As a child, I eagerly looked forward to our family vacations each summer. After packing all supplies needed for two weeks into our Coleman pop-up camper and Chevy station wagon, the six of us would drive off to some of the most beautiful places one can go. Usually our destinations were west in the mountains of Colorado or a national park such as Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon. We would drive for hours across the flatlands of Kansas and eastern Colorado, eagerly anticipating even a glimpse of the mountains on the horizon. As all parents of young children know too well, the four of us would take turns singing a chorus of questions. “Are we there yet? How much longer? When are we going to get there?” Most of the time, we received a promise to stop soon, but some of the time, our questions were met with silence. Dads, moms, youth ministers, teachers, and wilderness instructors have discovered the value of leaving some questions unanswered.
As an instructor, I hear similar questions on orienteering trips all the time. “How many more destinations do we have? How much longer will this take?” Typically, I smile and reply, “That’s up to you;” or “That information is already within your group.” They usually feel indignant or frustrated by such a response. Why be so cryptic and silent? Why not just tell them? What harm does it do to give them an idea of when the day will be over?
Maybe you can relate when I say that these very questions, clouded by frustration and confusion, are ones I level at God when faced with circumstances that feel difficult, unknown, or without end. “Why aren’t You answering me? When will this season be over? God, I’m tired and ready to be finished!”
I wonder if this is how Moses felt leading the Israelites in the wilderness? Prior to leading Israel out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, God told Moses that He would lead them out of Egypt and into the wilderness. After the 10 spies convinced the people not to go into the Promised Land, God told the Israelites they would wander for 40 years, and He also promised that He would bring them “into the land” of Promise (Numbers 14:24). Have you noticed that God did not initially tell Moses how long they would be in the wilderness? That time in-between when the journey began and when it would end was left unknown.
God used the wilderness to shape the Israelites just as He uses it to shape us. There He confronted them with their limitations and their desperate need of Him. He used that time to teach them about His provision as He provided good water (Exodus 15:25), manna and quail for food (Exodus 16), a “pillar of cloud to guide them on their way, and by night a pillar of fire to give them light” (Exodus 13:21). God used the wilderness to teach them humility, dependence, and trust. His methods have not really changed as He continues to use the physical wilderness and seasons of wilderness to shape us.
Typically, we do not seek extended periods of time in the wilderness. By definition, it is uncomfortable, and it reveals our inability to remain in control. And yet, the beauty of the wilderness draws us. Its majesty and power energize and strengthen those who seek to follow Him wholeheartedly.
We can take heart knowing the Israelites’ time in the wilderness did eventually end. And God did just as He promised them. He made “a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19). He led them into the land that was flowing with milk and honey. The wilderness felt long, and it was full of hardship and the unknown. However, it was also a rich time during which God shaped the nation of Israel into a people who were willing to humbly follow God where He would lead them next.
So, the next time you find yourself in a wilderness of struggle or doubt and are tempted to ask God, “Why me? Why now? Why here? When will it stop? Are You listening?” Remember, God has a plan and a destination, a place of beauty and transformation. Adopt David’s words, “I am still confident of this; I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. [I will] Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:13-14).
Are you there yet?
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.