Last week I read about the Israelites murmuring and complaining in the Book of Numbers, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” Throughout Exodus and Numbers, there are many occasions when the Israelites, complain against God and sometimes suggested going back to the slavery of Egypt. Freedom and this new way of living that was lean and relies on God is almost too much for them.
The wilderness, by virtue of being in the dessert is not a place of comfort. It’s a lean place, one in which all of our faculties are tested and stretched – mental, physical, spiritual and emotional. The Israelites wondered in the wilderness for 40 years searching for the promised land, Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days being tested and tempted by Satan before beginning his public ministry. For Lent, we enter into the wilderness by fasting in hope and expectation of Easter. We simplify, we get down to some essentials, give up some luxury, addiction or harmful habit or way of being. I gave up sweets and every night after dinner my faculties are tested and stretched. I have to calm the internal uprising. No the wilderness is not an easy place and most of our wilderness seasons are far deeper than passing on dessert, seasons of loss, disappointment, failure, uncertainty and depression. I felt like I had my own personal wilderness for a few years, a time of wandering.
One of my colleagues asked, “How was God forming them in the desert?” What did the Israelites learn in the wilderness that prepared them for the Promised Land? It seemed like he is stretching them, increasing their capacity of uncertainty, inviting them to enter into a relationship of daily provision. Over and over there is crisis – no water, no food, and outbreak of serpents – and then God’s rescue. Over and over they learn their own hearts…their response when things don’t happen immediately, their way or meet their expectations. We see their impatience and hear them complain. I always want to yell at them from my vantage point, but I would have and probably done the same lament and murmuring. In their wilderness wondering they were shedding the bondage and slave mentality of their old life and preparing their being and character for the new land. They had to learn how to live daily by God’s provision, trust, how to hope, and problem solve and live in community.
In waiting, wandering and wilderness places God is doing something, he is shaping and stretching us for our future…Helping us see ourselves more clearly and know and see Him in a deeper way. In my years of wilderness, I learned how to pray, how to be still and listen to God. My patience was stretched. I learned how to care for myself, set boundaries, how to live in and rely on community. In those months and years, my character was refined, and I believe I’ve become more human, more myself. I shed some things and new things were born in me. I have a greater capacity for both joy and sorrow, to bear mystery, to see God and listen to myself and others. During Lent, often I learn what I can do without so that I can make space to feast on God and the goodness of greater simplicity.
What are you I learning in Lent that is preparing you for Easter? What have you learned in the wilderness times of your life, how did those times form you?