Speaking of John the Baptist, “Now the child continued to grow and to gain strength in the Spirit, and he lived in the desert until the day when he announced himself to Israel.” (Luke 1:80 Williams Translation)
The words “continued to grow and to gain strength in the Spirit” caught my attention today. And I thought about what it meant for John as a child to not only grow up as a person but to gain strength in the Spirit. How did he gain strength in the Spirit as he lived and grew up out in the desert?
If we read the passages beforehand about the events leading up to his birth, his actual birth and the miraculous things that happened and were said of him, along with the prophecy his father spoke of him by the Holy Spirit, we can put together a picture of what gaining strength in the Spirit could be as John grew.
1. John waited on God. Imagine having a miraculous birth and being told that you would be called “… a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to make ready His ways …” Then you find yourself alone in the desert. There is no fanfare. You have to eat, drink and care for your own needs like any other person would. You are growing up from a child to an adolescent with all the changes and desires that come along with that. John had to wait on God for His timing and when God said he was ready. John learned to wait on God in the desert as he grew older. He learned to hear from God just as all of us are learning to hear from Him. We don’t get a clear picture of what occurred while young John grew up out in the desert, but we can relate to what he may have been feeling out there while he waited with the knowledge of what he was supposed to be but not when; that he had to learn from God Himself.
2. He drew his strength from God through the hardships he faced instead of his own self- reliance. Even though John knew his calling and what he was supposed to be, he had to lean on God to be his strength through everything he faced out in the desert. There weren’t the usual refinements and comforts most people associate with growing up. He faced loneliness, hunger, needing the basics of life, how to be the person God wanted him to be (in spite of temptations to jump too soon into his ministry) and the questioning whispers of those around him who had heard that he was supposed to “be someone” when his life looked completely otherwise.
3. John had to look to God and focus on Him completely in order to become the person he was prophesied to be. He had to yield to God to be prepared for what was ahead for him. He had to allow all the things he went through to do their good work until he heard it was time “when he announced himself to Israel.” In a sense, he had to give it all up; and it could have seemed to everyone that what God said of him was a mistake. John had to look to God and focus on Him completely, in every way.
And if John had to do these things, already knowing his calling as a “prophet of the Most High,” do we, as we “continue to grow” as people, need to also gain strength in the Spirit? God has a wonderful purpose and plan for each one of the lives of His people. He is speaking to us in so many ways ‒ our upbringing and issues we face, the desires of our heart that He lets us see are from Him, and other desires He shows us are just selfish ambition. He is using the hardships we go through (just like John had to go through) to teach us to trust Him, lean on Him, learn to follow and wait on Him. Life continues to happen as we grow up in our humanity but we can gain strength in the Spirit and learn from the examples of others like John. And though his life became publicly fruitful, we can see that fruitfulness was first birthed in the obscure times of complete reliance on God.
What other ways can you see from the example of John’s life that he learned to gain strength in the Spirit?