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Welcome to the Wilderness

The Place Where Messengers of God Are Formed

I had set aside some time to seek the Lord, not because I was feeling especially spiritual, but because I knew I needed to get in touch with Jesus again. It was the only way to deal with the deep spiritual slump I was in.

A friend of mine had offered his cabin as an ideal retreat place, situated on the lonely shore of a lake in Northern, Ontario, with no roads leading in or out, no telephone lines streaming from it, and no neighbors for miles. It was only accessible by water, and since it was winter, we drove a truck across the ice and “docked” right up to the front door.

It was getting dark, and I watched as the man who brought me there climb back in his truck and drive away, with the glow of his truck’s taillights disappearing into varying shades of blue, perfectly matching my mood. I was now completely alone. The silence of the place was the first thing I heard as deep darkness settled over the lake and the surrounding woods.

As I unpacked my things—my Bible, my journal, and a few cans of soup—I was hit by a deep sense of loneliness. I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. I had done this kind of thing before and knew that both the silence and loneliness could either crush me or help me draw nearer to the Lord, depending on how I responded to them. I never liked being alone, much less lonely, but I was desperate to get in touch with the Lord. It seemed like it had been ages since I felt His presence or heard His voice. It seemed like He had deliberately distanced Himself from me, and I needed to know why.

I was tired of all the reasons the enemy suggested. He constantly tried to convince me that God was rejecting me over something I had done wrong, but he was always vague about the specifics. I needed to know what was happening to me. Desperate times require desperate measures, right? And so, it was time to seriously seek the Lord. 

Even though it was still early in the evening, I climbed into bed to keep warm, using every blanket I could find to insulate myself against the cold. As I burrowed beneath the blankets, eyes wide open, heart racing, the Lord spoke to me.

I have to say that I was expecting Him to speak at some point but didn’t foresee it coming so soon, and I never expected Him to say what He said. I was braced for some kind of reproof for allowing myself to get in the spiritual condition I was in; instead, I felt the warmth of a familiar friend, saying, “Welcome to the wilderness.” 

I burst into tears, partly because I felt beloved but also from the sheer relief of the pressure that had been building up inside me. You see, I knew instantly what the Lord meant. I had been in the wilderness many times before and knew it was not a bad thing. I knew it was survivable. I understood there was life on the other side of it, thus making the entire experience worthwhile.

Once the Lord started speaking that evening, He didn’t stop for the next few days. It resulted in my writing page after page of study notes with fresh perspective, which I greatly needed at that point in my life. My goals and priorities started to become clear again. The internal “atmospheric pressure” had been released, causing the mental and spiritual fog to lift. When my friend returned to pick me up at the appointed time, I left the cabin a renewed man.

As I look back on it now, I have no memories of having endured any privation that week. All I can remember is the warmth of God’s favor. I remember chiding myself for missing all the clues about my being in another wilderness season. I should have been able to spot the signs by then, but I finally concluded that, unless He had showed me, I wouldn’t really have known.

If you are not currently in the wilderness, this book may be of little value to you, but some day you will need it. If you are in one now, then this book will be like someone giving you a map and compass, along with a big jug of water.

Many have found the truths in this Study Guide to be helpful and comforting, written by a fellow traveler who can relate to their wilderness experience—a traveler who has found the words to describe what we all go through, framing it in a biblical perspective, which helps us realize that this is part of how God does things. The goal is not just to grit our teeth and get through it, but to come out the other side with a shining face and burning heart. These wilderness times do not always last, so we need to learn how to get everything out of them that we can.

It is my hope that this study guide will do that and serve as a go-to resource for you anytime you find yourself in the wildernesses.

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