Thursday, 7 January 2016

Why the wilderness?

The thought of the wilderness sends shivers down my spine. It is a place where you’re isolated from the rest of the world. You walk on and on, clinging on to the desperate hope that you will make it out. Day by day, your legs start to give way, your throat is parched, the hunger pangs start eating you away – your resolve, your hope, and then, your sanity. I don’t ever want to go to the wilderness. I don’t ever want to go back.

But I know, I know, there will be a day that I will be thrown back into the labyrinth – it might not be the same one, maybe one that’s even more agonising. Each day that passes is a day closer to the wilderness. I’m afraid. I’m in dread. And I know you are, too.

2014 was, and still is, the worst year of my entire life – albeit not a very long one. They say that there is always a rainbow after the rain. For me, it seemed like the rainbow came before the rain. No, before the damned thunderstorm. My life was rainbows and butterflies. And when its rainbows and butterflies, you get comfortable, you get confident, and you raise your expectations. What came after the rainbow made me never ever dare to set high expectations for myself. (Yes, not even today. You’ll never hear me say, “I can do it.”)

But what you’ll hear me say is, “I think I understand why the wilderness.”

1. To prepare you for the promise land

“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea.” 
- Exodus 13:17-18 

While 2014 was the worst year of my life, I can now confidently proclaim that I am – at where I am right now – the happiest that I have ever been. And that is because of the wilderness. The wilderness that stripped me naked, revealed my insecurities, and left me with almost nothing. I would never have thought that I could one day look back and be grateful for it. But here I am today, saying that I understand. I understand why I had to be thrown into it. I understand.

When I was in the wilderness, I gave up all hopes of the promise land. All I wanted to do was to get out. Yet, here I am today, with nothing in my pocket, in my promise land. I made it.

Yes, if I had arrived at where I am today without walking through the wilderness, I would probably have accomplished more (materially), been more self-assured, less emotional and less pessimistic. But of all things, I wouldn’t have been joyful. When I say that I am the happiest that I have ever been, I do not mean that the flowers in my garden are in full bloom. I do not mean that my harvest is ripe. I do not mean that I am confident of tomorrow. What I mean is that I have understood what it means to be happy despite adverse circumstances.

The promise land is not void of war, famine and droughts. I would not have been worthy of the promise land if not for the wilderness. I wouldn’t have learned courage, faith and perseverance. I wouldn’t have been in a place of joy, despite living in the promise land. I would have been living in fear, afraid of the Canaanites. The wilderness prepared me for the promise land.

2. To discipline and to humble

“And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell this forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you.” 
- Deuteronomy 8:2-5

The promise land is called the promise land because it is promised. Obvious as it is, I couldn’t comprehend. And neither could the Israelites. God had opened up the red sea and brought me into a place of grace. I experienced it first hand, saw it with my own eyes, and knew that the rainbows and butterflies were absolutely undeserved. Somehow, despite having experienced His faithfulness, my complacency got the better of me. “I can do it. I can do it. I must do it.” I became ambitious, I worked hard, and then I became afraid. Insecure. “What if I can’t do it? What if I can’t do it?!” It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. 2014. I went hysterical when everything came crashing down. I lost it, as soon as I stepped into the wilderness.

“And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.” 
- Exodus 13:21 

“For the Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing.” 
- Deuteronomy 2:7 

And it was in the wilderness that I, step by step, learned to rely on Him. With absolutely nothing, I was forced to rely on His providence. Finally, I realised that He was all I ever needed. And it was the moment that I realised, that I took my first step into the promise land.

3. To remind us of God’s faithfulness

“Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments and His rules and His statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the Land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end.” 
- Deuteronomy 2:11-16 

Here and then, I tend to catch myself off guard. I get complacent, again, now that I’m in the promise land. But then, I remember the wilderness and His faithfulness and how I would never have been where I am today, and who I am today, if not for His grace and mercy.

If you’re in the wilderness today, Jesus understands you. He was thrown into the most tormenting wilderness that could ever exist – the cross. And because of His wilderness, we can have courage when we walk through our wilderness. We can have the certainty that the promise land is what lies ahead.

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