Have you ever given much thought to the Wilderness? So much of life around us is no longer wild. There are snake farms, zoos, wildlife preserves, and other places that bring the wildlife to us in cages and make it all seem so tame. We rarely experience the wild any more.
On a trip earlier this year to Florida I noticed the dense vegetation around us as we drove down the interstate highway and I paused to think about those explorers who worked their way across the New World with no pre-existing maps, GPS satellites, or even roads. I am sure working through the wilderness to establish a new civilization was hard and hazardous work. The wilderness is often uncharted and those who venture in may not come back out again.
Scripturally and spiritually speaking there are other dimensions to the wilderness. It was the backside of the desert where God took Moses for 40 years preparing him to lead the people out of Egypt. It was the Arabian wilderness where God took Paul for 3 years after his conversion on the Damascus Road. It was the wilderness where Jesus was tempted by Satan after 40 days of fasting. It was the wilderness where John the Baptist preached the gospel of the Kingdom, wearing camel skin and eating locusts and honey. At times He even used the wilderness to judge His people. That is, after all, where the generation that came out of Egypt died while wandering for 40 years, headed for the Promised Land.
The wilderness is barren. Hot during the day and cold at night. It is far from civilization and the comforts of home. It really is wild. And yet this is where God over and over again takes His people to teach them and to prepare them, making them useful for His service.
Have we been in the wilderness? Have we been rejected by friends and family, exiled to wandering in the wild, far away places? Has God taken us out into the places where there is no help and no resources except for those He providential sends our way? The wilderness can make us crazy, you know. The isolation. The silence. Those things out there which would prey upon us and consume us if given the chance. Some outside and others inside of us, ringing in our ears as we do battle with our own thoughts and fears.
And yet the wilderness is used to purge, to cleanse, and to prepare us for the work that God has for us. Without the wilderness we would not know what to do or how to respond to hardship. Yet we often reject the wilderness. We flee for what is familiar and comfortable. We hide. But God is still able to send us out so that He might teach us how to depend on Him and how to turn back to Him. When in the wilderness all we have is God we learn to long for Him, to hear Him in the hustle and bustle around us once we return to civilization. Yet these lessons are missed by those who prefer the easy paths.
I have often thought that many today, if put back in the day of our ancestors, would die a quick death and hardly be able to survive with the pioneers and those who settled our land. It is no different in the church. When we mistake apathy for contentment and activity for obedience we are sure to miss the great blessings of the wilderness. When we think a full schedule and a busy program is the same thing as living in the power of God then we have been deceived. Being busy will only make us barren. Spiritually, abundant life flows from the times our faith is tested and tried and proved.
Just because we are comfortable does not mean that God is blessing us. Just because things are going along smoothly does not mean that we are being obedient. And just because we think we are full does not mean that we should cease to hunger and thirst after righteousness.
The church today, safe from the hardships of the wilderness, is full of junk food. Sermons that do not feed the inner man. And we are malnourished. There is a famine from hearing the Word of the Lord. And the men charged with preaching that Word, with feeding the sheep, too often feed themselves and appease the sheep, all the while leading them to death and despair. For it is the truth that makes us free. Anything less than the truth serves only to enslave us.
Have you been to the wilderness? The place where it is just you and God? And sometimes there even He does not answer? Can you relate to the Psalmist who cried out many times, "How long, O Lord?" and as he waited on God he learned to believe even in the absence of all evidence and to trust simply because God said so and His every Word is true? The same man, David, hungered for God. He panted after God. It was God who sustained his life.
The wilderness is a place where we are forced to ask uncomfortable questions and to face our deepest fears. It is also the wilderness where we learn who we are in Christ and we see that He was telling the truth when He told us, "Without me you can do noting."
Maybe we need some time in the wilderness, some place where we cannot do it on our own, some place where it has to be the power of God that sustains us so that we see that without Him we really cannot do anything.....but with Christ, and through Christ, and in Christ, then all things are possible.
Sometimes I look longingly at the wilderness, for it is there that I see Who God is and what He can accomplish by the power of His might. There He does these things without my help! There I cannot rely on books, programs, or methods. There it is me against the wild, and it is the wild that He uses to show His power in preparing us for His use.
Have you been to the wilderness lately? It is not a place for the fainthearted, but it is for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Maybe it is time for us to "take a walk on the wild side."