What if the Wilderness is Evidence of a Good God?
Updated: Aug 10, 2022
Whenever someone refers to the wilderness in the context of faith, it has this connotation of loss and misdirection. We often think of the wilderness as a barren place where nothing much good happens. But, friends, what if I told you that this is actually the opposite of what the wilderness is? That the wilderness is a place of gain. A place where we are being prepared. A place that strips us down, but also builds us up! A place that's hard, but leads to hard-rock faith. A place where we leave triumphant.
Perhaps the wilderness isn't evidence that the Lord has left us, but that he is very much with us.
Many people from the Bible, like Elijah and David, found this to be true of their time in the wilderness, and I have plenty of evidence from my own life that proves this over and over. I can think of specific times in my life where I was in a desolate place. Abandoned by people who I thought were my friends. Betrayed by people who I had called sisters in Christ. Seeking and searching for answers. Looking to a God who would carry me through. Begging for deliverance from a self-made pit. If you live long enough, you will have your own stories, too. Your own wilderness times.
It's during these times where I have grown the closest to God. These times have always forced me to lean on him in deeper and more concrete ways. When we lean into God, the wilderness stops being a place where we're lost, but a place where we're found. A place where we find a God who is all that he says he is. Each encounter with God in the wilderness reveals a new facet of God's character to us. It also reveals who we are in Him. These two things - the knowledge of who God is and who you are in Him - are like rocket fuel to your faith. It's going to propel you into the supernatural. You're no longer going to be looking at things the same way. You're going to start walking by faith and not sight. You will have eyes that see past the natural -past your circumstance -and filter everything through what was revealed to you in the wilderness...
A God that is faithful and sufficient for you.
When God led the Israelites through the wilderness for forty years, he did it as a consequence for their disobedience, but it was for their benefit. Much like a parent who has to pull back the reins and reteach their children, God himself said, "keep in mind that the Lord your God has been disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son." (Deuteronomy 8:5) As children, this discipline can seem unfair, but as parents we understand the necessity of good discipline. We have the wisdom to see how discipline will shape our children and make them even better humans.
In Deuteronomy 8:2-3, God reveals what his purposes were for leading the Israelites into the wilderness.
Remember that the Lord your God led you on the entire journey these forty years in the wilderness, so that he might humble you and test you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you by letting you go hungry; then he gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord."
The Lord wanted to accomplish some things that only would happen in the wilderness, and it's the same for us. Some lessons can only be learned in a place of lack.
First, he wanted to humble them. Remember, the Israelites had been set free from Egyptian slavery, but it didn't take long for them to start grumbling about the conditions of their new freedom. They began to resent God when the promise didn't look like they thought it would. The victory they had in him quickly became a thing of the past when their bellies were pained. Ouch! Doesn't that sound like us?
In order for the Israelites to be the people God had called them to be, he needed to strip away their pride, arrogance, and grumbling hearts. He didn't want them to be people who walked by sight, but by faith. He didn't want them to be people who were led by their physical needs, but by His word. Because following after the Lord is going to mean to deny our flesh, at times. If we're happy to be in bondage as long as our bellies are well fed, then how will be able to overcome sin in our lives. Does sin not often feel good to the flesh?
Second, God allowed the Israelites to feel hunger to test their hearts. He often allows us to see for ourselves what we are made of. To examine for ourselves the ugliness that resides within. The wilderness can be a place where he shows you to yourself. He wanted them to see what they had become and prepare them for what they would become - a people ruled by their feelings turned a people who move in the power of the Lord. He needed to dig that ungrateful, grumbling root up and replace it with a "fear of the Lord and heart of gratitude." Without these new traits, the Israelites would not be prepared for what the Lord had planned for them. They would be fighting and conquering and taking hold of the promised land, and that could not be done without new hearts and new allegiances. The Israelites were going to have to deny themselves and put God first in their lives if they wanted all the things that He had promised and purposed for them. And the same goes for us!
Third, God uses the wilderness to teach the Israelites to rely on him. He knows we will not be able to live out the plans he has purposed for us if we are not being wholly dependent on Him for all things. Because it's by His spirit that these plans exist and are fulfilled, and if we aren't keeping Him first we won't be able to accomplish what's laid out on that path. In the wilderness, the Israelites learn to move when God moves and stop when God stops. He provides every food and water need they have. He teaches them how to honor him and how to repent for sin. He teaches them about how this "new" life is going to go. One where He leads and they follow.
God does all of this in the wilderness "....so that in the end he might cause you to prosper." He always has your best interest at heart. He knows that what he is growing in you through the wilderness is going to propel you into your own promise land, friend.