they each came out of a season of isolation and did mighty things for God.   Trebesch draws upon the life of pioneer missionary Amy Carmichael, who was severely ill for over 20 years.  Carmichael, who wrote extensively when she had to leave the mission field, gives us a perspective on how someone could grow spiritually while being (seemingly) unproductive.   A similar example was provided by the life of Chinese pastor, Watchman Nee.  Referring to Nee, Trebesch writes:

“The isolation profoundly influenced his theology, his relationship with God, and his identity as a Christian.” (Isolation, 46).

One of the most memorable illustrations given in Isolation is when the author’s grandfather invited her to help him strip and restore an old chair.   During this process, layer after layer of paint and stain was stripped away by chemicals and hard work.  The process was difficult and tedious.  Yet, when all of the old paint was stripped away, the bare wood exhibited a beautiful appearance.  In the same way, God sometimes sees fit for us to be stripped of our old, comfortable life in order to be molded into a person who has a much stronger faith.

Have you ever faced times of profound spiritual dryness?  Do you seek to grow as a follower of Jesus?  Are you a Christian who is seeking to be a greater influence for the Kingdom of God? Then I recommend that you pick up a copy of Isolation: A Place of Transformation in the Life of a Leader by Shelley Trebesch.  Look for it at Southcliff's HomePointe Center or your favorite online bookseller.