Seasons of Wilderness
Duane Vander Klok
When you hear the word ‘wilderness,’ what do you think of? Do you picture yourself walking alone through a dark overgrown forest surrounded by gnarly and fallen trees with the sound of wolves howling in the distance? That is certainly one type of wilderness, but in our lives we sometimes walk through a different kind of wilderness. While it is not an actual place, it can make us feel just as afraid, confused, unprotected and vulnerable as a physical wilderness does.
We all go through times when it seems like we are in a wilderness. No matter how or why we find ourselves there, there is always a way out. We can go through them wandering on our own, or we can go through them with God. The psalmist’s wisdom from Psalm 119:105 helps us, saying: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” As we count on God to be our source of vision and direction, even the most challenging seasons can provide an opportunity for us to grow, learn and deepen our trust in Him.
Wilderness in the Bible
The wilderness is a place of refining and preparation as we cooperate with God in the midst of it. Refining is generally defined as a process of removing impurities or unwanted elements from a substance, and preparation is an action that makes us ready for what is ahead. In other words, the wilderness could be thought of as a place of taking off the ‘old’ and putting on the ‘new.’
This process can be seen throughout Scripture. We see it with Abraham as he trusted in God’s promises. Genesis 12:1 says, “Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.’” As Abram left behind the security of everything he knew and headed into the unknown, his trust in God needed to grow. God used every challenge Abram faced to strengthen him as he led his own family and to prepare him to lead a whole nation that was to come.
In the book of Exodus, after the nation of Israel had been born, we read about Moses as God calls him to set the children of Israel free from the bondage of Egypt. When Israel is finally free, they once again enter into the wilderness. There they go through experiences that refine and prepare them to walk in the promises ahead.
Before David became king over Israel, he was a ‘nobody,’ an ordinary young shepherd who tended his father’s flock in the wilderness. If we look at that season of his life, we see that it was there that he learned to connect intimately with God. It was there that he learned to put away self-sufficiency and recognize God as the One who was more than enough to see him through every test. This became very evident later as he prepared to face Goliath. Acknowledging God’s part in his past victories, David proclaimed: “The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37). And God surely did!
Hundreds of years after the life of David, came Jesus Christ. In Matthew 4, we see Him being led by the Spirit into the wilderness. After fasting and praying for 40 days, Satan tempted Him in the area of provision. Jesus responded with scripture, saying: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’” (v.4). Satan’s second temptation had to do with testing God, and Jesus responded saying, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God’” (v.7). And the last temptation concerned worshiping God and Him only. Jesus stood firm once more saying, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve’” (v.10). It was from this wilderness experience that Jesus’ earthly ministry began.
Wilderness in Our Lives
It can be easy to look at the wilderness as a place of pain and not a place of process. When we are in the midst of it, we might think, “I don’t want to be here” or “I am not supposed to be here.” And just like Israel began to complain, we may be tempted to complain and feel like giving up.
Numbers 14:2 says, “And all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, ‘If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness!”’ Verse 4 continues, “And they said to each other, ‘we should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.’” Israel was willing to go back into slavery, bondage, and death, rather than putting their trust in God’s perfect plan. They may have gotten out of Egypt, but they still needed to get “the Egypt” out of them. Like them, we need to get the “old” out of us so God can take us to the “new.”
The Apostle Paul tells us to, “… put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires, to be made new in the attitudes of your minds, and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24 NIV). There is nothing like a wilderness season to help us turn from our own self-sufficiency and get the “old” out of us!
No matter how long you’ve been a believer, a wilderness journey is neither easy nor glamorous. It is not pretty. You will face trials and tests. You will face giants and opposition. Just as the enemy tempted Jesus in the wilderness, he wants to derail you from God’s plan. At times, you may find yourself wanting God to miraculously remove you from the situation you are in, or take you back to where you came from. But this is no time to turn back!
Instead, James 1:2-3 reminds us to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” So keep your faith in God and allow Him to accomplish His work in you during each season of wilderness. Allow Him to make you “new” in the attitude of your mind so that your thoughts line up with His, and His plan becomes yours. Let your faith produce patience, and “let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:4).
Just as God was with Abraham, Moses and David, you can trust that God is with you and will continue to be with you. Like Jesus, you can stand on God’s Word, knowing that He is faithful to perform it. You can begin to look at the twists and turns of your life as opportunities to learn to trust God more fully and surrender your plans so you can walk in His.
As you embrace God’s plan and stay close to Him through every season, your faith will grow and you will mature as His disciple. The dark, scary wilderness will begin to break way to the beautiful promised land that He has planned for your life!