google-site-verification: google3e8cc4742c5fd8a2.html The Normal Christian Journey of Faith - Part 11


The normal (Christian) journey of faith

Chapter 11:Journeying through the wilderness

Unless you are very fortunate you will discover that you have to travel through times of spiritual wilderness or desert. These are the times when your spiritual life seems to go dead on you, nothing goes right, you seem to be as far away from the Lord as it is possible to get, you just want to give it all up. It can happen to the best of us! Why should you be any different? But when that happens what can you do to get out of the hole you seem to be in.

On the whole Scripture is not a lot of use here. The reason is not far to seek. The people we read about in Scripture, or who wrote it themselves, tend to be those all action, all vigorous type that are not always quite like us. Paul is not much help. He said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Great – if you have got that far on the Way of faith, but not all of us have; or if you are that sort of strong personality – but not all of us are! To be sure, just occasionally Paul says something that might suggest he did struggle sometimes, things like “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me.” Do you agree that he does not sound all together happy when he says things like that?

If all the big guys of Scripture are not much use to us in the desert, then who is?
We might expect it to be the Psalms perhaps. Yet few of the Psalms relate to the wilderness experience that is wholly within us rather than caused by a breakdown between us and other people.
Only Psalm 107:4,5
“Some wandered in desert wastelands,
finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
and their lives ebbed away”

This could be taken as referring to the sort of problem we would call a desert. And the proffered solution is people in verse 7, “He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle.” This, and all the other psalms probably reflects the much more social society of those days. We, in spite of all our communication technology, often feel much more isolated. Loneliness is a very modern disease in many societies. If we are the lonely one we have great difficulty doing anything about it. If we can identify someone else who is lonely we can do a great deal about it by befriending them.

Aside then from the Psalms and a few small comments here and there, the answer seems to come in only 2 places: Jeremiah and the Israelite journey through the desert. Jeremiah struggled a great deal with the tasks the Lord had set before him to do. And we can draw lessons from the experience of the Israelites as they journeyed through a real desert.

First, Jeremiah. He was only a village lad, who lived in a time of great political upheaval for his nation. He never did want to be a prophet. When it became clear to him that the Lord wanted him to be a prophet he said, “Alas, Sovereign Lord, I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” But the Lord said to him, “Do not say, ‘I am too young. ’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.” Going around the country telling the leaders, including the king, things the Lord wanted them to hear but they did not want to hear was not an easy job, and a distinctly dangerous one. In fact he ended up down a well and was only rescued because one man was brave enough to ask the king to organize his rescue.

So it is not altogether surprising that he says:
Cursed be the day I was born!
May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!
Cursed be the man who brought my father the news,
who made him very glad, saying,
“A child is born to you—a son!”
May that man be like the towns
the Lord overthrew without pity.
May he hear wailing in the morning,
a battle cry at noon.
For he did not kill me in the womb,
with my mother as my grave,
her womb enlarged forever.
Why did I ever come out of the womb
to see trouble and sorrow
and to end my days in shame?

This brings one difficult and important message to us. We are not the Lord’s people for our own enjoyment and improvement but because he is the Lord! Our whole culture – at least the one I live in – tells us everything we do should be for our own benefit. And it isn’t the only one to do so. The American Declaration of Independence talks about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Fortunately I know many Americans who have not really taken that pursuit of happiness to heart but have made the service of other people, and the Lord, their primary objectives in life rather than those self-centered ideas.

When we turn to the story of the Israelites travelling through the desert we find less worthy motives for being down. They had no sooner escaped the Egyptian army at the Red Sea than they started complaining when things did not go exactly the way they wanted them to. So we read, “Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What are we to drink?’” Perhaps that complaint was excusable; it was about water, never more necessary than when you are in a desert.
But then it wasn’t long before “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord ’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” That sounds very like there had been a lack of foresight in preparing enough food for the journey. And so the story goes on with them grumbling, complaining, and blaming poor old Moses for every little problem they encountered. Not clever!

So What?

Wilderness times will come to us at some time, as they came to Jesus. Some of them will not be our fault as they were not for Jeremiah. But some of them will be our fault as they very largely were for the people of Israel. Either way they will be for the same reason: we too need to be tested and hardened by some of our experiences. Of Jesus the writer to the Hebrews said “In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.” And “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2: 10, 18).

So it is that Peter says, “Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”  Which isn’t exactly about a wilderness experience but I am sure you will see why I quote it here.

In the wonderful passage of Isaiah 43, we read:
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;”

That is not a promise that we shall avoid the rivers, or the fire, but a promise to be with us in those times of supreme difficulty. That promise is for us too. We shall have our difficulties but the Lord will be with us through them.
Thank you, Lord for all the good things you give me, but I do not follow you because of those good things but because you are Lord!

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