Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul all have something in common. What is it? Wilderness experiences, that lonely time where they faced trials, self doubt, temptation, and feelings of abandonment. Yet it is here also that they found out that God is all they really need. He is their supply and strength.
Moses was on the run from the Egyptians because of murder. He came to Mt. Horeb while shepherding his father in-law’s flock, sees a bush on fire but not consumed and turns toward it in curiosity. It is here that God speaks to him. We know the story. Moses begins to tell God all of the reasons he can’t do it, and God finally gets through all the self doubt, fear, and reasons why it can’t be done.
I can relate to Moses. I too have faced self doubt and fear. I have also given God a myriad of reasons why something can be done only to watch ashamed as someone else does it. If we are honest with ourselves and God, all of us have done this a time or two! The difference is that Moses didn’t sit by and watch as someone else did it! He got up and went and did the very thing God called him to do. Moses saw and experienced the promise God made to him on Horeb. Ex 3:12 “And God said, “I will be with you.”NIV God was with Him all the time and spoke to Moses as a friend!
Moses wasn’t the only one to talk to God on Mt. Horeb. Elijah also found God on Horeb while on the run. The only difference is that Elijah was running afraid that Jezebel was going to kill him. Here on Horeb Elijah saw powerful demonstrations of power yet in none of those things did he find God! It was in the 1 Kings 19:11-13 “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”NIV All of the powerful demonstrations Elijah knew as signs of God’s presence, yet it was the gentle whisper that God chose to use.
Elijah found God in the midst of fear, despair, and frustration. But not as he would have expected. God wasn’t in the fire, earthquake, or mighty wind. He was in the gentle whisper! Why? I don’t know, because we are not told. My opinion is that Elijah needed the whisper at that moment more than the power. I’ve been there too! I’ve needed the gentleness of God more than the power! Because I too have been frustrated, fearful, and despairing. Haven’t you?
What about John the Baptist? When did he run to the wilderness out of fear? He didn’t. He was there to preach! However, isn’t it possible that God had John in the wilderness as preparation for ministry? John did struggle later on while in prison. His struggle was with the fear that he had wasted his life. Look at what he asks Jesus: Luke 7:20 “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else’?” NIV
Jesus didn’t respond with words like “Oh ye of little faith!” No, he responded with these words in Luke 7:23 “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” NIV
In essence I feel that Jesus is saying to John. “If you haven’t missed me, you haven’t missed it!” I too have felt like John, wondering if I’ve missed it. Here again I come back to Jesus and realize that if I don’t miss Him, I won’t miss it!
Jesus also went to the wilderness. Only He went there in order to find God the Father. He faced temptation during a face to face encounter with Satan. He emerged from the wilderness and went straight into ministry. (I am starting to see a pattern) I must admit I don’t like the idea of running to the wilderness to face temptation! I am certainly glad that Jesus did it! However there is something for us to see in this account of Jesus’ life and that is often we will need to go into the wilderness and face various temptations as preparation for ministry. When we come out we will be better equipped because like Jesus, God will minister to us there.
Paul also had a wilderness experience. Paul was sent to Tarsus by the Apostles because a plot to kill him had been discovered. Here Paul sat, waiting to be used of God. He is not in the center of the action ,but on the bench. Yet, it was here that God began to birth in Paul the gospel message he was to preach. Preparation is what the wilderness is all about! It is there we receive what we need to sustain us for what lies ahead.
Chuck Farley one of my closest friends reminded me recently that preparation is hard, but necessary! It is in practice we find the strength for the fight! It’s in practice we develop the skills needed to be the victor! Then my friend sent me this verse that strengthened me. It reminded me that I need Jesus to strengthen and train me to run this race! Jer 12:5
“If you have raced with men on foot
and they have worn you out,
how can you compete with horses?
If you stumble in safe country,
how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?
Be encouraged in the wilderness you may be in! For it is there you will find God!