Monday, November 9, 2009

Wilderness Wandering

In the Bible, the desert and the mountain seem to be places that God takes His children to test and teach them. I understand the mountain experience better after living in them for a couple months this summer. But the past week, I have been wrestling with the concept of the desert. I think the desert is a time where God does some serious work on our hearts.

1)The desert is meant to isolate us
Do you ever feel incredibly lonely? The kind of lonely where you can be in a crowd of people, maybe even your own friends and family, and feel disconnected? I think our desert walks are times where God isolates us from people and things we would normally run to to prove Himself all-sufficient. In Genesis 21:14-21, Abraham sends his mistress, Hagar, and his son, Ishmael away, and the two wander in the wilderness. When Hagar and Ishmael have run out of food and water and think they are going to die, God speaks to her and makes her the promise that Ishmael will also grow into a blessed nation and then He provides for them. Would God have spoken to her like that if they had not been isolated and had nowhere else to go?

The children of Israel wandered in the desert and were isolated for forty years. Exodus 13:17 says, "When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said,'Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.' But God led the people around by way of the wilderness."God knew the hearts of His people and their desire to run back to a place that was familiar when the going got tough. He knew they wouldn't run to Him. So what did He do? Yep, led them into the wilderness. God provided food from Heaven, water from rocks, a pillar of smoke to lead them by day, and a pillar of fire to lead them by night. He showed Himself mighty, their Provider, and in control even in their desert.

The desert is a place where God breaks us so that we turn to Him. He shows up in mighty ways that we might have missed if we were still in the midst of our mountaintop experience. This week I asked the Lord if He was lonely for human companionship during His wandering in the desert. But then I realized, because He and the Father are One, He was never alone....and neither are we. If we are in Christ and Christ is in the Father then we are NEVER alone. Even in the midst of our desert wanderings.

2) The desert refines and equips us
You may be thinking, "I'd rather just stay on top of the mountain and God can move in little ways in my life. After all, He will still be moving, right?" Here's the deal...desert experiences are part of life and the goal of the Christian is a metamorphosis or transformation to be more like Christ. To have that transformation, we must have the mountain top experiences as well as the desert wanderings. So not only does the desert isolate us so God can show Himself mighty, but the desert refines and equips us for the journey ahead. In 1 Kings 19, the prophet Elijah is fleeing for his life into the desert from the wicked Queen Jezebel. God often takes us into the desert to shape us and speak to us in a still small voice, like He did to Elijah. I think often times in our contentment and joy on top of the mountain when everything is going well we neglect that still small voice because we just don't think we need to hear it.

Have you ever studied desert plants or animals? Not only does the Lord send us out into the desert to refine us but He is equipping us for our next trek up the mountain. Take camels for instance...they can withstand temperature changes and little water that would kill most other animals. Cacti conserve water within their bodies to enable them to go with little water for a long period of time. Do you get the picture? He gives us strength for the drought! Isaiah 43:19-21 says, "The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, for I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise." He doesn't send us into the desert to die or be miserable...He sends us to equip, strengthen, and enable us for what is coming. These plants and animals not only survive but thrive in the desert. If the Lord does this for the plants and animals (Matthew 6: 26-30), how much more will He do it for you who are created in His very image (Genesis 1:26)?

3)The desert is a place to both remember and forget
In 1 Chronicles, David charges the people to remember the miracles and judgments God had done. The Old Testament is full of encouragement for the people to remember the things God had done for them in the desert. They were charged to remember in order to not forget the One who never left them. But in Isaiah 43:18, the Lord says, "Forget the former things, do not dwell in the past. See, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." The Jews are a people of rich heritage and tradition, but they could get so bogged down on what God had done in the past that they weren't looking to see what He wanted to do next. The desert is both a place for us to remember what God has done but also look toward the horizon with anticipation for what He both desires and promises to do. As a friend told me recently, "We remember, but we don't dwell."

I don't know where you are at in your life right now. You may be smack dab in the middle of a desert that seems to have no end. If you know the Lord, understand that the desert is His tool to draw you closer. He is strengthening you and refining you more into His image through the process. Beauty in the brokenness, remember? For those that may feel like they are going through a never-ending desert and don't know the Lord...could it be that He is using this time to break you and draw you to Himself? If you choose to follow Him, He promises to walk with you and strengthen you. There is hope in His name! Otherwise, your desert wanderings are meaningless. Find comfort that this God that loves and created you placed you in the desert for a purpose. Remember what He has done and look for the pillar of fire that is leading you out of the desert and to the next mountain He has purposed for you to climb!

Following Him in the desert,

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