After the Wilderness, a New Beginning

Picture: Jonathan Kos-Read

I know a girl who aspired to become a classical pianist. She had natural talent. She spent hours in practice. Then one night a man broke into her house and attacked her with a knife, badly disfiguring her hands. Today her piano sits silent.

I know a man who had a promising career in publishing. He had a gift for words. He was rising through the ranks. Then a religious cult persuaded him to quit his job to preach in the streets because the world would soon end. The world didn’t end. And the publishing world never opened to him again.

I know men and women who dream of marrying but remain single. A friend of mine dreamed of her brother’s recovery from cancer, but that dream was laid to rest last August.

To dream is to be human, but to be human in this world is to experience a dream broken. And as the years stretch on with our dreams unfulfilled, it can feel like we’re lost in the wilderness.

Broken Dreams In the Wilderness

During this season of Lent we remember Jesus’ forty days in the desert—itself a reenactment of the Jews’ forty years in the wilderness. Both experiences hold a profound lesson about recovering from broken dreams with God.

To the Jews the wilderness was a place of trial—a wasteland of confusion where one walked in circles, a desert of frustration where one’s dream was denied.

After their momentous liberation from Egyptian slavery and their divine encounter on Mount Sinai, the Jews had set out for a Promised Land of plenty. But what started as adventure soon became adversity, with an eleven-day trek becoming forty years of wandering.

The Jews felt vulnerable in the wilderness. It was a place of dry stones and fruitless ground, blazing sun and weariness. It was a place of wild animals, circling vultures and shadowy forces that whispered in the winds. It was a place of seeking and searching, ever on the move and never content. The wilderness was a place of restlessness.

The Jews felt tempted in the wilderness—tempted to renounce their God, or at least question his goodness; tempted to scuttle back to the world that enslaved them. When Jesus the Jew had his own wilderness experience he too heard the Tempter’s voice in the winds—to turn the stones around him into tasty bread, misusing his power to fulfil hunger; to leap from the temple and be caught by angels, proving his ‘specialness’ to others, and to bow to the Devil and gain worldly power, avoiding the pain of his future.

But the Wilderness is a Place of New Beginnings

The wilderness feels like a place of desertion. Our souls are dry, there’s sand in our eyes and we feel vulnerable, tempted and restless. But as the Jews reflected on their wilderness wanderings they saw more in the experience than suffering:

  • As much as the wilderness was a place of vulnerability, it was also a place of provision—with manna and quail and clothes that didn’t wear out coming from God’s hand for their need.
  • As much as it was a place of temptation, it was also a place of testing—God testing their hearts to reveal their devotion and teaching their hearts to trust him.
  • And while they felt restless and insecure in the desert place, they end up becoming someone new—God revealing himself as a ‘father’ to them there, and describing them as his ‘children’.

For as much as the wilderness is a place of trial, it is also a place of transition—where slavery becomes freedom and immaturity becomes wisdom, where our proud demands are humbled and our insecure selves become children of God. In the wilderness we become people we could never have become, and move into the next phase of our lives.

After forty years in the wilderness the Jews entered their Promised Land.

After forty days in the wilderness Jesus launched his world-changing mission.

An Easter Reflection

So, what if this wilderness season of ours—with its silent pianos and lost careers, with its sadness, singleness and loneliness; with its crushing diagnoses and hospital wards and its doubts and tears and brokenness—was leading us to become someone we couldn’t become without its trials and testings? What if God was using it to test our faithfulness to him, through it affirming us as his ‘child’? What if it was the transition point to a new Promised Land, a new phase of life, a new mission?

God has a habit of making the wilderness a place of new beginnings.

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Question: Have you had a ‘wilderness experience’? How did it change you? Share your comment now.

Comments:

  • March 1, 2012
    Peta

    Just living that right now. It’s been rough, but oh the things we’ve learned. It’s been worth every minute.
    If this is the place where we grow most in our relationship with Christ and get to hear, see and feel the transforming of our lives by the Holy Spirit – then I want it for every believer. When we are so burnt out by religiosity, legalism, protocol, programs and politics, that we can’t even look at our bibles, the wilderness is the best place to be. For us, it is a practical, awakening and transforming place to be. All I ever want is to be made more like Jesus and to live in the power of the Trinity – God, Jesus & The Holy Spirit… Not the trinity of so many churches – God, Jesus & Bible. I suppose I sound a bit harsh… But this is our real experience. 😀 

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  • March 1, 2012
    James

    Not long after becoming a follower of Jesus the Holy Spirit restored a memory to me. I was 7 and standing in a waste ground surrounded with burnt-out and derelict houses where the Protestants had burned the Catholics out. It was strewn with brokenness and fires burned around about me. In the restored memory I said these words: “This is not normal”. For a child it wasn’t, nor should it be for an adult. I believe the Father restored this to show me that broken dreams can be mended; that primarily we partner with the Father to bring wholeness to the whole person and wholeness to society. In the wilderness, the way of the cross and embracing of our pain, rejection and loss, we gain a more intimate knowledge of Jesus.

    PS: Great article.

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    • March 1, 2012

      Wow, that sounds like quite an experience James. And I agree with you completely.

      The thing that returns to me constantly is the way we’ve turned God into a ‘fix it’ God. If something is sick or broken we want God to heal it immediately. Be assured restoration is part of the Gospel and will be complete in the future kingdom! But the more I read the Scriptures, and the great saints of old, the more I see them following God faithfully *through* hardship, for the sake of the lessons/growth/witness it will bring of, from and for God.

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  • March 2, 2012

    ‘All I ever want is to be made more like Jesus and to live in the power of the Trinity’. Now there’s a desire that will be fulfilled.

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  • October 19, 2012
    Mandy

    I’m in the wilderness now though didn’t recognise it at first. I. too, am really ‘jack’ of feeling utterly empty/untouched/unmet at my weekly gathering with fellow believers.After ticking all the boxes – those prescribed from the front as a means to moving closer to the great ‘I am’ – I’m kinda hoping that there might be another way… Looking forward to the book Sheridan.

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    • November 8, 2012

      I’m sorry to hear this, Mandy. Is there someone you can speak to at length, honestly and deeply about this?

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  • June 9, 2020
    DemocracyFirst

    I can now see God for who He is and His power that saved me ..I lost my home, business and all of my money to take care of my Mom and God saved me and showed me His Power.. Amen n Glory to God!! He will take the world from you and make Him as all that you need.

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