We’ve all experienced hard times, but it’s been decades since the whole world has experienced collective hard times. For some, things are difficult. For others, devastating. However, we are all in some way affected by this pandemic.
Personally, my home life remains basically the same. Hubby works from home, and we homeschool. Not much change there, but my parents are in the “medically fragile” category. Two days ago, Monday, my brother was diagnosed with Hairy Cell Leukemia. The diagnosis was a gut-punching reminder that Covid-19 isn’t the only bogeyman out there. His dangerously low white blood cell count also puts him in the “medically fragile” category. I should be helping Sorella carry the load. I’m five hours away from them. Just half a day’s drive. Yet, I can’t go to them. I don’t want to risk picking up on the journey and bringing it home. Not being there pains me.
In Biblical terminology, all of us are in the wilderness—a vast, barren place literally and figuratively. Right now, we’re all isolated at home, away from all our normal sources of peace and comfort. We feel alone; we feel lost; we feel afraid. Perhaps, we feel abandoned by God.
Weeks before Corona truly hit us here in the South; when the virus was still something far away, and, thus, unreal. Hubby and I had dinner with good friends. The husband brought up a conversation he’d had with someone at church. This person had mentioned that Satan always sends people into the wilderness. My friend disagreed, “It’s God that sends people into the wilderness. After all, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness (Matthew 4).” My friend couldn’t bring the other person to his point of view.
The conversation stayed in my mind. I knew my friend was correct. Just a day-and-a-half later, my Sunday school reading involved Luke 1:80, “John grew up and became strong in spirit. And he lived in the wilderness until he began his public ministry to Israel.” Immediately, examples of this truth from scripture rumbled into my mind—Moses, David, Elijah, Paul, and, even, Jesus had wilderness experiences before beginning public ministry. Then the Spirit brought to my mind current believers like Bart Millard (I Can Only Imagine) and Lysa Terkeurst (president of Proverbs 31 Ministries), who went through the wilderness.
So, while the wilderness may seem heartbreaking at the time we’re in it, the experience has a purpose within God’s plan. It’s a time where the Father teaches us, strengthens us, and emboldens us. Let’s examine a few of the lessons learned during Elijah’s stint in the wilderness (I Kings 17 and 18).
Elijah was a prophet, and he was not popular. He called Israel on its idolatry. King Ahab led his people to worship Baal instead of God. Through Elijah, God declared there would be no dew or rain in Israel because they worshipped other gods. After the word was given, the Lord told Elijah, “Go east and hide by Kerith Brook.” (I Kings 17:2)
Lesson One: Obedience
Elijah’s wilderness experience began. His first step was to obey God and journey to the barren place. If he hadn’t obeyed, he wouldn’t have learned all that God had for him. There was no rain or dew in the land, but God led Elijah to a location with water and food from the most unlikely source, ravens. “The ravens brought him bread and meat each morning and evening, and he drank from the brook.” (I Kings 17:6) If Elijah had not gone there, he wouldn’t have had those precious resources.
Lesson Two: God Provides
Even when the rest of the region struggled for food, God sent food by ravens. Later when the brook dried up, God sent the prophet to a widow in the city of Zarephath. She fed Elijah, herself, and her son with flour and olive oil that never ran out, despite the famine in the land.
Lesson Three: God Protects
Let’s take a moment to discuss Zarephath. This was not an Israelian city. It was in Phoenicia. God sent Elijah into the heart of Israel’s enemy and the center of Baal worship. The very worship Elijah stood against. Even in the belly of the enemy, God guarded and fed his prophet. The situation reminds me of Psalm 23:5, “You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.”
Lesson Four: Trust
Elijah’s last lesson came through heartache. The widow’s only son died. Remember, she isn’t a Jew. She worships Baal, yet she has sheltered this prophet. In her grief, she says, “O man of God, what have you done to me? Have you come here to point out my sins and kill my son?” (I Kings 17:18) Side note: the widow goes through her own wilderness experience during Elijah’s stay. I encourage you to go back and learn from her story of obedience and faith.
Elijah is confused. He prays, “O Lord, why have you brought tragedy to this widow who has opened her home to me, causing her son to die?” (I Kings 17:20) Like Elijah, there are times in the wilderness that make us question the goodness of God. Times when we doubt. Times when we feel forsaken.
Despite his confusion, Elijah begs the Lord three times for the child’s life. Elijah doesn’t turn from God; he runs to him, crying out, because he knows that the Lord has all the answers. God rewarded Elijah’s trust by bringing the child back to life and returning him to his mother. Often in the wilderness, we are tempted to reject God, to walk away and handle things ourselves. But like Elijah, we should run to God not from him.
Strengthened and Emboldened
After his time in the wilderness, God sends Elijah back to Ahab for a holy showdown. Elijah versus 450 prophets of Baal. It’s a great read in I Kings 18. I don’t have time to go into it all, but here’s the bullet points. The prophets of Baal are defeated, and rain returns to the land. But Elijah wouldn’t have been able to do any of those great acts, if he hadn’t first learned those lessons in the wilderness.
In my life, I’ve found God prepares me before a crisis occurs. If we come into extra money, I’ve learned to expect something will break—the washing machine, the car, the AC. God provides before the need arises. I should have known something was coming when he started speaking to me about the wilderness.
Right now, God is teaching me these same lessons. Who is better able to provide for and protect my family, God or me? My meager efforts are nothing compared to his power! I must trust that he’s got this, because I have no other option.
We’re all in it. What is God teaching you?
We all need extra prayer during this time. Feel free to leave prayer requests in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or just email me, I’d love to hear from you.
Thank you for a different view of our periods in the wilderness. We should look to God for guidance.