Have you ever been to the wilderness?
You know what the wilderness is. That dryness that creeps into your soul like the heat creeps from the sun. That arid desert of doubt that dehydrates your faith. That crackling time of trial that breaks you like the dried out dirt. Have you been there?
So have I. You are not alone.
The Israelites wondered in the wilderness for 40 years after Moses led them out of captivity in Egypt. There were some ups in the desert, but there were also many, many downs. Have you been there?
Jesus has been there, too. Just before officially beginning his ministry as the Christ, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for 40 days and nights. While there, he fasted and didn't eat any food at all. Satan himself tormented Jesus and fiercely tempted him. Have you been there?
When you were in the wilderness, how did you respond?
You know that unmistakable fear of the unknown. You know that feeling of hopelessness, like there is no end in sight. Surely you have experienced that pit-of-the-stomach guilt in the midst of a sin struggle. How did you respond?
While wondering the desert, the Israelites lost their faith and rejected God over and over again. They placed their trust in idols and attempted to take control into their own hands. They were desperately afraid and frustratingly confused. How did you respond?
After Jesus was killed, one of the disciples was particularly discouraged when faced with the terror of traversing the proverbial "wilderness" ahead without his Shepherd. Even after rumors of Jesus' resurrection began to surface three days later, this disciple simply could not believe it. His mentor and leader was gone. Finally, once Jesus amazingly appeared in the flesh to the disciples at dinner, "doubting Thomas" still had to physically touch Jesus' wounds before believing Him (John 20:27). How did you respond?
How does God respond to us in the wilderness?
You'll notice that Jesus did not disown Thomas. He graciously offered his fresh wounds for the touching. Just like the way Jesus graciously did not let Peter drown after Peter lost faith when stepping out onto the more water-y wilderness of the ocean to embrace him many months earlier (Matt. 14:31).
Also, God did not let the Israelites wonder themselves into oblivion and starvation. There was eventually needed discipline and justified exile, yes indeed. But He never abandoned them completely. He never left them in the wilderness without any hope of forgiveness or rescue.
You see, the way to navigate the dry wilderness in your life is to invite God, through Jesus Christ, into the wilderness with you. Rather than give in to fear, to despair, or even to apathy, let our Shepherd back into the struggle. He knows it. He knows you. And, He loves you.
In fact, God made some beautiful promises to the Israelites throughout history about these wilderness experiences and just how He might respond if we only turn towards Him. I want to end this reflection with a few those promises. Please, take the time to read them.
Isaiah 35:1-4 - "The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing...Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, 'Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.' "
Isaiah 43:19-21 - "Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise."
Isaiah 51:3 - "For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song."
Have you ever been to the wilderness?
You are not alone. Let God in.
In honor of our brothers and sisters in India who are experiencing a literal drought that has turned their farmland into a literal wilderness, we ask you to consider giving a gift towards hunger relief or clean-water wells for the families affected. You can find out more about the situation in India here: India Drought
-written by Chase Cotten, Media Director @ IDES