The Wilderness

Imagine yourself stranded in the middle of the Arabian Desert.  As far as your eyes can see, there are heaps of sand in every direction. The hot air stings your face as you try to stay covered from the intense heat. You are not sure where to go and, even more importantly, how to get out of there. You are starting to feel exhausted – depleted of food and water, dying for a place of shade and rest. The journey is long and you are not sure when it will ever end.

Have you ever felt this way in your relationship with God? What is the “wilderness season” and what does this mean for us?

There are these times when we feel dry – that God’s Presence seems so far away from us. Perhaps now as you are trying to wrap your mind around what has been going on, you feel more distant from God than ever. Just because the normalcy of life has changed does not necessarily mean that you feel secure in God’s love. Just because there is more time does not automatically mean that you have a renewed passion to seek the Lord’s face. There can be a season where we feel that we have no direction.  It’s like walking aimlessly in a wilderness or desert.  

In Scripture, the wilderness is a place of testing, refining, and purifying. We might be led to think of the Israelites, who wandered in the desert for 40 years because of their disobedience to God.  Yet, I want to give you a different picture of what the wilderness is and to suggest that it can be good for you. Yep, I said it – you don’t have to die in the wilderness, you can thrive.

You might be thinking to yourself, “I can thrive? In a desert? Where there is no food or water? This time of social distance has surely gotten to you, Pastor Nathan!”

Yet in Luke 4 it says that the Holy Spirit led Jesus to the wilderness to be tested. This event took place after an incredible revelation of the Triune God during Jesus’ baptism, where God the Father spoke of Jesus’ love. The power of God is now on Jesus. It is time for Jesus to walk in the Spirit and defeat the power of the enemy.

There is a huge difference between the wilderness season of the Israelites and that of Jesus’ experience in the desert. The Israelites didn’t have faith when the spies reported the good of the promise land. They were forced to wander in the wilderness out of their lack of faith. Jesus was led into the wilderness by faith to fulfill the promises of Scripture regarding Him being the Messiah. It was in the desert that Jesus emptied himself (he was very hungry and I would imagine quite thirsty too!), overcame Satan with the rhema word of God, and established His earthly ministry with the power of God.  For Jesus, the desert was necessary.

The desert is a must if we are pursuing all that God wants for us.  But why?

For one, the wilderness strips us of all that is not of God. It is a time where the Holy Spirit puts His finger on the comforts and distractions that take precedent over godly priorities.  It is when our security on anything, other than Jesus, is taken away and we realize that there is false thinking in areas of our life. This stripping is required to release us from the stain of the world so we can be renewed in what God has for us. 

Second, the wilderness prepares us for what is next in life. Whether you like it or not, the desert is God’s training ground. Joseph went from the pit to the prison for years before he went to the palace. God was teaching him how to have integrity over pleasure (reference) and to expand his administrative skills (reference).  These years of the ‘desert’ for Joseph were pivotal in preparing him to be 2nd in command to Pharaoh.  The stripping of the flesh allows us to grow deeper in the Spirit transforming our character to look more like Christ.

Could this season of ‘stay at home’ orders, social distancing, and self-quarantine be used by God to strip away your flesh? You bet. I believe this wilderness season that was thrust upon you, me, and essentially the world is a divine opportunity to draw near to God. That is, you can decide to draw near to God so He can draw near to you (James 4:8). The wilderness is not pleasant, but all of those worldly and selfish desires can come to the forefront like dross being purged so pure gold can be revealed (Isaiah 1:25). In fact, you can give your fleshly desires to the Lord in this time to reveal the genuineness of your faith – which is “of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:7). Did you catch that? God can use you in this time of trial, emptiness, and distancing to refine you for His ultimate glory. Amen!

If you are in this season and your spiritual life feels dry, don’t give up! Instead, ask God questions such as, “What are You teaching me through this wilderness?” “Is there a fruit of the Spirit in which you want me to grow?” “How can I be faithful during this time of little activity?”

The wilderness season is not the end, it’s just the beginning. Get ready! God is preparing you now, in the desert, so you can be ready to enjoy the fruit in the land of promise to come.

Have a blessed week!

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