10. Place of Dismay

Wilderness Meditations: 10. The Place of Dismay

Gen 37:22 Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.”

Num 21:5 “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?”

Lk 15:17-19 When he came to his senses, he said….Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

Continue:  Yesterday we considered revelation but this doesn’t only mean ‘the word of the Lord’ as such, because we often make that sound very spiritual, but it can simply mean revelation about ourselves, coming to a new understanding of who we are, and so on. We mentioned Moses and Elijah, two men who met God in the wilderness, two men who had come to the end of themselves, two men who God then commissioned for His service. There is something about the wilderness that I have observed throughout to 2020 Pandemic – it brings people to the end of themselves, a necessary prerequisite if people are to become open to God.

So much of the time – and especially if you live in the affluent West – we are comfortable and comfort breeds complacency and complacency feeds ideas of self-ability, we think we are Ok, we are doing ‘all right’, we are getting by ‘quite nicely thank you’. It is one of the follies of sinfulness, Sin that I so often define as self-centred godlessness, that we think we can get by without God – that’s ‘godlessness’. We start finding meaning in life, coming to our senses when circumstances impose on us and we come to the end of our resources – deserts and wildernesses are good at making us run out of our resources.

Joseph: The trials of Joseph  (Gen 37-) start in the wilderness (I say ‘start’ but they really started when he was being spoilt by his father and is given prophetic words by God) where his brothers have wandered with their sheep. In the wilderness they throw him into a pit and then sell him off to slave-traders. It is the start of a wilderness experience that lasts some fourteen years. From being the spoilt brat of the family he becomes a lowly slave of a rich Egyptian but what makes this a different story is that God was with him. From being an insensitive, prophecy-bringer, he is in circumstances where no one listens to him. But God blesses the Egyptian who sees the worth of this young man and puts everything in his care. It’s God!  He prospers as a slave but that doesn’t stop him ending up in prison where the same thing happens. (Gen 39:20-23). But he is still God-conscious and when two men start having dreams he gives them interpretations that prove true (Gen 40) You know the rest of the story. It is a while before the wilderness experience ends in glory but that’s what it does. The end result? A transformed Joseph. See his words to his brothers (Gen 50:19-21)

Israel: We’ve considered Israel before so this is just a reminder. From relatively well-fed slavery they are delivered from Egypt and had three months of wilderness travels in front of them. It turned out to be forty years wilderness experience. Then when the new day arrives and they start travelling towards the Land again, it is still through difficult terrain, but this time of hostile kings, and they forget their past and grumble again for yet again their future looks under threat. A wilderness experience threatens our very existence, it is something to be endured, to be survived, and we fear for our futures. The question marks about the virus and about the economic outlook rumbled on throughout 2020, the future was very questionable and many struggled and felt they were at the end of their resources. The ground being prepared for Renewal or Revival?

Jesus’ Teaching: The parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-31) is best known for the wonder of the Father who welcomes home the prodigal but within it there is also the vital teaching that until the son came to the end of himself he wasn’t in a right attitude that would cause his return. It is a strong picture that Jesus presents in the parable, of his downward spiral: First, “he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need,” (v.14) a picture of economic decline that raises awareness of need. Second, “he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs,” (v.15) a picture of the lengths unemployed people have to go to in such times, taking on even the lowliest of jobs, a humbling experience. Third, “he longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.” (v.16) An empty stomach brings an even greater feeling of despair and when everyone is in the same position, there is no one available to help him – except his father back at home! When all the trappings of the affluent life (given the son by the Father’s money) had been removed, he eventually “came to his senses” or came to himself, and realized the truth – he was in a hopeless mess, he had come to the end of himself and his resources, but back home was a loving father he had taken for granted. It was time to return (otherwise known as repentance).

And Us? Recognizing what is going on in us and around us, is the first step to coming to our senses and realize we desperately need God. The Pandemic may have various other outworkings but unless this one becomes firmly ingrained in each of us, nothing will change and the world around us will continue getting worse. There are some further aspects of this to be considered and we will do that in the following studies.

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