Wilderness experiencesLatest Issue, Where's the Faith? Thursday, April 13th, 2017
Social Chaos: Where's the Faith?
As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!
This season of Lent in the life of the church is reflective of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, where he fasted and prayed and struggled with temptation – it was in the wilderness that Jesus was able to discern his true relationship to God. His true identity.
During the season of Lent, we are called to slow down our hectic lives, to make moments of solitude, and take moments of reflection, and enter into these 40 days of examining our hearts.
It’s a season of spiritual preparation; a time of introspection marked by spiritual disciplines like prayer, almsgiving, coming to worship and even fasting. It’s a time for us, like Jesus did in the wilderness, to discern our true relationship to God and know our true identity.
“You are a child of God. You are a beloved child of God.” This is true!
Scripture talks about Jesus being led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Now, I don’t know about you, but I think the wilderness can be a beautiful place. Think about the desert in the super bloom. I had a buddy in Escondido and we loved to go camping in the wilderness. Far away from anyone; no running water, peace and quiet, where the stars are so close if feels like you can touch them. I am recharged in the wilderness; I feel God in the wilderness. God speaks to me through nature.
I’ve been blessed to be in the Outback in Australia, living with an aboriginal tribe, experiencing their language, culture and food. I also loved a wilderness camping experience in the Beartooth Mountains in Montana. I was a seminary student in my 20s; we carefully arranged our backpacks with everything we’d need for a few days (there was no 7-Eleven); we drove until the road ended. Then we hiked about five miles over log jams, around lakes until we found a good place to set up camp. We had to put our food in bags on ropes, dig our own latrine, fish for our food and filter our drinking water. It was lovely! I soaked in the beauty all around me and I only got scared once when in the middle of the night I heard something walking just outside the tent. My mind was racing; it was a huge elk as evidenced by the deep footprints just inches from my head where I lay in the tent!
But there’s more than one kind of wilderness. It’s not all pretty. We can experience wilderness in the city, in crowds, at work and school. This can also be known as a “wilderness experience.” When we look at Jesus in the wilderness and how he overcame temptation, it is reassuring to us. We are not alone.
Now, do you think Jesus was tempted just the one time as we read in the Gospels? Hebrews 4:15 says Jesus was tempted in “all points” as we are. So, I suspect Jesus was tempted more than this one time. So, his example has great meaning and relevance to us. We are not alone in our wilderness experiences. You are not alone in your wilderness experience.
What does it mean to have a wilderness experience? A wilderness experience can be thought of as a tough time where we have to endure discomfort and trials. During this time, even the so-called pleasant things in life are unable to be enjoyed; it’s lonely, depressing and exhausting!
A wilderness experience is often a time of intensified temptation and spiritual attack. It can also involve a spiritual, financial or emotional drought. Having a wilderness experience is not necessarily a sign that someone is sinning; rather, it’s an exercise into what the Spirit is teaching us. It’s an opportunity to see how we’re learning our lessons and growing spiritually.
A wilderness experience is often coupled with a mountaintop experience. After a great success, then comes the struggle. After a period of accomplishments and achievement, comes a period of trial and testing.
Jesus’ experience in the wilderness teaches us some important truths: 1) It’s not a sin to be tempted; 2) times of testing will come our way (Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” when he went into the wilderness; and, 3) we are never without God’s grace.
In a wilderness experience, we experience confusion. And in our confusion we doubt God’s promises are for me. We doubt our value and we doubt our identity. Remember, you are a beloved child of God.
In a wilderness experience it may feel like it’s a struggle to simply survive! You might feel the pressure of financial, material, physical, relational or emotional burdens that feel so heavy; that’s all we end up seeing. We want relief and we cry out for it sometimes in healthy ways and sometimes not.
In this intense time, we have choices. We can go to pieces or we can go to Peace. We read in 2 Corinthians 4, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
The wilderness experience is an unpleasant place but it’s also a rich place. The same God who created the garden also created the wilderness. Our faith will be tested and the God of grace and love will meet us even in the wilderness.
God will never leave us alone. In the midst of our struggles, God is with us. Even though you might not see God, or feel God or even believe God during a wilderness experience, God is there.
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