Years in the Wilderness

1983 - 1990


It is a bit of a surprising revelation that the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land should have taken 11 days on foot (Deuteronomy 1:2)!  Instead, the Israelites wandered around the wilderness for 40 years - a bit of an analogy for our personal walk with Jesus.  My own journey feels very much like that. It sometimes seems that, apart from some incredibly vivid, and overwhelmingly real, spiritual experiences, my entire Christian walk has been made up of arguments with Him and with His representatives.   The arguments with Him were based on the feeling He had let me down (invariably it turned out I was wrong!) The arguments with His representatives were based on private agendas replacing what I believed to be His agenda.  Remarkably, I don't think I'm totally alone here.  There are times when it seems that those among us who insist on thinking for ourselves, (as opposed to just following the crowd), have the hardest time.  Often the conclusions we reach conflict with the practiced doctrines around us.  Then those around us respond, by accusing us of causing division when we point out the anomalies in their way of thinking.

1983 was to be a new start all round.  In 1981, I had left behind survey drafting and started a new career as a management consultant. We had experienced a lot of strife in our marital relationship and new input was desperately needed to rescue it.   We decided to sell up our home in the suburbs and to build a new home ourselves.  A new start for our marriage. A new start for our walk with Him. We didn't know where the Lord would have us go, or what we could afford. I had been working on a house design for more than ten years, hoping one day to make it a reality.  Some Christian friends bought our place for $85,000, meaning I had $75,000 to spend on a block of land, and a borrowing capacity of $50,000 with which to build a house.  Our favourite option was to build on a five acre block, not too far out of the city, but that option seemed way out of our price range.  The cheapest we had seen was around $120,000, and even then you only got two acres of useable land, the other three being over the edge of a cliff. So the next favourite was twenty-five acres further out.  And if that didn't come off, we would settle for an ordinary house block somewhere in the suburbs.

We went looking for land, but it all seemed like an inaccessible pipedream.  I went to work one Tuesday in November, my brain buzzing with real estate, and I had no idea it was Melbourne Cup day.  I rarely participated in more than a flutter in a fifty cent sweep, where you had your horse drawn at random from a hat. A lady from three floors up came to see me and asked would I like to be in a five dollar sweep, as she had one ticket left. I agreed, only because I didn't have time to look for another sweep.  In Australia, you aren't an Aussie unless you are at least in a sweep on Melbourne Cup day.

I must make it clear here that I had never won anything in any sweep, ever.  And I had no idea of what horses were running or whether they were any good. The horse I drew was called 'Kiwi', so I don't need to tell you it came from New Zealand. I gave it little thought until the entire nation stopped working to watch the race.  The desks around me vacated and throngs of Public Servants gathered around small televisions in the middle of the afternoon, all trying to get a glimpse of the screen. I was one of the last, so a view was next to impossible, but I could hear the race announcer. And then an idea popped into my head.

It wasn't a prayer, and I wasn't really asking for a sign. However, suddenly I thought, "Wouldn't it be funny, if my horse comes in first, it means we are to get our first option.  And if second, we get our second option.  And if third, the block of land in the suburbs." And then the race started. I listened carefully for the name Kiwi, but had to wait a fair while, until the caller lamented it was running dead last! Of course my immediate reaction was to think how stupid and fanciful my idea had been.  You just don't ask God for a sign, and even if you did, He wouldn't answer it by letting you win money on a race!

Then chills ran down my spine, when Kiwi overtook the entire field, to come in first! For the benefit of those interested, my son found a recording of the last part of the race on the internet.  Click here to listen to the announcer's excitement.  My own excitement, unfortunately, was not recorded.

I won 25 bucks.  So I shouted drinks for some of my work mates.  The next day we had an appointment with a real estate agent to see a five acre lot in Dural.  There was little parking near the shop front, but the agent assured me no one ever got booked in the one hour parking zone where I left my car.  He took us to the block of land in his four-wheel-drive. The block was covered in bush, so it was very difficult to see the ground, but something happened as we fought our way through the thick shrubbery - I could visualise everything!  I could seewhere the house was going. I could see where my dams would be located.  I could see where the driveway would be.  My imagination was running wild!  The entire five acres was accessible and useable!  It was facing approximately north, ideal for my energy-efficient solar house design.  There was a stormwater drainage easement through the middle of the block, which would have put off most buyers, but to me it was an asset, a wonderful supply of water for my future dams! But then, surely we couldn't afford it?

We arrived back at the agency, to find a parking infringement on our windscreen. The fine was for $25!  I wondered whether the Lord was telling me He was prepared to give me a sign, but not for me to win money by gambling!

Several weeks later we sat in auction rooms in the centre of Sydney. Hundreds of buyers were there to buy a range of properties. We had never attended an auction before.  We sat at the front, which was a mistake, because you can't see who else is bidding. A number of million dollar mansions went under the hammer before the block we wanted came up on a large screen, as a picture of dense native flora.  I thought I'd be daring and make an opening bid of $60,000, ignoring the pitying looks from some of the people who had just paid over three million for a waterside palace.  Somewhere behind me our bid was followed by $70,000. For all I know, it might have been a vendor's bid by the agent and we were the only genuine buyers there.  We countered with $72,000.  $73,000 came from behind. We came back with $74,000. The agent knew our limit was $75,000.

We sat there, shaking, waiting for our limit to be beaten. But the room was silent.  The vendor apparently had gone back to Sweden six months earlier, leaving the sale in the agent's hands with a reserve of $75,000. After several minutes with no further bids, the agent approached us. Were we prepared to increase our bid to $75,000, so the sale could proceed today?  Contacting the vendor in Sweden could have been very difficult. Naturally we agreed! And seconds later, the block was ours!

Within months there was a power pole with a meter box installed on our land, even though settlement of the contract of sale had not yet completed.  Settlement was delayed because the vendor had not lodged land tax returns. We had to move out of the home we had sold, and, expecting action shortly, we were given permission to move onto the land in a caravan.  The 'shortly' ended up taking four months!  I couldn't start building till settlement had taken place.  That four months was murder.  Three kids and two adults cramped into a caravan for that length of time is hard going under any circumstances. But this four months was filled with anxious waiting, itching to start the project, and having to travel much further to work than before.  We had a tent that served as my tool shed, with an annex that passed for a laundry and shelter for my motorbike.



                Five of us in this for 8 months - too long!                                     The place was taking shape at last.  

Finally settlement happened, and all the delay had been over a measly $34 in land tax! I commenced four months of long service leave. The plan was to get the house at least to lock-up stage by then. I worked like a Trojan, loved every minute of it, and achieved that goal.  By that time, everyone was ready to scream and tear their hair out in the caravan, so we moved into the house onto bare concrete floors, and with no doors on the bedrooms. Only the shower recess was tiled.  But at least we had room to move, and I could return to work without everyone going insane.

Building full time had been a wonderful experience, but going back to work on a motorbike, taking 11 hours of each day, and finishing off the project in my spare time, taking another 35 to 40 hours each week, really took it's toll.  I recall standing on a ladder one Saturday morning, applying Cabot's wood stain to the exposed beams, when the brush fell out of my hands.  No one was home.  Surprised, I climbed down to clean the mess off the wall and the slate floors. I scrambled back up, only to drop the entire four litre can of stain!  I then realised I had totally overdone it. Physically, I was a wreck and I decided it was imperative to slow down. It was 1985. I went to the doctor and he did a blood test.  My 'eosinophils' were up. A month later they were worse. The doctor thought I must have had an infection, so no further tests were done. If he had ordered more tests, it is possible I would be dead now, but I will expand on that in my next testimony.


                   The house I built, seen from the road.                                 The view, looking up from the bottom dam.

We were attending a charismatic church at the time.  I couldn't tell you the exact year, but somewhere along the line the pastors decided God wanted them to build a new church and commenced a 'commitment campaign'. I didn't have a problem with that in principle, but they hired a consultant from America to show them how to raise the most money.  He introduced the 'prosperity doctrine' and then went back to where he came from with a cut of the donations.  That was something I did have a problem with!  The consultant advised the pastors to tell the congregation that God wanted them all to be wealthy. The way to get there was to give generously to the commitment campaign, opening the way for God to reward us a hundred fold!  I wasn't the only one vocal about my disagreement.  One Sunday, someone placed an anonymous flyer under the wipers of all the cars in the parking lot, vilifying the manipulative way money was being raised. My wife thought they would think it had been me, so I approached the pastors and asked if that was the case.  They said: "Of course not! You would have put your name to it!"

The millions raised stayed in bank accounts for years, while God kept 'changing His mind' about how and where to spend it. Meanwhile, many went broke when God didn't come through on 'His' promise to reward the donors. Many lost their faith and left the church in great anguish and despair.  But there were always others ready to take their place, eager to hear the message that God really wanted them to be wealthy, and was OK with them loving money after all.  I couldn't stand it, and refused to attend anymore.

Then my boys started their teenage rebellion.  They ran away from home, first for a few nights at a time; then for longer.   It might have been 1987 or thereabouts. I was exhausted all of the time. When I lost control over my boys' behaviour, I made a decision I regret to this day.  I went back to church for several years, not because that's where I wanted to be, but because I wanted to give the 'right example' to my kids. It is the only time of my Christian walk I am ashamed of.  He tells us He would rather we be hot or cold.  If we are lukewarm, He will spit us out of His mouth (Revelation 3:15-16). I came back, half-hearted, lukewarm. I went to church on Sundays, but told no one about Him during the week.  I felt like a hypocrite.  And it didn't change my boys' behaviour.

Yet I never denied Him.  One day a federal election was due and work colleagues were discussing a particular Christian senator.  They were rubbishing Christianity generally. I knew I would have to say something, so I piped up with, "Hang on now, at least he has the courage to stand up for what he believes in." The guy next to me said, "Yeah, but all these Christians are the same!"  I really think the Lord was testing me here.  I came back with, "I am a Christian!" He looked a little sheepish and then claimed, "Oh, I am too, but it's these born-again Christians you have to be careful of!"  I didn't want to, but knew I had to say: "I am a born-again Christian!" He looked at me in a strange way and then sighed, "Well, you're the first normal one I have come across!"

During this time, for a short while, even I was swept away by the seductiveness of the prosperity doctrine.  The temptation to believe that God wants you to love money, (under the lame excuse of altruistic intent - "I only want to be rolling in it, so I can help others"), especially when that message is coming from respected pastors, is like a drug taking control of your mind. You are particularly vulnerable when you are struggling financially. I had no spare cash, so I promised $50,000 if I sold my house. I wanted desperately to be free of debt. My exhaustion was exasperating.  I didn't have the energy to deal with the kids' rebellion, or a failing marriage, nor with the mortgage hanging over our heads.  I spent hours calculating how much I would walk away with, if I resigned. Accrued leave plus superannuation, but it wasn't enough.  Maybe, if we sold up and went back to the suburbs, the mortgage would go away and God could 'reward' us for the donation we would make to the church ...

By 1989, I was so tired, I had to race little old ladies for a seat on the train. No seat, and I knew I would faint before getting to work. By now, I only rode my motorbike to the station.  It doubled my travelling time, but it was all I could do. I would arrive at work and look longingly at the carpet and think how nice it would be, if I could just lay down there and sleep for an hour.  I blamed my condition on my unhappiness. I had rarely been sick, and the thought that there was something seriously wrong with me, honestly never crossed my mind. 

As a management consultant, I had to attend meetings with the top executives of the Department. I was falling asleep in the middle of these meetings!  My colleague would dig me in the ribs and whisper, "Wake up, Albert!" I was starting to believe I was losing my mind. I took up smoking again, to steady my nerves, having been a smoker years earlier. Because there was a non-smoking policy in force, I would go down in the elevator, to sit outside.  I'd smoke two cigarettes in succession, desperately praying that something, anything, would happen, just so I wouldn't have to do this anymore.  "Lord, make the building collapse, or drop a bomb on the railway line!  Lord, do something! Lord, help me!"

It was not long after, that I found out I was dying.



  • God appreciates hard work. At the same time, He doesn't want us to work ourselves into an early grave. There are many things that can usurp His rightful place as number one in our heart. It can be the love of money. It can be an obsession with 'signs'.  It can be pride.  It can even be hard work.  It can be any private agenda at all.
  • The prosperity doctrine is a false doctrine, designed to take our eyes off God's purposes and refocus on ourselves as the beneficiaries of the Gospel message. It is such a small twist in the true meaning of the Gospel, that most of us can be tempted to believe it. Yet the fruits of it are devastating.
  • We are the beneficiaries of the Gospel message, but only if we put God's agenda first.  We can only do that by not focussing on ourselves and by foregoing our own agendas.
  • It has nothing to do with adopting a poverty mind-set.  God doesn't want us to be constantly struggling financially.  He just doesn't want finances to be the centre of our attention.  He wants to be. And He doesn't want to be bribed into giving us more. And He doesn't want us to love money.
  • He wants us to acknowledge Him before men, no matter what the circumstances, or how we are feeling, or what the consequences might be.
  • He sometimes gives us signs. But signs can so easily be misinterpreted, He doesn't want signs to become the focus of our Christian journey either.