The following is something I wrote on January 29, 2007 at the start of my second semester in seminary. It is precious to me for a couple of reasons – first, it reminds me that God provides in dry times, and second, because I look back on that time with a joy that comes from seeing many of those prayers and longings answered. Praise God for being a loving and gracious Father to his children!
Lately I feel like I’ve been wandering in the desert like Moses and the children of Israel. After the exodus from Egypt, God had the Israelites wander so that He could lead them and purify them, preparing them for the Promised Land. This time in Israel’s history follows their deliverance from slavery in Egypt and the giving of the Ten Commandments. Israel has seen God make good on His promises to rescue them, they’ve seen Him perform many miracles (the ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea), and they’ve been given His commandments. Why, then, does Israel need time in the desert? What is wrong with them? They’ve been given explicit instructions for how to live (Commandments and Mosaic law), and yet they can’t uphold those requirements.
I’ve been wandering, trying to follow God faithfully through a wilderness season in my life. I’ve struggled with prayer despite spending a good deal of time in the Word. I’ve felt disconnected from God. Why? I honestly don’t know. I’ve seen the Lord rescue me from my sins, I’ve seen Him work miracles in my life… the very fact that I’m writing this is testament to His grace! Had I not experienced God’s redeeming presence in my life, I would have no taste for Scripture, no desire for redemption, and my soul would be on the path of destruction. So I have been redeemed, I’ve seen God at work, and He has certainly given me specific instructions on how to live (Scripture). So why, then, has God given me this time in the wilderness?
To answer this, I want to look back into Israel’s history. Deuteronomy chapter 1 shows that Israel refused to enter Canaan. They grumbled and murmured; lacking faith all along, so God sent them back out into the desert for a while to prepare them for what He had in store for them. And this was a special time for Israel to be alone and undistracted in devotion to the Lord. They learned an immense amount through experience and life to a point where God had finally prepared them to take the land that was theirs through His promises.
I think that college and seminary are a lot like this for me. God is preparing me for ministry and for the rest of my life through my classes, my church, and through my ministry with BYX. Every day I’m learning something new and seeing old lessons in a new light. Someday, when God blesses me with a church ministry, I will be ready by His grace… but I will also look back on these ‘wilderness’ times and see them as a blessing from God. In the same way, I’m preparing for marriage and family life – leading a wife and children someday. Each day it seems further and further away, but still intimidating.
One thing, though… I don’t want to be too quick to think that my ‘wilderness’ is only limited to my educational career. To be sure, many folks’ wilderness far outlasts their education, and many folks’ education far outlasts their time in the wilderness. But to take a step back and look at things for just a minute, I’d say that in this life we’re never out of the wilderness. We were meant for more… we were built for Heaven, and we spend out earthly lives preparing for our time in Heaven. This is not to negate any ministry or opportunity here on this planet… they’re all wonderful. But I do think that we need to put things into eternal perspective. This earth is a training ground for eternity. We spend our 60, 70, 80 years here and learn things from God, following His lead… and then we’re finally taken Home when He is ready for us to be ready.
The biggest encouragement for me is this: the time in the wilderness is finite. The children of Israel did wander for a long time in the desert, but they did finally make it to the Promised Land, just as God had promised. In the same way, I know that God has built me for marriage and a family so someday my longings for those relationships will be answered. I also know that God has called me into ministry… so my time in the educational wilderness is finite as well. Someday I will be in a church or some other ministry serving Him, but not until He is ready for me to.
Another thing that I take heart in is that time in the wilderness is special time with God. I’ll never have another time in my life where I am single and have relatively few obligations that I didn’t choose for myself. I can be somewhat selfish, I have complete freedom; I don’t have a family tying me down. Israel’s time with God allowed Him to purify their hearts and lead them so intimately in a time period that is unique in Israel’s history. There has never been a time like that wilderness journey for Israel, much like in my own life.
I think I heard it best from Mark Driscoll up in Seattle, Washington one Sunday when I was visiting my old college roommate Jake last semester. He said that the closest we Christians will ever get to hell is here on earth. By sharp contrast, the closest that non-Christians will ever get to Heaven is here on earth. What, then, are we doing with our time? Is it preparing us for Heaven, or are our resources only being wasted on the here and now… our proverbial hell? Our time here is finite. It will end. Heaven will not, and hell won’t either.