Waiting on God in the Wilderness

“When He purposes to build, He seeks for a ruin. When He plans to plant a garden, He starts in the desert.” – Patricia St. John

Do you ever feel like you’re one of the Israelites stuck wandering in the wilderness? Maybe, like the Israelites, you have a penchant for grumbling and letting other things compete with God for first place in your life. Or, perhaps, you’re just waiting on God for His timing and leading, but it seems like an eternity, and your patience is starting to dwindle. Whatever the reason, we all have times in our lives when we know God has something great for us just around the bend, but the road seems to stretch out in front of us as far as the eye can see.

That’s exactly where I feel like I am right now. Sometimes, it’s really hard to be patient and completely trust God with all of the unknowns and the what-ifs that can consume my thoughts if I’m not careful. But God, in His infinite wisdom and love, time and again meets me where I am and provides the encouragement I need at just the right moment.

I spent most of this past year studying the life of Moses, marveling at the infinite grace of God and wondering how long it would take the Israelites to learn their lesson. It also served as a reality check for my own life. Despite my uncertainty, I never want to take God for granted or question His wisdom in allowing (or not allowing) different things in my life. Slowly, but surely, God is teaching me to cherish this time of growth and total reliance on Him. After all, God has promised to supply all of my needs, not just some. And, ultimately, that means that right now, at this very moment, I have everything I need for life and godliness.

Working on God’s Clock

The most important thing to remember during these times of waiting and trusting is that we are subject to God’s timetable, not our own. Of course, we can always force our own will, but we may instead force our way out of God’s best for us. If God isn’t granting a desire, it’s because we’re not ready yet or He has something better for us. Or, maybe it’s just not the right time. If we recognize this and fully surrender our will to His, we can truly say with David, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

I’ve been reading the autobiography of Patricia St. John, children’s author and missionary, who often experienced the hardship of waiting during her years of service in a small mountain village in Morocco. For months after she moved there, she was met with hostility and suspicion, and her contact with the people was minimal. She was discouraged and frustrated, but she found refuge in Psalm 31: “My times are in Your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!” St. John later recognized that God used that time to prepare her for ministering to the Muslims by allowing her to learn the language and customs before she had the opportunity to build close relationships with them. How often we question God’s timing and our circumstances, only to later realize that He knew best and always had a plan! David highlights the reality of God’s faithfulness just a few verses later: “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you!”

Moses also knew what it meant to wait on God. Long before God called him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, Moses endured his own wilderness in Midian after killing the Egyptian slave and fleeing Egypt. God had work to do in His faithful servant before He could use him to accomplish His will, and God knew exactly what it would take. Moses would never have been able to accomplish what he did without the hand of God in his life (and the pain and time it took to get there). Likewise, we can know that time spent in the wilderness is preparation for what lies ahead. If we let Him, God will do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, and for this we can rejoice!

Great Expectations

Waiting on God takes discipline and strength (that comes only from God), but the key to persevering is found in focusing on, and trusting in, God’s promises rather than our circumstances. When we are fully surrendered to God’s will (even in the midst of seemingly overwhelming circumstances), we allow God to work in our life to change our heart and our perspective to align with His. When we trust Him with the small things, it will be much easier to trust Him when something big comes along.

One of my favorite places to look for inspiration on waiting is found in 2 Chronicles, when the Israelites face a multitude of enemies in battle. Rather than running away in fear or trying to do things in his own might, King Jehoshaphat prays with the expectation that, based on God’s promises and past provision, God will protect them: “Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend” (2 Chronicles 20: 7)? He ends his petition with an honest confession and affirmation of his unwavering trust in God: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20:12). Jehoshaphat did not look to their circumstances, but instead recounted God’s faithfulness and looked to Him with confidence for their future.

It’s our choice: We can waste our time in the wilderness, or we can let it transform us. Even when we’re waiting, we can be active. This means that we’re using the time to grow closer to the Lord by spending time with Him, serving Him and others, becoming more like Him, and weeding out the areas of our life that don’t honor Him. It means that we are expectantly looking to Him to guide us, knowing that His plan for our life is always best.

Not So Risky Business

When the time comes, God may call us to step out in faith, and we need to be ready. When King Jehoshaphat addresses the Israelites in the story above, he repeats God’s promise:

“Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s . . . You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.” (2 Chronicles 20:15 and 17)

Notice that, while the Israelites did not need to fight, they did need to position themselves and stand firm. Likewise, we are responsible, in all seasons, to put ourselves in a place where God can work in our life and we can discern His leading. For the Israelites, standing firm meant being willing to put themselves in a seemingly vulnerable and risky position—a task they embraced, because they trusted in the One who had delivered them so many times before. In reality, it wasn’t all that risky, since God had ordained it. We often look at things in human terms, letting fear and disbelief overshadow the power of Christ living in us.

Similarly, when Joshua leads the Israelites across the Jordan and into Canaan, the Lord commands the priests carrying the arc of the covenant:

“When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan . . . And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.” (Joshua 3:8)

The priests had to first step into the fast-flowing waters of the Jordan before the Lord provided a way for the Israelites to safely cross into the Promised Land. What if they had been afraid or unwilling to take that first step of obedience? Sometimes, God requires us to take action on what He’s already shown us before He steps in or gives further guidance. Are there obstacles or areas of fear and disbelief in your life that are preventing you from obeying God?

Obedience, wherever we’re at, should always come first. It just may be that God is waiting for you to take that first step before He brings you out of the wilderness. But until then, you can worship while you’re waiting. Sometimes, that’s exactly where God wants you. And I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be in the wilderness with God than in the Promised Land alone.

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