I just ﬁnished a really good book called The Land Between by Jeff Manion. It’s the best book I’ve read in a while. It’s also probably the best book I’ve ever read on the wilderness/desert theme in Scripture. Okay, it’s also probably the ﬁrst.
The main reason the book resonates with me is because I think I’ve been in a wilderness period lately myself, particularly in my church planting work with Storyline.
I am grateful to God for our ministry and the church he has brought to life over the past ﬁve years. God is certainly at work. But, to be honest, our work has been much harder and slower than I anticipated. I feel like I’m still waiting for our best, most fruitful days to come. So I’m trying to make sense of what’s going on – why we are where we are, and how we break through to the next thing God has for us.
I think that’s why I’ve really liked this book. It’s given me language to describe what I’m feeling and experiencing: the language of wilderness. An “in between” land. A land of waiting. A land of dryness and apparent scarcity. A land of disappointment and unfulﬁlled expectations.
Perhaps you’ve experienced your own wilderness times in life. Maybe it’s a season of unemployment or under-employment. Maybe it’s a failed project. Maybe it’s a time of ﬁnancial struggle. Maybe it’s a fertility journey. Whatever it is, you’ve found yourself waiting for things to change.
Here are some of my big takeaways from the book. I hope they’ll bless you in your wilderness times as they have blessed me.
1. In some ways “wilderness” or “land between” is a metaphor for life. We are waiting for the land of promise, and God is testing us in the mean time to get us ready for it. That is not to say this earth is solely a waiting room for heaven – as if life on earth doesn’t matter and we’re just holding onto our ticket to heaven. To the contrary, in John Hick’s words, God uses our time in this “not yet” realm as a time of “soul making”. It is in the desert that we learn to trust and depend on God. That is the real fruit and product of the wilderness: a trusting relationship with God. And hopefully that is the product of our lives.
2. We get to choose how we respond in the wilderness. We can either respond in trust and dependence, or we can complain and be bitter. The wilderness is where faith goes either to die or to thrive.
3. Trust evicts complaint. When we trust God, we stop complaining about God. Instead we take our complaints to God. In fact, that was the major difference between the people of Israel and Moses in the wilderness. The Israelites complained about God; Moses prays his complaints to God – which is actually an expression of faith (Numbers 11:11-15). God is big enough to hear our lament and complaint. It turns toxic when we complain about him rather than to him. I’ve been learning to “let God have it” in my prayer journal. He is big enough to take it and, in fact, has given me signiﬁcant peace through those exercises. “Refuse to cave into a pattern of complaint.”
4. Incremental growth before entering the wilderness (facilitated by regular spiritual practices) prepares us to respond and receive transformational growth in the wilderness. “It is in saying yes to God again and again when little seems at stake that we prepare our hearts to say yes to God when everything is at stake.”
I’ll share the rest of my takeaways next week in part 2. If the wilderness theme resonates with you, consider reading the source material in Exodus 15-40.
How do these takeaways resonate with your experiences in “the land between”?