Our Hope in the Wilderness

choose joy

This week, we’ve been taking some time to rest and reflect on what it means to wander through the wilderness. Through the complex stories of the Israelites, Elijah, David, and Jesus, we see both the types of wildernesses that we may face in this life as well as the ways that we can ultimately overcome the wilderness and make it out of those difficult seasons.

As we’ve discussed this past week, these are the four Wilderness Wandering Lessons that we learned from these stories:

  1. The faithful love of God is infinitely more secure than our fractured circumstances.
  2. Remembering past victories can help to steady our heart in the midst of our current despair.
  3. When the desires of our heart lead us away from God, true repentance leads us back.
  4. God’s word sustains us when we are depleted by the trials of the wilderness.

If you find yourself in a time of wilderness wandering, don’t despair. Many have been there before you and have made it out and used that time as a witness for God’s deliverance. Remember, one of Satan’s ultimate goals, as I mentioned earlier this week, is to steal your joy. One of the primary fruits of the Spirit is joy, and that joy should be evident in your life. The Israelites and Judeans knew what it was like to lose their joy when they were exiled from Israel at the end of 2 Kings. But, as we read in Jeremiah 31:2-3, 11-13, God promised that Joy to the Israelites and Judeans and he promises that Joy to you too.

“This is what the Lord says: They found favor in the wilderness – the people who survived the sword. When Israel went to find rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued to extend faithful love to you… For the Lord has ransomed Jacob and redeemed him from the power of one stronger than he. They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will be radiant with joy because of the Lord’s goodness. I will turn their mourning into joy, give them consolation, and bring happiness out of grief.”

By living our life in Christ, our joy is made complete (John 15:11). When you find the hurt, isolation, or pain of life weighing down on you, pause and remember that we can overcome through Christ. Trade your grief for happiness, your mourning for joy. We can celebrate. We can overcome. Because the joy of our Lord is our strength.

~ Cayce Fletcher

***Click on the following link to listen to one of my favorite songs by Rend Collective called the “Joy of the Lord is my strength.” Learning this song can be a reminder to you to choose joy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2B6Yw0zy70

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Lessons from the Wilderness: Jesus

Wilderness Wandering Lesson #4: God’s word sustains us when we are depleted by the trials of the wilderness.

god's word does.

This week, as we’ve been thinking about our wilderness wanderings, we’ve primarily looked through the lessons from the Old Testament. Today though, we’re going to turn to the New Testament to see an example of a wilderness experience that can teach us a lot about how to make sure this experience makes us and doesn’t break us.

In Matthew 4, Jesus is tempted in the desert by the Devil for 40 days and 40 nights before he begins his ministry. This is a familiar story that shows the humanity of Jesus and how he can relate to us, but today, I want to focus on where Jesus was tempted. It says in verse 1 that “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.” In our time thinking about the wilderness, we’ve focused on the types of wilderness experiences we may have and how God’s faithful love can sustain us. As we look at Jesus’ experience, we can see how to survive and thrive in the wilderness.  

The first lesson we can glean from this passage is that sometimes, as is the case with the Israelites and Elijah, we are led into the wilderness by God. Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit where he fasted 40 days and 40 nights. At this point, Jesus had not begun his ministry, so this time could have been for testing and strengthening Jesus’ faith and dependence on God so that we could learn from it. By asking ourselves during each wilderness experience “What can I learn from this? How can I grow?”, we can better face the times in wilderness with palms held open instead of allowing bitterness to grow in us.

The second lesson we can learn from Jesus’ time in the wilderness is that God’s word is crucial for surviving in the wilderness. In the wilderness, Jesus had to face physical hunger, thirst, and exhaustion. He also was probably emotionally drained in this time as well. This may sound like a description of ourselves when we go through times in the wilderness. How often in these times where we are sad, lonely, depressed and drained – how often do we pause in these moments and stop the spiral of depression and wandering by saturating ourselves in God’s word? By looking at Jesus’ example, we can see how we can stop temptations in their tracks by responding with God’s word, more specifically by aligning our actions with God’s word.

The last lesson that I want us to focus on today is looking at when this wilderness experience took place. Though Jesus had not begun his ministry yet, in the previous chapter, he had just gotten baptized. All too often, we think that if we have committed our life to God that things will go well, that we’ll never have to experience trials or periods of suffering. But, we can look at Jesus’ life to see that this is simply not that case. Aside from Jesus’ experience on the cross, we can look at the beginning of his ministry as well to see that as these periods will happened to him, they will happen to us.

Jesus survived in the wilderness, and he thrived in the wilderness. I’m not sure what Jesus gained spiritually or emotionally in the wilderness, but I know what I can learn from his experience there. In the wilderness, Jesus was able to overcome temptation and suffering, including not only physical trials – but also spiritual trials – through God’s word. God’s word sustained Jesus and allowed this time to be a springboard into Jesus’ ministry instead of something that would have crippled his ministry. Now, we can look at this story and lessen the impact of what Jesus was able to do because Jesus was the son of God. But, Jesus was capable of growth and change, as seen in Luke 2:52. This is what makes him the perfect mediator for us. So, as we close this lesson today, I want to leave you with the words of Jesus as he readied his disciples for the trials they would face during the days leading up to the crucifixion: “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). With Jesus, we can conquer the world, including all our days of wilderness wanderings.

~ Cayce Fletcher

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Lessons from the Wilderness: David

Wilderness Wandering Lesson #3: When the desires of our heart lead us away from God, true repentance leads us back.

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At the heart of our lessons from the Israelites and Elijah is a focus on trust. We need to trust that God knows best for us and will lead us in the right direction as the Israelites learned. And, we need to trust that God will provide and protect us according to his will like Elijah learned. Elijah, in our previous lesson, was not lead into a wilderness season by any failing on his part. Instead, the wilderness for him was because of circumstances outside of his control. By looking to God and remembering those past successes with God, he was able to overcome trying circumstances.

The wilderness story that we will look at today also concerns a man that could remember past successes with God. In his story, he had stood against giants, mad kings, had been through the wilderness once and overcame it. David was a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). We see in the book of 1 Samuel David’s victories. He was blessed by God, and because of this blessing, he was able to overcome his enemies. The book of 2 Samuel then describes what happened to David after he overcame these things and became King of Israel. During the first 10 chapters, David is set on the throne and receives the Davidic covenant, where he is told that Jesus will come from his lineage. If David could have just stayed in these moments where his focus was on God, he would have dwelt securely in the land and set up his children to do the same.

Instead, we see David drifting down a path that led him to devastation in 2 Sam. 11. In this chapter, we see the story where David, without questioning his actions for how they would reflect God, sleeps with Bathsheba and sends her husband to her death. After this, David is told that he would lose the baby Bathsheba just bore and that his house would be destroyed. David’s actions here lead toward the hurt that he faced with his son Absalom in 2 Sam. 14-15. The first sin that we see in these chapter 11, lusting after Bathsheba, began the sin cycle that led David into a wilderness period that was a time of intense pain that David never really got over.

So how did David get to this point? During this time, he had stayed back at his palace idle instead of going with his armies to fight in the wars he wanted them to engage in. At this moment, his desires began to be misaligned from the desires of God. And from here, his actions lead him away from God.

We see some of David’s reactions in 2 Samuel as he mourns his son and repents of his sin. But, at this time, we don’t see his feelings about this time in the wilderness. In Psalm 38, a psalm written by David, we see the danger that comes from drifting too far from God. We see the desperation in David’s voice as he says, “There is no health in my body because of Your indignation; there is no strength in my bones because of my sin. For my sins have flooded over my head; they are a burden too heavy for me to bear. My wounds are foul and festering because of my foolishness” (Ps. 38:3-5). Because of David’s sin, he had to experience terrible pain, a trying wilderness experience. We can look back at the lessons of the Israelites to realize this time in the wilderness was for purification, but still, if David had aligned the desires of his heart with the desires and character of God, he could have saved himself from this pain.

ps. 51

The wilderness is not always caused by our sin, as we’ve seen. But, at times, it is. And during these times, we can look to David’s example to see how to overcome those moments in the wilderness that were caused by our sin. Psalm 38 is an example of a penitential psalm, that shows both David’s true repentance and his desire for God in his life. Psalm 51 is another example of David writing in repentance. He says, “Be gracious to me God, according to your faithful love; according to Your abundant compassion, blot away my rebellion. Wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin. For I am conscious of my rebellion, and my sin is always before me. Against You – You alone – I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight. So you are right when you pass sentence. You are blameless when You judge” (Ps. 51:1-4). In this psalm and the other psalms, we see how David takes responsibility for his sin and also recognized what is required from him if he sins. He needs to be purified with a new heart that reflects the desires of God to be placed within him. This is key to accomplishing what David asks God in v. 12: “Restore the Joy of Your salvation to me and give me a willing spirit.” When we are in a wilderness of cause by our sin, we may be tempted to harden our hearts in anger against God. But, that is the path that leads us away from God and further into the wilderness. When we truly repent, we can receive back the true joy that comes from the salvation of God. After we have made it through the wilderness, we can use this time to bring others back to God (v. 13). If you are in this time today, choose the right path and come back to God. It may be painful to soften your heart and feel the weight of your sin, but that we’ll lead you towards the true joy that comes from God.

~ Cayce Fletcher

Lessons from the Wilderness: Elijah

Wilderness Wandering Lesson #2: Remembering past circumstances can help to steady our heart in the midst of our current despair.

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It was at that moment though that the sky got a little cloudy and the wind started to pick up. We wanted to hike a little, so we to hike the trail towards the top of the mountain, with cattle lazily grazing along the rocky path. Quickly, the picturesque scene turned gray. We made it to the summit, but the mountain had clouded over, so much so that it was difficult to see straight in front of you. We quickly walked back down and waited out the fog in a small cafe, trying to warm up our hands with a coffee, before making our way to the tram.

That hike was beautiful and totally worth our short brush with the fog. But, what I’ve found is that our lives sometimes mirror that hike, but the fog can be much more dangerous. Sometimes, our lives are steady, and we exist in the happy medium of contentment and love. At other times though, our lives can be a stormy cycle of highs and lows, mountains and valleys. In our case, we were on a mountain, a mountain where we were elated. We had traveled far to get there and wanted to rest in the view and the glory. But, it was on this mountain that what we had traveled far to see and done a lot of work to do (including a 1 hour train ride and a flustered conversation in German) that we experienced a storm that clouded our experiences and made us doubt if it was really worth it.

Elijah the prophet experienced his own brush with the wilderness right after he experienced the high of his life. He was no stranger to the wilderness after relying on God’s provision in 1 Kings 17. In 1 Kings 18, he is able to testify to God’s glory and work as he goes through a showdown with the prophets of Baal. He actually gets to see the fire of Yahweh fall from heaven and rid the people of the prophets of Baal!

If we saw these things, we might be tempted to say that we would never doubt God. After seeing this, we might be elated, speechless, high on our mountaintop moment. But, for Elijah, the fog rolled in. In chapter 19, Jezebel sends word to Elijah that she was planning on killing him as soon as she could get her hands on him. Elijah panics and runs for his life into the wilderness. There, he lays down and prays for God to take his life (v. 4). Sometimes, our wilderness moments can lead us to places like this. Our vision can get cloudy if it’s focused on our circumstances that may stormy and volatile. And, in those moments, dark despair can set in, and we may think it would be better to just give up.

But then I recall all you have done, O LORD; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.If you are in that moment, remember that God does not leave Elijah there, and he doesn’t want to leave you there either. Instead, he says, “Get up and eat (v. 5). After Elijah eats twice, he goes on a journey forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God. There, Elijah waits, first through a great wind, then through an earthquake, and lastly through a fire. In each of these places, he does not hear God’s voice. Finally, he hears it in the soft whisper, as God asks him “What are you doing here Elijah?” (v. 13) Elijah responds by saying, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of Hosts, but the Israelites have abandoned your covenant, torn down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they’re looking for me to take my life” (v. 14). Elijah feels this despair because he had forgotten what God just showed him. In the desert when he was hungry, God was there with provision. He had forgotten that in the showdown, God was there with provision. When we turn our eyes from God to focus on our fractured circumstances, it can lead us to doubt. But, one remedy for that doubt is not only to remember the character of God but also to remember how God has exhibited that character in previous actions of faithfulness. We can trust in him not only because of what we know from the Bible but also because of what we know from our own lives. So, if you are in a wilderness period in your life, pause and remember God’s past faithfulness instead of dwelling on your despair. These reminders can help us to remember that even in our darkest times, God will carry us through.

~ Cayce Fletcher

Lessons from the Wilderness: The Israelites

heb.Over the next few days, we’re going to look at four wilderness stories in the bible to learn a lesson about what the wilderness is and what it can teach us. The first Wilderness Wandering Lesson is this:

Wilderness Wandering Lesson #1: The faithful love of God is infinitely more secure than our fractured circumstances.

The most recognizable story of wilderness is that of the Israelites. After 400 years of servitude to the Egyptians, the Israelites kept crying out to God for the deliverance prophecied by Joseph in Gen. 50:25. That help came in the form of Moses, who was commissioned by God to lead the Israelites to the land of Canaan. So this so-called Promised land, part of the covenant promise that God made with Abraham in Gen. 12, was the Israelites’ destination. Even in the Israelites’ time in the wilderness, we can see two purposes in the wilderness. The wilderness in the first year was a time of purification and dependence. It is in the wilderness that the Israelites learned to trust God for direction (Fire and Cloud – Ex. 14) and sustenance (Manna and Water – Ex. 16). In Exodus 16, God even says, “I will test them to see whether or not they will follow my instructions” (v. 4). This testing was his goal for the first year the Israelites spent in the wilderness. Spent mostly at the base of Mt. Sinai, it was in this time that the Israelites received the ten commandments, built the tabernacle, and received the rest of the law (Ex. 15-Num. 10). Though there was difficulty in this time (think Golden Calf – Ex. 32), this time in the wilderness was also full of incredible closeness to God. It was during this time that the Israelites were able to witness the Shekinah glory of God descend on the tabernacle. And, during this time, the Israelites experienced the humbling dependence on God that came from relying on him.

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We can think of this first year in the wilderness as the training wheels period where God was showing the Israelites that relying on him was best. That trusting in him was the way to choose life and joy. In Numbers 10, the Israelites break camp and move towards the border of the Promised land. In Numbers 11, the cracks begin to show again as the Israelites complain more and more about hardship, food, and in the case of Aaron and Miriam, the power and relationship with God that Moses had. Based on the tendencies that we see in these chapters, we shouldn’t be as surprised as we generally are that the Israelites get to the border of the promised land and choose to go against God and refuse to take the land because of their fear (Num. 14). The Israelites chose not to go into the promised land because their trust in God was lacking. They didn’t think that God would do what he said he would. Instead, they based their decisions on their circumstances, which seemed too difficult to overcome. It’s this that ultimately angers God and leads towards his judgment against the Israelites: They would wander the wilderness for 40 years (one year for each day they spent scouting the wilderness). In the remaining chapters of Numbers, we see more instances of rebellion and provision as the Israelites do exactly as God says and wander the wilderness for 40 years. It is not until the book of Joshua, that we see the next generation of Israelites rise up and take the land just as God promised his people that they would.

These two tales are frequently told together, but they tell two very different stories of the wilderness. In the first, the Israelites seemed to have done nothing to be put in the wilderness, while in the second, the wilderness was a place of punishment for the past sin of the people. But, the purpose of each wilderness experience is the same. The wilderness is meant for purification and refinement, to make the people of God ‘holy, because [he] is holy’ (Lev. 19:2). Too often, I think we view the wilderness as a punishment, and because of that, we go back to asking God, “Why? Why am I here?” We may even sound like some of my high school students when they get called out, “Why? I wasn’t even doing anything!” (No matter what they are doing.) We need to stop viewing the wilderness as a place of punishment. It can be that place, as we’ve seen with the Israelites. But, more importantly, this time in the wilderness is where God is beckoning us back to him. It’s in this time that all of the Israelites first heard God’s word. It’s in this time that they felt the characteristics of God that Moses spoke in Numb. 14:18. In your wilderness wanderings, instead of focusing on the doubt – the questions of why you are in that experience – focus on who God is:

“The Lord is slow to anger and rich in faithful love, forgiving wrongdoing and rebellion. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children to the third and fourth generation.” (Numb. 14:18)

Rest on God’s faithful love, and in your time in the wilderness, don’t forget to remember who he is. When we trust in him, our circumstances don’t seem so challenging anymore.

~ Cayce Fletcher

The Purpose of the Wilderness

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; All your breakers and your billows have swept over me. Psalm 42_7 (1)If you are not in a wilderness period now, chances are you will probably experience a time like this in the future. It’s the moments where we are spiritually thirsty and hungry for God. It can be puzzling when we are in these moments because we begin to doubt and question God. If there was a word that could be used to define these moments, I would say that it would be “Why.” Why do I feel like this? Why am I in this desert? Why does God seem so far from me? Why won’t he return to me?

Though it can seem presumptuous to ask God these questions, we can find the psalmist asking these questions as well. In Psalm 42, the psalmist says, “Why am I so depressed? Why this turmoil within me?” (v. 5, 11) Later on, he writes, “I will say to God, my rock, Why have You forgotten me? Why must I go about in sorrow because of the enemy’s oppression?” (v. 9) It’s natural to question God during these moments, and even Jesus on the cross asked God, “Why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). Sometimes, we know the purpose of the wilderness, as Jesus did when he asked God that question. Other times, we may not know in this life why we have to experience the things that we do.

In these times, it’s incredibly important to remind ourselves of two things: (1) we can trust that there is a purpose for the wilderness, and (2) in the wilderness, we can rely on the goodness of God to carry us through. As we think about the ‘why’ behind our wilderness wanderings, it’s first important to ask ourselves how we got to this point. Sometimes, our wilderness comes from forces outside of us, whether that’s circumstances, conflicts with others, or the adversary like we discussed yesterday. We can look at the examples of Elijah and Jesus to see wilderness experiences that were due to the fallenness of the world, not their own failings. Yet, at other times, the wilderness can be caused by our own actions, like in the case of the Israelites.

During these times, we have two options: We can turn toward God or away from him. It’s this choice that will determine whether or not the wilderness experience will help us to grow or to be destroyed. In this devotion, we won’t be able to come to a definitive answer of why bad things happen to good people. But, we can answer the real ‘why’ behind our wilderness experiences. During this time, we have the option to lean on God and learn what it means to walk hand in hand with him. To experience complete dependence on God. The wilderness may be difficult, but it’s also in these moments that we experience more deeply the salvation of God. Going back to the Psalmist words in Psalm 42, we see that our wilderness experiences can make our recognition of God’s love more real and vivid when, after asking why, he says:

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Mt. Hermon (2,814 m – 9,232 ft) on the northern border of Israel

“Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him, my Savior and my God. I am deeply depressed, therefore I remember You from the land of Jordan and the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep in the roar of Your waterfalls; all Your breaks and Your billows have swept over me. The Lord will send His faithful love by day; His song will be with me in the night – a prayer to the God of my life” (v. 5-8).

We can pray to the God of our life. In these times in the wilderness, trust in your creator, and he will send his faithful love to you.

~ Cayce Fletcher

Wandering in the Wilderness

Text placeholderChristmastime can bring so much joy to our lives. It’s during this short period at the end of the year that we reconnect with family and friends and enjoy time spent resting from work and school. I think it’s so fitting to end our year reflecting on the importance of who Jesus is in our lives. As seen in the carols that Jill discussed last week, we spend the month of December reflecting on and resting in the truth of who Jesus is before moving into the new year with high hopes and resolutions.

Though it’s not a Christmas carol, I love the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” partly because of Andy Wiliams’ voice and partly because I agree that Christmas is the most wonderful time because it is the “hap-, happiest time of the year.” However, some Christmases don’t always bring this cheer. Sometimes, in the midst of the crowds of happy faces and the busyness of the year, we can feel lost in the drift of the season. Feeling this way can make us feel lonely, upset, or isolated from those that we love, and crucially, it can also make us feel isolated from the voice of God. I like to call these times in our lives our ‘wilderness wanderings.’ It’s the moments when it seems like God isn’t near you, has ‘turned his face from you,’ and that feeling affects every part of your life. Though this can happen in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season when we’ve forgotten to focus on God, it can also happen throughout the year, in the low points and in the high points.

Too often, I think we choose to focus on the high points of our relationship with God or on the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of our faith. Though our relationship with God can bring us blessings after blessings and should be the foundation of our faith and though a life that reflects a heart that loves God is incredibly important both for our relationship with God and the credibility of our witness to others, I think focusing on these moments of wilderness wanderings is crucial to fostering a life that honors God. Because, it can be hard to get back to those high points if we are crippled in the wilderness by doubt and sin. 1 Peter 5:8-9a says that “Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. Resist him and be firm in the faith.” If we lose ourselves in the wilderness and allow Satan to steal our joy, we can be destroyed in that wilderness.

So, this week, we’ll be looking through scripture to see what the purpose of the wilderness is and how to make it through. Words translated as wilderness “occur nearly 300 times in our Bible.”** By looking through some of these occurrences, we will gain the tools to understand the purpose of our own wildernesses. We’ll look at the wilderness experiences of the Israelites, Elijah, David, and Jesus to learn from their examples. And, at the heart of this, we’ll focus on the importance of joy, both at this time of the year and every other time. Don’t despair if you are going through a time in the wilderness. Have hope. And most importantly, have joy, because “the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Neh. 8:10b)

joy to the world

 

 

~ Cayce Fletcher

** View this link for more information on wilderness in the Bible: http://www.environmentandsociety.org/exhibitions/wilderness/midbar-arabah-and-eremos-biblical-wilderness