Have you ever really considered the lessons you have learned because of the experience of another? You know, the stuff you just never really explore because you see how the exploration of another left them kind of unfulfilled, reasonably sane, but just so not excited about their experience? Well, I think this is all part of God's plan for us in life - to learn from the experiences of those who go before us. The first astronaut into space paved the way for all the others who came behind. The first one to fly above the earth had a whole lot of failures before there was truly lift-off. The experiences of the first made an example of both what not to do and what to do in the midst of the experiences of the many who followed. I think the same is true in our spiritual lives - we learn a great deal about what not to do and what really is the best path for us simply by looking at those who've gone before us.
When God, your God, ushers you into the land he promised through your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give you, you’re going to walk into large, bustling cities you didn’t build, well-furnished houses you didn’t buy, come upon wells you didn’t dig, vineyards and olive orchards you didn’t plant. When you take it all in and settle down, pleased and content, make sure you don’t forget how you got there—God brought you out of slavery in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 6:10-12 MSG)
Egypt was a place of barrenness for Israel. When they came out of Egypt, they were "high" on the promises of great provision and purpose. I imagine they never expected to face the barrenness of the wilderness in between their deliverance from Egypt and their entrance into the Promised Land! Most of us never really expect any barrenness - any wilderness experiences - along the way in our spiritual lives. I think we hope for life to let us get a "buy" on some of the challenges others have faced. I think we do get a "buy" on occasion - simply because we learn from those who go before us. Yet, there are times when we just find ourselves smack dab in the middle of the wilderness, wondering why we are experiencing such barrenness in our lives. In those moments, remember this - to move from promise to provision we will likely face a few problems along the way - the biggest of which is our unbelief.
Think about this - would you ever begin a journey if there was no promise of something at the end of that journey? Not likely! You'd probably just remain in your contented little world, as bad as it may be, without ever moving forward. It is the disturbance of our peacefulness in our present circumstances which actually makes us hope for the promise of something different on the "other side". Between the promise and the realization of the provision we face problems. Problems are a way of life - they are God's opportunities to reveal himself strong in our lives, but they are also his opportunities to reveal where it is we are leaning on our own strength to just "get by". In between the place of our bondage and our provision we will encounter a whole lot of testing. Testing is really what occurs in the wilderness experience. In the wilderness, God has the chance to show us who and what it is we really rely upon for the provision which is promised!
One thing I don't think we realize is the leading which brings us into the wilderness. You know, Israel did not end up in the wilderness because they took a wrong turn! God brought them there! They left Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, came across and found themselves smack dab in the midst of the wilderness. Between their deliverance and their provision, God led them into the wilderness. Now, they chose how long they'd stay in the wilderness, but God was the one leading them into it. This should give us some hope because I think most of us think we are in the wilderness by our own doing. It is quite the opposite - God brought us into it, he goes with us through it, and he will lead us out of it. The only thing we have control over is how long we need to stay in it!
Most of us fail to recognize the wilderness is not about our comfort - if we wanted to be comfortable we would have never left what was familiar to us. The wilderness is about our character - for it is in the midst of moments of decision that our choices are refined. You know, an oak tree grows over the course of a man's lifetime. A weed only takes a matter of a few days to reach its maturity! I don't know about you, but an oak tree appeals to me a whole lot more than a huge weed! Maybe we'd resist the wilderness a little less if we realized the Lord is just after the oak he sees in us! We want the fast fix. God wants the permanent fix! We want the quick provision. God wants to prepare us for the provision. Guess what? We never get to the provision until we have learned the lessons of the wilderness. Think of the wilderness as God's refining ground - his proving ground. It is there where our motives are uncovered and our true identity is discovered.
If we begin to see the wilderness as a time of taking us from promise to provision - we might just begin to understand the middle part - process. Nothing good in life ever comes without the evidence of some type of process. Cookies in the jar are a result of someone following a process to actually bake those cookies. They follow a recipe - what someone who has gone before them has learned. In following the recipe, they prepare the batch of cookies and take them through the process of baking. The right ingredients are a result of someone making a whole lot of trial and error decisions. The right baking time is a result of someone determining how "done" cookies look and feel. The enjoyment of the cookie is a result of the process. We have a whole lot of examples of those who have experimented with the right ingredients and the proper amount of "cooking" time, don't we?
We often want to experiment with our own "recipes" and wonder why we don't get the results another has experienced. Guess what? A good recipe is worth following! The wilderness experience is pretty well "charted" by those who have gone before us. We see the process of the wilderness if we look closely. There is the response to the promise - we get out of our place of contentment. Then there is the walk toward provision - we take some first steps. In the next how ever many moments, there is a whole lot of clarifying of our purpose. The wilderness is the time of "clarifying" - getting things in right order in our lives. Good news - we don't go into the wilderness alone, we don't walk through it alone, and we won't come out of it alone! God goes with us! So, instead of cursing the wilderness, you might just begin to realize between every promise and its provision comes a time of purposeful growth. God is after the oak in us - the wilderness really helps bring out the strength of the oak! Just sayin!