Article: SLOGGING THROUGH THE WILDERNESS | Deena Daniel

When do we feel closest to God? Is it when all our ducks are in a row and life is churning along as we desire? Probably not. ‘Wilderness’ is by definition a wild land and not romanticised. The terrain is barren and harsh and stripped of familiar landmarks. Lurking dangers unseen, even the shivering threat of death. Biblical “wilderness,” refers to the times of God’s tests and trials in our lives. The wilderness is a locale for intense experiences – of stark need for food and water (manna and quails), of isolation (Elijah and the still small voice), of danger and divine deliverance (Hagar and Ishmael), of renewal and encounters with God (Moses, the burning bush, and Mount Sinai), of the Devil and Holy Spirit (Jesus into the wilderness and victory).

The Biblical theme of wilderness is widespread: Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden; Cain was sent into the land of Nod; Abram wandered from his father’s household; Moses fled to Midian; David was on the run living in caves; John the Baptist was a voice of one calling in the wilderness. Each of these experienced dislocation, isolation, and deprivation. In the spiritual wilderness, one feels God distant, absent, and unresponsive. Faith feels uncertain. One feels alone, vulnerable, lost, and unprotected. There is the fear of hopelessness and the unknown. The British novelist Sheila Skillman reminds us that “as soon as someone reaches spiritually high, Satan takes an interest in him.” It is the place where Satan resides. It is a place of temptations, lack, suffering, and darkness.

No believer can fully avoid the wilderness experience, it is the path we must all travel. A “wilderness experience” is usually thought of as a tough time in which a believer endures discomfort and trials. The pleasant things of life are unable to be enjoyed, or they may be absent altogether, and one feels a lack of encouragement. God reveals himself in the desert. Having a wilderness experience is not necessarily a sign that a believer is sinning, rather, it is a time of God-ordained testing. In a “wilderness experience,” a believer is forced to wait on the Lord to find God’s peace and joy amidst troubles.

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Paul offers this encouragement for those who “have this treasure in jars of clay.” We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. The God who created the garden also created the wilderness. There will be times of trial and pressure where our faith will be tested. But the God of grace will meet us even in the wilderness. Even in the desert, there is “grace in the wilderness” (Jer 31:2).

Spiritual wilderness feels differently for different people. For some, it is a place of intense and devastating loss, for others, it is associated with feelings of emptiness, weariness, and listlessness. The experience can last for days or years. For some the experience leads to a permanent loss of faith; they simply give up the fight. One can consider these four purposes as an encouragement to endure the wilderness to trust and wait on the Lord. It is a place of spiritual discipline, a place of testing and refinement preceding a season of fruitfulness, and a place where God wins our affections.

Three things Jesus did to survive the wilderness situation. He remained in his anointing, remembered his father’s promise or confirmation “this is my beloved son whom I am well pleased” and he recalled the word of God.

The Apostle Paul relates how all of our forefathers were under the cloud, and how they all passed through the sea(1Cor. 10:1-3). They all spent some time in the wilderness. King David was no stranger to wilderness experiences (Ps 28:1-2; Ps 38:9-10), and though he sinned like you and me, he was “a man after God’s own heart”. All believers think God is angry with them when they are in the wilderness because their pain is so great, but that is not so. It is in the wilderness that God introduces himself to us more deeply and profoundly and where he shows us that we are thirsty and dry. What better place to show us that than in a desert? As our thirst increases, we cry out to God and start searching desperately to find him and that is exactly what God wants us to do. The Lord says, “You will find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer 29:13).

So, even though we have no idea where we are or where we are going, God knows and he is right there with us in the desert capturing our tears and protecting us from the evil one. “The wilderness is a place of separation, preparation, and revelation; it is not permanent”. Our “wilderness experience” is that place where God hides us from public view and prepares us for ‘his purposes’. We may feel that the darkness of the wilderness will never cease, but the time will come when the Lord will bring us out of hiding to the place he desires.

Be thankful for your wilderness and keep your eyes fixed on God, keep drinking of the living water, and do not complain or grumble. “God leads his children to the wilderness and in the wilderness”. Realise you can’t go backward but can only go forwards. Have hope that God is using the wilderness experience for your good. “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness.” This means all the paths, even the ones that take us through the desert(Psalm 25:10). Steadfast love has brought you here, and he will never leave you.

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