The wilderness where God led the Israelites when He rescued them from slavery in Egypt was a barren land. Food was scarce, and water was hard to find. It was dry, and empty, and wearisome.
Sometimes, that’s the exact place I seem to be. Spiritually, that is.
Like I said the other day, wandering in a spiritual wilderness isn’t exactly fun. It’s challenging, to say the least. It’s also revealing. Maybe a little too revealing. It pulls back the curtain on my own shortcomings that brought me to this place, and it also exposes who I really am and what I really believe.
The Israelites complained, accused, and worried during their time in the wilderness. I don’t want to respond that way. That’s not who I want to be. It is a daily (minute-ly?) fight for me to take every thought captive and to keep my eyes on Jesus. God’s ultimate purpose is to do me good (see Deuteronomy 8:16), but it’s hard to remember that. It’s just as hard to respond to this testing in a way that brings glory to Him.
Following God When It’s Hard
While enduring God’s seeming silence, I’m trying to keep a few things in mind…
Pray – Moses told the Israelites, “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna.” (Deuteronomy 8:3) There is a humility required when we rely on God and give Him our burdens. We are reminded to “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7)
Like the child who cries out for comfort to the parent who just brought the pain of discipline, we must cry out to Jesus. God may have led us into this weary place, but He will also lead us all the way through it. When we prayerfully take our trials to the foot of the cross, we are humbly submitting ourselves to His sovereign plan for our growth.
Feast on manna (and be thankful) – “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3) During this time when God may seem silent concerning the immediate needs and desires of our heart, it is important to remember that He is not actually silent. His words ring out loud and clear through the Bible. We may not easily be content with the manna He gives us through His written word, but we must gratefully feast on it. It will nourish our hungry, hurting souls.
Repent – Trials often bring out the worst in us. We suddenly see how weak-minded and weak-willed we really are. Our sinfulness and lack of faith rise to the surface. Cry out, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24) It is a gift of grace that our sins are no longer hidden from our eyes. This revealing allows us to give them up to a forgiving Savior.
Follow your habits – Now is when the daily habit of meeting with God proves essential. It’s tempting to run. It’s tempting to throw in the towel and give up on praying without answers or reading without refreshment. Just keep waking early every morning, opening the scriptures, and crying out to God. Even if it is done out of duty rather than delight, God promises that His Word will not return void. God will use these times with Him to “remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)
Don’t follow your heart – It’s a fact that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” (Jeremiah 17:9) This is especially true during a time of spiritual weariness. This might not be the best time to evaluate our parenting failures, our marriage struggles, or our personal weaknesses. Of course, we should repent of sinfulness that we become aware of, but we need to guard against becoming continually self-focused or living under the weight of our own guilt (Christ took that weight upon Himself, remember?). We also need to be careful that we don’t let our emotions control us and lead us away from God.
Trust – This one is hard. When we can’t visibly see or understand what God is doing, it can be hard to trust that He is actually doing anything at all. Regularly remember His work on the cross, His act of salvation, His provision in other times of need. Actively call to mind the times He ministered to His servants in the Bible….Daniel being saved from the lions; Elijah being fed by ravens; Peter being miraculously released from prison. The list could go on, and on, and on. God worked over and over again when the situation seemed absolutely hopeless. He is the same God today.
Remember, blessing will come to those who trust in the Lord. The one who trusts in the Lord “is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when the heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and it does not cease to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8) Oh, how we must rely on God’s grace to bring about that kind of faith during tough times!
Have you been through a “wilderness”? What habits or truths have sustained you?