When you've spent any amount of time on the top of Mount Inspiration - enjoying the panorama from that high place - it is difficult to come down or to 'come back to earth', as my mother used to say. Well, I had 'come down from the mountain alright - and not into some lush green valley below, but into a stark, sweltering, barren and lifeless desert.
"Where am I? How did I get here?" I thought to myself. I silently surveyed my surroundings. Spread out before me was nothing more than an arid expanse of colorless flat plain - not even worthy of being called a landscape. It was obviously a desert and yet there were no majestic wind swept sand dunes, no distinguishable landmarks on the horizon and no visible oasis - just flat, barren, brown lifeless nothingness - as far as the eye could see.
Morpheus' words from the Matrix came to mind: "Welcome to the desert of the real."
I heard the sound of a breeze blowing across the plain and then an all too familiar voice said;
"There's another term for it you know."
"For what" I said," somewhat startled.
"For what you call the desert", He responded.
"And I guess you're going to tell me whether I ask or not." I said rather sarcastically.
"No" He said, "I won't unless you really want me to. If you prefer I can just withdraw and let you figure it out for yourself!, if you can!"
"OK, Ok," I said, "Will you please tell me just what you are talking about?"
"The wilderness!" Spirit replied. "The proper name for this desert is 'the wilderness'. It may not look like much but a lot of famous people have been here. It's what they call in the auto industry, a proving ground. It's where He tests all the new vehicles."
"Thanks for the help," I said, "but what does the wilderness have to do with anything and why am I here?"
"You're here to learn." He said. "Just think about it for a minute."
"Think about what?" I said somewhat caustically. This going nowhere conversation was beginning to remind me of one of those endless 'why' conversations I've had with my three year old granddaughter! It was obvious that I was getting irritated.
"Settle down! Take a deep breath and chill!" He chided. "That's better. Now breathe in again, slowly. Good! Exhale. That's it. Just let go. You're doing great. Now just close your eyes..."
I closed my eyes and began to really relax. I could feel the warm breeze softly caressing my face. It seemed as though time stood still - very still. The world was shrouded in a hush. A marvelous peace enveloped me.
"You're doing great!" He whispered. "Just keep it up..slowly...slowly. Good!"
"Now, I want you to meditate on a word. That's it, breathe...listen carefully...slowly...the word is... wilderness."
"Wilderness" I whispered to myself, "Wilderness."
"Now, tell me the first thing that comes to your mind."
The word just exploded into my consciousness.
"Moses!" I said.
"What about Moses?" He whispered. "Tell me what else you see."
"It's more remembering than seeing." I replied. "I was remembering how Moses killed the Egyptian for mistreating an Israelite and then fled into the wilderness. If my memory serves me right, Moses spent 40 years there before returning to Egypt and fulfilling his destiny as the deliverer of God's people."
"Anything else you can think of?" He said. "Stay focused and listen!"
Well, I seem to remember that the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness of Sinai for 40 years after being led by Moses out of Egypt. They were made to wander there because of their disobedience." I responded.
"Well, Jesus went to the wilderness." I said confidently. "I remember the whole thing. I think it's in Matthew and Luke's gospels in the fourth chapter."
"Let me ask you one more question. How & why did Jesus go to the wilderness?" the Spirit asked. "Go ahead and tell me what you remember."
Well, as far as I can remember," I said, "the sequence of events is as follows."
"Jesus goes to the Jordan river and is baptized by John the Baptist. I'm not sure if John was Southern Baptist, Missionary Baptist or Anabaptist? But anyway, as soon as Jesus came up out of the water the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit (oh I mean You) descended upon him in the form of a dove and a voice from heaven said,"
Matthew says that Jesus, being "full of the holy Spirit, was led 'by You' into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil."
"Wow! My memory sure seems to be improving!" I said. "It's been so bad lately that I've been joking that I have 'old timers' disease, but now it's great! I feel like a new man!"
"You are a new man!" Spirit said, "Glad to be of Help."
"So Spirit," I asked, "what bearing does all this have on my question - Why am I here?"
"Sure. Go right ahead." I said.
Spirit spoke, "When you think about Moses, the Israelites and Jesus' journey here - do you see any common thread? Some similarity?"
"Well the number 40 immediately comes to mind." I replied.
"Besides that", Spirit asked.
"Actually, I said confidently, "right this instant I find myself thinking that it was the place where God "proves" his man or His people. It seems to me that the wilderness is a place where the conditions are so harsh that human resources are not sufficient for survival. Another danger is that the terrain is so flat, barren and monotonous, you can easily become lost and just wander in circles - like the children of Israel. It's also the place where you learn victory over temptation, as Jesus did! It's where you learn God-reliance instead of self-reliance."
"One lesson I've learned already is to cry for HELP, mean it AND receive it, or, I mean receive You! I realize that the most important lesson is not to trust your human senses, instincts or abilities but to trust in God and to learn to be led by the Spirit. I mean, to listen to and respond to - YOU!"
"Did I get the right answer?!" I beamed! I was feeling very inspired and insightful!
"I'm very sorry." He said.
"I felt totally dejected as once again I hung my head and stared down at my shoes!"
"I said I'm sorry because this isn't a quiz." Spirit said. " There is no right answer only YOUR answer - YOUR insight. All that matters is what insights or light you have received!"
"Excellent, George", He continued. "I'm glad to see you using your head for something more than an advertisement for Stetson hats. Do you mind if I shed a little more light on this subject for you?"
"No, please go right ahead, I'm all ears." I grinned.
He interjected, "Thanks for sparing me the Ross Perot impersonation. I enjoyed it the first time but I've always found his voice to be rather annoying."
"Me too!" I admitted.
"Well, what I wanted to say, George, is that everything you have perceived is true, insightful and valuable! I also want you to understand that the wilderness is a necessary and essential part of the journey. The truth is, it is impossible to travel from Egypt (which represents the world system) to Canaan (or the place of promise and presence) without crossing the wilderness! There is no way to avoid it! There is no other route and there are no shortcuts!! He designed it that way!
"Crossing the wilderness is not a race or a time trial. How long it takes to learn the lessons of the wilderness and to complete the wilderness journey, is up to you! For the Israelites, it was actually only a short journey from Egypt to Canaan - by the most direct route. In the time of the Exodus a splendid road existed which ran up the coast through the country of the Phillistines and the total distance was not over 250 miles, or about a months journey. But as you mentioned, it took the Israelites 40 years to make that 250 mile crossing!"
"It was not God's good pleasure or his "will" that they should wander so long in the wilderness. He would have brought them immediately to the promised land, had they submitted, and loved to be led by Him; but because they so often grieved Him (and me) in the desert, He swore in His wrath they should not enter His rest. In the end, only two who completely followed and trusted in Him and made it into Canaan - Joshua and Caleb."
"The bottom line is that the wilderness is the place where you must learn THE LESSON! What's THE LESSON? It is to learn to walk by faith and not by sight! Without faith it is impossible to please Him! This IS the first requirement if you are to be be a vehicle or vessel of honor that God can fully utilize! "
"Wow! Whew! I never really understood any of this before- only bits and pieces. It seems so clear to me now!" I said. "This revelation sure helps me to understand much of what has happened in my own journey! For so much of my Christian life I have felt so dry, barren and unfruitful. I have tried so long and so hard to "make it" only to realize that I was just spinning my wheels, going in circles and making no real or lasting progress! What I accomplished with all my efforts was simply burnout and disillusionment! But NOW, you've really opened my eyes! I've been in the wilderness all this time without even realizing it! And all this time I've been exhausting myself trying to find my way in my own strength!
You've given me a lot to think about and right now I'm totally overwhelmed!"
"Thank you for the vote of confidence," Spirit said. "There's one last thing I'd like you to ponder. One last question? Are you ready?"
"Shoot!" I said.
"What differences do you see in Moses before and after his wilderness experience?"
"I'm not sure", I said. " but one thing is evident to me. When Moses returned he sure had more chutspa. He really stood up to Pharaoh - no more scared little Moses running away into the desert...AND when he returned, He not only had seen God but He knew how to hear from God on an ongoing basis. There was a power - an authority about him. That much even I can see."
"Those are certainly valuable insights". Spirit said. "May I ask you one last question?"
I nodded my head.
What difference is there about Jesus when He emerges from His wilderness experience?"
"I don't have a clue." I said. " Would you give me a hint, please?"
"Ok", Spirit said, "Here it is... Luke 4:14!"
Instantly like a ticker tape I saw these words moving in front of my eyes.
news about Him spread throughout the surrounding district."