You don’t have to read very far in the Bible to find wandering people. The book of Genesis is full of people moving to locate God. Adam and Eve leave the manicured pathways of the garden for a rocky and unpredictable wild world. God’s people found the promised land as Abraham, left it to survive famine, and journeyed back following Moses and Joshua. And while we may not walk through actual wild lands, every faith journey involves wild walking.
What is the Wilderness?
The wilderness is the parts of life that don’t make sense or add up. It is made up of the tragedies of life. Miscarriage, cancer, car crashes, and on and on are the signposts of the wilderness. These times and events remind you that you are not in control and that no amount of intelligence, money, or influence can protect or keep you safe. We wander in a fallen world where sin has dug itself in and manifested its decaying presence in many ways. One can find themselves in the wilderness through broken relationships, bad choices, or circumstances beyond their control.
The wilderness is the crucible where we learn how finite we are. The current focus in much of Contemporary Christian Culture on comfort and material blessing feels shallow and ineffective in the blistering heat of the wilderness. Fellow walkers in the wild know that the goal is to hold on tight and survive. In the wilderness, you find that you are ready to receive everything when you come to grips with the nothing you have. You practice gratitude and worship because, in the most challenging times, you find the kindness of a Savior. In the wilderness, you walk certain that God is good and has good things for you, even if you don’t see them yet. The wilderness is part of your journey to your destination. For the Israelites, that was the Promised Land. But where are you headed? Where do you want the journey to end?
When you read the Gospels, you see that Jesus is never where people expect. As a child, he stays behind on a family trip to visit the holy city when the family leaves. Mary and Joseph are frantic until they find him back in the city in the temple. Jesus began his ministry by heading out into the literal wilderness. He spent forty days in prayer and communion with God to prepare His heart and soul for the next three years. In the wilderness, he found the strength to resist temptation. He found the strength to face the cross and be able to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will, but yours.” Jesus left the wilderness and immediately invited people to follow Him. Those that did follow spent the next three years moving from town to town. They were invited to wild boat rides and all-night prayer vigils. They experienced the thrill of people massing together and the abandonment when the crowd lost interest.
Where Jesus went, People followed
He offered his disciples a life where they had no homes or even a place to lay their heads. He knew that following could mean a strain or even a break in the strong bonds of family and community. At the height of His public popularity, He preached a sermon that turned all but the most dedicated away. He told funny stories and welcomed bratty children when the adults were trying to talk. He challenged the stranglehold that wealth had on people’s hearts and reminded them of the treasures that are not of this world. His heart broke for people who were wandering with no one to lead them. He wept openly when His friends experienced the pain of loss and death.
Awkward moments seemed to follow Him but never bothered Him. He sat teaching while four friends destroyed the roof of a house, desperate to find healing for their friend. He stared into the eyes of cynical house guests as a woman of ill repute poured perfume on His feet and washed them with her tears and hair. As C.S. Lewis would say through one of his characters, “He is good, but He isn’t safe.”
Inevitably, if you want to follow Jesus, you will find yourself invited to travel through the wilderness. Following Jesus is the spiritual journey that shapes your life, heart, and character now and for all eternity. But it is important to understand that it is an invitation, not a compulsion. Jesus asks you to respond. But if you choose to stay, you can follow a sanitized Jesus who appears to only care about your soul’s condition upon death. Or one that promises things like comfort or material blessings and unending health, then you may find your faith shallow and your spiritual tank empty. You might just find yourself caught in an endless cycle of unsatisfactory relationships, work, and trivial pursuits.
But if you accept the invitation to become a wild walker, you open yourself up to a real, growing faith. Faith for your journey, even when it is unsafe, and you aren’t sure you will make it. Uncomfortable, hard, and agonizing best describe the majority of time spent in the wilderness. But it is also the place you find faith, hope, and strength.
So are you ready to go? Step one is praying for wisdom and God’s leading. Maybe you are already in the place you need to be, but you have avoided the hard conversations or the disciplines that help you grow. Do you need God to move you to a place that will not be your comfort zone but will become your growth zone? Is God calling you to move across the city, the country, or the world? Maybe He is calling you to step into a mission field, or maybe the first step is learning how you can serve at your local church.
Wherever it might be, remember that following Jesus means you are never alone. Jesus will walk with you and is walking in front of you, preparing the places you will go. What first step do you need to take in your spiritual journey? How is God calling you to be on a wild walk through the wilderness?