A BENDING WILLOW IN THE WILDERNESS

May
2018
05

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“The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness…” (Mark 1:12)

On May 5, 1864, the forces of Union General Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate General Robert E. Lee clashed in the tangled Wilderness west of Chancellorsville, Virginia in one of the largest campaigns of the Civil War. On what had been the site of his brilliant victory the year before, Lee hoped that confronting the Federalists in the dense woods would mitigate the nearly two-to-one advantage Grant possessed. The fighting was intense and complicated by the fact that the combatants rarely saw each other through the thick undergrowth. Whole brigades were lost as muzzle flashes set the forest on fire, and hundreds of wounded men died in the inferno. On May 6, the second day of battle in the Wilderness – the Federals were on the verge of breaking through the troops of James Longstreet, a lieutenant general of the Confederates and one of Robert E. Lee’s most trusted subordinates. Becoming disoriented as they drove back the Union troops, Longstreet was wounded by his own men and suffered an injury that paralyzed his right arm. Following two days of intense fighting in which neither side would gain a clear victory – the Union lost 17,000 men to the Confederates’ 11,000, nearly one-fifth of each army.

It is not unusual to become lost in a wilderness situation. Indeed, just the opposite is also true at times when those who are already lost  enter into a type of wilderness experience to find themselves again. These can include troubled or disadvantaged youth who are closely supervised while they are being taught skills of interdependence and self-reliance.  It can also be useful instruction for leadership training in corporations where the basics of team-building need improvement. The ‘wilderness experience’ is relevant too for Believers who are enduring a tough time of trial or discomfort. In such a period – the pleasant things of life are unable to be enjoyed, may be absent altogether, and are often coupled with forceful temptation or spiritual attack. Some note that periods like these are a time of God-ordained testing when one may struggle to simply exist day to day. During these occasions which may contain financial, material, physical, or emotional burdens – the believer is forced to wait on the Lord and hopefully find God’s peace and joy. Many claim their ‘wilderness experience’ ends up being a turning point in their life, because their surrender to Christ results in a more mature walk with Him.

Words translated as “wilderness” occur nearly 300 times in The Bible. Wilderness in the context of scripture refers to a desert situation, rather than the forests we might imagine today.  God liberated the Israelites from slavery, with Moses leading them out of Egypt and into a barren wilderness. They became hungry and complained. In faith, Moses prayed for God to sustain them, and He responded with the provision of manna and quail (Exodus 16:1-16:35). God appeared to the Israelites through a cloud (Exodus 16:10), tested their faith, and established commandments for serving Him (Exodus 20:1-17). Through forty years there, they were transformed to be God’s chosen people. In the New Testament, we find John the Baptist preaching in his wilderness of many years (Matthew 3:1). And although Jesus performed much of his ministry in populated settings, many of his most transformative moments occurred in the outdoors including bodies of water, mountaintops, and, yes, the wilderness. It was where He spent forty days and was tempted by Satan three times (Matthew 4:1-11).

The wilderness of The Bible is an isolating place where ordinary life is suspended, identity shifts, and new possibilities emerge. Through the experiences of the Israelites in exile, we learn that while the wilderness can be a place of danger and uncertainty – it is also where solitude, nourishment, and revelation from God can be found. Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “I am a willow of the wilderness; Loving the wind that bent me.” God often uses “wilderness situations” to mold people and prepare them for His purposes. If you have never had such an experience, you will most likely find yourself there at least once in your lifetime. God puts you in the wilderness to set you apart so that nothing else matters except hearing His voice and growing closer to Him. Ultimately the experience of the wilderness can positively fashion and mature every believer in a unique way. The alternative is to wallow in self-pity, allow temptation to rule over you, or become so lost that you simply lose sight of who you are. You choose!

REFLECTION: Have you ever had the chance to observe someone in a “wilderness experience?” Can you learn to become that “willow in the wilderness” without allowing the emotions of fear and resentment?

A NEW LOOKUP  DEVOTION IS UPLOADED EACH WEEK. THE NEXT WEEKLY POSTING WILL BE ON SAT. MAY 12, 2018.  COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED.

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