I’ve been writing and studying on the Israelites in the book of Joshua over the past year, how they came out of the wilderness and into claiming their Promised Land. But the other day, as I read the story surrounding John the baptizer’s birth and childhood, his growth in the wilderness captivated me.
“And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.” (Luke 1:80, ESV)
Both the children of Israel and John spent time in the wilderness, but I get the sense there were two completely different experiences. The Israelites complained a good bit; they complained about not enough food or water. Understandably so, those are two essential elements to our human existence. In Egypt as slaves, their creature comforts were met but their spirits were crushed. And in the wilderness where they could be free, it was not comfortable (Exodus 12-15). They were so distraught, slavery seemed to be a better option.
I realize that in many ways, the two stories (the Israelite wilderness & John the Baptizer’s wilderness) are not comparable. But both experienced growth. The Israelites grew, they grew in number! Some of them, like Joshua and Caleb (Numbers 14:16-12), grew in spirit and trust in the Lord. John the baptizer grew in both stature, from a child into a man, and in the spirit of the Lord.
As Luke 1 tells the story about John’s birth and childhood, it also sheds light on another response to the wilderness. I believe this shows us that we have a choice in how we encounter the wilderness. We tend to talk about it so often, those hard seasons of life where we feel parched or alone. I’m sure you can think of a “wilderness” time in your life, I can.
I have wandered through dry and desolate places. At one point in my life, the dry parched land seemed to stretch on for miles. Choosing to be thankful, with a heart of gratitude, led me to the streams in the desert. Choosing to use that time as a rich classroom, presented an entirely different experience of that parched land.
Those wilderness experiences can be our greatest classroom and opportunities for growth. I have a choice as to how I will respond in that classroom; I can choose to wallow and grow weary with ‘woe is me’; or I can choose to play in the sand, with gratitude, and grow in the spirit. There are rivers and springs available through Jesus; steeped in His Word, through praises to Him, within our brothers and sisters, and amongst all of creation! I want to challenge you to choose gratitude in your wilderness encounters; stepping into each rich classroom provided, growing in spirit and stature.
“Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:18-19, ESV)