When I was about ten years old, my family loaded up a borrowed RV and took the long drive from North Texas to California. I remember taking in much of the drive from the passenger seat where I could see the landscape. I read, listened to music with my stepdad, and marveled at how different the landscape was from what I was used to. If I’m being honest, it was mostly shrubs on the route we took. Because this trip was so long ago, I don’t remember too many of the details, but I do remember when our RV broke down in the desert. Maybe in Arizona? It was late afternoon, and I had no idea how to fix the problem. I think I was maybe a little scared, but wanted to explore anyhow. Jumping off the RV steps, there were plants I’d never seen, birds, hot sun, etc. Typical desert-y types, and while it was a great adventure, my parents were busy making phone calls, instructing me and my sister to stay close, and then, we waited.
Have you ever been to the desert? Blistering in the summer, frigid in the winter. Not the most pleasant place if you’re unprepared. Have you ever been through a wilderness season?
I’m waving to you while I’m sitting in the sand and to put all my cards on the table, what’s to follow isn’t a five-step resolution, but a couple of experiences, passages, and a book the Lord has led me to. I hope they may be helpful to you if you’re in the wilderness or if you know someone in the wilderness. Maybe just a few ideas to ponder and see what Holy Spirit has for you. Your experience won’t be mine, but pressing into the Lord and His Word won’t return void.
If the wilderness is where you find yourself, I’m praying that the Lord would breathe encouragement through your frame, that He would remind you of the purpose of where you are and bring fresh vision and clarity that leads to deeper trust, rest, and joy in Him, whether that’s in the desert or Promised Land, mountain or valley.
Pause for a moment to read Matthew 4:1-11.
Then take a look at Luke 4:1-14.
- Who led Jesus to the desert?
- What was He tempted with?
- How did He fight?
- What did He gain?
Eugene Peterson says of Matthew 4 in The Message Devotional Bible that in these temptations, Jesus was tempted to put the bread first and God second, to put the miracles of God and it’s excitement first and God second, and lastly to bypass God in order to do something good, to be impatient with His ways - those quiet, suffering, sacrificial, loving, patient ways that never violate human dignity. In the book of Luke, Eugene says that Jesus said no to each temptation, because in each case, power would have been used impersonally, abstracted from relationships, imposed from the outside, without any engagement in love. After His refusal to do good things in the wrong way, we see that:
“Jesus returned to Galilee powerful in the Spirit.” -Luke 4:14
Isn’t this what we desire? To be more like Jesus. To be more filled with Holy Spirit. To do what we see our Father doing. For our hearts truer cry to be “more of you, Jesus. Nothing else will do!”
In the book Understanding Prophetic People, Loren Sandford has a chapter entitled “The Necessity of Wilderness Sojourns”. It is a true gift. He reminds the readers of the function of wilderness seasons by looking to the Scriptures and cautions with some wilderness dangers.
Sanford says, “God used a forty-year wilderness sojourn to refine faithlessness out of Israel, wilderness suffering remains the path to glory.” And he goes on to say, “Out of the crushing and death of our fleshly ways of thinking, feeling, and doing comes a wonderful rising into the nature and character of Jesus.”
Whatever you or I or anyone has been called to by the Lord, He wants us to have the character to go along with the call. I believe we have an invitation from Jesus to come away with Him and be satisfied. To be shaped, molded, and prepared for what’s ahead. Will we surrender?
Sanford continues in his book, “For those who embrace the wilderness and let it work its work, who seek healing when the wilderness has exposed the need, I can promise a wonderful increase of intimacy with God. Love will flow. Heaven will open. Truth will unfold and God’s people will be fed. Restoration and return do follow after exile.” (emphasis mine)
We see in God's Word story after story of His people being led through the wilderness, He Himself has walked through the desert, and He will never leave or forsake us.
The wilderness isn’t punishment, but preparation, and I think He's inviting us to surrender in the sand.
When I was ten, deserted and broken down in the desert, I had little to no worries. Why? I think partly because I knew my needs would be taken care of. My parents had been there before, knew what to do, were taking all the necessary caregiving steps, and if nothing else, were with me. Maybe my parents are a shadow of how God is in this season?
The Lord in His kindness and timing has led me to repent of my grumbling (remember the Israelites?), among other sins, surrender to where He has led me, and turned my eyes (again) to look to Him to sustain, fulfill, heal, and grow what He wills. Instead of wallowing in everything being so dry and hard here in this wilderness, He’s shifted my eyes to see and bring what flourishing I can.
There are roses on the cactus after all!
Whether you find yourself in a wilderness season or on the top of a mountain, would you join in reflecting, prayer, and worshipping our King? He's so very kind.
Contemplative Questions & Further Reading
Psalm 43, 51, 63, 100, 150
- What season are you in right now?
- Are there any ways you are attempting to -deny or control where you are?
- What would happen if you accepted this season?
- Is there anything you’re holding onto?
- What would happen if you handed it over to the Lord?
- What new perspective, hope, joy, faith might He bring?
- Who could you be praying for as you think about the wilderness? How might you bless them?
Thanksgiving: Read Psalm 100, enter His gates with thanksgiving.
Acknowledge: Be honest about where you find yourself today. We know He already knows, but really take your thoughts and emotions to Him in prayer.
Surrender: Whatever this looks like to you. Could be physically kneeling, putting your hands out like a child needing to be picked up, or something altogether different. Mostly, acknowledge that you desire His way, not your own.
Confession & Repentance: Read Psalm 51, confess, repent. Remember, He is faithful to cleanse us of our unrighteousness.
Praise: Read Psalm 150 and praise Him for who He is and all He does.
This apple playlist is from our Six One Annual Retreat, but it recently ministered to me and I wanted to share. It’s a little over an hour, but super powerful, sweet, and I pray Holy Spirit ministers straight into your tender places!