Both in the Old and the New Testament, we see people experience the wilderness and find God in the midst of it. Moses came out of the wilderness, ready to lead God’s people out of Egypt: in the wilderness of Horeb, Elijah heard the still small voice of God. Hagar, the Egyptian maidservant who Sarai gave to her husband Abram to have a child with found herself in the desert at two different times. In both instances, Hagar encountered the Angel of the Lord, who gave her insight about the life of her son Ishmael. And of course, the one I’m sure that comes to mind for most of us is Jesus led by the Spirit into the wilderness. In each one of these instances, the persons involved came out of their wilderness better prepared for the journey ahead.
My journey through the wilderness over the last eight months has been a stripping away of issues like control, a judgmental spirit, and self-reliance deeply ingrained within me. “Controllers are inherently incapable of yielding control to God.” Whether we want to admit it or not, we are control freaks. “But faith involves a loss of control. And with the loss of control comes the loss of certainty. And faith is the willingness and readiness to embrace those uncertainties.”
These insights opened my eyes to my lack of trust and dependency on God. So, there was much confession and repentance during this time in the wilderness.
The wilderness developed within me that quality so beneficial to living faith: desperation. Left to myself in uninterrupted comfort, I found that I had drifted. It is all too easy to give lip service to God while our hearts pursue our careers or ministry.
In the wilderness, I learned about the weakness of my flesh, the Lord’s faithfulness, kindness, and grace. This “stripping away” removed blocks so that there would be more time and space for God to bring more significant form and shape to my life.
The wilderness emptied me of issues that blocked my ability to reflect the image of God to others. God’s purpose for each one of us is to “become persons of compassion, persons who forgive, persons who care deeply for others and the world, persons who offer themselves to God to become agents of divine grace in the lives of others and their world. And persons who love and serve as Jesus did.”
There were times in the wilderness, where I struggled to hear the reassuring voice of the Father. But the Scriptures gave me hope during this difficult time. Job declared, “He reveals mysteries from the darkness and brings the deep darkness into light” (12:22). In Hosea, God says, “I will lead her (Israel) into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her” (2:14). And Jeremiah 31:2, “They found grace in the wilderness.”
Eventually, God brought His light, grace and tenderness into my journey. The wilderness was a training ground to prepare me to die to self and to live for God. It brought me to a place of surrender. In the wilderness, I found out what my heart desired. Although it is a place of correction, pruning, and discipline, God is there in the wilderness.
Throughout my wilderness journey, I begged God to take it away; eventually, I have come to thank Him for the stripping away of that which had distanced me from Him.
I want to share with you a prayer from Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation by M. Robert Mulholland Jr.
“God of our creation and re-creation, you who are constantly at work to shape me in the wholeness of Christ, you know the hardness of the structures of my being that resists your shaping touch. You know the deep inner rigidities of my being that reject your changing grace. By your grace soften my hardness and rigidity; help me to become pliable in your hands. May there be a melting of my innate resistance to your transforming love.”