By Jill Pike
Wilderness. The word conjures up all sorts of images of isolation, emptiness, and vulnerability. One definition of wilderness is “an inhospitable and desolate region of fear and discomfort.” Yet, there is another definition which describes the term in a spiritual sense. When we are in a spiritual wilderness, it is a period of loneliness, self-doubt, questioning and despair. Not a particularly fun place to be.
Some examples of life events that might serve to propel us into a spiritual wilderness include illness, death of a loved one, divorce, job loss, depression, relationship problems, financial concerns, child-rearing challenges, caretaking responsibilities, addiction and just plain old sin, to name a few. Everyone spends time in a spiritual wilderness at some point in life. No one escapes them.
So, why do we experience these times of being in a spiritual wilderness? What is the purpose? Well, sometimes, as in Jesus’ case in Luke 4, we are led into these periods by the Holy Spirit, usually in order to learn an important truth or to grow in a certain area of our spiritual lives. Yet, there are also times when we enter a spiritual wilderness of our own making as a result of bad choices or we fall victim to the bad choices of others. The good news is that, no matter the cause, God promises to be with us.
How can we emerge victoriously from these wilderness experiences? The best place to look for that answer is in the example of Jesus himself. In Luke 4, we see that Jesus relies heavily on God’s Word as he wages his own battle with temptation. The importance of “hiding God’s Word in our hearts” cannot be emphasized enough as an invaluable source of wisdom, guidance and comfort. Jesus also allows the Holy Spirit to lead him. We have the choice to ignore the urges of the Holy Spirit, or we can choose to be sensitive to its leading.
It is worth digressing here for a moment to discuss some of the many roles of the Holy Spirit. John 14:26 tells us that the Holy Spirit reminds us of the words of Jesus. The Spirit also convicts us of sin, guides us in truth, helps us to pray, advocates for us, comforts, encourages and empowers us. We see that as Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit, he is able to resist temptation by recalling God’s Word and comes out of his wilderness experience empowered to begin his ministry of teaching and healing.
I cannot look at this wilderness scenario without seeing a cycle of love. God so loved his son that he sent the Holy Spirit to accompany Jesus into the wilderness. God so loved the world that he sent his son, Jesus to show us what God was like and to show us how to fully live and love. Jesus so loved us that he was willing to die on the cross to atone for our sins so we might have eternal life. After Jesus was crucified, resurrected and ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit was sent out of love to be with us so we would not be left “as orphans” (John 14:16-18). God, like any good parent, shows love and concern for his children, by his presence, which is accomplished through the free gift of the Holy Spirit to all believers. So, whatever the question is, the answer is LOVE.