A Way In The Wilderness

Scripture: Isaiah 43:1-4, 14-21

Suffering seems pervasive. When you’re stuck in pain it’s hard to imagine it won’t be permanent. And in the secret places of our inner life we start to become insecure and experience the shame of seeing challenges as connected to personal deficiencies. Pervasive. Permanent. Personal.

When we see universal life challenges such as grief, failure, suffering, and human brokenness through these lenses we begin to experience despair. It is tempting to stay focused on the past: reminiscing about better days, second guessing past decisions, or replaying intense meaningful experiences. It is important not to run from our past, but we can also turn it into a rut.

The Hebrew people faced a national crisis where they were conquered and carried off into exile in Babylon. The people of Judah wondered if the promises of God were still applied to them in the present. It had been a long time since they were with God in the wilderness. It was there they saw powerful manifestations of God, and entered into covenant relationship with God. Back then, there was so much hope, and potential for the kingdom they could become.

The wilderness shaped them. It was a place where there were few provisions for sustenance, protection, or control. It was a place for finding deep dependence upon God in the early years after their deliverance from bondage in Egypt. There was much about their past to be looked back toward with longing.

So often we struggle with similar experiences. It is easy to look back on our own lives with longing for simpler times. This can hinder us from seeing what God is doing in the present moment. If we keep trying to experience God in the same way we did in the past, then we miss out on the Living God who meets us afresh in this current situation.

Richard Rohr writes of this in his book Everything Belongs:

“The last experience of God is frequently the greatest obstacle to the next experience of God. We make an absolute out of it and use it to strengthen our ego, to self-aggrandize and self-congratulate. Then, of course, nothing more happens…Accepting and acting upon that principle takes a lot of letting go. If we aren’t willing to move out of our comfort zone, it won’t happen. All great spirituality is about letting go.”

The Prophetic writings of Isaiah encouraged the people to open up their eyes and “See” or “Behold” or “Perceive” the new thing God was doing in their current challenge. A seemingly barren wasteland of an experience could be perceived through the eyes of faith as flowing with new refreshing movement of God.

What do we need to let go of to move forward?

What assumptions do you hold from your past that might keep you from seeing God’s movement in your present?