Embracing the Wilderness

The Way to Spiritual Maturity

By Aaron Welch, LMHC, NCC, CSOTS

Why do we prefer slavery in Egypt over following God in the wilderness?
In more practical terms, why do we tend to gravitate back to former sins or unhealthy situations rather than draw near to God through the hard times of life?
Why do we try to take control of life by digging our own cisterns (broken ones) instead of submitting to God and letting Him lead us through life?

Why do we resist God’s way of purifying us through pain and hardship and turmoil? Instead, we often choose to do our own thing which actually delays our maturity and STILL leaves us feeling empty, lonely and beaten down.

I cannot speak for the Christians abroad as God has not taken me onto the mission field at this point. However, I have lived my entire life in and around the American Church. I grew up, the son of a preacher and elder. I preached my first sermon around the age of five. I attended five years of Bible College and, later, another five in Seminary. I’ve preached in several churches. I’ve attended several churches. I’ve been blessed to counsel hundreds of Christian people. Truly, God has put me in and around the American church for my entire life. And I am left to wonder, as I ponder the Church and ESPECIALLY my life…why don’t we just embrace the deserts that God puts us in?

I know many of the answers to this question:
• Because the desert is barren and hard
• Because the desert leaves us dry and thirsty
• Because we lean towards what is comfortable, whether it is healthy or not
• Because we are NOT good at waiting and that is often what the desert is about
• Because the desert forces us into uncomfortable places
• Because the desert reveals the worst parts of who we are

I know these answers. In fact, I don’t just KNOW them, I have thought about them. I have LIVED them. The desert is no fun. Let’s just be frank and admit this truth. The wilderness of life is difficult. Wilderness times steal our laughter, break down our confidence, and brings out our anxieties over how we are going to make it through life. The wilderness leaves us worrying about our bills, our future, and our families. Most of all, it is in the wilderness that we often wonder the most about God…and maybe that is the main point.

Doesn’t God use the wilderness to test our limits? To find out if we’ll trust Him even when things look hopeless. Moses outlined some of God’s reasons for “wilderness-walking” in Deuteronomy 8 in talking to the Israelites, right before they entered the Promised Land:

“Remember every road that God led you on for those forty years in the wilderness, pushing you to your limits, testing you so that He would know what you were made of, whether you would keep His commandments or not. He put you through hard times. He made you go hungry. Then He fed you manna, something neither you nor your parents knew anything about, so you would learn that men and women don’t live by bread only; we live by every word that comes from God’s mouth. Your clothes didn’t wear out and your feet didn’t blister those forty years. You learned deep in your heart that God disciplines you in the same way a father disciplines his child.”
Wow…….why can’t we GET it? Why can’t I get it? God’s purposes in the wilderness are to:

• Push us to our limits: Hard? Yes……..but the only way for us to grow.
• Test us to see what we’re made of: He is refining us…..making us stronger for our journey.

• Test to see if, even in the wilderness, we will keep His commands or go our own way: OUCH! I can’t begin to mention the times I have gone my own way, whether turning to sin for escape or just trying to “grab the bull by the horns” instead of being patient so God can do His work in my life.

• Put us through hard times only to then provide what we need. The Bible says that God humbled the Israelites by MAKING them hungry…..only to show His provision by giving them manna; feeding them. See, God wants us to rely on HIM for our needs, not our own strength. Why can’t we LIVE in this?

• To teach us to trust Him and Him alone. I love where Moses reminds them that their clothes never wore out and they didn’t even get blisters on their feet. In other words, God took care of them even in the wilderness.

• To discipline us: God wants to teach us lessons, just like a father does a child. Lessons about trust, humility, pure living, waiting, and so much more.
And so, as I reflect on the wilderness, my spirit cries out, “I embrace it God! I WANT to grow in You, mature in You and be the man You want me to be” while my flesh screams, “God, why have you forsaken me??? Why are things here so hard? Why can’t life be easier? Why are finances so tight? Why is marriage so difficult? Why is parenting so painful? Why can’t I just WORK my way out of this wilderness?”

And God answers, “Because you’re my son and I love you. I love you too much to leave you to your own passions and ways. I love you too much NOT to pursue you and hone you and humble you. Because, Aaron (place your own name here), I don’t want you to settle for the pleasures in Egypt (sin and self-reliance) where slavery also abounds. I want you to be READY for the Promised Land….for what I have in store for you that is infinitely better than you could imagine. But you must wait, and endure, and learn to trust in Me…..not in your own strength.”

So, my goal is to EMBRACE the wilderness. It is a goal that I fail in more often than I succeed. And yet, that is my goal. See, I know that the pleasures and luxuries of this world offer nothing in the long run. They are a dead-end street. So, what I really want is to see the Promised Land, whether that is here or in the world to come…or both. I want to learn to trust, even when my bank account is overdrawn, even when I fight with my wife, even when my kids push me to the point of insanity…even when life is hard. I want to learn what it means to lay it all at God’s feet, not just in word but in action, so that I can see the ways in which God shows up, so that I can let God’s hand mold and shape me into who He designed me to be, so I am ready for whatever He has in store.

So, that is my challenge to you as well. Instead of fighting against the deserts that God puts us in, instead of complaining to Him about how hard everything is, instead of taking matters into your own hands before the Lord gives you the go-ahead……EMBRACE the wilderness. Set your face like a flint and move forward, turning your eyes to God instead of your own ideas. Embrace the lessons God wants you to learn:
• Trust Him instead of you
• Be humble instead of proud
• Be alert to how HE shows up and provides

Most of all be malleable to the blows of His hammer. Bend to the shape He wants to make of you. Rest on the anvil of His work, trusting that He is preparing you for the joys that lie ahead. I promise you, HIS land of milk and honey is WAY better than the pleasures and slavery of Egypt. Don’t you agree?
Aaron Welch is a licensed mental health counselor, nationally certified counselor and certified sex offender treatment specialist. He strives to fight for the hearts of his clients and empower them to build a legacy that impacts the world. He is part of a team of experts at “The Lifeworks Group, Inc”. For more information about Aaron or Lifeworks, please visit www.lifeworksgroup.org or www.legacycounselingservices.org

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