Wilderness– an uncultivated, uninhabited, and inhospitable region.
Sometimes I think we forget just how amazing the Israelites’ trek through the wilderness really was–
God provided direction.
God provided food.
God provided water.
God provided the necessary laws to keep the people unified.
God protected them.
This is a good reminder, isn’t it? Because sometimes we find ourselves in our own wilderness and we feel so abandoned.
Traveling through a wilderness is difficult. Whatever your trial may be, grieving, longing, fighting, hopelessness are all part of the process.
Is there anything we can learn from the Israelites about traveling through the wilderness?
1. Complaining not only doesn’t accomplish anything, it also displeases God. In fact, so much so that some people were put to death for it. (Numbers 11:1-3) Were you as shocked as I was that God dealt with complaining so harshly?? And, yet, so often we complain without a second thought. This passage certainly gives us cause to pause before opening our mouth to voice our displeasure, does it not?
2. We need to keep our deepest affection placed on God alone. God kept Moses on a mountain and the people grew restless. Finally, they begged Aaron to build them a golden calf to worship. After the way they had seen God work to bring them out of Egypt, they so quickly turned to worship an idol. Seems impossible, doesn’t it? And yet, how quickly we turn our affections to other things– trying to medicate ourselves from the pain of the trial we are experiencing. Alcohol, gluttony, materialism, entertainment, gambling, and love affairs are all ways we try to escape our pain, aren’t they? And sometimes we even turn to a legitimate, really good thing, such as our children or our church work or ministry and they capture our affections and provide the much needed escape from reality, giving us the security and self-esteem that we long for so desperately.
The really interesting thing is that when we love God first and foremost, we actually live such a fuller, more meaningful life. The good things of life and work God has called us to do become more productive, there is peace knowing we are in His will, and our lives glorify God.
But giving up the idols that capture our soul is a painful process. One that is so very worth it, but so very difficult.
3. We must follow God’s direction. The Israelites had it easy, didn’t they? They followed the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. It was so obvious when they should pack up and go and when they should stay. Sometimes I wish my life could be directed so plainly. But, alas, it’s not.
But maybe it is.
All the direction we need can be found in God’s Word. There is such an insatiable desire for supernatural experiences and visions, but are they really necessary? Personally, I think that all of this hearing from God is mostly counterfeit. God’s Word holds so much about His will for our lives and most of us just don’t want to follow what it says.
We are to forgive (Matthew 6:15). But we just don’t want to.
We are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). But that’s too hard, Lord.
We are to think of others before ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4). But that’s not what the world says.
We are to be holy and separate from the world (I John 2:15-16). But that’s no fun!
We are to be share the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20). But then people might think I am strange.
We are to exercise self-control and temperance. (I Corinthians 6:19-20) But I just want one more piece of that chocolate cake and then I’ll start eating more healthy tomorrow.
We are to keep our hearts focused on eternity, instead of the here and now (Matthew 6:20-21). But I really want to drive a car that’s just a little better than my neighbor’s…
And, so, because we don’t want to follow the plain will of God, we instead turn towards the vague, supernatural feelings and “words” we hear. They are so much more pleasant and easy to swallow.
But that’s not how Christianity works. And so, following God’s direction and living in the center of His will is doable and certainly not dependent on any special revelation from God. Of course, it is not always what we want to do.
But getting through the wilderness to the other side is very much dependent on us doing things God’s way.
4. We must trust God to provide. Multiple times through their journey in the wilderness, the Israelites panicked about their situation. Where are we going to get water? What are we going to eat? What are doing to do? And yet, each and every time, God provided. It may not have been in the way they wanted, but He did provide. Have you seen God do the same in your life? I know I have. Just when I think I can’t take one more step in my personal wilderness, He provides an encouraging word or makes the next step very clear. These moments are like an oasis for our souls, aren’t they? Just as God remained faithful to the Israelites, so He will do for us. God will not desert us.
And so we keep reading. I won’t deny that some of these Old Testament books are challenging for me. All of those names and laws. Wow. But God’s teaching us, isn’t He? This week, one of the things He has been teaching us is how not to respond as we take our own journey through the wilderness.