Preachers should choose their sermons carefully. The words have a way of becoming real. Since God knows that you don’t learn to ride a bicycle in theory, He has a habit of putting preachers into the content of their messages. I confess that I am not always sure whether the sermon is the cause or the fruit of my personal state. I do know this. The truth spoken comes out of the truth being lived. I begin today a series of sermons on wilderness. It is both what I say and where I am. I know I am not alone.
Wilderness can be a place - a desert, jungle or tundra. But for most of us, it is more likely to be a state of mind, heart or spirit. You experience a wilderness state when you feel lost, don’t know what to do or where to turn. When you are depleted of personal resources, you taste the wasteland. When silence and isolation smother all other sound, you are standing in the soul’s hinterland. Nothing I’ve described sounds pleasant, so we attempt to avoid the wilderness. Just stay out of it! It can’t be done.
We assume wilderness is the consequence of our failures or mistakes and therefore avoidable. While we may stumble into wilderness, that is not the whole answer. Barren land is a tool of God and seems to be one of His favourites. Wilderness is not our path because we are lost. It’s where we are led. Wilderness is the space between Egypt and the Promised Land. Israel walked through the desert to reach milk and honey. The forty years were not mandatory, but the path through was. For Abraham, Moriah was the place of sacrifice and testing. For Moses, badland was the grooming ground where God stripped him of his past and shaped him for the future. The back country of isolation provided preparation for the public ministry of both John the Baptist and Jesus. Clearly, the wilderness is not incidental for saints. And it can’t be rushed.
Those who walk in the wilderness want to hurry through it. Struggle and disorientation feed our desire to escape. But if wilderness is where God has us, He has us there for a reason. Regardless of the cause, purpose is always in God’s Hands. So we become pilgrims of hard places. Pilgrims of dry ground require patience. They must resist the urge to turn around and head for what’s familiar. Egypt is not a substitute for home. Pilgrim’s faith grip says there is no such thing as a God forsaken place. Even if He be just a glimmer of light or a whiff of smoke - He is there. Pilgrims understand wilderness grace. The grace of manna’s provision or shelter found in the cleft of a Rock. The grace of endurance and daily strength. Most of all, pilgrims know it’s not for them to find their way out of wilderness. We are sought and found by the grace of rescue.