I contemplate the Biblical account of the children of Israel, wandering through the desert, eating manna day in and day out, sand in every conceivable nook and cranny. Hot, dirty, no grocery stores, no conveniences of any kind. Just sand, sand, and a little more sand punctuated by searing heat, stinking cows, belching camels, and a cataract of complaints.
I feel sorry for Moses; how many times a day did a complaint fall on his ears? "I'm thirsty," "I'm hungry," "I'm tired," "I'm hot," "You don't know what you're doing," "Some leader you are!" (And that was probably just his wife!) Poor Moses. Doing God's will, trying to lead His people well, and what did he get for it? A cacophony of grumbles.
I have to admit, the wilderness experience stinks, yet God directs each of His children through their own wilderness. The flesh loathes it, the spirit often wonders what is going on. What's the purpose of suffering? Wandering blindly from one miserable experience to the next? Why doesn't God answer immediately to my plight?
A few years ago, I indulged in a rather good gripe. I explained to God how unfair life was--how unfair He was. For years, I prayed for a spiritual breakthrough, but felt like my prayers rolled off my lips and sank with a thud to the floor. As hard as I tried, I couldn't get any forward momentum in my relationship with Him. I felt like He was a million miles away and that I was no more than a tiny grain of sand on the shore. How could He find me in all of that? Did He care to find me?
One evening, I read a footnote at the bottom of a page in my Bible; it was about the wilderness and its purpose. It stated that the wilderness is not a place of punishment but of privacy. That hit me like a ton of bricks. All these years I'd been complaining and whining that He was unfair and didn't notice my pain when nothing could have been further from the truth.
In contemplating that period of my life, I realized that much of the ugliness in my personality had been slowly whittled away. I'd matured spiritually and emotionally. Much of the destruction that occurred in my young life had been healed. My character had been developed, and my commitment to Christ solidified--all in the wilderness.
I think it safe to say that those who knew me prior to that time would agree that I could be pretty caustic when riled. That was gone. The pain from previous wounding, gone. The false beliefs taught by the world and Satan, gone.
God takes us to our wilderness experience to protect our privacy. In dealing with the depths of our woundedness or ugliness, He works on this privately--not in public, not in an exploitative way. He does not shame us but does confront. Then, He heals and restores. When we come through it, we are much improved and prepared to face the next phase of our journey.
When I fully realized all He accomplished in the wilderness, I had to repent of the grousing and of misjudging Him. I had to thank Him for not only bringing me to this seeminly barren place but for walking it with me. Since that particular time, I've experienced several more (though none as long-lasting). While it is still unpleasant, I've learned to trust Him, to sit and learn from Him, and to allow Him to accomplish in me whatever He chooses.
I can truthfully say that I am thankful for my hot, gritty, deserts for in them I've come to know Christ in a powerful and intimate way, I've experienced a level of wholeness I'd never thought possible.