July 2020 —
Throughout the scriptures, there are stories and examples of God’s people going through “wilderness time”. Wilderness time can be defined as any extended period when the believer endures discomfort and trials. The good things in life are unable to be enjoyed or may be altogether absent. One may feel a bit lost and discouraged. It is a time of emotional and spiritual drought. During wilderness time, the believer is forced to wait on God, to patiently endure until things improve or the journey ends. This year feels a lot like a massive, worldwide wilderness time. How could we ever have predicted a time like this in our current age? If you are feeling at loose ends, a bit lost and adrift in the world, do not think you are alone. This is hard! One thing about wilderness time, though, is that it offers opportunities and lessons if we are willing to watch and listen.
First, in a time like this we are forced to confront our own smallness, our own fragile nature as human beings. We are not as powerful as we pretend to be. In a time like this we are confronted with our need for God. It is quite easy to minimize or even dismiss our reliance upon God when everything is going well. But when the world does not make sense anymore and all our supports are shaken, we begin to look for answers. We begin to look beyond ourselves and our abilities to One greater than us. It is humbling to admit that we need help, that there are things we simply cannot control.
The second thing that we learn is that we do, in fact, need each other. We had increasingly become socially isolated from each other before the COVID-19 distancing was even a thing. Fewer of us knew our neighbors or checked in on family or even had meaningful conversations with others on a regular basis. When we are in the wilderness, we rely upon each other for company and support, for sanity and survival! We are created to be social beings. We are created for community and in our baptism we are bound together as brothers and sisters in Christ. We belong to each other and are held accountable for how we treat each other. The wilderness can be a testing ground to see what we are made of and how we will respond under pressure. Hopefully, our trust and faith in God will help us to show forth kindness, compassion and grace!
In scripture we find several instances where the people of God had a wilderness experience. The people of Israel left slavery in Egypt and wandered in the wilderness for 40 years headed to the promised land. Elijah fled to the wilderness to avoid persecution at the hands of Queen Jezebel. The Apostle Paul spent three years in the Arabian desert after his conversion. Jesus, himself, was driven to the wilderness by the Holy Spirit after his baptism as he prepared for his earthly ministry. All of these (and more) spiritual ancestors had wilderness time. Each endured hardships and trials. But each of these also encountered God in a powerful way in the experience. That is my hope for each of you. My prayer is that we all recognize the blessings within the trials and come through this journey stronger and more deeply in love with God.
There are flowers that grow in the desert places. Beautiful and vibrant they exist in the most hostile of environments. But if we are focused only on the sand and the heat, we will miss the beauty right before us! They remind us that the same God who cares for them and gives them strength not only to endure but to bloom is the God who cares for us and blesses us in the wilderness. We have encouragement from God’s word in Isaiah 35 as the prophet assures the Israelites that their wilderness time of suffering and persecution would come to an end and God will have the final word!
Isaiah 35 (NIV)
1 The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, 2 it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of our God.
3 Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
4 say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”
5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
6 Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
7 The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.
8 And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
wicked fools will not go about on it.
9 No lion will be there,
nor any ravenous beast;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
10 and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Stay safe. Stay hopeful. Stay in love with God
Blessings, Pastor Chuck