It’s a lesson everyone agrees with, but one no one wants to go through. To be in the wilderness. To go through the desert. To walk through the valley of the shadow of death. How we get to that place varies in all of us, whether it’s tragedy, a bad diagnosis, divorce, depression, anxiety, etc. We live in a broken world, and sooner or later, our faith, which at times seemed unbreakable, will begin to waver. Yet we’ve learned, preached and agreed that it’s in these days our faith only grows stronger.
So why do we work so hard to avoid the wilderness?
I’ve spent the last few weeks pondering that question myself as I have admittedly been walking through the wilderness over the last six months. My faith had been questioned, doubts had surfaced, and panic had set in. I was walking in circles, looking about and seeing miles of desert around me. At first, I had no clue where God was, I had no idea which direction to go in, and I felt utterly alone. No wonder people avoid the wilderness. It can be a scary, forlorn place.
Most of my adult life I have kept myself from the valleys. We learn as Christians that our faith will ebb and flow, but we tend to try and keep it flowing as much as possible, never allowing the ebbs, even if it means putting on a fake smile every time we walk into church on Sunday mornings. We never want to show our hand. We must have it all together at all times.
The problem with trying to live the Christian life this way is that it’s not the Christian life. If you read through the Bible, you will not find one story of the greatest Christians who ever walked this earth that did not seem to walk through the wilderness at one point in their life.
Noah was asked to build an ark for a flood, when they had never seen rain. Abraham was told he’d be the father of many nations, but had to wait until he was one hundred years old to see this through. Every one of Jesus’ disciples, except for John, who was exiled and died alone, was murdered or crucified for their efforts in spreading the Gospel. Apostle Paul, who wrote nearly half of the New Testament, wrote parts of it from a stingy, dark prison cell, never knowing if he’d come out of it alive. And then, of course, there was Jesus. Even he questioned his Father’s plans when he pleaded to keep him from inevitable pain on the cross.
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done … And being in anguish he prayed more earnestly” (Luke 22:42,44 NIV).
The New Living Translation quotes Jesus as saying, “take this cup of suffering away from me.” Tell me that during their suffering, none of these men ever questioned God. Tell me none of these men ever lost faith. Tell me none of these men ever walked through the wilderness. Now Jesus certainly never questioned God or his faith, but he wrestled with and anguished over the pain he knew he’d soon have to endure. These men most undoubtedly walked through the wilderness, and I think that’s exactly where God wanted them to be. And Isaiah 40:3-5 tells us why,
“A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; and make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed…’”
The Christian walk was never meant to avoid the wilderness. It’s in the wilderness where the glory of God is revealed. In other words, where you will see God. The wilderness, for the Hebrews, was a place of danger, but also a place of refuge. It was a place where God was questioned, but where He was expected to show the way. It was a place of great hardship, yet where they saw God work for the good of those who loved Him. And for us, it’s a place we prepare our lives in such a way to avoid, yet we see it’s clearly the place God asks us to go to prepare to see Him.
It’s in this paradox we learn that even in the wilderness, God fights for us. That’s what the Christian life is, a fight. Our fight can leave us bruised and bloody. Life can be a punch for punch battle with the struggles of this world. Is it a battle worth fighting for? Yes. It may not always feel that way each time we take a hit, but we didn’t choose to follow a man who won by never taking a hit. We chose to follow a man who won by taking the ultimate hit in dying on the cross. So we fight because we know the ending of the story. But on this side of heaven, that’s what Christianity is. It’s bloody like the cross. And it’s in our walks through the wilderness where we see the victories of these battles.
Doubts are allowed. Questions are okay. We are not less Christian when we wander into the wilderness with these in tow. It shows God we are willing to walk in the dark so he can show us His light. That even though we don’t understand, we will go forth blind to the outcome knowing God will be with us, because as Theologian, Alister McGrath said, “As with the Cross, our darkest hour may be God’s finest moment.”
So I encourage you, if you’re walking through the wilderness, or if you need to, continue on. It may be exactly where God wants you to be. Because it’s when we reach the end of ourselves that God can reveal Himself.