When we walk through spiritual wilderness, we’re tempted to believe this time is an unusable, accidental derailment in our Christian journey. Maybe God was asleep at the wheel or took a wrong turn, but somehow, we’ve veered off the road and gotten lost in this desolate place.
The Spiritual Wilderness Is Not a Waste
But nothing in our life is purposeless, not even our wandering in the wilderness. It’s not our destination, our home, and it’s not even a desired stop along the way, but God has good plans for us in every place He leads us. Even in the desert, there is “grace in the wilderness” (Jeremiah 31:2). Consider these four purposes as an encouragement to endure, trust and wait on the Lord.
1. Spiritual Wilderness can be a place of discipline.
God’s discipline is not to hurt us or punish us but to teach us and train us (Deut. 8:2-6). It allows us to see the sinfulness of our hearts so God can change us. It’s the painful path of learning the errors of our ways while seeing the beauty of walking in God’s ways.
God often withdraws blessings, including His felt presence. He allows us to taste the sourness of our idols so we can recall the sweetness of Christ. It’s how God gets our attention. He temporarily hides His face so we remember the joy and peace it brings. His absence stirs longing again for His presence.
Discipline is God’s love in action. Through it, He proves His commitment to us, His desire for our good and growth, and His patience to walk us from spiritual infancy to maturity (Heb. 12:5-6; Rev. 3:19). If God has you in the wilderness for discipline, it’s out of a Father’s loving heart and designed to “do you good in the end” (8:16). Learn what He’s teaching you and trust the method and timing He chooses.
2. Spiritual Wilderness can be a place of testing and refinement.
The wilderness isn’t always discipline for what we’ve done. It might be the preparation for what God’s about to do. Consider Christ’s 40-day stint in the wilderness. Matthew 4:1 tells us the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. That by itself is encouraging. God might direct us into the wilderness so He can bring us out the other side ready to do His work
Jesus stands toe-to-toe with the Devil and comes out of the ring standing. He fights with the weapon of God’s Word (Matt. 4:4). He learns dependence on the Father’s will (Matt. 8:7) and proves himself to be the Spirit-filled Son of God. The desert season launches his season of ministry.
The same thing happens to Elijah. God directs him into the desert (1 Kings 17:1-5), and one chapter later he faces the prophets of Baal in a winner takes all match (18). Elijah’s ministry with God was preceded by preparation in the wilderness by God.
Don’t assume you’re in the wilderness because God is done with you. It might be the very place He’s refining, equipping and training you for something significant.
3. Spiritual Wilderness can be a place where God wins our affections and crushes our idols.
When life coasts along and we lay back soaking in the blessings, it’s easy to find comfort and happiness in our idols. Over time, our love for God wanes and our love for the things of this world grows. God knows our idols will ultimately disappoint us and leave us empty, so He gets us alone into the wilderness to win our affections back.
The book of Hosea beautifully captures God’s relationship with His people. It also paints a graphic picture of how deeply involved we are with our sin and idols. Gomer, the prostitute and pursued-after wife, returns to her clients and lovers way too many times. She is allured by the promises, offers of protection, payments and pleasures found in her adultery. We are Gomer. This story helps us feel the stinging pain and foolishness of our own spiritual adultery.
But in 2:14, Hosea takes her away from these temptations and gets her alone in the wilderness to win her back. “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” A place of isolation and seclusion becomes the relational retreat where they can reconnect. The wilderness allows her to make a clean break from her life of unfaithfulness.