Why God Lets Us Wander in the Wilderness

A well-known fact of Hebrew history is the wilderness wanderings of the people. Instead of acting in faith and obedience, the people relied on their perception of events. The result was forty years of desert wandering.

While the people wandered in the wilderness, God worked on their character.

In case the people had forgotten the experience of wandering, Moses reminded them of what God accomplished during that time of their lives.

Lesson Learned in the Wilderness

The Israelites wandered for forty years close to the promised land, but they were not able to enter until God permitted them. God used the apparent “wasted years” of the nation to mold their character.

God used the wilderness experience to develop humility in his people.

Moses told the people to, “Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you . . .” (Deuteronomy 8.2).

Readers of the Book of Proverbs will recognize the value of humility.

When pride comes, then comes disgrace;
but wisdom is with the humble.
(Proverbs 11.2)

Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16.18)

When we contrast the inside condition of the two brothers in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15.11-32), the Prodigal brother reflected humility that was learned through his wandering in the wilderness of sin and brokenness.

The role of humility and sobriety is a central feature of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.

I have only tasted alcohol a few in my life. However, I do value the insights of AA, that I am quoting at length their understanding of the value of humility.

Why is humility so essential to the Steps of recovery? Because “without some degree of humility, no alcoholic can stay sober at all.”

Furthermore, because “Nearly all A.A.’s have found, too, that unless they develop much more of this precious quality than may be required just for sobriety, they still haven’t much chance of becoming truly happy. Without it, they cannot live to much useful purpose, or, in adversity, be able to summon the faith that can meet any emergency.”

In the Steps, humility is presented as wisdom’s response to the problem of powerlessness: our limitation, imperfection, defectiveness, insufficiency, dependency, as human beings in general and as alcoholics in particular.

Without humility, we are driven to despair or to overcompensating pride, both destructive. We practice it by surrendering the various defects of pride that prevent us from seeing and accepting the reality of our condition.

Thus in Step 1 we surrender our pride and admit we lack the power over alcohol and over our lives that we pretended we had. “Until he so humbles himself,” explains the 12&12, “his sobriety—if any—will be precarious. Of real happiness he will find none at all.”

In Step 2 we humble ourselves and accept that we can’t fix ourselves, opening the way to a belief in a Power who is greater than ourselves and can restore us to sanity. “True humility and an open mind can lead us to faith,” the 12&12 affirms (p. 33) on the basis of AA experience.

In Step 3 we come to a humble acknowledgment of our total dependence on this Power and make a decision to completely surrender our will and our life.

In Steps 4 through 10 we effectuate this surrender and grow in humility as we take stock of specific defects of character and emotion, admit to them, become entirely ready to let them go, ask for their removal, and make amends.

In Step 11 we approach the highest form of humility as we develop “a full willingness, in all times and places, to find and to do the will of God.” In Step 12 we seek to “walk humbly under the grace of God” with each and every step we take.

In the Traditions, humility is associated with the problem of self-importance: our desire to stand out, take the spotlight, elevate ourselves, dominate, rule, control, and generally exercise power as members of AA, all of which stand in the way of practicing the spiritual principles in the fellowship and threaten to tear it apart.

The process of surrendering this distorted need for self-importance is explained most clearly in Tradition 12, which as we showed links humility with anonymity. “Anonymity the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions,” we quote again, adding this time the rest of the sentence: “ever reminding us to place principles before personalities” (p. 184, our emphasis).

(See http://practicetheseprinciplesthebook.com/virtue-of-humility_343.html)

Tests in the Wilderness

Tests are required in school to demonstrate what students have learned in their education. In God’s school, wilderness experiences often test us to reveal the quality of our character.

Deuteronomy 8.2 Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness . . . testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments.

Catholic spirituality often speaks of “consolations and crosses.” They describe the times when people feel God’s presence and grace as “consolations.”

The dry and difficult times, when God appears to be absent, are referred to as “crosses.”

The saints of the Catholic church remind people that God is at work, even when he seems distant and life is dry. At that time, our faith is being tested.

As we follow God without good feelings (consolations), we prove to ourselves (God already knows the result) the reality of our faith.

The Wilderness Reveals True Needs

Rudy Ross and I spend the majority of our time in today’s YouTube video discussing how we need to feed ourselves with God’s word.

Moses told the assembly, “He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8.3).

When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness to turn stones into bread, Jesus quotes from this passage (Matthew 4.4).

Rudy reminds us in today’s video how humans maintain their physical life by eating. Rudy applies consuming God’s word daily as a way of maintaining our spiritual life.

The Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” (Matthew 6.11) is a request to be fed from both physical food and God’s word.

Rudy is 71 years old and works a sixty-hour week, but devotes periods morning and evening to God’s word. He knows that spiritual strength is every bit as valuable as physical conditioning.

Discipline in the Wilderness

The adage about coaching and discipline is true of God’s work with his people. A coach makes his team do what they don’t want to do, so they can achieve what they all want to happen.

Wilderness experiences are occasions for God to discipline and train his followers.

Deuteronomy 8.4-5The clothes on your back did not wear out and your feet did not swell these forty years.

Know then in your heart that as a parent disciplines a child so the Lord your God disciplines you.

The Book of Hebrews reveals the nature of discipline. “Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12.11).

One reason why discipline seems painful is that it involves delaying gratification. Here are some common examples.

— Parents expecting children to complete their homework before they watch TV or play games.

— Saving money instead of spending it.

— Eating wholesome food in place of sweets and fats.

— Waiting until marriage to engage in sex.

— Following God’s direction instead of striking out with our impulses.

God’s discipline calls upon people to “keep the commandments of the Lord your God, by walking in his ways and by fearing him” (Deuteronomy 8.6).

As we saw in yesterday’s article, when people delay the gratification of their impulses and follow God’s leadership, the best life will follow.

Following God trains us to live a life that is peaceful and aligned with God’s will. It is the source of the abundant life Jesus came to give us (John 10.10).

About This Blog

Please join Rudy Ross and me on YouTube today, as we discuss this passage. Rudy and I have spent years talking about the Bible. Today’s video on the Bob Spradling YouTube channel reflects how the two of us benefit from the daily reading of the Bible.

The quoted material from Alcoholics Anonymous in today’s article is from the “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions” of AA.

Please email your prayer requests to bsprad49@gmail.com or private message me on Facebook. The Maywood prayer team will pray for you.

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