Lessons Learned in the Wilderness

Whether you call it a spiritual wilderness, drought, dry-season, or rut, the experience of distance from God and apathy in our Christian walk saps us of life. It confuses and frustrates us. Why doesn’t God feel near? Why can’t I get out? Why aren’t my passion or desires for the things of God increasing?

In these seasons, we’re tempted with a few lies. This will last forever. God is no longer for you or with you. This time is a waste.

None of those are true. The seasons eventually change and drought gives way to refreshment and fruitfulness. Despite what we might feel, God never leaves us nor forsakes us. And nothing in our life is purposeless, not even our wandering in the wilderness.

God’s purposes for us in the desert might be as varied and layered as how we got in. His reasons might not be clear right now—and they may or may not be clear looking back—but we trust His promises us to lead us wherever we go and do us good wherever He takes us.

Deuteronomy 8 gives us one example of how a season of wilderness can serve many purposes. It assures us that even in the desert, God is leading us (8:2) and all this is “to do you good in the end” (8:16).

Deuteronomy 8

Deuteronomy is the bridge between Israel’s post-Exodus wilderness season and their entrance into the promised land. Through Moses, God causes the people to look back as they look forward. He has their attention in the wilderness, but He knows once they get out of there and get into a land of blessing, they’ll be tempted to forget all God has taught them and done for them. God is kindly, and clearly, telling them beforehand what they need to remember and practice in this next season. If they don’t, if they disobey again, then they’ll have to learn the lesson again through another time of discipline.

We are stubborn, but God is patient. As a loving Father, He is committed to our good and our growth. He will teach and train us until we learn to walk in the ways that give life rather than stealing life.

In Deuteronomy 8, God reminds Israel it was He who led them along through the wilderness. If God is leading them, they are not there by accident. It is not a pause between significant parts of their journey, but God has a plan in it that should shape their future.

Israel wandered for forty years because of their own hard-heartedness and sin, but God did not abandon them. He did not stop investing in them, walking alongside them, or being their covenant-keeping God. He uses the wilderness both to teach Israel lessons they need to learn and to prove Himself so they will trust Him in the future.

Purposes in the Wilderness

I’d encourage you to take the time to read the entire chapter, slow and with reflection. Notice some purposes listed in Deuteronomy 8 for this season of wandering.

  • To humble us (8:2), so we live with dependence on God rather than trusting in self.
  • To test or teach us (8:2), so we see what’s in our hearts needing changed by God and learn to walk in His ways.
  • He lets us go hungry so He might feed us (8:3). Learning about our weakness leads to learning about God’s strength.
  • To prove we can trust in His promises and Word by seeing His perfect provision when we needed it most (8:3).
  • To discipline them as a loving father (8:5-6), so they would not continue in error leading to more pain and problems, and learn to walk in God’s will to experience joy and peace.
  • To show His might and power, His provision and care, and His love and kindness in unmistakable ways, such as causing their clothes and footwear to last (8:4), delivering them from slavery (8:14), protecting them from dangers and fears (8:15), refreshing them with water from the rock (8:15), and feeding them with food they did not see or know of (8:16).
  • To cultivate in us a fear and awe of God (8:6), amazing us with what He’s capable of, stirring worship in our hearts, and obedience in our lives.
  • God teaches and provides all these things in a wilderness where it’s clear He had done the work, so we would remember and not forget (8:2, 11, 14, 18, 19), so we would look to Him in the future and not look to ourselves or idols (8:17, 19), and so we might thank and praise Him for all His grace and goodness (8:7-11).
  • By walking in the wilderness, we’re given perspective to better enjoy and be grateful for the good things we will enjoy later in seasons of refreshment, abundance, and vitality (8:7-10).
  • To help us know that despite wilderness seasons and seeming delays on the journey, God is sovereign and in control of all seasons, circumstances, and timing (8:18), and that He is faithful to His covenant, His Word, and His promises (8:18).

We were not redeemed to live in the wilderness forever. But the wilderness is not a waste. God is not absent, and our time there is not accidental. In these dry-spells, in the midst of confusion, and in the pain of feeling lost and alone, God is with us, He is leading us, teaching us, at work in us, and He will take care of us.

Israel, in all her up-and-down history, struggled to believe this. The people asked, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?” (Ps. 78:19). God showed time after time He indeed can and does spread a feast in our famine. He provides manna in the morning. He brings water from the rock. He sends quails to feed their appetite for meat.

Even in the wilderness, God isn’t limited by scarce resources around us or weak faith within us. What we see is not all He has to work with. God’s resources are unlimited and go beyond what we can imagine. We know from our own stories that God provides, delivers, and proves faithful in ways we didn’t see coming. When things are thin, He stretches them out. When our resources dry up, He pours out just what we need. He can and will provide a table in the wilderness. Don’t give up; be still and wait. Don’t lose hope; trust in His timing. Don’t run from God; put yourself in His path.

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