Wilderness Wisdom

This may come as a surprise to you, but it was only an 11-day journey from Egypt to Canaan.  So why did it take time 40 years?  Did they take a wrong turn?  Did Moses get his map turned upside down?  Did they enjoy the extended camping trip?  No.  God kept His people in the wilderness because in the wilderness there were some lessons that they could learn in no other way.

In Webster, and in life, wilderness precedes wisdom.

There were two significant wilderness experiences in my life.  The first was as a young man.  I had a job pouring concrete for a living.  I built storm shelters in Oklahoma.  In the spring and summer I would often work 70 hours a week in the most labor intensive job I had ever known.  I remember being covered with dirt, cement and sunburned thinking, “What am I doing here?  This is not where I belong.  I have a calling to preach God’s Word and build His church and I am building this old man’s storm shelter.”  I was miserable.  But my hunger for God’s Word was as intense as at any time in my life during those dry years.

The second wilderness wandering has lasted 7 years.  Only recently has it abated and I have felt the cool spring rain of relief.  For the last many years I traveled the country conducting training seminars on supervision and management principles.  On the surface you might conclude that I might enjoy that work.  I am using my speaking talent and getting to see lots of places.  And like the satisfaction that comes from putting in a hard day’s work pouring concrete I did enjoy that I was able to find utility for my talent as a teacher.  But I can remember many occasions waiting for a delayed flight starring at my reflection in the terminal window and thinking, “What am I doing here?  This is not where I belong.  I have been called to preach and teach God’s Word and I am teaching these folks how to do a performance review.  This is not where I belong.”

For the last year I have found a promised land.  I am honored to serve along side a man who loves Jesus and wants to see as many people brought into the Kingdom as possible.  I am humbled to be building God’s church again and occasionally teaching His Word.  It is raining again.

I have learned much in the wilderness and I want to share that with you over the next few articles.

If you find yourself in a spiritual wilderness remember that John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul and the Apostle John, to name just a few, have spent time in the wilderness.

Some of you have a heart so broken that you don’t ever think you are going to get it back together again: Children that won’t respond to your love, or your family has disowned you, or you are tired to waking up in your bed alone, or financially you are on the edge of chapter 7. 

Wilderness.  No one likes being there.  Let’s learn some wisdom from the wilderness.

“As Pharoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them.  They were terrified and cried out to the LORD.  They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?  What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?  Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’?  It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!'”    Exodus 14:10-12(NIV)


“So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: ‘Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your supplies ready.  Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the LORD your God is giving you for your own.’…(The people say) “Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey your words, whatever you may command them, will be put to death.  Only be strong and courageous!” Joshua 1:10-11, 18 (NIV)

What is the difference between Ex. 14 and Joshua 1?  DISCIPLINE.

Discipline is very hard for me.  I seem to do better when I am under a deadline, when there is a sense of urgency in my life.  When things are placid I tend to stagnate.  When I have to be disciplined…I am.

Someone is reported to have asked a concert violinist in New York’s Carnegie Hall how she became so skilled.  She said that it was by “planned neglect.”  She planned to neglect everything that was not related to her goal.

These Israelites learned a very important lesson while they were in the wilderness:  Circumstances force you to the discipline necessary for the circumstances.  That is the way life is.  There are things you will never learn unless you learn them in the wilderness.

When the Spanish conqueror Cortez was invading Mexico, he found that his troops were dispirited and lethargic in battle.  So he went to the harbor and burned the Spanish Galleons that would take them home to Spain.  He told them, “Either conquer or die.”

That’s a wilderness experience.  And when you get against the wall like that you begin to pray like never before.  My best prayers are when I am scared.  Do you know where I learned that?  In the wilderness.  I learned the discipline of Bible study, silence, solitude, fasting, moral integrity in the wilderness.

In life and in Webster wilderness always precedes wisdom.


3 thoughts on “Wilderness Wisdom

  1. Pastor Joe,

    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THAT ARTICLE!! I just read it and what was interesting was that Chauncey and I literally just had this conversation a day or so ago! I kept telling him that since we had left Michigan, I felt “unhappy.” Which was weird because at other times, I would look at him and tell him that I couldn’t be any happier, and was the happiest I had ever been in my life. I was beginning to think that I had become wishy-washy and emotional in my thinking; however, he helped me to realize after I shared my story with him, that I was just using the wrong word to describe what I was feeling; and that’s why it was possible for me think I could be unhappy and then happy at the same time.

    Instead of unhappy, the word I should’ve used to describe how I was feeling was ‘unsettled or discouraged’ — like something was just “wrong” with me. And that is 100% because I don’t feel like I am operating in my purpose. Before we moved to Michigan in 2002, I never knew what “operating in your purpose” felt like, so I guess it never mattered back then. But once we moved there and started actually operating in it in literally every area of our lives, when we moved back to Washington and tried to go back to ‘business as usual,’ I realized that I was sadly mistaken; that was not going to happen.

    Anyway, your story really struck me because you said you remember looking at your reflection saying, “What am I doing here?” and I have done that sooooo many times. I remember feeling like, “I’m here, I’m functioning in daily life, I’m living, I’m going on like business is as usual, but there is a DEEP hole or void in my spirit.

    I have been a follower of Christ for a long time now, I have invested the time in prayer, study and meditation — I know what my purpose is and what it feels like to operate in it. So why am I not? Because once you walk away from it, getting back to where you were isn’t always as easy as picking yourself up and walking back to it. Sometimes there are other situations and circumstances that prevent that.

    Moral of the story here: If you are walking in your divine purpose and destiny, DON’T walk away from it thinking the grass might be greener on the other side of the fence, or for a larger paycheck, or to be closer to your family, or what ever reasons you might feel drawn away. I thought I had the BEST, MOST LOGICAL reasons in the world for leaving Michigan, and maybe God would’ve had that for me at some point, but when I left was not His timing; and getting back into that divine purpose where I am operating out of all the the gifts and talents that He gave me has NOT been an easy journey.

    Have I learned a lot in this lesson? More than you could ever know. Has God been faithful and never left my side? Absolutely. I may have learned more about God’s faithfulness and mercy and grace in my disobedience, than I could have in my submission, so it’s true that He works everything out for His good and glory; but did I really need to make it harder on myself? Probably not. I have a strong feeling that He would’ve blessed me and drawn me closer to Him either way.

  2. I heard a professor of mine say one time that we get to experience a side of God’s character in suffering that we would otherwise never experientually know. He said, “Blessed…” long pause. “Blessed…” long pause again. “Blessed…are they that mourn, for they and they alone will be comforted.”

    We would never know the comforting presence of the Paraclete if we had no pain. The sweet presence of the Gentle Healer. The calm assurance of a peace that passes our understanding only comes with great pain.

    I have much to say about the dry wilderness times. I will share more later.

    Thanks for listening Danica. Peace to you.

  3. Great article! I enjoyed reading it and getting a new perspective on “Wilderness Wisdom”. I often find myself questioning God about the circumstances I get myself into. I wonder what purpose he has for me in things that seem to make no sense for my life and then I remember that it is not all about me and sometimes I am put in these situations to reach other people. God reminds me that when the israelites were in their “Wilderness” they began grumbling and complaining about the circumstances they were in. I believe one of God’s lessons was learning to be happy and content in whatever situation you are in. Your article reminds me that I need to remember that God is working his plan and teaching me in my areas of weakness often through circumstances that I may not enjoy. I need to change the question in my life “God, why am I in this situation?” (grumbling) to “God, what is your purpose in this situation?” (asking for direction). Thank you for your encouragement!

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