Into The Wilderness: Alone Yet Together
I’ve had the same waking thought several times this past week.
“Is this really happening?”
Amidst my disbelief, it is clearly happening. Our cities, states, nation and world are systematically locking down and we are retreating to our respective dwelling places; alone, yet in it together.
For some of us, the impact of the COVID 19 pandemic seems to have arrived out of the blue, catching us off guard. For others, particularly those in public health and the medical field, this is likely not as much of a surprise.
Thankfully, this is not a surprise to God.
He reminded me of that this week through something as simple, personal, and ironic as the writing of this very blog. See, I am the blog manager and content developer for Joy Of It, and I’ve had weekly writing themes scheduled since last November. I knew that this topic of wilderness had been assigned to me. I’d even begun to write on the subject in preparation for this week. And now none of those words even begin to touch on the gravity of where we are as a nation.
The once theoretical idea of the “wilderness” has now hit close to home.
Plans and long awaited celebrations have been canceled. Organized sporting events for all ages have been wiped from the calendar. Schools, organizations, stores and now even churches have been forced to close their doors. We find ourselves in a situation that most of us have not experienced until now.
We are headed into the wilderness.
For how long? No one really knows. Incessantly checking our screens and reading the latest updates will not magically speed up this process. We are forced to sit with this uncomfortable reality. Feeling the weight of it is important. And yet, staying fixated under the weight of it could be detrimental.
So what are we to do?
As I faced this question I felt the urge to look back. As a follower of Jesus, I consistently find hope when I look back at the story of the people of God written in the Scriptures. Their lives were not easy or simple. Most all of them faced challenges I will never encounter in my lifetime. Amidst their failures and successes I see a God at work bringing hope, light and redemption to the world.
So this week I pondered what wilderness moment we are collectively and individually entering.
I looked back at the biblical narrative and found a thread of wilderness stories that loosened the tightness in my chest and helped me to exhale more freely.
Profoundly, the God I read about in the pages of Scripture is still the God filling my lungs with air at this moment.
Encountering God in the Wilderness
- (Genesis 16:1-16) She ran into the wilderness with nothing but her troubles. She was a foreigner, a slave, a woman and she was pregnant. She was an Egyptian and did not serve the god of her masters. Why would she? Her masters had been unkind. Would she be looking for their God? Yet Yahweh, the One true God is who makes Himself known to her in the wilderness. Hagar, the oppressed Egyptian slave, forced to carry a child and give birth, on the run and filled with contempt is the only one in all of scripture to give God a name – El Roi – the One who sees me.
- (Exodus chapters 2 & 3) Moses fled to the wilderness leaving everything. He left power, position and status. God had spoken to Moses that he was to be a deliverer of God’s people. And from the looks of things, at this point in the story it appears that he hadn’t even gotten that right. Those whom he was supposed to deliver despised him. Moses was on a quest to find out who he really was. In the wilderness is where that question was answered and his identity secured. Moses would in fact deliver God’s people. This season in the wilderness was where God was preparing Moses to do the very thing that he he was made for. Wilderness training happens in anonymity, away from the crowds and from the affirmation of people. God wanted Moses to know who He was before God alone. The praise of man will never satisfy. Moses had to have his priorities set in the right order before God entrusted Him with a greater task. The sifting and shifting Moses experienced in the wilderness brought him into alignment and preparation for what was coming next.
- (1 Kings 19:1-7) Elijah went into the wilderness to die. He had just conquered the prophets of Baal and God had showed up in power and might. But instead of celebrating, Elijah was being hunted by Jezebel and her army. She had sent a message to Elijah saying that within the next 24 hours she wanted him dead. She had commissioned her army to complete the task. Upon this news Elijah wandered into the wilderness alone with no more will to live. In that place of desperation and despair, sitting beneath a broom bush crying out to God for it to end, he lays down to fall asleep. He awakens to hear God speak and this is what He says “ Get up and eat”. God told him to get up and eat -twice. When God repeats himself it is a cue to really listen. Elijah’s fatigue and despair had clouded his judgement. His assignment was not over. Supernaturally God provided what Elijah needed in very unconventional ways. Elijah was reminded in the wilderness that God is His provider and can create something out of what appears to be nothing.
- (Luke 4: 1-13) The son of God himself was led into the wilderness. Throughout the Scriptures, the wilderness represents a place of preparation, a place of waiting for God’s next move, a place of learning to trust in God’s mercy. Jesus enters into the wilderness after being baptized. For forty days and nights Jesus remains in the wilderness, without food, getting ready for what comes next. The season that is coming next for Jesus is the beginning of His ministry. The words spoken by the Spirit over Jesus after He is baptized and before he heads into the wilderness are significant. “and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” What happens in the wilderness for Jesus? God affirms his beloved-ness before performing any great miracles, preaching any sermons or fulfilling the prophesies of old.
Each one of these biblical characters had a powerful encounter with God amidst a season of isolation, fear, questioning and doubt.
They all emerged with a clearer sense of the character of God and a secured identity as beloved children of God.
The Power of Questions:
The biblical meta-narrative clearly reveals the ache and brokenness of humanity. The characters we read about are desperate for an answer to the fundamental question humankind is still asking today –
“Who am I and why was I created?”
Inherently, questions are relational. They are a moment where we seek insight, authority, or answers outside of ourself. Jesus was recorded asking over 300 questions of people throughout Scripture. It was one of his primary methods of engaging others.
Do you have the willingness to ask? Most of us will have more time and space than we’ve experienced in awhile. Why not get honest?
What are you most afraid of? I dare you ask yourself out loud.
What do your responses to the current circumstances reveal about your beliefs?
What are you thankful for? List them out from big to small.
Maybe this season in the wilderness – a time of being together in our aloneness – will provide the type of clarity we need to flourish.
As life slows and we’re able to hear the faint questions of fear and doubt, or distinguish the low hum of anxiety that resides beneath the surface, could we find it in ourselves to ask questions? God alone knows what is coming and what this is preparation for. May we rest in our beloved-ness and be grateful for a personal God who sovereignly calls us into the wilderness so that we can hear His voice.
Connie is our Joy of It Content Developer. She cares deeply about discipleship and feels called to raise up and equip leaders to step into the next place God is inviting them to serve. She shares candidly through speaking and writing of both the struggles and victories through her journey as friend, sister, wife, mother and leader. She loves the creative process and is currently furthering her education at Wheaton College to receive her MA in Leadership and Evangelism. Connie is wife to Taylor and mother to four energetic children. Read more of her work at conniearmerding.com.