I was in the ninth grade, and I was playing my oldest brother in basketball. He is nine years older than me, and in my short 14-year-old span of life, I had yet to hand him a defeat in a game of one-on-one. On several occasions I had made some shots, developed an early lead and thought, “this time I’m going to win!” only to see my lead evaporate and have to hang my head in shame at another blown opportunity. I was now experienced enough to know I couldn’t take a lead for granted until the game was over. Most of our games went to 21 (shots counted for one or two points) or 31 (shots counted for two or three points). On this day we were playing to 21 and I was red hot from two point range. I remember that I was up by 4 or 5 points when he made a run and cut the lead to one: I had 20, he had 19. I felt determined to finally beat my oldest brother, but another one of his comeback victories seemed inevitable.
As he went to the hoop trying to tie it up, I blocked his shot, the ball hit off his leg and rolled out of bounds. Now it was my ball with another chance to win. As he “checked” the ball into play, I had a decision to make: Launch a two-point shot (when we only needed one point to win, but we shot a two, we’d declare, “One to win...two to rub it in!” Believe me, I was thinking about it!) or try to use my height advantage to score the illusive game-winning point from close range? I really didn’t want to blow another lead against him.
Have you ever been uncertain of your next move?
If you’ve followed our journey for a while, you know that our Michigan story hasn’t come close to playing out the way we thought it would. A short-lived job, broken promises and dreams, a season of living without a home, cross-country road trips and another school change for our kids has frequently left us wondering what we should do next.
This season of waiting, of wandering in a wilderness of uncertainty, has been painful, full of doubt and discouragement, and at times, it has been down right depressing. It seems like God led us to Michigan to see a series of dreams and goals fulfilled, and while we still believe He is going to work out the Overboard dreams He has given us, it certainly looks so different than we thought it would.
And frequently we’ve been at a crossroads wondering what would be our next move.
More than any other point in life, I feel like I can relate to the journey of the Israelites during their years of wandering in the wilderness. I can only imagine the frustration they must have felt waiting for the fulfillment of God’s plan for them—taking possession of the Promised Land—while they moved about from rock pile to rock pile, oasis to oasis and from one hill of sand to another.
Without question, God had a plan for them, just as I know He is working out His perfect plan for us. But during the journey, during the process of wandering in the wilderness, it is easy to lose sight of His hand at work. Over the past few months we’ve continued to chase the massive dreams He’s given us, and in the process, tried to keep in mind the lessons this season of wandering has taught us. Here are seven truths about God and growth that apply to wandering with Him in the wilderness parts of life.
- God is in the wilderness. Sometimes it’s easy to feel alone in the wilderness. I’m sure the Israelites—millions of them!—felt a little abandoned at times during their years of wandering. They had very tangible signs of God’s presence but still, more than once they expressed their frustration about feeling discarded by God’s leadership. Don’t give in to the temptation to doubt God’s presence because life isn’t playing out how you hoped it would. God is in the wilderness, He is present and He is leading toward something, the question isn’t whether or not He is present, it is whether or not you will trust Him!
- God is meeting needs in the wilderness. Our wilderness journey has revealed huge needs at times. I’m talking about foundational stuff. When your kids are asking, “Hey dad, where are going to stay tonight?” you know you’re in wandering in a wilderness of uncertainty. But God is in the wilderness and He is meeting needs. When the Israelites needed food, God met that need. When they needed water, He met that need. Since He is in the wilderness with us, He is giving us precisely what we need for the journey.
- God is providing refreshment in the wilderness. Not only is God meeting our basic needs while we journey, but He is giving us rest and refreshment while we travel. In one story of wandering Israel (Exodus 15:22-27), the Jews had moved for three days in the desert without finding water. Then, coming to a pool of water that seemed like a life-saver, they discovered that the water was so bitter they couldn’t drink from it! God miraculously cures the water, and then, He leads them on a short trip to a place of rest: a place with 12 crystal clear streams of water, a great pool to drink from (and I’m sure play in!) and 70 palm trees under which you could spread out and rest. Even in the wilderness God turned bitter things sweet and provided rest.
- God want us to celebrate in the wilderness. I think this is one of the hardest lessons we’ve learned, but when we practice it, we find such great freedom. Because God is showing up in big ways during our season of wandering, we realize that there are so many reasons to celebrate! In Leviticus 23 God outlines all the celebrations the Israelites were to have, even while they were still wandering in the desert! Yes, a couple of them could not be properly celebrated until they entered the Promised Land, but most of them could be practiced in the wilderness. God wanted them to celebrate His goodness while they were wandering. Have you taken time to celebrate even in your loss, heartache, suffering, confusion, frustration or anger? It’s not easy or natural, but when we look for God’s work we’ll see He really is showing up in our lives. Then, even in our pain, we can celebrate what He is doing, while we still wait for His bigger answers to show up.
- God rewards faith in the wilderness. The wilderness is the testing ground of life, the place between where a vision captures our heart (Egypt) and where we see the fulfillment of that plan, goal or dream (Israel). During the testing, God loves to reward us for faithfully following Him. In Numbers 14 there was a rebellion against God and His plan, but two men stood out (11:36-38) and God distinguished them from the others, and He blessed them with long life, physical strength and a special land blessing directly from the Lord. The wilderness wants to foster your doubts, create fear and build anxiety in you, but if you will lean into the Lord even more, you will find He loves to reward those who trust Him in the wilderness.
- God provides others in the wilderness. Traveling through the desert can feel lonely, but God has a way of providing others to encourage us along the way. Sometimes they are people who have traveled the road before us, people who can give us a map and show us the way through their own story. Other times it’s people who are traveling with us, people who are sharing the burden as we move from oasis to oasis together. In our lives, we are thankful to have experienced both–the compassion of fellow sojourners and the wisdom of those who have traveled before. Check out Exodus 18 for how God provided others for Moses, a man overwhelmed by the journey and the burden of leadership.
- God provides an end to the wilderness. One of the great hopes that keeps us moving through the desert is the knowledge that the wilderness will end! Just as God brought Israel through the desert into the Promised Land, He is leading us through our wilderness–and He is leading you through your wilderness–to place He has prepared next for us. The wilderness is shaping us and preparing us to be ready for the big dreams and goals He has laid on our hearts, and we have confidence that the wilderness will end. He is the God who gives rest to the weary, takes the our heavy burdens and replaces them with His easy-to-carry-yoke, replaces anxiety with peace, weakness with strength and despair with hope. Even more, we know that, ultimately, after this life is over, the wilderness will de destroyed forever! The Bible assures us that after this journey is finished, the next one with God will be wilderness free: “He [God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pay, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
I wish I could tell you the wilderness is fun, that it’s a thrill-a-day, joy-filled experience to walk around in the blistering, refining heat of the desert sun, searching for water and refreshment while be challenged to grow and change in preparation for the future. If you’re in a desert season of life you know that I’d be lying to tell you that the journey is easy and full of peace, that money flows in abundance, physical healing can be found behind every eucalyptus tree, and your troubles melt like lemon drops high among the palm tree tops...
But I’d also be lying if I told you the best solution is run away from the wilderness as quickly as possible. Our season of troubles seems to be intensifying, but I already know I wouldn’t choose any other path. I’m confident that when this wilderness season ends, we will marvel at the work God has done in us, through us and to us; and that change will make the journey worth it!
Which of these seven truths do you need to dwell on today?
Go ahead and take the plunge, life–even in the wilderness!–is better on the water!
P.S. I faked the two, got him to jump, and scored a game-winning layup. We still enjoy competing against each other and while the playing field may have leveled, I still don't beat my brother often. That first win was one of the sweetest!