The once theoretical idea of “wilderness” has now hit home. Plans and long awaited celebrations, canceled. Organized sporting events for all ages, wiped from the calendar. Schools, organizations, stores and even churches forced to close their doors to secure the health and safety of others. In this time of crisis we are all feeling the grave impacts in one way or another. We find ourselves in an unknown wilderness we’ve never experienced before, and we ask ourselves, for how long?
No one really knows. Incessantly checking our screens and reading the latest updates will not pass the time faster or provide a more favorable outcome. We are forced to sit with this uncomfortable reality and let the weight of it be felt. Feeling the weight of it is important. Staying positioned under the weight of it could be detrimental. So, what to do?
Faced with this question we look back. As followers of Jesus, we consistently find hope by revisiting the stories of the people of God written in the Scriptures. Their lives were not easy or simple. Many faced challenges we will never encounter in our lifetimes. Amidst their failures and successes we see a God at work bringing hope, light and redemption to the world. Reading their stories loosened the grip of fear in my chest and helped me to exhale more freely, for it is God who fills the air in our lungs this very moment.
ENCOUNTERING GOD IN THE WILDERNESS
Genesis 16:1-16) She ran into the wilderness with nothing. She was a foreigner, a slave, a woman and she was pregnant. She fled to the wilderness to escape her life and her troubles. She was an Egyptian and did not serve the God of her masters. Why would she? Her masters had been unkind. So I can’t imagine she was looking for their God. But that is who she encountered because she was seeking and searching for help. Yahweh, the One true God is who makes Himself known to Hagar in the wilderness. Hagar, the oppressed Egyptian slave, forced to carry a child and Give birth, on the run and filled with contempt she is the only one in all of scripture to give God a name. And the name that she chooses to give God and call him from that point forward is El Roi – the One who sees me.
(Exodus chapters 2 & 3) Moses fled to the wilderness leaving everything. He left power, position, status and money. God had spoken that Moses was to be a deliverer of his people. And from the looks of things at this point in the story it appears that he hadn’t even gotten that right. Those whom he was supposed to deliver despised him. He was on a quest to find out who he really was. In the wilderness is where Moses had that question answered and his identify secured. He was a deliverer, but he needed to do the very thing that he he was made for, but away from the crowd, away from the affirmation of people. God wanted Moses to know who He was before God alone — to find confidence and security in his identity before God so that seeking the empty approval of man wouldn’t steer him away from his God given purpose. The praise of man will never satisfy. It falls short of the delight of God for His children using their gifts to further His purposes in the world. Moses had to have his priorities set in the right order before God entrusted Him with greater task. In the wilderness is where the sifting and shifting took place to be in alignment for what was coming next.
(1 Kings 19:1-18) Elijah went into the wilderness to die. He had just conquered the prophets of Baal and God had showed up in power and might. But instead of celebrating, Elijah was being hunted by Jezebel and her army. She had sent a message to Elijah saying that within the next 24 hours she wanted him dead and had commissioned her army to complete the task. Upon this news Elijah wandered into the wilderness alone with no more will to live. In that place of desperation and despair, sitting beneath a broom bush crying out to God for it to end, God speaks. And this is what He says, “ take a nap.” God told him to go to sleep – twice. And God supernaturally provided food for Elijah – twice. When God repeats himself it is a cue for us to really listen. Elijah’s fatigue and despair had clouded his judgement. His assignment was not over. Supernaturally God provided what Elijah needed in very unconventional ways. Elijah was reminded in the wilderness that God is His provider and can create something out of what looks like nothing.
(Luke 4: 1-13) The son of God himself was led into the wilderness.Throughout the Scriptures, the wilderness represents a place of preparation, a place of waiting for God’s next move, a place of learning to trust in God’s mercy. Jesus enters into the wilderness after being baptized. For forty days and nights Jesus remains in the wilderness, without food, getting ready for what comes next. The season that is coming next for Jesus is the beginning of His three year ministry. He whole life has been leading up to this point and the Spirit leads Him into the wilderness. The words spoken by the Spirit over Jesus after He is baptized and before he heads into the wilderness are significant, “and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” What happens in the wilderness for Jesus? God affirms his beloved-ness before performing any great miracles, preaching any sermons or fulfilling the prophesies of old.
Each one of these biblical characters had a powerful encounter with God amidst a season of isolation, fear, questioning and doubt. They all emerged with a clearer sense of the character of God, their identify found in Him alone, the gift of supernatural provision and rest and a reminder of beloved-ness as children of God.
The biblical meta-narrative clearly reveals the ache and brokenness of humanity. The characters we read about in those pages showcase a desire for an answer to the questions:
“Who am I and why was I created?”
It is the ache that still plagues the human heart.
Imagine each one of those characters letting the questions, fear and doubt spill out of them, most likely while experiencing agony, pain and anger. This is a form of honest intercession. This wilderness we are experiencing together is a time for asking questions as well as counting our blessings. Remember the things you have that aren’t changing. What are you thankful for? List them out in your journal or on a dinner napkin with your family members. From big to small. This is a spiritual practice that will fill you with joy. Kind of like the supernatural provision of Elijah. You think you don’t have anything and then you realize you actually do. Ask these question of yourself and those you love:
What do you want to find out about who God is and who you are?
- Who do you want to be in Christ when we emerge from this Covid19 nightmare?
Do you know that He will never leave you or forsake you?
Do you know that He calls you beloved before you even do or think a thing?
Maybe this season in the wilderness, individually and corporately, will align us with who we are and why we are here. Acknowledging the ache of the human heart, emptying our questions and fears before God may be the very thing that helps quiet us a bit. In order to be filled with something other than fear and anxiety we must empty ourselves to make room. He alone knows what is coming and what this is preparation for. May we rest in our beloved-ness and be grateful for a personal God who calls us into the wilderness, away from the noise, so that we can hear what He has to say.
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