There are some pretty amazing places in this world where it’s pretty much just you, God, and His creation. Whether a desert, ocean, forest, mountainside, or even a frozen field, there are some pretty barren places where there’s nobody else around except God. Some people enjoy this time, where they can marvel at what God has designed, and spend time talking with Him.
Others, like myself, enjoy meeting God in a climate-controlled environment, whether through my morning devotions at home, or worshiping with other believers in a church building. (And, for those of you in either group, I’m pretty sure that God can be honored through our time with Him in any of these circumstances.)
After a while though, being out on our own, and fending for ourselves without enough resources, is not something we relish. It becomes difficult to remain responsible for all of our needs in the wilderness (whether literal or figurative), and we eventually tend to seek some relief from the heat or the cold; the hunger or the pain. In fact, many of the “wilderness” times from my life story are not from actually being outdoors. More often, it seems that I’m in a situation where life – work, family, health, habits, etc. – feels pretty barren. My conversations with God just don’t seem to have any effect (although I am still called to talk to Him, regardless of how I feel), and my choices don’t seem to have the right impact (or, I can’t seem to make the right choices).
Have a look at this verse, referring to John the Baptist’s young adult life, before he started getting things ready for Jesus’ ministry.
John grew up and became strong in spirit. And he lived in the wilderness until he began his public ministry to Israel.
Luke 1:80 NLT
Verses like these remind me that time in the wilderness has a purpose. John had to grow up, and to wait for the time to be right for Jesus’ ministry to start. I don’t pretend to know everything that God lined up in history, so that Jesus could fulfill hundreds of prophecies during His ministry. However, preparing the way for Jesus too soon wouldn’t have resulted in the history that we know today.
John wasn’t the only one to spend time in the wilderness. Jesus remained in the wilderness for 40 days after His baptism (see Luke 4:1-13), conquering temptation and proving that He could resist even the devil. Later, after John was killed, Jesus also went away from the crowds (see Matthew 14:13). We can understand that this would be a difficult time for Him, as any of us would react to the death of a relative at the hands of another person. In addition, Jesus (God the Son) would make time to be alone with God the Father.
But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.
Luke 5:16 NLT
When I am in the wilderness, it’s easy to just wallow in it. I can feel sorry for myself, or even give up. It can be a defeat for me, and it can be an excuse for me to think that I’m not on the right track. However, that doesn’t appear to be what Jesus did. He used His time in the wilderness to invest in what was important for His greater purpose, and sometimes just to get something done. That’s a good reminder for me, when all I can see (metaphorically) is desert and brush.
This verse also reminds me that the wilderness is not permanent. John began to minister to his fellow Israelites when the time was right. (OK, so he may have still been in the wilderness a lot, but people started coming to him.)
As noted above, Jesus would spend time in the wilderness, but He didn’t stay there. Sometimes, it seems that the crowds found Him, but other times, He came back because He still had a purpose. His times of solitude or mentoring a few close disciples weren’t the end unto themselves. Jesus had prophecies to fulfill, and ultimately a sacrifice to make. Here’s another example of Jesus getting out of the spotlight:
So from that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death. As a result, Jesus stopped his public ministry among the people and left Jerusalem. He went to a place near the wilderness, to the village of Ephraim, and stayed there with his disciples.
John 11:53-54 NLT
However, if we read the next couple of chapters, we find that, when the time was right, He came back to Jerusalem to participate in one of the most important events (maybe the most important) in history.
Yes, the faithful follower of Jesus is promised an eternal home, free of pain and sorrow. In addition to that, though, the life stories of most of us move through periods of good times and bad times. The highs and lows are natural, and neither is necessarily permanent on this earth. I appreciate that some people feel that they are in a bad situation that they can never escape, and I believe that it is incumbent upon the rest of us to reach over and seek to lift them out, so that they can find not only the hope that Jesus offers, but also a new season of life with an opportunity to enjoy God’s blessings (and to give Him the glory).
So, if you are currently in the wilderness, take some direction from John the Baptist, as well as Jesus Himself. Make use of that time to get ready for whatever comes next. Talk with God a lot, while remembering to listen to Him as well. Recharge your body, mind, and spirit (as you are able), even if that means asking for help from others. And, while not letting it consume your focus, keep an eye out for the path out of the wilderness: it may not appear as soon as we would like, but there is something better coming.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.