The Wilderness of Our Faith
Have you ever gone to a concert of a band or group that you just haven’t really heard much about? Maybe you know their biggest hit or two, but by and large, you just aren’t familiar with them? Well, you go anyway, and during the concert, while all of the fans around you are singing and shouting, you are learning the songs for the first time. One of my favorite things about concerts is when the singer stops and tells the story behind the song. Any song can sound good, but not every song has a powerful story behind it.
Recently, a friend invited me to go see Rend Collective, a Christian band out of Northern Ireland, in concert. To that point, I only really knew two of their songs and none of their more recent work. The lead singer took a second to introduce a song from their newest album, painting a picture of a time of some bleak health issues within his family a few years past. The song, Hallelujah Anyway, tells of how he tried to praise God anyway even in the midst of such difficult times.
The second verse of the song, coming right on the heels of the first declaration “Hallelujah Anyway,” goes like this:
Yeah, I hear a hymn of triumph
In the wilderness of my lament
In the lowlands or the mountain tops, I won't forget
All that goodness that You have shown me
The promises that You have kept
There's better days on the horizon up ahead
“In the wilderness of my lament.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that, in my life, the largest moments of growth in my faith have come in the wilderness. In times of struggle, grief, and pain.
Jesus knew how powerful the wilderness was as a proving ground of faith. Before He even started His ministry, Jesus purposefully went into the wilderness, fasting for 40 days and 40 nights (Matthew 4: 1-11). While Jesus was fully God and fully man, this passage is the first showing of His perfect reliance on God the Father. No man could survive 40 days without food (and the temptation that comes with it) on their own.
We have no hope of managing our way through the wilderness without God. And God shows this in Scripture repeatedly in the lives of regular, sinful people:
- Noah would not have survived the 40-day flood without God’s intervention (Genesis 6-8)
- Moses waited at the top of Mount Sinai for 40 days before receiving the tablets of the Ten Commandments, isolated from his people waiting at the foot of the mountain (Exodus 24)
- The Israelites would not have survived wandering the desert for 40 years without the manna from God (Joshua 5:6)
- Elijah had to travel 40 days and 40 nights to make it to Mount Horeb, only being strengthened by the food given by the angel of God (1 Kings 19)
Notice the commonality in each story of reliance? The number 40. Throughout Scripture, the number 40 is used to symbolize a period of testing and trial.
This is why, over 300 years after Jesus’ ministry here on Earth, the early church at the Council of Nicea declared a season of Lent. Lent, which was set to be 40 days long (excluding Sundays ), was to be a time of fasting and discipline, following the example of Jesus in the wilderness.
And while Lent is not written in Scripture as a law to follow, it is a practice of sacrifice, of throwing off the feeling of self-reliance so prevalent in this world, and exchanging that feeling for a sense of full reliance on God the Father as our Jehovah Jireh, The Lord who Provides.
But here is the most important thing about the wilderness: what comes on the other side.
After their time in the wilderness, Jesus started the most impactful ministry of all time, Noah began to rebuild as the waters receded, Moses came down from the mountain with the Mosaic Law, which would act as a guiding pillar for all of Israel, after the 40 years, the Israelites finally made it to the promised land, and Elijah’s 40-day journey resulted in a vision from the Lord and a renewed vigor to challenge the sinful ways of his people.
Just as the song stated, there are better days on the horizon ahead when you feel like you are in the wilderness. Lent is a time to intentionally enter into the wilderness, remembering God’s faithfulness, trusting in His provision, and knowing that a breakthrough will be waiting on the other side.
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.
Psalm 40:1-3 (NIV)