by Walter Olsen
When I think of the wilderness, I think of the time when I was about four years old picking raspberries with my mother in a wooded area I was not familiar with. Somehow, I got separated from her and was lost in the maze of trees and brush. It was a fearful experience! I didn’t know where I was nor did I know how to get out to find my way home. All I could do was to call for my mother. Thankfully, she was not far away and found me easily. I was greatly relieved. The woods we were in was not that far away from home nor was it all that big, but to me, at that age, it was awesome.
In our Christian lives, do we not sometimes get lost in the confusion and bustle of the world about us? It is easy to become spiritually disoriented and so lose our way. The result is, we become fearful and sometimes make some serious mistakes. We need a Shepherd in our Christian lives, and, thankfully, we have One!
The nation of Israel had a Shepherd who led them faithfully and safely through the wilderness. In the great Psalm of giving thanks to the Lord, the Psalmist gave thanks, “To Him which led His people through the wilderness” (Psa. 136:16). When we are lost in the wilderness, there is nothing more important than one who can lead us and show us the way out.
There are many kinds of wilderness in the world, but I am thinking especially of the wilderness we as believers may find ourselves in from time to time. Yes, it would be nice if, when we become Christians, we would never face another wilderness. Even though we have been led out of the wilderness of being lost because of our sins, there are still various wildernesses we must face. So, let’s discuss some of the various wildernesses we as believers may face.
The wilderness of the world. Of course, by the world is not meant the physical world that we live in. All about us we see the glorious handiwork of God including such things as the flowers, trees, rivers, oceans, birds and animals and so many other things. It is true people sometimes get lost in the physical world about them such as in a forest or the mountains. But that is not the world we are talking about.
The world we are thinking of here is the world system, a system created by man with no reference to or account of God. It is the best man can do with no thought of God. It is basically a system that builds on man’s self interest and pursuit of pleasure. The tower of Babel is a representative of this kind of pursuit. Men built the tower apart from God’s directive and thus it was a failure.
The world system is a system of life originated and controlled by Satan. God has no part in it and thus it stands under the condemnation of God. The Apostle Paul, in speaking about this matter said, “And you hath He quickened [made alive] who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 1:1-2). There we have it! Before our being saved, we were part of the world system controlled by Satan and were not even aware of it! We walked in it, lived in it, and were at home in it. When we saw genuine believers in Jesus Christ who lived for the Lord, we thought they were odd, different, and our response was often to ridicule them, make fun of them, and sometime persecute them. Remember the Apostle Paul before his conversion to Christ. He was not satisfied to let believers be. He severely persecuted them, even putting them to death. The world can tolerate any measure of sin and wickedness, but it cannot tolerate the righteousness of the Christian life! Thus we see the persecution of believers around the world today. This persecution will continue and increase in the tribulation when multitudes will be put to death for their faith in Jesus Christ.
If we wonder why there is so much corruption and disruption in the world today, it is because that same spirit of Satan, “...now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph.2:2). Since the fall in the Garden of Eden, it always has been that way and always will be as long as there are unbelievers in the world. Satan is forever confirmed in his unholiness, his opposition to God, and his determination to bring as much corruption to the world as possible.
Perhaps a word of clarification is needed here. Not all unbelievers are given to corruption and destruction. Many are good in their own way. They do good things for others and seek to be good citizens. The problem is, they do not internally know God and so do not really identify with His Person, Word, and will. They may know a lot about the Bible, but that is different from knowing Him in the heart. The Biblical truth is evident, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness...” (Rom. 10:9-10). One’s life is not changed just because he knows much about the Bible or about God Himself. There is no spiritual change or interest in the reality of God until one truly repents of his or her sin, and personally trusts Jesus Christ as personal Savior.
So, one may look and in some ways act like a Christian because those kinds of things can be learned by attending church, observing true believers, or attending classes. The problem is, they still identify with the world and usually fail to see the difference.
Now, if believers are not careful to maintain their walk and fellowship with God, they may find themselves lost in the wilderness of the world. They do not lose their salvation, but they lose their intimacy with Him and the resultant fruit they could bear in His name. Only genuine repentance will bring them out of the world and back into fellowship with the Savior.
The wilderness of suffering. Suffering is very evident in the world, no matter where one looks. Around the world, believers are being persecuted for their faith. Thus, many live in fear and desperation.
Most of us are familiar with certain kinds of suffering in our own lives. There are many kinds of suffering, such as suffering from physical pain, suffering from the death of loved ones, suffering broken relationships, suffering from mistreatment by others, suffering from losing a job in these critical times. The list is very long of the kinds of suffering in the world. Perhaps many of us are suffering from things that are unique to us, or so it seems.
Most of us don’t like any kind of suffering. We look for the quickest and easiest way out. That is normal. There is no point suffering if we don’t have to! The problem is, sometimes we can’t find a way out. We may try many different ways to escape our suffering, but nothing works! The result is, we often get lost in the midst of our suffering. We may lose our moorings, so to speak, and don’t know where to turn to next! We might say we are in the wilderness of suffering.
Christians, people who know and walk with God, face suffering with a different view than that of the world. First, they know that suffering is part and parcel of the Christian life. This sounds strange to many, but it is the truth of God’s Word. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “For unto you it is given in behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil. 1:29).
Secondly, believers know that they are the target of suffering. Their suffering often comes from the unbelieving world about them. When individuals come to Jesus Christ in personal faith, their lives change. They begin to have different interests and a different value system. They no longer do some of the things they did before, and they begin to do things they never did before. Thus, there is a kind of built-in hostility to the new believer. This is especially true if there is a change in church attendance. The problem is, unbelievers cannot identify with the new life of Christ. They can mostly identify with a certain kind of church, but not usually a gospel preaching church.
Jesus made this point succinctly when He said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother- in- law. A man’s foes shall be they of his own household” (Matt. 10:34-36). This will be especially prevalent during the time of the coming tribulation, but the same truth may be evident in the believer’s relationships today.
Also, believers are the especial objects of Satanic attacks. For this reason, Paul encourages, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, and against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:10-12).
Believers have God’s presence and enabling in the midst of their suffering. Joseph was greatly persecuted by his brothers, but God was with him all the way. Job knew suffering beyond anything we can imagine, but he was never left alone. In the end of his suffering, he knew greater prosperity than before the onslaught of the persecution. The Apostle Paul suffered immensely, but he was never alone or forgotten. God accomplished His purpose through Paul’s suffering.
Perhaps some who read this paper today are suffering greatly and it is a mystery to them why God allows such hardship. Remember, God is with and for you! In spite of what the circumstance may seem, you are not alone. Also, if you are a member of a Gospel preaching church, there will most likely be people there to assist you in any way they can. Be faithful in the reading of the Scripture and in prayer, for therein one can know the personal ministry of God Himself in times of suffering.
The wilderness of loneliness. Perhaps one of the most difficult places to be in is the wilderness of loneliness. To be lonely is to be without the comfort and fellowship of people. For some, it is a feeling of being abandoned by others. It sometimes carries the feeling of being rejected, of not being accepted by others. Young people often suffer from this predicament. If they are not good athletes, musicians, or have a popular personality, they feel left out. In time, some come to even despise themselves. This may lead to unfortunate choices that are harmful to themselves and often others.
Some people are lonely because of the poor choices they have made, choices that cause other people to ignore or reject them. Such choices may include such things as the abuse of drugs, alcoholism, or the commission of various crimes.
Some people are lonely because they think life has not treated them fairly. They had great plans and hopes, but they failed to materialize for any number of reasons. Thus, they become deponent and fail to see any good in the future. As a result, they drop out of any associations with other people.
One of the more evident causes of loneliness is old age. People can be lonely living in their own homes when family have moved away or especially when a mate has passed away. Of course, some have the privilege of family living close by, but many don’t. Unfortunately, many have to endure long hours with very little to encourage or challenge them.
In light of the above, let’s consider a few encouraging truths that may be helpful.
First, no one needs to be embarrassed because of the way they look and the talents they may or may not have. God has made each one a unique, special individual for the purpose of bringing glory to Himself. Of course, to realize this, one needs to be born again by belief of the truth of the cross of Jesus Christ. The Lord said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jer. 1:5). We may not be a prophet unto the nations, but we as believers all have a special mission God has given to us. Thus, no one needs to feel slighted or neglected! God has made all of us to be just what He wants us to be. We can’t improve on what God has done, but we can, if we are believers, get to know more of His way and will for our lives. Actually, we can rejoice in how the Lord has made us!
Secondly, if we have made poor choices and suffer from the consequences, there is a place of forgiveness, the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. When we come to him to ask His forgiveness, we can have confidence that He forgives us and accepts us as one of His children. When we know that we are forgiven, it changes our life! We no longer have to feel rejected and unacceptable. While this is especially true in our relationship with God, it is also true in our relationship with the people about us. If they are believers, they will rejoice in our repentance and will accept us as brothers or sisters in Christ. When Onesimus came to Christ, he was forgiven. Before salvation, he was an unprofitable servant. Paul then wrote to Philemon to ask him to receive Onesimus, “Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a beloved brother...” (Philemon 16). The point is, salvation changes our relationship with not only God, but with other people. Indeed, where we were once lonely, we can now enjoy fellowship with others.
Like I said above, many older people suffer from loneliness. Some live alone in their own home, as often mates have died and family has departed to live their own lives. This would be especially hard for those who do not know the Lord, but even for those who do, this can be a very difficult time. It is thus incumbent upon families to love and support the older members of their families the best they can.
However, older folks who know the Lord have the great advantage of His presence in their lives. They can be comforted by God’s Word on a daily basis. Further, they can have a very special prayer ministry. Anna might be an encouragement here. “And she was a widow of about four score and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day” (Luke 2:37). We must keep in mind though, that there is not always a simple, easy answer. We have to wait upon God for His provision in whatsoever state we may be in. He knows and He doesn’t forget!
The wilderness of grief. Grief is a very palpable and deep response to a specific loss. The loss may be of many things, but we especially link grief with the loss of a beloved loved one. It is a loss that cannot be reclaimed, a loss that must be lived with for the rest of our earthly lives. Our grief can become a wilderness that claims our sense of well-being, our direction in life, our hope for a good future. Most of us have suffered such a loss or losses. Time does bring some healing and we go on with our regular living.
Still, there is a better hope for Christians in the loss of a loved one. If our loved one was a believer in Jesus Christ, there is great hope for the future! Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself…” (Jn. 14:2-3). The good news is that the believer who died in Christ will be with Him forever! The Apostle Paul said, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (II Cor. 5:8). Yes, the loss of a loved one can be very grievous, but the believer has a definite hope beyond the grave! The believer who is trusting and believing in God need not remain in the wilderness of grief.
The above are just a few thoughts about living in the wilderness. All of us have been there for various reasons. My purpose in writing this is to remind us that we do not have to remain in the wilderness. We will have difficult and grievous times, but the Lord Himself is the Way out. As we cast our cares upon Him, He will lead us to the place of light and hope because He Himself is our light and hope!
The month of April has been a month of blessings and challenges weather-wise. We have had some very warm and beautiful days and many that have been cold and windy. It is good to see the many other evidences of spring. BJ and I remain mostly the same with a mixture of many blessings and a few challenges.
We were privileged to spend Easter with my sister, Dorothy, and her husband Harley, and family near Barron. It was a beautiful day, both inside and outside.
As I mentioned last month, we were blessed to have Dr. Jerry Benjamin in our church for a couple of days in March. I mention this because I just finished reading one of his Nugget series books entitled, “Why Israel Cannot Find Peace.” It is so helpful regarding both the nation of Israel and the Christian life today. Israel will not find peace until they come in faith and repentance to the One who gives peace. The same is true for us today. We will never know real peace and security until we come to the One who Himself is peace.
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