The word “wilderness” is used in the Bible over 300 times. The wilderness was a place of empty land where people traveled as nomads. It was hot, dusty, dangerous, and unfamiliar. But, hidden in the brown landscape were grassy plains for herds and cattle, springs and streams, and rocky hillsides for shade. The wilderness was unpredictable. It was a time of isolation, uncertainty, and testing, but also of revelation, discovery, and renewal.
God did extrordinary transformational work in the wilderness. It’s where Moses received his call, David composed his most celebrated songs, Elijah heard the still small voice, John the Baptist developed his prophetic voice, and where Jesus was tempted and came through in new power and anointing.
Why would a good God lead newly saved slaves into the wilderness? Why not a speed pass to the land of promise? He wanted them to have a personal encounter with him. More than ease, God wanted to test and strengthen their faith so they could fulfill their future purpose. Deuteronomy 8:2 says, “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.”
Like Israel, we are traveling through this wilderness to our eternal home. “Wait a minute! That sounds negative! I will not confess that!” you say. Hold on. Life is a glorious gift, with many delights and much possibility. But, nothing in this life can meet our needs. If anything it exposes our neediness. Search as may, we are left thirsty, hungry, and dry. As CS Lewis wrote, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
That means all of us are in transition, or in the process of change. We never arrive in our marriage, family, relationships, and spiritual life. God is always leading us on. In this pilgrimage, expect seasons of testing, loneliness, uncertainty, and danger, but also times of incredible blessing, discovery, revelation, and breakthrough. Just like the setting sun can transform a dusty canyon into a place of breathtaking beauty, God’s comforting presence can turn our wilderness into a place of wonder and joy.
So, how should we walk through this wilderness? Notice what Israel did as they journeyed further into the desert. Exodus 16:2, “And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.” In Exodus 16 the word “grumble” is used seven times. Sometimes it is better to look at what not to do.