Thursday, October 02, 2014

Biweekly Bits #18: Wilderness and Growth

After writing 26 bits, I realized that there is so much I could elaborate on with each of my bits. So I decided to turn them into a biweekly (i.e. fortnightly) series, for the next year.

Everyone needs a wilderness experience. Seriously, at least one. College in Ithaca was mine. I was far away, basically in the middle of nowhere, and I knew no one when I got there. Ithaca has been the place where I've spent some of the loneliest days of my life thus far. It's also the place where I have grown the most, both as a person and as a follower of Christ. Some lifelong friends have also come out of that Ithaca experience. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

I have often wondered what person I might have become without the wilderness experiences that have shaped me. To be honest, wilderness experiences are not pleasant. I remember when I went to college, I was alone, lonely and worried about surviving my first four years of adulthood, all on my own and more than two thousand miles from the warmth of my family. I was worried that I'd fail all my classes and waste the thousands of dollars that my parents had invested in my education. I was worried that I'd be friendless, since I knew absolutely no one on campus when I arrived there.

But even through my worries I knew that I had comfort in Jesus and that I could cling to Him through every challenge that I faced. I grew leaps and bounds in my relationship with God. I met people who mentored me and challenged me and supported me. I began to mature in my faith, choosing to love and serve God for myself, and not because I grew up going to church. And in this time I learned some important lessons about wilderness experiences, a few of which I will share with you.

1. The wilderness separates us from the things that distract us

This might be the biggest and the hardest of all the lessons I learned. Sometimes we get so caught up in all that we have, and the busyness of life, that we brush God off to the side. So he uses wilderness experiences to get our attention, to draw us away from all of the things that creep in between us and Him. In the midst of his trial, when everything had been taken away from him, when his wife advised him to curse God and die, Job was able to look to God and say "I know that my Redeemer lives" (Job 19:25). He turned his full attention to God in the midst of his trial.

2. The wilderness reminds us of our need for, and dependence on our Savior Jesus

There's nothing like having nothing to do but rely on God to remind us how dependent we are on Him. We see this in the life of David, when Saul was seeking after him, which caused him to flee all that was familiar and rely totally on God for his safety and security. Yet it is in the these moments that David drew close to God, speaking of God as his refuge and strength (Ps 46), or his light and salvation (Ps 27), or his rock (Ps 18). David knew that he was utterly dependent on God, who is the provider of all things, even when we face the wilderness.

3. The wilderness forces us to grow and mature

Wilderness experiences are places of growth. They allow us to draw close to God, deeper into our knowledge of who God is, and how we can be his servants. Part of this maturing process comes in community with other believers, but there is a stage where in order to grow in intimacy with God, we must spend time in intimacy with God. In our wilderness seasons we should take the time to know God through His word, to communicate with him through prayer, to spend time in quiet reflection. The growth that we experience prepares us to face even the strongest of temptations well-armed and well-prepared.

We see this in the life of Jesus, where during his time in the wilderness, he is tempted by the devil (Matt 4:1-11). No matter what approach the devil takes, Jesus is able to respond with the word of God, in its proper context. And in these responses we can truly understand why we need our times in the wilderness. "Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Father" reminds us to focus on God. "Do not put the Lord your God to the test" reminds us of God's power and might, and our dependence on him, and "Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only" reminds us of our daily call to worship and serve God.

There is much to be learned from our wilderness experiences, even when we feel like life is falling apart. The wilderness strengthens us, because we are made to look only to the true source of our strength. But the wilderness is always temporary, and we should use these times to grow ever closer to God. Let us consider life's wilderness experiences as a gift from God, an opportunity for introspection and growth.

What are some wilderness experiences that you have had in life? What scriptures did you use to encourage yourself through them?

Be blessed and shine, even in the wilderness!

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A person finds joy in giving an apt reply—
and how good is a timely word! -Prov 15:23