I’ve written about the experience of a spiritual wilderness before. You can find them here, here and here (not to mention the series I just wrote about quitting). Indulge me as I write about it again. First, let me give two quick thoughts about the wilderness, and then I want to share two ways you can prepare to walk through your next wilderness.
2 Quick Thoughts on the Wilderness
First, spiritual wilderness is real. It’s not a matter of if you will enter the wilderness but when. Yet isn’t it always a surprise when we find ourselves there. We know (at least we are aware) the wilderness will come, but we don’t ever expect it.
Second, the wilderness experience isn’t a one time event. Not only will you go through the wilderness once in your life, but you will go through it multiple times. Just because you were in the wilderness last year doesn’t mean you won’t find yourself back there today. Pastor Tim Keller said it like this,
“Life never goes, except for a few years at a time, the way you want…”Tim Keller
2 Ways to Prepare for the Wilderness
So, here are two ways prepare yourself for the wilderness.
1. Remind yourself that the wilderness isn’t a punishment.
God uses the wilderness to refine you. The wilderness is to prepare you for something more, greater. I was reminded of this when walking through a devotion series last year by Chris Symes. This is what she had to say:
“…if you’re facing a wilderness in your life, know that God does not have you there to punish you. He is not neglecting you; He hasn’t forgotten you.”Chris Syme
Our tendency is to be short-sighted. We miss the big picture. God has more for you. He does. What you are facing in your life right now – good or bad – isn’t forever. It is for this moment, and it is for a reason.
God isn’t punishing you; He is refining and preparing you for bigger things.
2. Remind yourself of when God brought you through the wilderness in the past.
The Jewish people had a curious habit of building monuments or altars when leaving the physical wilderness behind. Among others, you can find examples in the stories of Jacob, Moses and Joshua. These monuments weren’t to remind them of how bad life was, but of how it was God who led them through the wilderness. At times, it felt like they were alone, abandoned and forgotten, but in fact God had been with them all along.
What monuments can you built to remind yourself of the times you were led through and out of the wilderness?
First, as painful as it might be, bring it to mind a past wilderness experience in your life. Next, create your monument. Here are a few ways to practically make a monument: Write about it. Take a picture representing this moment. Tell a friend about the experience. Plant a garden or tree. Hang a piece of art on your wall.
99 Balloons: My Monument
The picture of the balloons in this post is one of my monuments. In fact, scrolling through my Instagram feed, I found one monument after another. In this case, the picture was from the balloon release at the funeral of a good friend from high school. He passed away from a rare and aggressive cancer. He was 38 years old with a wife and two young sons.
At the same time, I was in the midst of a massive transition in my life. I didn’t know it, but I was about to enter back into ministry. Leading up to that decision (exactly when this picture was taken), I was questioning quite a bit in my life. Everything I had built and known to that point was falling apart. Professionally, Kia and I were both at a crossroads. Financially, we were treading water. Family relationships were strained to the breaking point.
I was in a wilderness.
Now, I look back at that picture and the memories flood back through my mind. The funeral. My state of mind and spirit. The questions. The heartache. The fear. Then I flash forward 10 years…and I’m amazed at where God has brought me. He has redeemed so much of that pain in helpful and useful ways. That picture is a monument to what God has done in my life.
He did it then. He can do it now. He will do it tomorrow.
God isn’t punishing you. He’s preparing you for something more and better, so build your monuments – remind yourself of how good God has been in your life.