I recently took a trip to the desert. The saguaros were almost in full bloom as their arms reached toward the endless blue sky. As I rode out of Phoenix, the mountains lined the horizon as the brown terrain stretched for miles. And there were rocks, lots of rocks — much like the current state of my front yard. Where the expanse of brown met blue, there was such a sense of rugged beauty. But as beautiful as the desert may be, it’s an unforgiving landscape — a wilderness.
While most of us may not plan our next vacation to literally trek across a wilderness, I’m sure you can think of a figurative wilderness you have walked through in your life. A friend and I were discussing “wilderness” moments in our lives — times when the landscape is unforgiving, you have no sense of direction, your body — physically, mentally, spiritually — is drained. Times when it is hard to see a greater purpose at work.
Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness. He wandered a region known as yeshimon, meaning “desolation.” In his book, I Am Dr. Kie Bowman notes that Jesus was not the first man or movement to find God’s purpose in the desert, and that God used the time in the wilderness to prepare his people for something else.
Here’s a few…
Abraham: So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb. Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord. Gen. 13:1-4
Moses: Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, ‘I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.’ When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then he said, ‘Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ And he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Ex 3:1-6
Israel: And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Deut. 8:2-3
David: O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1
John the Baptist: And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel. Luke 1:80
Paul: But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Gal. 1:15-17
It has never occurred to me that God used a literal wilderness in the lives of his people on so many occasions — removing all comfort and drawing them to a place where their only sustenance “comes from the mouth of the Lord.” But out of the wilderness came transformation and big things that could only be attributed to God himself. These people found their purpose in the desert. Abraham fathered a nation. Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. The list goes on.
What about your wilderness? How did God use it to shape your heart and prepare you for something greater? Or maybe you are in the wilderness. Take heart. God has you by the hand, and he has a purpose.
Dear Lord, Whether I am in the wilderness or not, remind me you have a purpose and help me to wholly depend on you.