For the LORD will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song. Isaiah 51:3
On March 5th we begin our 2014 Lenten season. This year we will be using the theme of “Into the Wilderness”. And so I would like to reflect a bit upon “wilderness” as used in scripture and the “wilderness” of my own life as a way to prepare together for our wilderness Lenten journey. Then I would like to invite you to join me on this journey!
Did you know that wild or wilderness is used over 425 times in scripture? In the Old Testament, ‘wilderness’ is not usually a good place. It is considered to be empty and desolate. It’s not usually a destination but a place that people journey through on the way to something better. Consider the Hebrews as they left slavery in Egypt and traveled through wilderness for 40 years on their way to the promised land. Here wilderness is a place where people go for a time to prepare for the coming of God’s kingdom! Theologian Alan Storey said, the Hebrews needed a place to ‘transition’ between being a people of oppression, to a people of God’s promise. So, in this sense, God uses wilderness as a place of discovery and learning. A good friend of mine once said, that she thought of “the ‘wilderness’ as a school for the Hebrews as they wandered there, because God loves experiential learning.” Maybe we should ask ourselves, how are our wildernesses learning opportunities for us?
In New Testament scripture, the character of ‘wilderness’ changes a bit from being a place you would only want to journey through to become more of a destination. It’s a place where Jesus went to pray to God and be tested by Satan. It’s where John the Baptist resided and people came for renewal. So in Jesus time, wilderness also become a place sought out for purification and transformation. From this we might ask ourselves, what within us needs cleansing and change and how do our wildernesses help us with this?
As I reflect on ‘wilderness’ in my life, I have found it to be both difficult and delightful. Often It’s a place where I seek refuge from the complexity of life, hoping to rediscover simplicity and beauty, and to hear what God has to say to me. This might be reading in a quiet corner at home, going on a mission trip or to the Boundary Waters Canoeing. This wilderness is delightful in the sense that God slows me down to enjoy who I am and the world God made.
Wilderness can also be a place I am driven to in the midst of a storm. And, these experiences often seem stress filled or never-ending. These are times when we are faced with losses, like a death or divorce, illness or many other things. In these wildernesses we feel alone or like our world has radically changed. During my divorce I felt like I was far from God and that no one was near me enough to understand what I was going through. But, it is often in these places of desolation that God seems to find us. Just like he did with Elijah.
I have found, in these situations, if I am open to the Holy Spirit, that God helps me to see that God is already there waiting for me with open arms! This is good news! God is waiting in our wildernesses, calling us to something better. Calling us to the life God intends for each of us.
As I reflect on these times I have discovered numerous questions that have helped me open my heart and mind to a deeper relationship with Christ. I imagine that you too have questions. Take time to listen to them and explore them.
Some questions I have pondered include:
- Am I trying to walk alone? Or am I allowing God to walk beside me?
- Am I resisting God’s help? What does God’s help look like?
- Or, am I open to what God may be trying to teach me in the midst of everything?
This Lenten season, I invite you to willingly walk with me into the wilderness. To explore the brokenness and hurts; the gifts and joys that life has placed in your path. And then to ask yourself; how might these things transform me, instruct me, or draw me closer to God? How can they help to make me the person God desires for me to be?
Let the journey begin! – Pastor Dan