Think back to your last wilderness experience. (Or your current one)
How did you get there?
What were the circumstances that led you into the wilderness?
What “territory” did you cover while you ‘wandered’ with your Savior?
What did Jesus teach you and how did you grow while in your season of isolation?
Keep your answers in the forefront of your mind as we move forward. I promise I’ll connect the dots later.
I’m not going to share my experiences yet, but I will in the coming weeks. Today, I’m going to give you a small glimpse into my investigation of the Bible’s wilderness wanderers.
- Because it’s their stories that helped me understand mine.
- It’s their stories that encouraged me to embrace my season. To use it as a time to grow deeper in my faith and closer to Jesus.
- It’s their stories that helped me understand how God often uses these seasons to prepare us to walk out our calling, our purpose in His plan.
- It’s their stories that persuaded me to take a broader perspective of things—an eternal perspective of things.
Through this comprehensive study, I learned a few things that enabled me to not only give grace to myself during my own wilderness seasons, but more importantly, to give grace, love, and support to others.
Cain (Genesis 4)
Cain is most remembered for killing his brother. But his story didn’t start or end there.
Simply put, Cain refused to do what was right.
He refused to submit to God and obey Him. He refused to worship Him with humility and thanksgiving. He refused to give Him his heart and devotion. Furthermore, he rejected God’s personal warning of Sin looming in the shadows looking to destroy him. And he ignored God’s offer of a way out. Instead, Cain chose to proceed with his plan to murder his brother in cold blood. A horrible and heinous sin to be sure.
But I believe his most arduous sin was committed after the murder—when God confronted him with his sin, and he lied! No confession. No repentance. No remorse. Unlike David who fell on his face before God in a similar situation, Cain was defiant and denied responsibility for his choices. Even after receiving the consequences of his sin, there was no admission, only complaint.
Sometimes our wilderness seasons are punishment for sin. Plain and simple. It’s a time to break down our defiance and arrogance. To expose our brokenness and pride. It’s a time to soften our hearts and humble us until we’re willing to face the truth of our sin so we can confess and repent of it and be forgiven.
And, my friend, here is a promise we can take to the bank: Though the consequences of our sin may remain, our relationship with God will be restored. Amen?
Noah (Genesis 6-10)
Noah was a pariah. A social outcast. Isolated because of his lifelong faithful obedience to God. Then to solidify his status, Noah and his sons spent 120 years obediently building a gigantic boat in the middle of the desert. Despite the flood of heinous insults from everyone around them, they didn’t quit. They continued to work and to warn. And they continued to be ignored—until God closed the Ark anyway.
Then, 7 days later, the floodgates opened! 150 days after that, their boat “beached” on the mountain. Then over the next 7 months, the Earth dried and God finally let them out of the Ark.
Can you imagine what those 13 months must have been like? Not to mention the 120 years of building the Ark and the prior 480 years of being an outcast because you chose to be faithfully obedient to God rather than align yourself to the beliefs and behaviors of those around you?
I can’t. Now imagine this…
When they stepped out, everything was dry, fresh, clean, new…and quiet. All their neighbors were gone. Everything familiar washed away. They and all who were with them in the Ark were all that remained of humanity and the animal kingdom, and it was their responsibility to repopulate the Earth. Talk about a wilderness!
Through it all, we hear not one grumble. One complaint. One whine. Instead, we witness a life-long commitment to obeying God and God’s faithfulness to them in return. And it was because of Noah’s consistent faithful obedience that God trusted him with the gargantuan task of building the Ark. He knew Noah would do everything exactly as He commanded Him.
Sometimes our wilderness seasons follow the completion of a daunting God-given task. A task so far beyond ourselves it made us nauseous when He first placed it in our trembling hands.
But when it was done, the euphoria was intense! We experienced His hand guiding us and witnessed miraculous answers to prayer! We grew in the process and were forever changed. Now, we see Him use our hard work in ways we never could have hoped or imagined…And while we were still starry-eyed, He took us from the mountain top straight into the valley and then into the wilderness to test us, to teach us, and to prepare us for what’s next.
Abraham (Genesis 11-24)
Abram was a 75-year-old pagan man from a polytheistic culture who recently lost his father. His bride, 10 years his junior, was stunningly beautiful but barren. Therefore, he was a man of no hope and no future.
He called Abram by name and presented him with an invitation and a promise. But first, he had to leave all that was familiar. He had to commit to living the life of a nomad in a foreign land—a land his descendants would someday own!
But it would be 25 years until his son was born. 25 years of waiting. Of wandering. Of hoping. 25 years of wondering if God forgot him—and His promise of a son. An heir. And now Sarah was well past the childbearing age.
Yet Abraham’s hope still burned because he believed God.
Sometimes our wilderness seasons start out with great promises. God has revealed our purpose, our direction, and our role in His plan. And we’re excited! Ready! Anxious to get after it! But nothing happens—for years. Decades.
We begin to wonder if God is going to come through for us. We see others’ successes. Others’ dreams become reality. Others’ purposes be fulfilled. And we’re still waiting.
But God is working behind the scenes
- Instilling His Truth in us.
- Growing us.
- Refining us.
See, He wants 100% of us, of our heart and devotion.
He wants us to believe him, to depend on Him, and to put our faith in Him—not in our ability to do these things.
His goal is to make Himself known to all people. Our goal is to faithfully follow Him and submit to Him and His timing.
Joseph (Genesis 37-50)
Favored by his father. Despised by his brothers.
This pride-filled over-confident youth instigated a lot of friction in his family. He knew he was daddy’s favorite. And he had a glimpse of God’s calling on His life. But when his prophetic dreams coincided with their father’s extravagant gift, it was too much for his brothers. It was time for the Dreamer to go. But in lieu of murder, they sold him to slave traders.
While in Egypt, God was with Joseph and gave him the Midas touch. Everything he did succeeded. Soon Potiphar, his master, made him his personal attendant and put him in charge of his household and everything he owned—and he became very wealthy because of Joseph. The only fly in the ointment was his master’s wife.
See, this handsome Hebrew specimen caught her eye—and she wanted him! Insane with lust, she strove to seduce him, pressured him, only to be rejected time and again. Then one day she cornered him, rape on her mind. He was able to escape her clutches, but his cloak was not. Embarrassed. Ashamed. And now with his cloak in her hands, evidence of her guilt, she concocted a story of how he tried to rape her. And her husband bought it. And Joseph was thrown into prison.
But the Lord was with Joseph in prison and showed him His faithful love. (39:21) The warden, like Potiphar, put him in charge of all the prisoners and everything that happened in the prison. Again, everything he did succeeded. Then one day, years later, he interpreted the dreams of two prisoners. When the predictions came true, and the cupbearer to the king was restored to his position—he forgot about Joseph and his innocence. For 2 full years.
Then Pharaoh had a few dreams that terrified him, and no one could tell him what they meant. Then the cupbearer remembered Joseph.
He not only interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams, but he told him what to do with the information God gave him in his dream. And after 15 years, Joseph was instantly second in command over all of Egypt. No longer a slave. No longer a prisoner. But a ruler. An influencer. An authority. And a savior of a nation who would otherwise die of starvation.
Sometimes our wilderness seasons are to humble us. To help us remember our gifts, talents, and abilities are gifts from God, not something we acquired for ourselves. They are to be used for His purposes and His glory, not our own. They are not something to be prideful of or to flaunt. They are to be used according to His will and to serve others.
And once our arrogance is laid to rest, God can combine our self-assuredness with our pain to create the grit and confidence we need to thrive and prosper where others give up and fail. This is when He can teach us how to use and hone our gifts, talents, and abilities to bless others and further His Kingdom.
There are so many more I could have talked about:
Hagar, Ishmael, Moses, the Israelites, Ruth, Naomi, David when he ran from Saul and then Absalom, Elijah, Jonah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, the rest of the Prophets, Exiled Jews, Esther, John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul, John in Exile, Silas, the Disciples, Timothy…just to name a few.
Likewise, there is so much more I could have said about those I already mentioned.
But my point is this:
After you read and compare each person’s story, what you discover may astound you. Many of these “wilderness wanderers” share the same geographical location. Yet each experience/season is completely different.
- Each person entered the wilderness in a different way and for a different purpose.
- Each “wandered” for a different length of time and often at a different time.
- Each was predisposed to a different personality, way of thinking, habits, and tendencies.
- Each was equipped with different gifts, talents, and abilities.
- Each had a different foundation of personal history, educational background, and family function/dysfunction.
- Each had different strong and weak areas of faith.
- Each had different levels of faith—from no faith to strong faith—before embarking on their journey.
Yet God knew each and every one of these people—intimately. He knew their hurts, fears, and insecurities. He knew their pasts. Their needs. Their strengths and weaknesses. He also knew their heart. Their potential. Their purpose. And the role they would play in His Story. They couldn’t take a breath or a step without His knowledge or care. Every nuance of their physical, mental, emotional, psychological, social, and spiritual health was lovingly held in His hand.
In each experience, He met them where they were and took them where He needed them to be.
And He did the same thing for me.
And He will do the same for you.
One of the biggest lessons I learned in my wilderness seasons is that we all have at least one wilderness season in our lives, and the territory we wander may overlap or be exactly the same. But the purpose and experience of our season is as unique as we are.
Each wilderness experience is different.
Each has a unique purpose.
Do you know what your’s is?
If He hasn’t revealed yours yet, ask Him.
If He has, embrace it and thank Him for it. Then walk in it.
Until next time,