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Sunday, August 2, 2015
How Did I End Up In This Wilderness?
Recently I have been reflecting on the concept of wilderness times in our lives, those times when life seems so empty, so desolate, so hopeless. Sometimes those come because of external circumstances, but sometimes because of our emotional state or internal struggles.
During those times, often individuals long for God to speak to them, to encourage them, to answer their prayers, and instead feel like they hear nothing from him.
The aftermath of divorce would certainly qualify as a wilderness or desert experience for many of us, and I will come back to that in a bit.
Often when biblical teachers refer to the wilderness, they like to talk about all the things Moses learned there, or how God taught the Israelites out in the wilderness. Mention is made of Elijah after his victory at Mt. Carmel, heading out to the wilderness where he heard that “still, small voice,” or the people who flocked out to hear John the Baptist. The Qumran community of the Dead Sea scrolls deliberately chose the wilderness as their home, and Paul says that he went out into the desert for three years to learn from God.
Thus there is a significant biblical example of wilderness learning. However…
I have heard it said that there are some things one can only learn in the wilderness experiences of life. Perhaps. Certainly, the Israelites would not have learned what Manna was had they not wandered all those years and been forced to rely on God’s provision to help them.
But is that the same as saying they could not have learned how to lean on God’s provision if they had NOT gone into the wilderness?
I think sometimes such things are overstated.
Let’s review a few thoughts.
First, Moses wasn’t SENT by God out into the wilderness to learn from him, he fled there as a fugitive after he decided to take things into his own hands by committing murder. Once out there, God did at some point appear to Moses, but could not God have revealed himself to Moses back in Egypt had Moses not done what he did?
By the same token, Elijah had been living in obedience to God and been used of God in a mighty way at Mt. Carmel, but God didn’t send him into the wilderness, either. Elijah fled there because he was scared, afraid that God wouldn’t be able to protect him from the evil queen, and when God confronts Elijah out there, the first thing God asks him is what he is doing there, as if to suggest he is in the wrong place!
There is also the image of King David, out in the wilderness through no choice of his own, but because of the stubborn disobedience of King Saul who kept David away from his rightful place. Paul went out to learn from God in the wilderness for three years because he had spent his life resisting what Jesus was trying to do for him, and realized he needed corrective training.
Jesus is the only one I recall who was specifically led by the Spirit of God to GO into the wilderness….but the purpose was to be tempted by Satan, to do battle with the great adversary of God.
That is what later monks sought to do who went out into the desert, to do battle with Satan through prayer and intercession. In fact, the image of the wilderness in the Bible tends to be a God forsaken place, where evil spirits dwell and into which the scape goat is driven carrying the sins of Israel.
But I am not noticing scriptures where God tells people they have to go into the wilderness IN ORDER TO learn lessons from God. No doubt they did learn, but it seems very often those people in the wilderness learning lessons were having to learn them there because they were not listening or obedient WHERE THEY WERE.
It is certainly true that the distractions of this world can make it difficult to hear God, and in the desert places those distractions are removed, giving one clarity to hear God.
Or maybe it is more like learning lessons the easy way or the hard way. We can take the word of the carpenter who tells us that if we hold the hammer and nail a certain way we will hit our thumbs, or we can choose to do it our way and let our aching thumbs teach us.
The point is, are you learning the lessons of life God would want to teach you, or has your ear grown deaf and your heart hard so that the only way you will hear is if you are FORCED to do so?
Some people in the wilderness after divorce learn that things were better than they realized and they have made a great mistake.
Some of those people are able to return and restore their marriage, but not all.
Some learn that they should have paid attention years before in their marriage, worked harder at changing themselves and less hard at changing their spouses.
Some, to be sure, are like King David, forced out into a wilderness not of their own choosing, having to learn hard lessons as they wander far from home.
And just like Jesus, any recently divorced person knows that temptations abound in a time of desolation, temptations that will sorely test your commitment and faith.
Whether in a wilderness state of life or not, I want to invite you to consider the lessons God might be seeking to teach you, and the response you are giving.
If you are in a good state, stay malleable so that God can shape you where you are.
If you are in a time of desolation, ignore the screaming heat of the sun beating down and instead turn your attention to the voice and Word of God, so that you won’t have to spend 40 years out there as that rebellious generation of Israelites did so long ago.
God has a Promised Land for each of us. Ultimately, it is the heaven to which we are invited if we accept his offer of forgiveness. But even on earth, there is a future hope that God has for your life, something he desires to shape into your being and into your experience. And one way or another, he will make sure you have the opportunities to learn what it is.
Personally, I prefer trying to learn it before I end up in the wilderness places!