April 2011: The Wilderness #1

Wilderness: n.  A dry, hot place;   a wild, isolated, barren, place;  an obscure or unknown place; a deserted, desolate place.

The English word, “wilderness,” appears over 300 times in the Bible, making it an important subject simply by the large number of references.  Bible scholars and teachers often focus on the “wilderness experience” of Jesus (Luke 4: 1 – 13), sometimes overlooking the similar wilderness experiences we go all through.  This issue will be mostly about our wilderness experiences as Jesus-believers, but we will first take a brief look at Jesus’ wilderness experience to sort of set the stage for the remainder of our teaching in this issue—to be  continued next month.  

When studying any subject or topic in the Bible, the honest Bible student will first look at all the references in the Bible about that subject before arriving at a conclusion.  In addition, all subjects or topics found in the Bible always have one reference, chapter, book, etc., that serves as a summary of the Bible’s teachings on that particular subject.  For example, the Bible chapter  summarizing the subject of “resurrection” is 1 Corinthians 15; the chapter summarizing the subject of “love” is 1 Corinthians 13.

Jesus’ “Pattern”  Experience

I  have studied all 300+ references in the Bible about “wilderness” before arriving at the conclusions I will teach in this issue.  The main biblical reference summarizing the subject is Luke 4: 1 – 13, Jesus’ wilderness experience.   I won’t go into great detail about his  experience,  but  I want to  touch  upon three points before moving on to the subject of our wilderness experiences.  

First, I point out that Jesus wasn’t in the wilderness by accident or by chance.  He wasn’t in the wilderness because He was “outside” God’s will for his life, or because He had sinned and was being punished, or because He had mistakenly wandered into the wrong place.  NO!  Jesus was in the wilderness because God the Holy Spirit led Him there.  I’m not certain if I can “prove” the point, but it seems to me from the Bible’s overall teachings, we are also led by Holy Spirit into the wilderness experiences of our lives.

Oh, we may end up in the wilderness because of sin or wrongdoing, or by prideful rebellion, or by turning our backs on God.  But it seems that we are actually in our wildernesses because God the Holy Spirit leads us there.  He may be orchestrating our wilderness experiences from behind the scenes, so to speak—not leading us directly—but leading us there, nonetheless.  “That winding road of God’s providence” in our lives—working behind the scenes—often is completely unexplainable.

Second, we must understand that—just as Jesus did—we will always encounter Satan in our own wilderness experiences.  But, please remember that Satan is merely a limited tool, an instrument, in the overall plans and purposes of God for his children.  Satan does not appear by accident in our wilderness experiences; He shows up only because God has allowed him there so he can be used as an instrument by God to test us just as he did Jesus.  And, we must deal with Satan in exactly the same way Jesus did.  We combat Satan’s deceitful strategies by deftly quoting to Him ALOUD the Bible—the Living, Written Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit!

For a full, detailed expose about Satan and his strategies in our lives, I urge you to read two teachings on this website:  Satan:  From Beginning to End and Soldiers Training Manual

 Third, our wilderness experiences occur so we will be tempted, tested, and tried at the weak points in our character and nature, and then emerge on the other side of the wilderness stronger at those weak points.  In His sovereign, overarching plans and purposes for our lives God always allows us to tested, and then broken at our weakest points—so that afterwards we are strong at the broken places!  Although there’s much more we can learn from Jesus’ wilderness experience in Luke 4: 1 – 13, those 3 points are all I want us to look at for now.

 Obviously in this brief study, we are not going to examine every one of those 300+ references to “wilderness” in the Bible.  Instead, we will examine only a few that seem germaine to this study or those encapsulating or summarizing the Bible’s overall teachings about our experiences in the wilderness.  The first major wilderness experience in the Bible is that of the ancient 12 tribes of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness of Sinai for many years.  What were those  years all about?  God summarized their experience in Deuteronomy 8: 2:

                        “Remember all the ways God led you during 40 years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would obey Him or not.”

 God Himself led them into that wilderness to humble them and to test them. They weren’t there by accident, or because they couldn’t reach their destination by some other route (they could have, but that’s another story–).  No, they spent many years in the wilderness because God led them there and kept them there until they were sufficiently humbled and tested.  In the very next chapter, Deuteronomy 9: 3, God says of Himself that He is a consuming fire! Wow, I could write a lot about that aspect of God’s nature in dealing with us in our wildernesses.

 But—wait a minute—I’ve already written about that in another teaching on this website, where I invite you to read about the subject of fire in the Bible; that teaching is entitled Fire! If you read that teaching, you’ll gain some more insight about how God tests us with fire in the wildernesses of our lives.  How does the Bible define “humble”

In its basic essence, it means to “bow one’s knee voluntarily.” God leads us into and through our wilderness experiences so we will voluntarily “bow our knees” and surrender to his absolute mastery in our lives.  So that we willingly proclaim in our proud, stubborn hearts that He is in all, through all, and at the end of all.  So that we will acknowledge that He is in absolute control as Master of our lives.  No “Yes, buts . . . .” He is Master of all my life, or He is Master of none of my life! And it often takes a wilderness experience for us to honestly humble ourselves before his absolute sovereignty.

To “test” us means that God puts us through the fires of cleansing and purifying so that the “gold, silver, and precious stones” He is working into our characters—into the very essence of our newly created beings—rise to the surface, and the “wood, hay, and stubble” of our old, pre-Jesus natures are  burned up completely.  You may read about that process in 1 Corinthians 3.  I could teach much more about that process of cleansing and purifying, but my teaching about fire covers that in much more detail.  The ancient Patriarch, Job’s, exclamation in Job 23: 10 – 12 furnishes more insight into God’s testing us by fire.  Isaiah 48:  10 also addresses the matter of testing by fire.

Four Major Areas of Testing

So . . . God leads us into our own wilderness experiences to humble us and to test us.  My own observations and my own experiences based on the Bible’s overall teachings lead me to believe the major areas of our lives where God seeks to humble us and test us are areas of disobedience, pride, rebellion, and when we  “harden our hearts” over matters  in our lives.  I’m sure there are other areas of our lives that God deals with in our wildernesses, but those are the 4 major areas I’ve seen over and over in my own life and in the lives of other people.  God will always “custom tailor” our humbling and testing experiences for areas of our own lives (often ones we attempt to keep hidden from others) needing such humbling and testing.  He sees all and knows all; nothing in our lives is ever hidden from God!

Okay, now I want us to take a look at the actual processes in which God leads us into the wilderness, takes us through it, and then takes us out of the wilderness.          

“I will allure you into the wilderness, and there I will speak tenderly to your heart.  There I will cause you to bear new fruit.  The Valley of Achor—the valley of trouble and testing—will turn out to be a Door of Hope for you.  [When your testing has been completed], you will sing and rejoice!”    — Hosea 2: 14 & 15, paraphrased  and personalized

One of the first reasons God leads us into the wilderness experiences of our lives is so He can take us aside from the distracting routines and busy-ness of our lives and speak tenderly to us.  Of course, God is always speaking to us through the Bible and by means of Holy Spirit Who lives inside us in our spirits, but He often leads us into the wilderness so He can speak more “loudly” to us, yet in a tender manner as only He can do.  in a sense, He speaks tenderly to us during a time when we are more apt to be listening more intently.  

You’ve heard the old expression (or something similar):  “He had to hit him with a 2 x 4 to get his attention!” Well, the wilderness experiences of our lives are often “2 x 4” experiences when God needs to really get our attention so we will focus our listening on what He’s attempting to tenderly say to us.  So, that’s one of the first things that happens when God leads us into the wilderness: He speaks tenderly to our inner selves.

Next, generally (but not always) God leads us into the wilderness so He can produce new fruit in and through our lives. New fruit that will spring forth in the wilderness itself, often a new thing in our lives that we don’t even consciously know we need to have happen—hidden areas of our lives that need exposed and brought out to the light so new fruit can grow there.  

Each wilderness experience God allures us into will be a period of trouble and testing, beyond which will be a door of hope.  Learn to focus on the promised hope you can “see” by your inner faith-sense beyond the period of trouble and testing.  That hope will then result in singing and rejoicing that God has led you through and out of the wilderness.  Yes, something new and amazing often stands at the other side of our wilderness experiences:  a door of hope, resulting in singing and rejoicing!

What type of wilderness are you in right now?  A wilderness of depression?  Of financial needs? Of hopelessness?  Of despair?  The loss of a loved one?  A wilderness of failing health?  A wilderness of a failed relationship?  A wilderness of addiction?  Maybe you’re even in the dark wilderness of the shadow of death, not certain what awaits you on the other side.  The Bible assures you there’s a wonder-full, new immortal life of joy and peace beyond that dark valley, where Jesus awaits your arrival at the golden dawn of bright morning in his fair and lovely Kingdom.  Yes, you may even be facing your final wilderness of death.  The darkness of death cannot hold out against the onslaught of the bright, golden, Kingdom of Jesus where He and loved ones wait to greet you.

No matter the wilderness, at the other side of it is a door leading to the verdant uplands and meadows of renewed LIFE in Jesus . . . in this life or the next.  Your Beloved Savior and Master awaits you beyond the open door!  He has been fully present with you in your wilderness; now He is the door itself up and out of the wilderness.

Continued next month–

                    To Think About 

The Promised Land of ‘milk and honey’ always lies on the other side of your wilderness! 

Bill Boylan
Life Enrichment Services, Inc
Revised and updated December 2020

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