The average person doesn't spend much time thinking about how exciting it would be to spend time in a wilderness, a totally isolated and desolate place. However, television media provides fantasy shows based on people spending a certain number of days without food, shelter, or tools in isolated places of the world to test survival and endurance skills. Despite these kinds of shows, we would not deliberately place ourselves and our families in the middle of a wilderness to face dangers and challenges. We are more familiar with the spiritual and emotional wildernesses that seem to surround us from time to time in our journey of life.
We can certainly say that we have been living in a world that seems to be a wilderness for the last six months. This has been a time our spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being has been pushed to the very limits of human tolerance. An overpowering sense that our lives are no longer ours to have and control seems to settle on our shoulders. Maybe there is even a spirit of surrender to our circumstances and a hopeless feeling that things will never be different. This wilderness that we find ourselves in is real and must be dealt with, but we cannot travel successfully in this wilderness alone.
A wilderness can certainly be a spiritual desert, just as real in some sense, as a geographical spot here on earth. We must be aware of spiritual warfare that takes place constantly in dimensions that are void of time, space, and matter; warfare between divine good and satanic evil. These spiritual battles are fought over control of governments, economies, ideas, moral behaviors, and human beings' destiny, over earth itself, and the universe. This is why Paul urges us to put on the "full armor of God so that we can stand our ground." And he continues, "We aren't fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens." Ephesians 6:12 (CEB) It is in the middle of these personal battles that we find ourselves in the wilderness.
I recently read an article around this topic written by Rob Renfroe in "Good News" magazine entitled "Walking Through the Wilderness." I will quote and paraphrase many of his words and thoughts in our discussion for this week. Renfroe emphasizes the spiritual wildernesses which often occur in our disciple's walk with Jesus, although they can be initiated by physical and emotional heartbreak and struggles.
We find the term "wilderness" used nearly 300 times in Scripture, and usually at a most critical moment in the life of a person or nation. Abraham decides to follow God's call and is led into the wilderness. Moses meets God in the wilderness and begins his calling of the deliverance of the Israelites. When they finally leave Egypt, they must first pass through the wilderness. Later in the New Testament, Jesus is baptized and then driven into the wilderness by God's spirit to be tempted. Only after this time in the wilderness is He ready to begin His ministry.
Renfroe writes, "In the scriptures, the wilderness is used to describe a time in a person's life when his or her soul is parched and dry; when today is hard, and the future appears barren; when as far as you can see there is nothing but devastation, and you wonder if you will find a way out. Very often, during that wilderness period, you feel all alone. You may even feel bereft of God's presence, as well… Despite the pain, the wilderness is a place of great opportunity because of the pain. It's where God can teach us life's most important lessons." Renfroe continues, "I come to see that God isn't so much a 'problem-fixer' as he is a 'life-changer.' Rather than swooping in to take our problems away, more often He works to change who we are through the pain and problems of our lives."
The time that we spend in our own wilderness is not to be wasted. We will be changed by our time spent there. How we will be changed, for the better or for worse, is up to us. Through this desert, there is a way that will make you stronger, your faith deeper, and draw you closer to God than you ever imagined.
We must remember that God's grace is sufficient for any wilderness. He tells us that He has plans for us, Jeremiah 29:11; that He will work all things to the good, Romans 8:28; and that He will never leave us, Matthew 28:20. These are awesome promises for the times the wilderness finds us. However, God is faithful, and His grace is never-ending. Jesus wants to walk with us in the wilderness of our lives. Just ask Him; He will come and never leave!
In Christ, Pastor Tim Pastor of Congregational Care