The task ahead of us is never greater than the power behind us. After my experience today, it is illogical to think in any other way. We journeyed to landmarks rich in the history of our faith. We had an awesome view of Jerusalem from Mt. Scopus and then observed the road to Jericho. We traveled to the Mt. of Olives, Herodian, Jericho, and the possible burial ground for Samuel. But interestingly, the highlight came from what I experienced in the Judean Desert—the biblical wilderness.
I have never been in a desert before, nor have I stood on such a high place that covered such a great expanse, as far as the eyes could see. Intriguingly, it wasn’t the desert itself that moved me. It was the inspiration that the desert had stirred in so many of our heroes. There is a unique connection between God’s people and the wilderness. Israel developed their trust in God when the risks were the highest, when there was no other possible answer for true liberation. Just as God found Hagar by a “spring in the wilderness,” Jesus “was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Gen 16:7; Matt. 4:1). Just as God comforted and protected David in the wilderness from Saul, God commanded Moses to free the Israelites from Pharaoh, “so that they may worship me in the wilderness” (I Sam. 23:14; Ex. 7:17). There is a great and unique pattern between YHWH and his people having a wilderness experience.
Today, I got a chance to hike up to one of the highest points in the wilderness of the Judean desert. As I climbed the uneven ground of dirt and rocks I felt the pulsating heat of the bright sun. As the sky blended in with the ground I endured fatigue and sweat, and reflected on some of God’s people who went through this very same desert. At the summit we saw the desert where we would conduct a Bible study, and when our professor, Aubrey, read Psalms 23, the passage of Scripture went from paper to a 3D experience. As I looked out across the daunting, yet beautiful mountains and cliffs, it was almost like I could feel David’s words, “YHWH is my Shepherd I shall not want.” David, having been a shepherd, would have had great familiarity with surviving in this desolate, yet peaceful place.
For some people, the wilderness experience may be the call to seminary, or financial instability, while others may be entering a season of divorce, or the loss of a cherished loved one. While each may have their unique differences, there is a commonality in knowing that, “God is my Shepherd, I shall not want” (Ps. 23:1). God has never failed at providing us with a present help as we “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4). It is rather interesting how David, while in the midst of dryness, does not focus on the circumstance or the surrounding environment but yet declares, “he maketh me to lie down in green pastures” (Ps. 23:2).
I have often wondered why the Holy Spirit led Christ into such a dry, lifeless place. But my musing does not begin to address the question of “why” we go through dry seasons of our life. Yet through the clear lens of faith, light is shed on the fact that there is life in the wilderness, and somehow, some way, it works together for good.
By feeling the 100-degree desert heat hitting my face and enduring the physical exhaustion of the hike, I was no longer a reader of Psalms, but was one who, to the best of my understanding, experienced it. I saw that you can have true peace in a place of dismal emptiness, that God will guide me through the most unseemly and worst conditions I could ever face, and that my faith in God is a wilderness faith.
Torrance Jones (MAT ’15) is a chaplain with Good News Jail and Prison Ministry, where he serves the inmates and families of both Monroe and Wayne County jails. Prior to this role, Torrance served as admissions liaison and retention coordinator for Northeastern Seminary.