“Are we there yet? All parents have heard that question on a road trip with their kids. When our kids were in grade school, we went to a conference every year at the Word of Life Inn in Schroon Lake NY. From where we lived on Long Island, up to the Adirondack Mountains, it took about 6 hours to get there. Certainly, Eva and I did our best to make the trip fun for them—stopping for food at a favorite diner in Albany, listening to audio tapes of old time radio, like The Lone Ranger and Fibber McGee and Molly, reading books in the car—like George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin. Even so, the big question was, “Are we there yet?”
That’s also true when God has us in a wilderness experience today. As tough as the wilderness experience may be, the Lord provides for us, cares for us, encourages us, and teaches us; still we really do look forward to coming out of the wilderness. If we’re struggling financially we look forward to economic stability. When we deal with illness, we look forward to being cured or at least pain management. If we’re grieving for a lost loved one, we look forward to a time when the pain won’t be as intense and comfort will come.
In Deuteronomy 8, at the end of 40 years of wilderness wanderings, the Lord revealed His purposes for the wilderness experience of the people of Israel. And they are the very same reasons the Lord Jesus allows us to undergo wilderness wandering in our lives. So far we’ve seen four reasons: First, God uses the wilderness to humble us, or to teach us God-reliance instead of self-reliance. Second, He puts us in the wilderness to test our motives and obedience. God’s third purpose is to teach us to find spiritual nourishment from God’s Word. The fourth reason God brings us to the wilderness is to discipline us to obey Him, either by correction or instruction. Now we’re up to the fifth and final purpose for the wilderness journey as found in Deuteronomy 8. It’s to elicit our praise for bringing us out of the wilderness. Check out Deuteronomy 8:7-10:
7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams of water, springs, and deep water sources, flowing in both valleys and hills; 8 a land of wheat, barley, vines, figs, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey; 9 a land where you will eat food without shortage, where you will lack nothing; a land whose rocks are iron and from whose hills you will mine copper. 10 When you eat and are full, you will praise the Lord your God for the good land He has given you.
God tells the people of Israel that the wilderness journey will come to an end, that they’ll come to the good land that God is giving them, they’ll have all that they need, and then . . . they will praise Him for it. The final purpose for the wilderness looks forward to the end of it, when God has brought us out, and we give Him praise for all that He has done for us.
There are three reasons for us to praise God when He brings us out of the wilderness. First, we should praise God for delivering us from the wilderness. Israel was promised that their wanderings would end and the Lord would bring them into the land of Israel. After 40 years, no more desert, no more walking in circles, no more living out of a suitcase—they would come home. Even though at times we feel we can’t see the end of our wilderness, remember, God does. The wilderness is always temporary. It might be for 4 months, 4 years, even 40 years, but it will come to an end. The Lord will deliver us. But what about someone struggling with a fatal illness? Sometimes it’s hard to realize that God’s deliverance may be to bring that person home to Him. He is still worthy of our praise for our deliverance.
A second reason to praise God is for His plentiful provision. Israel needed a home and God would give them a land with terrific water sources, agricultural abundance, and geological wealth. He would give them much more than they ever dreamed of. That’s what Paul told the congregation in Ephesus. They were told to give all glory to the Lord Jesus in all generations because He is “able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think” (Eph 3:20-21). God’s answers to prayer are frequently bigger and better than our requests. They are more than we ever dreamed of and beyond.
The third reason to praise God is for His good gift. For Israel, the gift was the “good land” God was giving them (“the good land” is mentioned twice, in v. 7 and v. 10). For a wandering people, it was amazing that the Creator of the universe would give them a permanent home—what a good gift! They would praise Him for it, over and over. Yet for us, in this age, as followers of the Messiah Jesus, that’s not the gift we’re anticipating. God has already given us a gift that is beyond words—the Messiah Jesus Himself. He is the good gift. Paul calls us to thank “God for His indescribable gift, (2 Cor 9:15)” a gift so great that it is beyond words. Through His sacrifice for us, the resurrection power He gives us, His constant presence with us, in the wilderness or out, whether we sense His presence or not, the Lord Jesus is our greatest gift. The amazing part is that the gift of the Lord Jesus is available even in the wilderness, not just afterwards. He is the pillar of fire and the cloud that leads us every day.
My kids grew to enjoy their annual drive to the Word of Life Inn but what made it the most fun was getting there. They loved the freedom of being on the grounds, their choice of any cereal for breakfast—even with excessive sugar. The miniature golf, the indoor pool. It was a kid’s paradise. It made the long trip all worthwhile. That’s how we’ll feel as we come out of the wilderness. God brought us in so He could bring us out. Then we’ll have true joy—so much, that we’ll have a new awareness of God’s kindness and we’ll praise Him for it
Check out Michael Card’s great song, In the Wilderness.