I begin this blog, admitting I am far from being a Biblical scholar. However I do try to use what I read in the Bible to contemplate how it relates to my life. So this writing is not an exposition but an attempt at ‘making it real’ for me. 2 descriptions of “wilderness” experiences in the Bible are most impacting for me.
1) The first takes up 3 whole books of the Bible, ie; Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. They describe the Israelites’ 40 year journey, led by the patient and suffering Moses, between freedom from captivity in Egypt and entering into the Land promised by God, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
2) The second, described in only 2 verses of the Bible in Matthew 4:1-2 reads; “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights he became hungry.”
As I relate to these 2 descriptions of ‘wilderness’ or ‘desert’ experiences I learn, at least, the following from them.
1. God has allowed it to happen. In fact in both cases he not only allowed it, but orchestrated it. In the case of the Israelities I believe the journey could take as little of 2 weeks to complete, but God knew His people had much to learn. In Jesus example, it says he was ‘led by the spirit’ meaning it was God’s will for him to go there.
2. It was a hard place to be in. As we read both accounts its obvious there was physical deprivation included…eg; unusual food (for Israelites) or none (For Jesus).
3. There were great lessons learnt. The Israelites’ seemed to be a ‘slow to learn’ people at that time and suffered quite extensively as they ‘banged their heads’ in rebellion to God’s leading. They did, eventually learn much. Jesus on the other hand, as I read into the short description, seemed to accept the lessons as preparation for what was ahead.
4. Its a necessary journey for all who follow God. God the Father, saw fit for His people and Jesus in these examples, to embrace this journey as an important part of their walk with Him. Winter is as necessary as Summer.
5. Obedience is better than sacrifice. Again, in both cases, God was calling for obedience first…it wasn’t about sacrificing for Him.
6. God was with them in the wilderness. Its evident in both situations God was there in the midst of His people and His son.
7. God brought them through this ‘season’. God’s intention was always that this would be preparation for the crucial roles He had ahead for His people and Son. He never let go of them on the way.
The past 4 years have been a journey into the wilderness for me.
It wasn’t intentional…not from my side anyway!
Leaving behind 25 years of serving in missions, the last 10, co-founding and running a care centre for abandoned and HIV/AIDS babies in a foreign country, I’ve found myself, among other things, depressed, burnt out, doubting, lacking confidence and wondering ” What the heck is going on?”. As much as I don’t understand the journey fully, I can say I have some idea that the 7 points above have been true for me.
– God has allowed it to happen. As a fast paced, driven A+ personality, I am prone to ‘running till I drop”. I guess after 25 years of doing missions ‘for God’, I needed to awaken to the idea that I am not invincible, and need to ‘temper my pace’. Terms like ‘smell the roses”, ‘the journey is more important than the destination’, ‘wait’, ‘be still and know that I am God’ have continually come across my past these past 4 years. I recognise and am thankful it hasn’t been 40 years, but also wish it could have been 40 days! But I do see now, that God did allow it!
– It was a hard place to be in. Admittedly, I do not wish such a journey on anyone. (Kinda like freezing at the top of the world in the Arctic). However, paradoxically, I recognise it was a necessary journey, that we are all probably going to experience to various degrees. At times I did feel like I was totally alone, that God had abandoned me and this was to be my lot for the rest of my life. Its hard to listen to ‘reason’ and even truth, when you are in it.
– There were great lessons learnt. Fully explaining these would take a number of blogs (and perhaps will be done). However the 3 key lessons for me have been these
a) Serving God, no matter how great the cause, can never take priority over my relationship with The One I’m serving
b) He loves me unconditionally, and cant love me more or less, no matter what I do.
c) He wants me to love others as He loves me.
– Its a necessary journey for all who follow God. Just as a year needs all 4 seasons to be complete, so we need seasons’ in our own lives. I see this Winter season as a time of ‘dying to self’, dropping my leaves (amongst others) of unforgiveness, self-pity and judgements. I recognise these were elements of my life that could not be dealt with is a Summer time and as I experienced the ‘wilderness’, was able to connect with my ABBA Father and receive his unconditional love.
A Gospel preached that promises only joy and happiness and pain-free living, is not a full gospel and should not be used to draw people to Christ. He went through suffering and pain and He told us we too would experience this if we follow Him.
– Obedience is better than sacrifice. Despite 4 years (so far) of unemployment in this ‘wilderness’ and no clear leading as to what I should be doing, I have woken up daily, asking Him how I should be receiving more of Him and passing that on to others. At times feeling pressure to ‘just go get a job’, I’ve tried to hear His voice before acting. Being obedient comes first which leads to our lives being a ‘living sacrifice’ to Him….but obedience comes first.
– God is with us in the ‘wilderness’. Honestly….i had thought there were times He had abandoned me as things seemed to go from bad to worse……….at times I cried out in my loneliness….asking why He had forsaken me…initially months, of silence, then weeks, to days and eventually to hours….but ‘at the right time’ (not always my time) He showed Himself……….all the while allowing my faith to rebuild and grow beyond what it was before.
I thought I’d ‘lost’ my faith…….only to find today it’s stronger than before……with a new belief He ain’t done with me yet. Its true when he says “I will never leave you nor forsake you”, even when we think He has.
– God brought me through this ‘season’ – Ironically as I write this I’m am in the grips of ‘actual Winter’ in the deep South of Africa! However I can say, with integrity and joy, that I indeed have come thorough the ‘wilderness’ time and am more ready than ever to embrace His love, bask in it and share it with others.
Honestly…..when I was in the midst of the pain, dullness and loneliness, I would never have imagined I could come out of it, much less encourage others that its vital to go through it and more importantly, that you can survive it and thrive beyond it! I truly am feeling overwhelmed with his love and positively seeking what is in store for my future. Challenges still surround me, but my confidence in my God and His love and purposes for me take priority.
His plans for me are great and He has a future and Hope just waiting for me to embrace it. I dont know where you are in your life as you read this, but I trust this will help for you to know its ‘ok’., wherever you are. If in the wilderness, seek help…God will direct you…and there are many sojourners out there who really do understand!
I’m grateful to God and the saints he sent along my path, at the right time to help me through my wilderness. God alone knows if I will have another, but I choose to embrace all He has for me for the next phase of my life. As I approach the BIG 60 later this year, I’m as ready as ever to live life to the full in whatever days I have left here. I do yearn for the day I will see Him face to face, but for the right reasons…to rejoice…and not to take me from the anguish of living here which I had felt in the depths.
At times we need to just “Hang on, hang on, hang on”…He will be faithful to His promise of abundant life.