I have found myself on the other side of this with changes too innumerable to process. As the world moves in fast forward, I find myself feeling slow and sluggish. Daily I am reminded of the global siren echoing in the background, blurred like a distant ambulance, signaling that all is not okay. Some days this metaphorical siren feels like a jarring fog horn in my ears. On occasion, I find myself feeling unhinged, ungrounded, and slightly panicked as though I missed the bus—as though I missed the meaning of all of this. Who I was pre-pandemic feels lightyears away from who I am today. It is my humble guess, that possibly, you feel similarly, too.
How did we get here?
In September of 2018, I had the privilege of hiking with a tour group through the Wadi Qelt–an area within the Jordan wilderness. This location is similar to the path Jesus is the Messiah whose life, death, and resurrection are God's saving act for humanity More took when he abruptly left the Jordan River and journeyed into the wilderness for 40 days (Mark 1:12).
As our group stumbled into this space, flinging our water bottles and crunching rocks underfoot, a hush fell over us. We realized that we had stepped into something sacred. Something other. While the arid sun beat down on us beneath our sweaty, Saharan caps, we imagined Christ walking the trail before us in this sobering, tangible silence.
Throughout the Bible, the wilderness was a place wrought with testing. It was where all ill narratives of God’s character were shaken out of God’s people like the sand they wandered upon. Entering the wilderness was never on anyone’s Google calendar, and unfortunately, neither was the exiting. Wilderness is where clichés blur and pain is focused. Yet, it is also when we can experience life-changing God encounters, miraculous provision, and preparation for the chapter ahead.
I write this from the metaphorical wilderness. Whether or not you are presently navigating its disorientating terrain, wilderness seasons are inevitable. May these tender reminders bring comfort to each of us.
God is the one who leads us into the wilderness.
“Therefore God led the people around by way of the wilderness…” (Exodus 13:18, NASB, italics mine).
In the wilderness, our pain and circumstances will scream for attention so much so that we may forget the bigger picture. We are likely caught up in present survival mode, addressing real needs and solving real problems. While we live in a world with human will and brokenness, there is a “yes, and” theological perspective that ultimately God is still lovingly leading us.
When I go canoeing with my dad, when we hit the rapids, we aren’t pondering up at the sky and ruminating on God’s goodness. On the contrary, I am shouting in a panicked voice at the big rock ahead, “Twelve o’clock! Twelve o’clock!,” while my dad says in angst, “Quick! Paddle on your right!” We are reacting to dangers and threats.
And immediately the Spirit brought Him out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:11-12, NASB, italics mine).
The same Spirit that led the Israelites into the wilderness in Exodus is the same Spirit that led Jesus into the wilderness in the Gospels. This is also the same Spirit that leads you now into the wilderness. By remembering that it is God who leads us into this uncomfortable place, we can also remember that God will never leave us or forsake us.
God speaks to us in the wilderness.
“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her” (Prophet to the northern kingdom who married a prostitute to show God's relationship to a faithless Israel More 2:14).
Other versions say “speak gently,” “kindly,” or “speak to her heart.” I’ll admit that surviving in the perils of the wilderness while hearing the tender voice of God seems like two conflicting agendas. Yet it is in this space where God is trying to get our attention.
Do we believe that God wants to speak to us in our wilderness? Do we view God as harsh and abrasive? Jesus describes himself as “gentle and humble in heart.” When you listen to God’s voice, what tone do you anticipate?
God prepares us for the next chapter in the wilderness.
Not only does the wilderness focus our attention on God, but it prepares us for what is ahead. Joseph’s wilderness experience prepared him to be second-in-command over all of Egypt. Moses’ wilderness experience prepared him to return to Egypt to risk his life challenging Pharaoh and freeing God’s beloved, chosen people. The Israelites’ forty years in the wilderness prepared them to inherit the land God was giving them:
“It was I who brought you up from the land of Egypt,
And I led you in the wilderness forty years
That you might take possession of the land of the Amorite” (Prophet to the northern kingdom who condemned Israel's oppression of the poor, calling for justice to "roll down like waters." More 2:10, NASB, italics mine).
The wilderness is a powerful tool in the hands of God when it comes to preparing us for the next chapter. Pruning, shaking, and refining are all incredibly unpleasant. Yet it is in this challenging, roundabout way that we are being prepared for what God has for us next.
God is making a way in the wilderness.
There is a thick fog in the wilderness so opaque we struggle to see hope. We lose a lot of strength trying to make sense of the unknown. Our doubts rupture and we easily question God’s character. In other words, we become tired and feel like giving up. Yet this is the exact scenery God wants to reveal himself profoundly to us.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland (Isaiah, son of Amoz, who prophesied in Jerusalem, is included among the prophets of the eighth century B.C.E. (along with Amos, Hosea, and Micah)--preachers who boldly proclaimed God's word of judgment against the economic, social, and religious disorders of their time. More 43:19, italics mine).
Similarly to how our weakness is the perfect canvas to display God’s power (2 Corinthians 12:9), so the parched and impossible wilderness is the best backdrop for God to display his miraculous pathway forward.
Take courage that God is making a way now for you in the wilderness. From the dry sand of impossibility, hardship, and heartache, something new and fresh is springing up!
Wilderness Reflection Questions:
- Take a moment to take a few deep breaths. Pause and remember that it is the Spirit that leads God’s people into the wilderness. How may this reminder bring a fresh sense of grounding and hope?
- Where is there room in your daily practices to pause and listen for God’s tender voice?
- When reflecting on Isaiah 43:19, the God who makes a way in the wilderness, how is your faith renewed into action?