Wilderness Experiences

For the Week of June 23, 2014
by Rubel Shelly

Everyone makes occasional visits there, but nobody would want to live there permanently. Most of us realize it when we are there, but some take practical steps toward getting out. The very language comes directly from Scripture, yet few seem to make that connection or seek divine aid while there.

“I feel like I’m just wandering around in a desert,” she says. “This is a wilderness time for my career,” he insists, “and I don’t know what to make of all this.” “I hope we can find a way out of this situation,” a church leader tells the flock, “but what we are facing is our most severe test ever.”

There are actually two biblical events that provide us with such a metaphor for human life. In the Old Testament, there is the story of the 40 years of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness. In the life of Jesus, we read about a 40-day period of fasting and a series of intense temptations in a wilderness region.

All human beings – whether we use this biblical metaphor or not – go through periods when it seems we are either stuck or just wandering in a circle. And sometimes there are events or whole seasons of life when the stress level is off the chart, there is a new battle every day, or the temptations to abandon one’s faith or fundamental life principles seem to be coming at a machine-gun pace.

You need a reliable guide and benefactor when in the wilderness. Israel had a cloud by day and fire by night to mark the way. Yahweh provided water, manna, and quail. It was a brutal environment, and the daily provisions were anything but lavish. But there was enough. Life could be sustained. When you are in your wilderness, you are not alone: “All you need to remember is that God will never let you down, he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it” (1 Corinthians 10:13 MSG).

As the citation just given demonstrates, it is critical to know and rely on Scripture in life’s most difficult times. When Jesus had to face down Satan in the wilderness, he quoted Holy Scripture to fend off his adversary. You may not have perfect recall of just the right text, but you can say “I know this is wrong” or simply “This is against what I know God would want me to do.” In the dark times, read the Psalms and live in the Gospels. God’s words give insight. “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105 NLT).

In the times of testing you must endure, try to see the opportunity for growth in your ordeal. Draw closer to God. Discover your real friends. See your strengths and weaknesses more clearly. Learn humility. Continue to obey the call of God on your life. “When troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow” (James 1:2-3 NLT).

The wilderness is a challenging place. Your God is up to the challenge, so don’t forget to turn to him when your time comes. Or are you there already?