“Suffering is a wilderness” – Elisabeth Elliot
I would describe the last several years of my life as a wilderness experience. I’ve been thinking a lot about the parallel to the Israelites walking around 40 years on a journey that would have only taken eleven days if they could have walked a straight path.
But we don’t walk straight paths in trusting God.
We must learn that He is trustworthy, and how can we learn if we are never tempted or tested beyond our own capacities? This is the purpose of the wilderness journey, and we are put there by God Himself.
We are apt to think of pain and suffering as punishment, as though we are doing something wrong. The Israelites are a sobering example of suffering poorly – a wrong response to God in the wilderness. We are warned against such unbelief, “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). Oswald Chambers said it this way, “Suffering does not always make us better; it makes some bitter”. Redeemed or ruined; it is our choice what the wilderness makes of us.
The Lenten season we are in right now reminds us of Christ’s forty days in the wilderness. “Jesus by led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). He was not being punished, but prepared for His ministry work ahead. A booklet I am reading reminded me that Jesus was publicly affirmed by God before entering the wilderness. “As soon as Jesus was baptized, He went up out of the water. At that moment, heaven was opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on Him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).”
Jesus entered the wilderness with a clear understanding of who He was – an imperative for withstanding the temptation of the desert. We are tempted in hardship to doubt, falter, and turn away from the living God who is leading us in steadfast love and faithfulness. We are tempted to become disenchanted and forget who we are. We are children of the Living God!
Where are you suffering in a type of wilderness? Lent is a time to think on such places. It is a time to shift perspective and see the loving hand of Our Father who goes before and behind us in all things. The wilderness is necessary because God loves His children, and He disciplines those He loves.
“Do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves….endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons (and daughters)…God disciplines us for our own good, so we can share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12: 5-7, 10, 11).
The wilderness is training ground for the harvest. What is the harvest? The next verses give us some insight: “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed” (Hebrews 12:12, 13). Others are watching us to see how we fare through the wilderness. This testing has more at stake than our own personal faith. The wilderness is our witness. The “lame” need to know what God is like; that He is real and can be trusted. His love is more than a simple sentiment. His love endures forever, through drought, famine, fire, and flood. He is a Good Father. Here we prove just how loving, trustworthy, and faithful is the Living God who keeps His covenant promises. Our response either helps or hinders others. He is Lord of the harvest. We can trust He will clear the path in the wilderness so we can walk it out, one painful step at a time.