By the time the sun started heating up the desert, we all knew it was going to be a tough day of hiking.
And for most of our travelers, it also was going to be a lot of fun.
After all, how many times do you get a chance to explore the Judean Wilderness with your own feet?
But for this particular hike, a heavy heart drove a lesson home for me that you might need today, even if you’ve never been to the land of the Bible.
The maze of trails and wadis between Bethlehem and the Dead Sea never cease to captivate me. The high-walled canyons are majestic in their beauty, but the litter of past flash floods is a reminder that the wilderness can become a death trap in a matter of seconds if you can’t escape the rushing water.
One thing you’ll not escape? The heat! Temperatures soar in the wilderness, hitting triple digits as a matter of course.
Hike an hour or so in this environment and you’ll never again make fun of the “whining” Hebrews escaping Egypt. Their deserts were in the Sinai and the Negev, but trust me…walk here and you’ll soon know why they were desperate for water!
The pages of the Bible are filled with people who knew the trails of the Judean Wilderness. David explored this wilderness. Elijah knew it. John the Baptizer appeared out of it. And Jesus spent 40 days among the rocks.
More than likely, you’ve been there, too.
Maybe your wilderness didn’t look like a desert. Maybe it looked more like a hospital. Or a courtroom. Could have been an unbearable situation at work. Could have been a graveyard, where the unrelenting heat of grief took you to your lowest point.
Or maybe you’re there now.
If so, listen up. It’s been said that God gave His people the “Promised Land,” but kept the wilderness for Himself. For it was in the wilderness where God’s greatest leaders were sharpened and shaped for their particular calling in life.
Think of Abraham, Moses and Elijah. It was the hardship of the desert that helped turn them into the men they became. Ruth hiked through this wilderness when she moved from Moab to Bethlehem. The landscape alone convinced her that she wouldn’t be turning back!
Mary, the mother of Jesus, climbed the hills every time she made the trip to Jerusalem for the Passover. She faced the wilderness and its rugged terrain on the way to Bethlehem, where she would give birth to Jesus, and again more than 30 years later, when her Passover celebration turned into the horror of the crucifixion. The wilderness never relented in its invitation to extreme faithfulness, no matter what God asked of her.
My heavy heart? The details aren’t that important. Life seems to never run out of ways to bear down on us with difficult circumstances. If you’re not walking through a “wilderness” right now, just give it time. We all make the tough journeys, sooner or later.
But this is the lesson. Heavy heart or not, you have to keep moving. Crisis or tragedy or grief or illness … it doesn’t matter. When you’re in such a harsh place, you’ve got to do another day. It may be a valley covered with the shadow of death, but God has promised to go with us through these canyons … not to leave us there. Therefore, you and I must do our part, too. No matter how difficult, we’ve got to keep moving forward.
So when you’re there, let the “wilderness” do its work in you. Like the generations that have walked there before us, you’ll eventually find your deepest faith has come from your deepest valleys.