The Wilderness. Yes, it’s a place. But it’s also a state of mind.
The Wilderness in Israel has two parts: Zin and Paran. Each mimics the other when it comes to the immense size of their canyons and the dryness of their lands. Our group was fortunate enough to go on a hike through the Wilderness of Zin, which, though it was dry as astronaut ice cream (have you tried it?), it was still as awe-inspiring as hiking through a thriving forest in Colorado.
The canyons wrote their own history. When you look deep down below from the very top edge, you see multiple layers of rock. These rocks have survived thousands of years, and, in fact, the Wilderness of Paran was actually formed out of mountains. When seismic plates deep down below the mountain shifted into multiple earthquakes, the very center of the mountain collapsed. Of course, the entire mountain caved in with it, creating what we see as the Wilderness today: an ocean of rock with waves of brown, red, and black.
If we dived deeper into the history of this desert, we would find Moses and the rest of the Israelites who’d escaped from Egypt. They were about to enter into the land promised to Abraham’s descendants from the Lord, but they doubted what the Lord had in store for them. They refused to trust in God and thus had to wander through this Wilderness for 40 years (Deut. 2). That wilderness they wandered through thousands of years ago was the same wilderness we wandered through today. And, to be honest, I can’t imagine anyone surviving that long in such a desolate area without supernatural provision. Seeing the rocky dry soil, feeling a thirst I couldn’t quench, and having a hard time finding even a few feet of shade for relief from the sun…and we were only there for less than an hour!
That being said, the wilderness in our minds is even drier than some desert. We’re all bound to walk through hard times; to struggle through moments of impossibility. Our guide today shared a wilderness story of his own, which was the day he got a phone call from his father telling him his younger brother had died in a car accident. His advise to us is to prepare ourselves in times of prosperity and joy by really reading and spending time in the Word, because once the Wilderness hits you will thirst into a spiritual death with no reservoir to drink from.
The Wilderness is not always a pretty place, or a nice one at that. Actually, I would say it’s never nice. It’s only one obstacle after another; one heartache on top of the next. The Wilderness is those moments of hopelessness we feel when the things we try so hard to do come up short; or when our successes turn up empty.
Today, I was physically in the Wilderness of both Zin and Paran. Our big orange bus pulled off on the side of the road and kicked all forty of us out into the rocky terrain. Told to go off on our own, I sat in the middle of the beating hot sun on a little mound of pointy rocks. Believe it or not, it was one of the softest looking things out there. While meditating, I noticed the silence. It was so silent, that when someone stepped onto some rocks about 50 feet away, I jumped thinking they were right behind me.
Even the wind made a noise when it blew, and I got shivers in the heat. Then, I started to think about how thirsty I was. Not for water, but for something else. For substance. For purpose. For feeling. The kind of desire that seems impossible but must be real because we all crave it. This type of thirst is explained perfectly in John 6, when Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill…” Those who followed Jesus after he fed them kept following because they felt a sense of fulfillment that went beyond anything they’d ever experienced before.
So, sitting on that hard, dry dirt was meaningful because I remembered something. I remembered how thirsty I am. I’m amazed with how easy it is for me to take sips here and there of everything other than Jesus. To crave truth and not read the Bible, or to crave raw relationships and not first love the One who is love, now that’s stupidity. How is it we have everlasting water, yet we constantly choose to drink elsewhere. That’s the question the Wilderness asks us.