Rejoicing in the “Wilderness”

When I was growing up, summertime promised a break from school and homework, but it also meant separation from most of my school friends who I didn’t see otherwise. I could be excited about the summer break, or find reasons to be sad. It’s all about perspective: Would I view it as an adventure to enjoy or as a desolate wilderness to muddle through?

As Christians, we have very great and precious promises available to us (2 Peter 1:3). Jesus offers forgiveness, everlasting love, reconciliation to God, a coming restoration of all things. But He also promised we will have troubles (John 16:33), seasons in the “wilderness,” so to speak. Like my attitude toward childhood summers, we must choose whether we will view these challenging times as an adventure to enjoy or as a desolate wilderness to muddle through. Jesus came to give us abundant life (John 10:10) and full joy (John 15:11), so we don’t need to settle for “muddling through” anything.

Israel’s time in a literal wilderness offers invaluable lessons about how to face our own figurative “wildernesses.” God delivered Israel from Egypt by ten mighty plagues, setting them free from the brutal bondage of slavery to a life of faith, following God Himself to the land He had promised to give them. The route to the Promised Land was appointed by God and He took them directly through the wilderness.

In the same way, the Lord has delivered every Believer from the brutal bondage of slavery to sin, setting us free to a life of faith, following Jesus! We are promised a “land” too – a full and abundant life here and eternal life in Heaven one day. Like the Children of Israel, God purposefully leads us through the “wilderness” to refine our faith and prepare us for the future.

In Deuteronomy, Moses acknowledged their wilderness was “great and terrifying,” and they were there because God commanded them to take this path (1:19). While they were in the wilderness, the Lord carried them, “as a man carries his son, all the way” to the Promised Land (1:31). Furthermore, while the Lord was carrying them, He was blessing them. “For the LORD your God has blessed you in all that you have done; He has known your wanderings through this great wilderness. These forty years the LORD your God has been with you; you have not lacked a thing” (2:7).

What made the wilderness “great and terrifying?” Maybe it was the terrain, the wild animals, the isolation from cities and fear of not having food and water for sustenance. Maybe it was the uncertainty of what lay ahead or longing for what was left behind. To arrive at the Promised Land, the people had to learn to trust God and depend on Him for everything. Seasons in the “wilderness” teach us to depend on God too!

What’s going on in your life right now? What is your “great and terrifying wilderness?” Cancer? Broken relationships? Financial distress? Emotional illness? Addiction? Oppression? Whatever form it takes, the “wilderness” can be terrifying because of potentially life-altering or life-threatening outcomes. If we are there, we can trust the Sovereign Lord deems it the necessary path for refining our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7). He accepts us as we are, but intends to conform us to the likeness of Jesus, which is for our good (Romans 8:28-29). He wants us to be fully dependent on Him, trusting Him completely, and often, we learn to do this in the “wilderness.” As we exercise our faith in Jesus, His Holy Spirit works through His written Word to transform our lives. We behold His glory and become more like Him (2 Corinthians 3:18). Rather than being self-centered and pleasure-seeking, we become Christ-centered, seeking and submitting to His will.

Our “wilderness” is an opportunity to experience God’s transforming presence in our lives. He will lead us, carry us, provide for us, and produce in us whatever we lack. He has blessings in store for us that will blow our minds! The children of Israel ate bread from heaven and drank water from a rock while they were in the wilderness! How might the Lord display His glory to us?

In my present “wilderness,” I have a broken ankle, and a close family member is receiving treatment for a long-term emotional illness. It is hard, but God has purposefully led us here and is carrying us through it, providing everything we need. We are basking in His love, resting in His promises, and experiencing His presence while we wait for healing, physically and emotionally. We are overwhelmed by His personal involvement in this. He has brought numerous people into our lives to encourage us, empathize with us, and provide for our needs. We have been given opportunities to share our stories with them and testify to God’s faithfulness. Nothing is wasted with God! No “wilderness” is a wasteland when we are in Christ!

If you’re in a “wilderness” right now, learn from Moses’ example about perspective. Believe God has purpose in where you are. Rest in His arms as He most certainly carries you. Let His Word fill your heart and mind, and enjoy a deeper level of intimacy with Him. Watch for His blessings. Rejoice in Jesus, even when the circumstances are hard. Just as the Children of Israel lacked nothing in their wilderness, our trials will produce steadfastness and maturity in us, so we are lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4). In fact, because we have this assurance, we can look at our trials, our “wildernesses,” and count them as joy. In your “wilderness,” rejoice! Choose to view it as an adventure with Jesus and not a desolate place.