In the Wilderness
I am a city girl. It is in an urban landscape, drawn of straight lines and perpetual motion that I feel most at home.
In stirring contrast to my love of all things cosmopolitan, is my abject discontent with the simple patterns and slow weaving motion of the fields and woods of the countryside. There is something muddled and mischievous about gutsy rural roads and backwaters.
On a recent trip, dictated by responsibility, I begrudgingly headed away from the smoke and noise of the city toward the stoic still air of the countryside. As I maneuvered the car from the crowded interstate to an oddly rounded two-lane road, I felt the rise of anxiety in my chest as I worked to find my footing in a strangely foreign landscape. And while the urban sprawl of morning in the city had earlier welcomed me with fair skies and daytime colors, I was suddenly transported into a milk-white overcast morning, quickly swallowed up in dense fog.
Visibility was reduced to a fragment of what it had been, and the potential obstacles and hazards seemed to loom insidiously. Feeling tense and anxious I clutched the steering wheel, paying close attention to the road and its risks as the unknown magnified the danger of my journey. The countryside, hidden by clouds of damp mist and thick vapor, was an uncertain, claustrophobic and potentially perilous place, a wilderness of sorts, with nothing but barren hills, deep valleys and sun-baked red clay that seemed to go on forever.
In a broken world, life often goes awry, and we find ourselves lost in the wilderness; lonely, abandoned, forgotten and discarded. Whether it be trauma, loss, rejection, disaster or even doubt, it is easy to wonder where God is in these moments. Where is God when marriages implode and dreams blow away? Where is He when loneliness aches? And what does grace look like when the days are gritty, long and dark?
In the book of Exodus, we read the story of God’s people. They endured years of abuse, mistreatment, and oppression at the hands of the Egyptians. The people of Israel spent 40 intense, hot, dry years in the wilderness. Forty years of wandering. They had been promised a land of wonder, flowing with milk and honey, but in the wilderness, they hadn't even a drop of water to drink.
The wilderness is never easy. But God has purposes for us in the wilderness that cannot be accomplished by staying in Egypt. Followers of Jesus must eventually spend time in the desert with Him. Buried in that solitary place is a gift. In life, both beautiful and terrible things will happen, but God does His most profound work in the most barren and desolate seasons. The wilderness is a sweet retreat into the heart of the Savior. It is a place of danger and vulnerability, but it is also a place of covenant and power. It is a place of wonder. When things seem messy and chaotic, we may find it difficult to listen to the voice of hope, but the wilderness is the doorway to the Promised Land. It is fertile ground for God to come through in the most profound and miraculous ways with signs and wonders that will fit us for the journey ahead.
“The Lord our God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.” (Deuteronomy 2:7, New International Version)
When we look at the great leaders of the Bible, it is clear that the wilderness is a place of preparation. In 1 Samuel, David spent time in the wilderness before becoming King. In Exodus, Moses was banished from Egypt and lived as a simple shepherd leading the flocks to the far side of the wilderness, where he saw the burning bush and was called to save Israel from the Egyptians. Even Jesus, the Son of God, was not immune to time in the wilderness.
Leaders are prepared not on platforms and pulpits, but in the hard places of obscurity, where hearts are rubbed raw, and giants are slain. The wilderness is a retreat into the heart of the Savior. It is a place of danger and vulnerability, but it is also a place of covenant and power, a place of wonder.
At the completion of my meeting that day, just an hour or so after my arrival, I stepped through the doorway of the building into a rich red-orange sky, the sweet fragrance of honeysuckle thick in the air. As I headed back to the city, I was struck by the deep quiet of the countryside. It was, it seemed, a place ordained as a balm for the soul. My surroundings had not changed, but the lens through which I had been looking at the world had been smudged by the milk-white fog of the morning. And today, I stand in wonder as the One who “commanded the morning” performs the most mighty miracles in the most desolate places.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.