Wilderness experiences are those times in life when circumstances force us to take time out. They can be lonely times, where evil lurks and wild beasts threaten. They can be times of adrenal fatigue. However, God is also there.
During our wilderness times, we all need to realize that God is still in control.
We will look at wilderness experiences, the Holy Spirit’s role, the threats and evils associated with them and their blessings.
Lent remembers Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness (Mark 1:9-15). It is also reminiscent of the forty days of rain in Noah’s day, the forty years of humbling and testing in the wilderness where God was with ancient Israel and they lacked nothing, Moses’ forty days on the mountain, forty days of scouting the promised land, forty years of peace under good judges like Othniel, Deborah and Gideon, forty days of mocking by Goliath, Elijah’s forty day journey into the wilderness where he heard the gentle, quiet voice of God and learned that seven thousand others had not bowed to false religion, and forty days after Jesus’ death when he was seen by countless witnesses. Wilderness experiences are like days of rain, with humbling and testing, yet they can also be great days of revelation, peace and God’s provision.
The Symbol of a Dove
Small columbidae are generally called doves and larger ones are usually called pigeons. Why is the Holy Spirit pictured as descending like a dove in Mark 1:9-15? In the Old Testament Noah sent a dove to test if it was time to exit the ark (Genesis 8:8-12). In the same manner, the Holy Spirit lets us know when things are right. David sang of flying away on the wings of a dove to find rest (Psalm 55:6). In the same manner the Holy Spirit takes us to a place of rest. Solomon sang of his love being undefiled like a dove (Song 5:2; 6:9). In the same manner he is called the Holy Spirit. A dove was considered to be harmless (Matthew 10:16). In the same way the Holy Spirit wishes us no harm.
Our Wilderness Times
As Jesus’ was driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:9-15), life delivers us into lonely places. Losing a job and getting behind on the bills and being without health insurance can be a security wilderness. Losing a loved one to death or divorce can be a family wilderness. Moving to another part of the world for work or family can be a relationship wilderness. Going bankrupt or losing a house can be a financial wilderness. Straying from the straight and narrow can be a spiritual wilderness. A sudden illness or injury can be a health wilderness. What do we do in wilderness experiences? They are times to slow down and wait for the mighty hand of God. As God was with Noah, Israel, David, Elijah and Jesus let’s relax and await his revelation, peace and provision.
Demons & Wild Beasts
We all experience those times in the wilderness where we appear to be surrounded by demons and wild beasts (Mark 1:9-15). Jesus’ outback experience included temptation by the devil and danger from wild animals. Why? What are these times about? They are to test us and make us stronger. They are to build in us something that good times cannot, character. Suffering is good. Those who have suffered are deep and real. Those who have not yet suffered are shallow, spoiled brats. Just as the angels came to serve Jesus in his time of trial, we too must remember that in the midst of our bad times, where it seems like we are surrounded by predators and wickedness incarnate, remember that evil can only fail, because there too are the angels, ready and willing to take care of us.
Adrenaline junkies love the high of a stressful experience but must deal with the resultant lows. It is like a bipolar experience. Abnormally elevated adrenaline levels are followed by a period of depression. It’s a fight or flight response. Managing the body’s manic-depressive response is an essential skill for singers, public speakers, sports stars, soldiers, police officers and fire fighters. They each experience different kinds of extreme stress, but have a similar experience of adrenal fatigue. The adrenaline rush of good and bad times is followed by long or short periods of depression or adrenaline letdown. In extreme situations, post-traumatic stress disorder can result. Jesus had a wonderful baptism experience followed by forty days of loneliness in the Judean outback (Mark 1:9-15). Does Jesus’ wilderness experience teach us something about how to handle our own down times?
When we experience wilderness times, they can be lonely times, where evil lurks and wild beasts threaten. They can be times of adrenal fatigue. Let's remember that Jesus also entered the wilderness after a good time, but was served by angels and afterward began the most important ministry in history. During our wilderness times God is also to help us through and may be preparing us for an important next step.