The Wilderness

I’m currently in the process of planning an outdoor trip with a couple of my old college roommates later this spring. The idea is to take a long weekend in the mountains of Western North Carolina, kayak down the French Broad River, and stop along the way overnight to camp. I’m pretty excited about it but I also know that at the end of the weekend I’ll be ready for a hot shower and my own bed. Three days in the wilderness will be plenty for me.

The Bible says that Jesus spent forty days out in the wilderness, being tempted by the devil before beginning His earthly ministry. Luke 4:1 puts it this way,  “Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.”  Wow!  Usually when we hear of someone being filled with the Holy Spirit in the Bible we then read that they went on to do some great exploit for God. Like Peter, on the day of Pentecost; he was filled with the Spirit and then preached a sermon where three thousand people were converted. But here, Jesus was filled with the Spirit, and was then led by the Spirit into the wilderness.

The wilderness (spiritually speaking) isn’t a fun place to be. It’s dry, barren and lonely. It’s often hard to hear the voice of God in the wilderness and it usually feels like you’re walking in circles—moving, but not really going anywhere. And yet throughout the Bible we see a continual theme of God sending His choicest servants into the wilderness:

Abraham was told to leave everything familiar to him and go to a land that God “would” show him.

Jacob was out in the wilderness, on the run from his brother who was trying to kill him, when God showed up in a visions of the night.

Moses had to spend forty years in the desert, tending sheep for his father-in-law, before he was ready to go back to Egypt to emancipate the Israelites.

David spent the prime years of his life out in the wilderness, fleeing from King Saul, before he ever obtained the throne.

Elijah, a prophet whose life was characterized by miracles, signs and wonders, spent time out in the wilderness, drinking from a brook that God provided and was fed by ravens that God.

Paul the Apostle, after his conversion, spent an extended amount of time in the desert of Arabia before embarking on his evangelistic ministry.

If you feel like you’re in the wilderness today—if you can’t feel God’s presence and you feel like you’re walking in circles—be encouraged! You’re in good company.  You’re not in the wilderness because you’re outside of God’s will; you’re in the wilderness because you’ve been filled with the Holy Spirit! Luke 4:14 says that after Jesus left the wilderness, He “returned in the power of the Spirit.” This wilderness experience will equip you and empower you for a more effective and prosperous future and ministry than you would have ever experienced apart from it.

“Behold I do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.”  Isaiah 43:19