ife, as it is right now, is not “normal.”
In the midst of the events surrounding Covid-19, there seems to be no lack of controversy in the crisis. Whether it be dissidence of current political policies, interpersonal disagreements on moral convictions of quarantining, or even just differing perspectives on the future of our nation, there seems to be a myriad of opinions with few shared grounds. One thing that it seems like there is common consensus on, however, is that the coronavirus has entirely disrupted the way that many of us do “normal” life.
As the pandemic stretches on, many continue to live in some state form of social distancing. Whether that be government sanctioned or self-imposed, millions have secluded themselves from others under “stay-at-home” quarantines. Many businesses have been hit by the economic impact of this virus, disrupting jobs as many have to work from home, be furloughed, or for some lose employment entirely. As such, some state governors’ have named 2020's month of April the “lost month.”
For us as Christians, the question arises- are these months truly “lost months?” Are we simply to look towards when we get through to the other side of this coronavirus, treating this time as a waiting game? If not- what should the posture of our hearts be as we seek to make the most of our time? The Christian epithet that has seemed most fitting of for our current state is a wilderness season.
In scripture, the wilderness is both a geographical location and a place of spiritual significance. At its essence, the wilderness (also desert) is a place of solitude, difficulty, and hunger. Theologian Walter Brueggemann describes it as a place “where there are no viable life support systems.” It is a place where normal human life cannot be sustained as it would elsewhere.
This is particularly apparent during the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites. After the Lord miraculously brought them out of the land of Egypt, the people of Israel started to realize the barrenness of the desert. They began to grumble and complain, longing for meat and the tasty foods that they ate while under captivity (Number 11:4). Psalm 106:14 says of this account - “In the desert they gave in to their craving; in the wilderness they put God to the test.”
SIMPLY PUT, THE ISRAELITES REVERSED THE ORDER.
The wilderness was meant to test them, and put them in a place where they leaned wholeheartedly on God. They were to trust in very who had just delivered them from Egypt to sustain them through the desert. However, what they did repeatedly was anything but that. They instead chose to focus on the longings of their own cravings. The American Standard Version of Psalms 104:16 says that they “lusted exceedingly.”
The same confrontation of our cravings faces us today in the midst of our own wilderness seasons. As many of us are now essentially forced into this place of solitude, our browser history, screen time usage reports, and ever-growing list of “recently watched” movies on Netflix reveal just how we are spending our time. We have found ourselves not truly alone, but rather faced with fleshly desires and distractions, with our usage of time serving as a litmus test to our own heart’s proclivities.
Thankfully throughout scripture, there are multiple accounts where we find positive examples of enduring the wilderness that we can learn from. Significant Biblical figures such as Elijah, Jesus, John the Baptist, and Paul each had such a season. In the lives of these who “did time” in the wilderness, you can see the common thread woven throughout their stories: the solitude of the wilderness was a place of encounter, and of transformation.
Alone With God
Henri Nouwen writes in his book “The Way of the Heart” concerning the aspect of the solitude of the desert. He notes how for many in our day and age, we treat solitude as a time to “recharge our batteries,” to be alone and pursue the things that we want to do in our own time. It has become glorified “self-care,” a respite of sorts before heading back into the boxing ring of normal life.
This however, writes Nouwen, is not the desert of John the Baptist. For John the Baptist,
“SOLITUDE IS NOT A PRIVATE THERAPEUTIC PLACE. RATHER, IT IS THE PLACE OF CONVERSION, THE PLACE WHERE THE OLD SELF DIES AND THE NEW SELF IS BORN, THE PLACE WHERE THE EMERGENCE OF THE NEW MAN AND THE NEW WOMAN OCCURS.”
John recognized that going to the solitary place of the wilderness was not simply to be alone, but to be alone with God. There in the crucible of the desert was where the majority of his Nazarite consecration before the Lord was walked out. Like the exchanging of the robes of the priesthood for the rough hide of camel’s hair, and the delicious foods of society for the simpleness of locusts and honey, his appetites were changed and character was grown as he fed himself on the Lord.
Years later during the course of his ministry, John summed up the goal of his life in one saying: “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). This quote came not from the passion of a moment, but rather from a cultivation of decades of choosing the better portion.
FOR JOHN, THE WILDERNESS WAS THE PLACE OF PREPARATION, NOT A TIME OF WASTED WAITING.
Join us for the next two months as we journey together through this time of wilderness preparation.