Last year when the Angel Soft and Lysol—along with staple foods like Ramen and Chef Boyardee—disappeared from our grocery shelves, I was strangely filled with a bit of anticipation. I thought it could be the wilderness that would teach my family character, lead us away from our dependence on stuff, and help us to truly depend on God alone. 

I’ll blame this foolish hope on all the historical books I’ve read. All those people who suffered through the food shortages of the Great Depression, the rationing of WWII, or the famines of some far-flung place seemed the better for it.

I must admit this kind of thinking has sometimes led me to think my family would be better off if we were wandering in the wilderness, a tent for a house and a trek through a barren desert our daily toil. I’ve been tempted to think this because the people I live with are grumblers. They grumble about phone restrictions and bedtimes, the food I make and the snacks I buy (or don’t buy). They grumble about chores and being bored. They grumble about what they want, and they usually grumble after they’ve gotten what they wanted.

My response to their grumbling? I want to make our house a wilderness. I want to pull the plugs on all the devices and serve rice and beans three times a day, seven days a week. I want to threaten, “You aren’t going anywhere and you’re not doing anything—and don’t even ask about Grandma’s!” I want to believe the lie that they would learn to be thankful if they didn’t have anything.

Yet, often in those moments the Spirit gently reminds me to take the log out of my own eye. He shows me that while I may not be complaining that “my bedtime is for babies” or that the slips of onion “ruined the whole meal,” I have complained about some pretty ridiculous stuff. The scratches on the front door. The greasy handprints up the stairwell. The picture on the wall that doesn’t hang symmetrically above the love seat. And He convicts me of all the complaining I’ve done about their complaining.

I am another Israelite murmuring in the wilderness.

And then He reminds me of the heart of God. He shows me that God doesn’t come after me with an I’ll-teach-you attitude, like a vindictive teacher ready to bust my butt. He comes after me like a loving Father ready to restore me to relationship with Him.

The Spirit whispers, “Jesus walked through the wilderness for you, and He will walk through the wilderness with you.” Though in Numbers 40:22 God told those murmuring Israelites that none of them who had seen His glory and signs would see the land He had promised, we know that through Jesus we have peace and a place with our Father in heaven.

Don’t try to create your own wilderness.

In Matthew 4, Jesus, led by the Spirit, goes into the wilderness for forty days. That wilderness already existed. God did not have to set up some arbitrary reality where the devil would tempt Him.

While the Spirit may lead us to fast and pray during this Lent season, He is not calling us to aimless deprivation and obligatory sacrifice. He does not want us to attempt to create a wilderness for ourselves. We already live in a wilderness world full of sin and suffering where the enemy seeks to attack us from every direction. And that is the world in which He wants to teach us that He is all we need—Jesus is our blessed hope (Titus 2:13), the one who satisfies our longing souls (Psalm 107:9).

Remember God’s purposes.

The Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness so that He could stand in the place of His people as the Bread of life, the Word become flesh, the Son of God, and the true King; and the Spirit leads us into wilderness seasons so that we can become more like Jesus and grow in intimacy with our Savior. As Hebrews 12:10-11 says, God disciplines us so that we can “share in his holiness” and “yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” 

We have to trust that these wilderness seasons and the suffering that comes with them will produce endurance, which in turn will produce character, which in turn will produce hope as Romans 5:3-5 states. And isn’t that why I like those books about “characters” who go through great adversity? The adversity grows their character and teaches them to hope.

Come with humility.

Yet, we know that not every person who experiences adversity becomes a stronger person. Not every character in those books I’ve read grow toward the good. For example, in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Noah Joad abandons his family for the cool water of the Colorado River because he says he knows his folks never really cared for him, while Rose of Sharon becomes a life-giver, feeding a starving man with the milk of her breasts, after losing her own child.

Only those who are humbled by adversity are the ones who are changed by it.

In Deuteronomy 8, God explains that He sent the Israelites into the wilderness to humble them. Therefore, we should be thankful when God uses the wilderness to humble us because:

  • God “leads the humble in what is right” and “teaches [them] his way” (Psalm 25:9).
  • Gladness comes with humility (Psalm 69:32).
  • God shows His favor to the humble (Proverbs 3:34).
  • Wisdom comes with humility (Proverbs 11:2).
  • The humble have an opportunity to imitate Jesus who “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (Philippians 2:8).
  • And, God “gives grace to the humble,” and He “will exalt” them (James 4:6,10).

Jesus in the wilderness

Israel refused to trust God in the wilderness, and often we do the same when He leads us into the humbling seasons. Yet, Jesus was and is faithful where we fail.

As He confronts Satan in the wilderness, He quotes the words of Deuteronomy 8:3: “‘[M]an does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the  mouth of the LORD.’” He shows us that it is the Word of God that will lead us through the wilderness—that He is our way in the wilderness.

Where might Jesus be inviting you to follow Him out into the “wilderness”?

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