Friday, January 21, 2011

Wilderness Wanderings: Is it Good for the Soul?

Have you ever been lost? Really lost? Like in "the middle of a wilderness" lost? It is not a pleasant place to be.  God's people should know something about "wilderness wanderings"; we, God's People (Israel--literally meaning "people of God") have a history of wilderness wandering (See Deuteronomy 8).  Once the realization of being off-track has surfaced, the question of "how did I get here?" inevitably surfaces as well.  The question seems irrelevant at that point, right? "Clearly, I'm lost! I need a plan! I need to get out of here!" Tack on a well-utilized plea, "I want to go home!", and you know exactly what I'm referring to!

If you have spent some time in Deuteronomy, once you get to Deuteronomy 8, it feels like Moses has been preaching for eight chapters about following God's ordinances and commandments, after a brief reminder of the 40 year "wilderness wandering", which took 39.5 more years than the trip required.  You're right, he has! Deuteronomy is really a series of Moses' sermons and exhortations to the people of Israel.   And at this point in Deuteronomy, obeying and honoring God's commandments (or the Decalogue--otherwise known as the 10 Commandments  Deuteronomy 5 and Exodus 20) is wonderful means to receiving the blessings of God. God is providing an unmerited gift--a homeland.

6 “So obey the commands of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and fearing him. 7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills.8 It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. 9 It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking. It is a land where iron is as common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills. 10 When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 “But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today.

See that "so" in the first sentence there?  That is a conjunction, usually with a conditional feel. Pay attention then to the verses that come before.  The land is going to amazing. There will be plenty. There will be beauty. There will be more than enough for everyone. But, don't forget about the wilderness experience.

2 Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. 3 Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 4 For all these forty years your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t blister or swell. 5 Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good.

Wilderness experiences are not fun. They are humbling. They are gut-wrenching. All of us can recall a time when we were lost--physically lost.  Remember how that felt? Now imagine how it feels to be the other person who knows you are lost, and is frantically looking for you, hoping you find the way home. Have you been there?

One day, shopping in a grocery store with my family, my son asked me if he could go with my husband, who was going to the other side of the store.  I had our daughter in the grocery cart, so I said yes, assuming my husband had heard me. He had not. So, my son took off after my husband, who at that point did not realize our son was following him.  And like any six year old, I can only assume that he stopped to look at something, and when he looked up, he was alone. A minute later, my husband finds me in the store, but our son was not with him.

I panicked.
He panicked.

And in that moment, we realized that the best thing to do was to head to the front of the store and have him paged.  All I knew, and felt, was I wanted my son with me, NOW! I probably would have run all over the store, if my husband had not steadied me, explaining that our son might be doing the same thing--we could potentially never find each other.  Seconds seemed like minutes, when our son flew around one of the front aisles, his expression desperate for a familiar face.  He saw us. We saw him. And in that moment, I don't think I have ever been more joyful! He had found his way to us. Now, this whole story probably occurred in a span of 3-4 minutes but it felt like an eternity. 

Consider the implications of this story in relation to our "wilderness wanderings" and God.  Indeed, God finds us, asking us to follow him out of the wilderness, but he won't pick us up and move us.  He provides for us (like the manna and the birds in the wilderness).  But he wants us to FIND HIM to find our way to out of the wilderness. Why? Because He has plans for us.  Just like He did for the Israelites.  There was  land waiting for them.

Earlier, I wrote that when we get lost, we want a plan to get out! God has one already! His amazing love is illustrated in the person of Jesus Christ--God took on flesh to meet us where we are. We were so lost, so He came to us!

Take a moment to reflect if you recall feeling spiritually lost or just out of touch with the spiritual side of yourself?  We attend to our physical bodies when they cry out for attention--hunger, pain, exhaustion or illness.  Do we attend to our spiritual self in the same manner? Are you in the wilderness? Are you feeling far from God, far from community, or lonely?  We all experience "wilderness wanderings", but God does not want us to stay there.  He knows what it's like--Jesus himself experienced the wilderness for 40 days!

Be encouraged today. The Wilderness can be good for the soul.  It is where we lean on God more, as we grow more dependent on Him meeting our needs. We are vulnerable when we are spiritually lost and physically lost. We feel exposed and weary. God is with you today through His Holy Spirit, ready to give you the strength to step out of the wilderness.  Wilderness can be good for the soul, but we should not remain there.

I read this today, and found great comfort.  Peace.

O troubled soul, beneath the rod, 
Thy Father speaks, be still, be still; 
Learn to be silent unto God, 
And let Him mould thee to His will.

"O praying soul, be still, be still, 
He cannot break His plighted Word; 
Sink down into His blessed will, 
And wait in patience on the Lord. 

"O waiting soul, be still, be strong, 
And though He tarry, trust and wait; 
Doubt not, He will not wait too long, 
Fear not, He will not come too late."

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