Lessons from the Wilderness, Part One


Wilderness….you’ve either been there, are there right now, or don’t want to go there….. ever!  I remember being taught the only safe place for a Christian was ‘in the fellowship of other Christians’, meaning a thriving church scene surrounded by people who dressed in the same clothes, spoke the same language, sang the same songs and apparently had their Christianity all sorted out.  Wilderness was a place for sinners, rebels and ‘lone rangers’ they said.

I was told that Christians were like burning embers that only remained on fire as long as they gathered closely together.  Remove one ember from the Body of Christ, they said, and poof! that ember would  grow cold and inevitably lose hold of their Christian faith.  I must admit it sounded logical at the time.  It was several years before I came to understand the Body of Christ is knit together not by physical proximity but by the Spirit of God; that my membership in Christ’s Body means I am of His flesh and of His bones irrespective of church attendance; and the Good Shepherd is well able to keep His sheep despite the absence of any other ‘embers’.

Nevertheless, horror of horrors, a day arrived when I woke up to find myself out there in that most forbidden of places, the dreaded wilderness (with a capital “W”)!   How had I made my way into this twilight zone of backsliders, unteachables and spiritual fringe dwellers of every type and shade?     Well, that’s a story for another day.  Let’s just say I had too many questions that no-one in the safe, thriving metropolis of Christendom wanted to hear, let alone answer.   Know what I’m saying?

It was about then I discovered some of the Bible’s most notable characters, as well as Christ Himself, had long ago preceded me into these stark wilderness wastelands.  In fact the wilderness was integral to the spiritual development of Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David,  Elijah, John the Baptist, Paul, and don’t even get me started on the children of Israel!

Like any desert, the wilderness is a place of precious treasures hidden just below the arid surface….treasures rarely found elsewhere.  There is also wisdom to be gained in the wilderness that is not available to those who have never trod its desolate pathways or weathered its unpredictable terrain.  If you have never been to the wilderness do not disdain the wilderness dwellers you may know.  If they are genuine Christ-seekers, they are learning to follow Him in ways you have yet to experience.  All who genuinely seek to know Him in the deepest places of the Spirit will at some time be driven away from the crowd and invited to walk a while with Him in the wilderness.   And many, having savored the rich fellowship of Christ in the wilderness will choose never to return to the big city atmosphere of mainstream churchianity. 

Wilderness dwelling is costly.  It can cost relationships, reputation, and criticism and misunderstanding from those whose support and acceptance is important to us.  Wilderness dwelling can also be extremely lonely.  The programs and structures of organized religion which formerly provided for our social needs are no longer available to us.  Life no longer revolves around the local church timetable.  In the wilderness you learn what it really is to live and walk in the Spirit, or you don’t last long.

So, with all this cost counting, why on earth would anyone leave behind the comfort and seeming safety to be found in the regular routine of normal church life?  It’s simple:  the love of Christ compels them.  They simply haven’t found the depth of communion they long for with Him within the four walls of a church building or the historic traditions of denominationalism.    Of course there are exceptions, but many who have been judgmentally labeled “out of fellowship” by regular churchgoers are simply following the Spirit’s call to come aside and learn more of Christ.  As we shall see in Part Two, Jesus Himself was driven deep into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit.  Is it so strange that His followers would share the same experience?

Membership in Christ’s Body is not defined by what goes on inside the four walls of a church building.   For those who have found a local assembly where the Spirit of God is free to minister, the love of Christ flows through the membership and the Word of God is taught truthfully and without compromise, count your blessings and give thanks to God.  However, the sad truth for many Christ followers is that the institution known as the church is no longer a place of safety and refuge.

Do not take personal issue when someone genuinely seeks to go on their own pathway with God and that pathway leads away from your local fellowship.  Do not join with the frenzied religious mindset that seeks to ‘bring them back into fellowship’ at all costs.  They may have left your fellowship, but that doesn’t mean they have left God’s fellowship.  And do not judge, gossip, condemn or stop loving and praying for them.  If they are headed for the wilderness they will need all the prayer they can get!  But let your prayers be unselfish, seeking the best God has for them, not merely praying them back into your personal fold.

If you are one who has been led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness, take heart.  Though the journey may prove costly, Christ has brought you out to bring you in (Deu. 4:37,38).  He has led you out of spiritual city dwelling not to abandon you, but to bring you deeper into Himself.  He will not disappoint you and over time you will find He is more than worth whatever the cost may prove to be.  If you have been wounded in the church system allow time for healing and give no place to bitterness.  You have been chosen to join with Christ in the fellowship of His sufferings.  If you will learn to be still His love will heal you while His fellowship sustains you. 

In the next post, Lessons from the Wilderness Part Two, we will be delving into Jesus’ own wilderness experience.  Your constructive comments and input are welcome as always!

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2013   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

30 thoughts on “Lessons from the Wilderness, Part One

  1. Pingback: The Jesus That Time Forgot | Bread for the Bride

  2. Thank you so much for posting this. I was wondering where I was, until I stumbled upoon this. Now my hope is renewed and I am going from disoriented, to reoriented. Blessings to you, Cathy


  3. Pingback: You don’t have to die in the wilderness | daily meditation

  4. Lovely piece. I read a whole book without seeing the word “wilderness” yet it described riches beyond measure outside of “church”. Called ‘How to be a bad christian … And a better human being’ by Dave Tomlinson. Your blog reminded me of him.


  5. Pingback: Lessons from the Wilderness, Part One | The Valor Society - By Geraldine

  6. Reblogged this on The Valor Society – By Geraldine and commented:
    This article is beautiful! The only word I can use to describe it is – ”FREEDOM”.

    Please read it when you have some time to spare – https://breadforthebride.wordpress.com/2013/10/16/lessons-from-the-wilderness-part-one/

    ©Copyright Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride Blogsite. Permission is granted to reproduce any of my original posts in emails, blogsites and internet forums, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.


  7. Pingback: Lessons From the Wilderness: Part Four | Bread for the Bride

  8. Pingback: Lessons From the Wilderness: Part Three | Bread for the Bride

  9. Pingback: Lessons from the Wilderness Part Two | Bread for the Bride

  10. Cheryl,

    I have followed your posts since 2005 and every single one of them has ministered to my heart. I’ve always felt like someone on the outside looking in – wishing I was “inside” but I knew better; I wouldn’t fit in. I would rather be where I was – though so lonely at times…

    We have been “out of church” for almost a year and little did I know the work God had to do in me (as a people pleasing person). Through your word, God has confirmed that where we are is exactly where HE wants us to be – not where my former church members believe I should be… We (my husband and I) are re-discovering GRACE and TRUTH – not realizing we had been bound up by rules and a judgmental spirit…

    Just need Jesus –

    Pamela Matthews


    • Pamela, Thankyou for your feedback. Personally, and in conversation with other ‘wilderness dwellers’ I have found the loneliness one of the hardest things to contend with. But as we know, He is more than worth it. Know that there are many of us, and though each one may be traversing their own narrow path with Jesus, in the Spirit we are not far away. God bless you on the journey!


  11. My husband was instructed to enter the wilderness immediately after giving his life to the Lord; for the next 20 years he was removed by location and spiritually from his family, sent into another family who mainly chose not to know Him. He testifies that he was ‘hammered on the anvil’, as only Father knew what was needed and how to do this refining. He was alone with just Father and noBody to regularly fellowship with yet Father provided some for a short bursts of time. However he did not, could not, would not become indoctrinated, immersed or bound into church christianese programs and systems. Misunderstandings and criticism were commonplace. They still are.

    His uncluttered, unshakeable relationship with Father is so full of Life and Freedom.

    “In the wilderness you learn what it really is to live and walk in the Spirit, or you don’t last long.”

    Thank you Cheryl.

    Beautiful God, Beautiful Man, more than worth our time.


  12. I have been to one wilderness and I thought it was all, but I see a mirage ahead that could well be a sign of another one. Going with the last experience, what comes forth after the wilderness is immeasurably superior to the comforts of the city we departed from I cannot exchange it for anything…very encouraging post breadforthebride – thank you.


    • Hi Patrick, I guess there are wilderness seasons, but each one of them changes us profoundly and at the same time spoils us for anything that is not really Christ. God bless you on your continuing journey with Him.


  13. Hi Cherly, thanks once again for a most encouraging article. It is good to know that there are many out there who are either in this wilderness or have come out of it. I am in it right now and it is a difficult place to be in. Looking forward to the next article.


    • Hello Lydia,
      I know a little bit about the journey you have been on and know that you have come a very long way. Jesus is faithful and will continue to reveal Himself to you in deeper and deeper ways as you trust yourself to Him above all. We are all learning to lean! God bless you.


  14. One could state a great deal on this topic. The wilderness to me is utterly perplexing and bewildering. One considers it a horrible place! Isolated, lonely and heartbreaking and the Lord is obviously brilliant at concealing Himself and that which pertains to Him. An avid reader, there are very few answers to this dilemma in Christendom. On the whole your article was pretty good and one can understand your various questions.


    • Hi Barry, I am sorry to hear your wilderness experience has become so painful for you. Isolation, loneliness and heartbreak can certainly be part of the journey, but I believe these are balanced by the Lord with the joy of discovering Him in a far deeper way than we are able to surrounded by the distractions of organised Christianity. You say He is brilliant at concealing Himself and that which pertains to Him, and yes He is when warranted. However, He desires to be found by us and promises it shall be so when we search for Him with our whole heart. His goal is not to play games with you, it is to fellowship with you, and you with Him. I believe He is nearer than you may realise. Perhaps time to stop seeking Him in reading books about Him, and simply allow Him to reveal Himself to you in the way He wishes. My prayer is that very soon you will discover just how close He is to you. Thanks so much for dropping by and sharing your journey here.


  15. Cheryl, I echo Karen. Every wellspring has a season of desert days, but He brings us up out of the desert leaning on the Beloved we have come to know and love. Thank you for your encouraging truth.


    • Hi Nancy, Thankyou for your comments. Yes, I entirely agree, He brings us up leaning on Him as our Beloved. Bringing us up doesn’t always mean He takes us back to big city Christendom though. He brings us into the Land of Promise, which is the fullness of Christ Himself and we begin to learn how to live in this new, restful place. We will come up from the wilderness greatly changed. Bless you!


      • Hi Cheryl ~ I heartily agree. Interestingly, my husband and I have not returned to big city Christendom – your post rang so true to our journey and experience. We are learning He is worth being misunderstood. He calls on to continued learning of how to rest in Him, with Him, through Him. Rich blessings to you.


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