Or have you never left it?
We often perceive being out in the wilderness while on our journey here as a negative experience. We want to know: “How long?” “Why am I here?” “What is it I’m supposed to learn while I’m out here in this dry and thirsty land?”
I’ve come to a new appreciation of that wasteland that usually makes me very sad, and stirs up hard memories. I learned something a short while back that was not new to me, but it was a seed that had not sprouted; nor do I think it would have while I was wandering in the wilderness.
I had the opportunity to sit and learn from Michael Card, the musician, at a Biblical Imagination Conference. If you are not familiar with him or his work, he wrote the Christmas song “Immanuel” and about 400 other songs.
At the conference, he taught from the Gospel of Mark. Part of our experience involved sitting down with the book of Mark in one hand and a highlighter in the other- seeing The Word.
I came away with knowledge that has been available to me since I was a child; but the seed had been fallow in the dusty crevices of my heart waiting for the rain of understanding. My eyes were opened. I focused. No glossing over the reading of the words one more time. Now I searched for specifics.
The one thing that kept leaping off the page at me is this:
When Jesus, in His man body, was overwhelmed by the crowds, the noise, the wants, the needs, the gimmes that people kept asking for- He left. ran away to the desert, the wilderness around Galilee, to the quiet and the space and the peace that it afforded as a respite.
He knew that being in the crowds and providing for their needs was necessary. However, the message He brought to them that would heal their hearts and minds was not what they sought. It was not Him, but the “WIFM” that brought them-“what’s in it for me?” that propelled them to seek him out. They wanted to see miracles, to be fed, to hear a famous prophet. They did not see the Messiah sitting in front of them.
At the end of Mark 1, Jesus healed a leper and told him not to tell anyone; but to go to the priest and fulfill the requirement of the law. Overjoyed at his healing, the leper runs off and tells everyone he meets-no one ever recovered from leprosy, but he has just been healed! Mark tells us what happened immediately after in verse 45: “As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.”
The wilderness became His refuge.
Many times I have felt God’s hand heavy upon me when I felt I was sent out to the wilderness in my walk with Him for what I thought was for punishment or to a place where He sent me “to learn a lesson.” Immediately, Job comes to mind when I think about the wilderness. I feel Job’s pain, not the physical pain- but the hurting of his heart. I’ve been out there in that dustbowl of a wilderness, my heart in the same state as his- dry and devastated at what I’m going through. I’ve said words just like these:
“What is man that you make so much of him, that you give him so much attention, that you examine him every morning and test him every moment? Will you never look away from me, or let me alone even for an instant? If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of men? Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my offenses and forgive my sins? For I will soon lie down in the dust; you will search for me, but I will be no more.” Job 7:17-21
My experiences in the wilderness were quite bleak at the time. Yet Mark tells us Jesus willingly went back to the desert after just going through 40 days of being tempted by the devil out in that wilderness. Now I see that the wilderness is not my enemy. With new eyes I wonder if it was not for my protection and the preservation of my sanity instead of the isolation and destitution I felt.
Have you been out to the lonely places, the desert, the wilderness? How do you see the wilderness? Is it bleak and imposing? Or has He shown you a refuge, a place of restoration, a time of preparation? What does it feel like when you are out there?
“He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you.” Deuteronomy 8:15-16