“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor [meaning trouble] a door of hope.” -Hosea 2:14-15
I first came across this scripture when the Women’s group at my church decided to read and go through the Francine Rivers’ novel, Redeeming Love a few years back. Not normally my cup of tea, but my mom raved about it and I enjoy reading so why not. At the time I read it I was struggling with my self-worth, a big theme of the book, so I actually really liked the book, and since then have reread it a few times. But the passage in Hosea, appearing at the beginning of a chapter, was one of my biggest takeaways from the novel.
It just seemed so perplexing that the idea of God leading you into a wilderness could end up being a good thing.
I don’t have too many experiences in actual wildernesses, but being from the road-tripping family that I am, I do have the experience of driving through Death Valley. That’s kind of wilderness-y, right?
When I envision the picture painted in that passage of Hosea, I imagine Death Valley in all its barren, vast, hot, nothingness. So to imagine God leading me into such a place with the intention to spend this sweet alone time with me, possibly encourage me, and then transform this troublesome place into something hopeful…yeah, it perplexes me. But at the same time, I find it absolutely beautiful. To think that in times when I find myself in a spiritual Death Valley, God can come in and completely change it into something that brings me closer to Him is one of the most comforting revelations I’ve gained from scripture.
It was something I was reminded of recently when a friend of mine preached one Sunday morning at church. He taught out of Isaiah 43:19, which says:
“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
Again, God paints this picture of transforming a wilderness into something lush and full of life. Yet this time, in doing “a new thing”, not only is it describing God being faithful to transform another wilderness but now He will accomplish it by doing something you haven’t seen Him do before.
My most recent Death Valley experience lasted a little over a year. In that year I struggled with depression, doubt, feeling forgotten and neglected. I was mad at God for not bringing me out of such a place, especially while everyone around me seemingly thrived. Has that ever been you? Questioning why God is answering everyone else’s prayers but yours? I constantly wondered what I did to deserve such treatment, all the while not recalling all that God has done for me in the past.
I got so caught up in my hurt and pain that I was able to have more belief in forever being stuck in my wilderness, than in God being who He’s always been and doing what He’s always done.
Most of us are familiar with the Biblical story of the Israelites wandering the desert – wilderness – for forty years. The story showcases the Israelites and God in this ongoing cycle of obstacle, doubt, turning away, forgiveness, repentance, repeat. The Israelites constantly doubt God’s ability to get them through the wilderness and do what He said He’d do. When they find themselves between Pharaoh and a sea, God split the sea. When they were hungry, God rained down food for them to eat. When they were thirsty, God made a rock pour out water. Time and time again, God remained faithful to bring them out of each obstacle they faced. Yet every time they faced a new obstacle, it’s as though they forgot all the ways and times God had gotten them through before. That’s exactly what I did this time in my wilderness.
The story of the Israelites and the passages of scripture above lead me to think that God doesn’t have the same perspective of a wilderness as most of us do. Where all I can see are threatening elements and a lack of provision, I think God looks and sees potential and possibilities. With the story of the Israelites, God uses their wilderness experience to showcase just how faithful He’ll remain to His people. He tells us over and over again, through that story, that He can and will bring us out of obstacles by any means He chooses.
The Israelites spent forty years in their wilderness experience. I spent one year in mine. Both seem far too long to me. My most recent wilderness experience wasn’t my first, and I know that it won’t be last, but I do hope and pray that it will be my longest. I pray that, unlike the Israelites, I won’t spend year after year spent wandering in a wilderness so focused on the situation that I can’t see the God keeping me in spite of my situation.
I pray, for you and myself, that our perspective of what a wilderness is and can be changes to a more God’s-eye-view. Let us be able to see the potential and possibilities of our wilderness experiences now, so that we may better go through the ones to come, learning from the story of the Israelites and holding on to the words of Hosea and Isaiah. Knowing that God doesn’t leave us in our wildernesses, but remains there with us the whole time.
In that year of my most recent wilderness experience not only did God showcase His faithfulness like he did with the Israelites, He also showcased His persistence. In the midst of my hurt and pain, regardless of how stubborn and guarded I had become, Sunday after Sunday God reached out to me at church. Every sermon was a direct hit on my heart, trying to break down the wall around it. He even had different pastors call me out by name every week! When I wouldn’t walk up to the altar for prayer, he had people come to me. It was His faithfulness through a persistence I hadn’t seen before that healed me. He showed me over and over again that no, He hadn’t forgotten me, I wasn’t being neglected or ignored, but that He saw me and wanted a close relationship with me again. That’s what He does for His people when they are walking through the wilderness, He draws closer.
How has He been trying to draw close to you? Knowing that He will draw close to you, will you let Him in this season?