Hot, arid region with nothing but sand. Dry parched ground under a cloudless sky that stretches as far as the eye can see. No life, no activity. The only things thriving here are hopelessness and despair. A rather dismal picture, isn’t it? A desert isn’t the most wonderful place in the world to be. Actually, though, I was describing the way my life seems right now. You could certainly call it a desert and at times it is very frustrating.
I have spent the past several years preparing for work in full-time Christian ministry, which I believe God has called me into, and yet now I find myself doing nothing in the field for which I am trained. The friends I communicated with daily while in college have all been called away to other places and other ministries. I feel very lonely and isolated from everyone. Except for an occasional oasis, my life feels dry and arid like the desert and there doesn’t appear to be any reason behind it or purpose for it. Have you ever felt as though you were wandering aimlessly about? Or, perhaps like me, you find yourself in that situation now. What is a person to do?
I have found that God’s word is always a great place to look for answers to life’s problems and when I think about wandering in a desert I remember what the Bible tells us regarding the Israelites who wandered for forty years. What was the purpose of their wandering and what can be learned from their desert experience? Well, to start, they were isolated from other people’s influences. They had just come out of Egypt where they had been for some four hundred years and, although they knew of God, they were not proficient in His ways. They needed to be in a place where God could teach them what He wanted without the distraction of other races and their pagan practices. The Israelites had been so close to the Egyptians for so long that they needed to be taught God’s way of worship and living. As I mentioned previously, while in college I had friends around me with whom I communicated every day. If I needed someone to talk to I usually didn’t have any trouble finding someone. Friends are great to have around but I think we forget our greatest friend, Jesus Christ, who loved us enough to die for us. We spend a great deal of time talking to everyone except Him and sometimes He has to isolate us from everyone else so we’ll turn to Him. In my own life I have found that constant communication with Him is as necessary as breathing. And we all know that living is much easier if we can breathe!
Another lesson from the desert is in the area of training. The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt which meant that they were good at farming and making bricks but knew little of organizing an army. God’s plan called for them to take the Promised Land, with His help of course, so He needed to train them for war; to fight, to follow orders, and to be courageous. I recall a letter a gentleman wrote to our local newspaper criticizing the Bible and questioning God’s power as the Supreme Being. He referred to a passage in the first chapter of the book of Judges which tells of the Israelites failure to defeat an army which used iron chariots and thus concluded that God wasn’t all-powerful. Apparently, he failed to read the third chapter which speaks of how God used the different nations to instruct the Israelites and the fourth chapter where they were victorious over an army using iron chariots. God had used their previous failure to train them for future engagements. I have a degree from a Bible college, I continue to study His word, and I listen to the teachings of others in the ministry, but I realize that I’m somewhat slow about learning some things; especially lessons in dealing with others. More than a few times the Lord has had to teach me the same lesson over and over. With all the great examples He included in His word, you would think that I’d catch on after a while, but when it comes to stubbornness I even impress myself. I also realize that some things can only be taught by experience and repetition, and being set apart for a time allows me to meditate on what I’ve learned. I cannot begin to relate the things the Lord has shown me during this desert time; things which I may not have seen otherwise.
Finally, the most obvious reason for wandering is sin in our lives. God instructed the Israelites to take possession of the land of Canaan, but they chose instead to disobey and rebel. The punishment for their sin was wandering in the wilderness until the rebellious generation had died and the sin had been purged from them. Sin is, to say the least, very disgusting to a holy God. Nothing hinders the loving relationship He wants with us more than it does. Rebellion and pride can be very subtle and all too often I find myself built up with self-importance, wanting to do things my way instead of His. I must keep sin out of my life and conform myself to His image, for only then can I be what He wants me to be.
How long do these dry times last? How long do we have to wander through this desert place? God assures us that, although they sometimes seem to last a lifetime, they are only for a season. We must put our faith in Him and keep waiting, watching, and trusting. I realize that sounds a little too easy and saying it usually doesn’t make the pain of loneliness go away, but that’s when we need to trust Him most. Just as the Apostle Paul told the Philippians, “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Not only is God in control of what happens to us, He loves us and wants only the best for us. Just as He brought the Israelites into the Promised Land, He will bring us out of the desert when His plan and purpose are completed in us.