“And this, our life exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.”~~William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, scene i.
This may come as a surprise to you, but it was only an 11-day journey from Egypt to Canaan. So why did it take the Israelites 40 years? Did they take a wrong turn? Did Moses get his map turned upside down? Did they enjoy the extended camping trip? No. God kept His people in the wilderness because in the wilderness there were some lessons that they could learn in no other way.
There were two significant wilderness experiences in my life. The first was as a young man. I had a job pouring concrete for a living. I built storm shelters in Oklahoma. In the spring and summer I would often work 70 hours a week in the most labor intensive job I have ever known. I remember being covered with dirt, cement, and sunburn thinking, “What am I doing here? This is not where I belong. I have a calling to preach God’s Word and build His church and I am building this old man’s storm shelter.” I was miserable. But my hunger for God’s Word was as intense as at any time in my life during those dry years.
The second wilderness wandering has lasted 7 years. For many years I traveled the country conducting training seminars on supervision and management principles. On the surface you might conclude that I might enjoy that work. I used my speaking talent and got to see lots of places around the country. And I enjoyed the satisfaction that comes from putting in a hard day’s work—like pouring concrete—I took comfort in the fact that I was able to find utility for my talent as a teacher. But I can remember many occasions waiting for a delayed flight staring at my reflection in the terminal window and thinking, “What am I doing here? This is not where I belong. I have been called to preach and teach God’s Word and I am teaching these folks how to do a performance review. This is not where I belong.”
For the last several years I have found a promised land. I have found my voice as a Christ-follower and that is to care for the souls of a precious few that will trust me with their stories. I am humbled to be building God’s church again and teaching His Word. My desert-soul is blooming again.
If you find yourself in a spiritual wilderness remember that John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul, and the Apostle John, to name just a few, have spent time in the wilderness.
Some of you have a heart so broken that you don’t think you are ever going to get it back together again: children that won’t respond to your love, or your family has disowned you, or you are tired of waking up in your bed alone, or financially you are on the edge of Chapter 7.
Wilderness. No one likes being there.
As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” Exodus 14:10-12(NIV)
40 years later…
So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your supplies ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the LORD your God is giving you for your own.’”… (The people say) “Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey your words, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous!” Joshua 1:10-11, 18 (NIV)
Many years passed between these two passages. What is the difference between Exodus 14 and Joshua 1? In a word, discipline.
Discipline is very hard for me. I seem to do better when I am under a deadline, when there is a sense of urgency in my life. When things are placid I tend to stagnate. When I have to be disciplined…I am.
Someone is reported to have asked a concert violinist in New York’s Carnegie Hall how she became so skilled. She said that it was by “planned neglect.” She planned to neglect everything that was not related to her goal.
These Israelites learned a very important lesson while they were in the wilderness, circumstances force you to the discipline necessary for the circumstances. That is the way life is. There are things you will never learn unless you learn them in the wilderness.
When the Spanish conqueror Cortez invaded Mexico, he found that his troops were dispirited and lethargic in battle. So he went to the harbor and burned the Spanish galleons that would take them home to Spain. He told them, “Either conquer or die.”
That’s a wilderness experience. And when you get up against the wall like that, you begin to pray like never before. My best prayers are when I am scared. Do you know where I learned that? In the wilderness. I learned the discipline of Bible study, silence, solitude, fasting, and moral integrity in the wilderness.
In life and in Webster, wilderness always precedes wisdom.