9 Words for Wilderness (Part 3)

I love a snappy blog intro as much as the next person, but this week I’m just going to dive straight to the point. (Honestly, I’ve been racking my brain for almost an hour trying to think of something clever to lead in with, but it just isn’t happening. It’s been a long couple of weeks, guys.)

The word I’m going to focus on this round is ‘arabah. (That’s עֲרָבָה in Hebrew and sounds a little something like “air-uh-VAH” for those of us who haven’t quite mastered the art of reading ancient Semitic script aloud. Or at all.)

Throughout most of its 61 uses in the Old Testament, this word is translated as “plain.” (Think geography not vanilla.) Being someone who grew up on reruns of “Little House on the Prairie,” this word conjures up images of women in flowery bonnets, riding in creaky wagons past rusty, old windmills and acres and acres of wheat. So the “plains of Moab” don’t sound so terrible to me—maybe a little dicey during tornado season, but nothing to be too concerned about.

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In other verses, we see ‘arabah translated as the less pleasant (at least in my temperate climate-loving mind) “desert” or “steppe.” Your basic wilderness terms synonymous with your basic, arid, wilderness-y things.

But it’s the root of the word—‘arab—that really got my attention. Ultimately this word refers to the transition from day to night, specifically in the way that the darkness overtakes the light as the sun appears to “wander” out of the sky. Modern science being what it is, we know that the sun doesn’t actually go anywhere at night, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the sun setting = impending darkness. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not hugely fond of wandering around in the dark.

As I continued to think about this word, I was reminded of John the Baptist—the itinerate prophet-rabbi with a penchant for wearing camel hair clothing and snacking on bugs. (When in the wilderness, I guess…)

“A voice cries out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of Adonai, make straight in the desert a highway for our God…'” -Is. 40:3

Although John the Baptist (or the “Immerser,” as some like to say) first appears in the gospel of Matthew, his story really begins in the first chapter of Luke. Long story short, his parents couldn’t have children, but God allowed them to have a son; said son was born, said son was dubbed John, and said son was called to insanely big things—not the least of which was to announce the coming of the long-awaited Messiah.

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The people of Israel had been in an ‘arab kind of wilderness for a very long time—about 400 years, in fact. (That’s longer than most countries have been countries.) By the time John came along, the Jewish people had been occupied by just about every foreign power under the sun that came their way, and their latest overlords (the Romans) weren’t exactly known for being benevolent rulers. Needless to say, Israel was desperate for a savior.

“And you, child, will be called a prophet of Elyon. For you will go before Adonai to prepare His ways, … to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of shalom.” -Luke 1:76,79

So when the High Priest (a.k.a., Zacharias, a.k.a., John’s dad) announced that his newborn son was the one that the prophet Isaiah said would come to “prepare the way of the Lord,” my guess is that the people were pretty happy. Really happy, I bet. No more foreign occupation and no more religious oppression, right?

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Well, at the end of the chapter something strange happened. John, a Levite from the lineage of Aaron and the son of the High Priest of the nation of Israel, wasn’t trained to serve in the temple. This is the very place we would expect him to spend his time as God’s mouthpiece. (At least, I do.) No, John was raised in the wilderness. From the time he was a child until he was ready to move into ministry as a prophet, John spent all of his time in the desert.

But why did John need to be in the wilderness to accomplish what God had called him to do? Well, I believe that the short answer is that God was keeping him hidden. And I think there are 2 reasons for this.

1. John was hidden in the wilderness, so that he would only know the ways of the Lord.

Today, there’s a word we like to use for people like this. Sheltered. When I was a kid, I used to get teased by my friends for being sheltered, because we didn’t have cable at my house until I was 17 years old. (I was convinced that my parents just didn’t want me to watch the same shows that my friends did. And they probably didn’t. But, come to find out, cable was pretty dang expensive in the 90s.)

I’m not sure if John ever got teased for being the weird kid who lived in the desert and ran around in camel hair clothes. (But kids are kids no matter what millennia you live in, so I like to think there was probably at least a little teasing.) But that sheltered environment was priming John for a calling that no one else had been given before that time nor since—to announce the arrival of the Messiah, the One that Israel had been waiting for since, well, the beginning of time. Simply put, John couldn’t be like all the other kids.

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If he hadn’t grown up in the wilderness (away from the distractions of the culture he was born into), he wouldn’t have recognized Jesus as the Messiah when He [Jesus] came to be baptized in the Jordan and begin His ministry on Earth. And thus John wouldn’t have been able to fulfill the destiny that God had on his life.

The children of Israel were desperate for a savior but not the kind they needed. If John hadn’t grown up in the solitude and shelter of the desert, I think it’s safe to assume that he would have fallen prey to that same desperate mentality—and pointing people away from their Savior in the process. Maybe even leading them to follow someone else entirely. He needed that time in the wilderness, because he needed to learn to differentiate the voice of God from the noise of the people.

2. John was hidden in the wilderness, so that his voice would stand out when it was time for him to speak.

Before John the Baptist came into the picture, countless others had claimed to be 1) the fulfillment of the prophecy given in Isaiah 40:3 or 2) the Messiah Himself. I’m sure that many people were led astray by these false prophets. (And I know that many more have been led astray by false prophets and false Messiahs since.) Desperation makes people do crazy things. But what John had to say was distinctly different from the others. 

While all of those false prophets had doubtlessly told the people what they wanted to hear, this prophet testified of the coming light that was Jesus Christ. The light that would bring an end to the ‘arab kind of darkness (and silence) that Israel had been living in for 4 centuries.

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“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” -Isaiah 9:2
Sometimes the wilderness seasons just don’t make any sense to us. We ask ourselves why we have to go through them at all. We feel isolated and alone. Maybe even strange and misunderstood. Like a weirdo running around the desert wearing camel hair and eating bugs while everyone else gets to wear linen and eat falafel. (Yum.)
But if we looked at those seasons in the wilderness in light of John the Baptist’s story, we could see that God wants to use these seasons to 1) mold our perspectives to conform to His and 2) birth in us the message of His redemption, which we can then share with others. It’s in the wilderness that He prepares us to be both the announcers and the bearers of the Light of the world.

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9 Words for Wilderness (Part 1)

If you’re anything like me, you don’t take much of anything you see, hear, or read these days at face value. As I’m sure you’ve already figured out, we human beings are prone to taking things out of context or just plain exaggeration.

This slideshow of puppies wearing cable knit sweaters will literally change your life! You’ll look like a Victoria’s Secret model—or Calvin Klein model (guys, this is for you, too)—if you drink this green smoothie for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the next 300 days! (Just as a side note, please don’t do that.)

As a result, the truth is typically something that we have to seek out on our own. A wise man once said to “make every effort to present yourself before God as tried and true, as an unashamed worker cutting a straight path with the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

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It stands to reason that in order to cut this “straight path with the word of truth,” we need to know what this word actually says. In other words, we need understand what God meant when He inspired the authors of the Bible to write what they did. This can be done in several ways, but the approach I tend to favor in my personal Bible study time is to learn the meaning of specific words (in the original Hebrew or Greek) within the context of a specific passage of Scripture.

This method has led me to develop a slight obsession with Blue Letter Bible’s free lexicon. What do I love most about this resource? If you can read, you can use this thing. You don’t have to have an advanced seminary degree or this high and lofty exegetical knowledge of Scripture to use it. (Seriously, it’s amazing. In fact, I wouldn’t be offended if you wanted to hop on over to Blue Letter Bible and check it out. I can wait.)

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When I see the word wilderness in the Bible, I immediately think of lots and lots of dirt. And rocks. And the blistering hot sun. (As the delicate, fair-skinned flower that I am, I can assure you that I will never willingly wander into anything even remotely resembling a wilderness without a really, really good reason.) But every time you read the word wilderness in the Bible, it may not mean exactly what you think it means.

This is where we get back to that lexicon I’m slightly obsessed with. You see, there are 9 different words for wilderness that are used in the Bible—7 in the Old Testament and 2 in the New. For the sake of time (and the possibility of eye strain), I’m going to focus on these words one at a time, beginning with midbar (or מִדְבָּר if transliteration isn’t your thing).

When the authors of the Bible used the word midbar to describe a place, they were actually depicting something slightly more pleasant than the vast, wild, wasteland of isolation and almost certain death that I had always envisioned when I heard the word wilderness. Essentially, midbar can be likened to an area where livestock are driven to graze. Sure it’s isolated and uninhabited, but it’s meant to be a bovine buffet (or sheep smorgasbord if mutton is more your thing), not a place for people to put down roots. Going by this definition, the wilderness doesn’t seem so bad, right? But you probably wouldn’t want to wander out there without your fire starter or maybe a blanket. (Unless you’re Bear Grylls. Then you can just make a sleeping bag out of a sheep carcass or something.)

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One of the earliest uses of midbar in the Old Testament is in Genesis 21. Abraham had a concubine, Hagar, who gave him a child (Ishmael) before his wife Sarah was able to. After Sarah finally gave birth to their son Isaac, she didn’t want Ishmael to have a share in his little half-brother’s inheritance, so she told her husband to send Hagar and Ishmael away. And, being that they already lived in the middle of nowhere, the only place to go was even deeper into the middle of nowhere (i.e., the wilderness).

At first glance, this seems like a pretty savage move on Abraham’s part, but it actually sets the stage for God to show up in a pretty fantastic way. Here’s Abraham giving his concubine and oldest son a loaf of bread and a jug of water and wishing them happy trails as they hobble off into the sunset. (Good luck in the midbar, guys!) So they wander around and eventually exhaust their food and water supply. (Which, let’s be honest, was pretty meager to begin with.)

In a place of desperation, almost at the point of death, Hagar actually abandons Ishmael under a bush, because she doesn’t want to watch him die. (How heartbreaking is that?) But here’s the thing. An angel of the Lord speaks to Hagar, telling her that God has 1) heard the voice of Ishmael as he sat essentially dying of dehydration under a bush, 2) promises that Ishmael will be the father of a “great nation,” and 3) provides sustenance for the both of them right there where they are (Genesis 21:17-19).

The passage goes on to say that Hagar and Ishmael settled there in the midbar—inhabiting a once uninhabitable place, which was only made habitable by the hand of God—and the Lord was with Ishmael as he grew. Had Abraham not sent them away, Hagar and Ishmael would have continued to live in the comfort of Abraham’s household and in the shadow of the legitimate heir to his father’s estate. Moving through the wilderness was uncomfortable, difficult, and even painful for this mother and her young son. But it was necessary if Ishmael was going to walk according to the plan that God had for his life.

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Although I’ve done my best to avoid the wilderness seasons of life, like everyone, I inevitably have to face them head on. And I can say that, 9 times out of 10, I’ve felt as ill-equipped as Hagar did facing a literal wilderness with nothing but a jug of water and some crusty old bread. (I mean, maybe it was a fresh loaf. But at that point, does it really matter?) In those seasons, I found that I could never be reminded too many times that I wasn’t the only one who was facing whatever it was that I was facing.

The Bible is full of stories of men and women, young and old, who traveled into the wilderness (literally and figuratively) and came out the other side. Some of these stories you probably already know, while others—like the story of Hagar and Ishmael—you may never have considered before. Throughout each and every one of these stories, however, is woven the same incredible account of God’s faithfulness. His faithfulness to respond to their cries for help. His faithfulness to deliver on His promises. His faithfulness to meet their every need.

The wilderness is a difficult place to be. This is in large part because we were never truly designed to live there. It’s in the wilderness, however, that we learn to depend on the only One who can make those inhabitable places habitable.

 

Please join me next week, as I continue to reflect on the 9 different biblical meanings of the word wilderness and what it means to travel through these seasons of life well and with purpose.

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9 Words for Wilderness (Part 4)

Well, helloooo there! Long time, no see! I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, and I want to apologize for being so lax when it comes to that. But I’m back now, and that’s all that matters, right? 😉

Because I left the whole 9-words-for-wilderness thing hanging mid-series, I figured that would be a good place to pick up from. So let’s just dive right in to the fun stuff!

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In an effort to make up for lost time, I have 2 words that I want to introduce you to this week: Meet tsiyyiy and erets. Both come to us from Hebrew. Both are translated as “wilderness” in most versions of the Old Testament. But if we look closely we can see that both words have very different meanings.

“Let desert dwellers bow before him, and his enemies lick the dust” (Ps. 72:9, TLV).

Tsiyyiy (pronounced “tSEE-ee”) essentially refers to a person or wild animal that makes his (or her) home in the desert. Most of the time, desert-dwelling shepherds and nomads fall into this category. But the writers of the Old Testament also used this word to refer to desert animals as well, such as donkeys, camels, and jackals.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1, TLV).

Erets (pronounced “AIR-rets”), on the other hand, literally refers to land. Blue Letter Bible suggests that this word is likely derived from an unused word meaning “to be firm.” So it essentially means solid ground but is also used to refer to territory held by a tribe or nation. Both of these words are used throughout the Old Testament, although erets is far more common at more than 2,500 uses in each book of the Old Testament and tsiyyiy far less so at a mere 6 uses in the books of Psalms, Isaiah, and Jeremiah.

So with such a wealth of options to choose from to dive into for this study, I used the classic open-and-point technique to choose where to start. And lo and behold! I found myself in the middle of the classic wilderness Bible story: Moses and the Israelites wandering through the desert.

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.’ So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran, according to the command of the Lord, all of them men who were heads of the people of Israel” (Num. 13:1-3, ESV).

Up until this point, the Israelites have been on one long and eventful road trip through the desert. Just a bunch of tsiyyiy wandering around the erets waiting to get to the Promised Land. But when they finally get there, things go south pretty quickly. God has Moses send one chief from each tribe (12 guys in all) to scout out the land, its people, and its resources for 40 days to see exactly what they would be up against and what they could expect when they moved in to take over (Num. 13:17-20). Two of these guys, Joshua and Caleb, are super optimistic when they get back and want to go back in and take the land.

But what about the other guys? Well, they aren’t exactly eager to go back and actually end up inspiring a rebellion that would have had the children of Israel hiking back to Egypt (Num. 14:4). (Which, if you’ll remember, isn’t the nicest place to be if you’re an ancient Israelite.) As it happens, the people of Canaan are freakishly strong (and by most accounts literally giants) and their cities are heavily fortified. So the rest of the scouts are convinced that the Israelites are doomed if they stick to the original Promised Land take-over plan (Num. 13:31).

Freaking out and refusing to go in might seem like a logical reaction to most. I mean, I’ve never actually seen a giant, but I can understand how an army of freakishly large men might come across as a little intimating.

But God is not pleased by their lack of faith. As the writer of Hebrews would later explain, it is impossible to please the Lord without faith (Heb. 11:6). These guys have absolutely no faith in the Lord’s ability to fight for them, so an entire generation loses the opportunity to see God’s promise fulfilled in their lifetime. It’s heart-breaking!

“None of the people who saw My glory and My miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness—yet tested Me these ten times and did not obey My Voice—not one of them will see the land I promised to their forefathers. None of those who treated Me with contempt will see it” (Num. 14:22-23, TLV).

Of the Israelites who make it to this point in the journey, we see that Joshua and Caleb (as well as Moses and Aaron—that is, until the events of Numbers 20) are the only ones allowed to enter into Canaan. Why? Well, they are the only ones who trust that the One who got them out of Egypt (Ex. 12-13), through the Red Sea (Ex. 14), fed them and gave them water to drink (Ex. 15:25; 1617:6), and led them to the threshold of the land He promised their forefather Abraham almost 500 years before (Gen. 12:1; Ex. 13:17; Deut. 1:8) is powerful enough to take them from “tsiyyiy life” to Promised Land life. In short, their trust is counted to them as obedience and thus as righteousness.

“And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest? Was it not to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were not able to enter in because of lack of trust” (Heb. 3:18-19, TLV).

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When I was young, my father told me a story about a man and his son. Whether or not this story is true, I can’t say. But it illustrates the relationship between trust and obedience beautifully, so I want to share it with you.

One day a little boy was playing under a tree in his front yard, when his father ran out onto the porch and yelled at him to stop what he was doing and run over to him. The boy could have easily pretended he didn’t hear his father or ignore him outright and his and continued to play. But he didn’t and quickly raced over to his father. His father then pointed back at the tree, and hanging from the lowest branch was a snake, ready to drop on and kill the unsuspecting child. Had the boy not trusted his father, he wouldn’t have obeyed him, and the story probably would have taken a turn for the worst.

So how does trust and the obedience it inspires lead us to rest? Well, when you and I trust and obey the Lord, we are essentially surrendering our own will for our lives to take on His will for us. Laying down our work to take on His.

“For the one who has entered God’s rest has also ceased from his own work, just as God did from His” (Heb. 4:10, TLV).

If I don’t trust someone, then I’m certainly not going to obey that person. And I’m certainly not going to feel comfortable enough around them to 1) let my guard down or 2) let that person call the shots in my life, because I can’t trust whether or not they have my best interests in mind. (It just wouldn’t be natural!)

In the same way, entering into the Lord’s rest requires trust.

Joshua and Caleb weren’t blind. They saw the same mighty men and fortified cities that the other scouts had seen. But they trusted the Lord. They understood that it would be His strength and not their own that would lead them to the place of promise. Because they trusted that the Lord was able (to lead, defend, and sustain them), submission to His will was a natural response.

The same remains true of us: We submit to (and thus obey) what or whom we place our trust in. And we are enslaved to whatever it is that we obey (Rom. 6:16). When we trust in the Lord—that He is faithful like He says He is (Ex. 34:6) and that His plans for us are good like He says they are (Jer. 29:11)—we will obey Him. We then become, as Romans 6:18 says, “slaves of righteousness.” Essentially, Joshua and Caleb surrendered their roles as stars in the process of promise-fulfillment and were more than willing to let the Lord take center stage. The promise was, after all, His to fulfill.

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Much in the same way as the children of Israel, the Lord is leading us out of the wilderness and into the land He has prepared for and promised to us, but we must first yield to His authority as our Provider. He is the One who is singularly responsible for leading us from where we are now to where He is leading us and sustaining us in the meantime.

Resting doesn’t mean sitting back and taking in a beautiful mountain view or curling up with a good book on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good book and a beautiful view, but those are things I can enjoy as I rest. Rest is a way of life. It is a way of living in total surrender. Rest is how you and I say, “I can’t provide my every need, but I will put my trust in the One who can.”

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1, ESV).

What No One Tells You About Contentment

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you something a liiiiittle different…

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Instead of digging into another “word for wilderness,” I want to share something that God has been teaching me about these past few months.  But first, I have to apologize for being so lax in posting new content.

When I first started this whole blogging thing, I set a goal for myself to post once every other week.  Needless to say, life got a little crazy at the end of this last term.  But God bless the beautiful soul who came up with the idea for spring break!  (Seriously, bless you.)  I have a little extra time to sit down and write for fun for a few days, and it’s oh so wonderful.

In spite of the past month’s craziness (and the promise of more craziness to come before graduation), I’ve honestly never felt so much peace about the present and hope for the future.  Which leads me to that “something special” I want to share.

“In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment—both to be filled and to go hungry, to have abundance and to suffer need. I can do all things through Messiah who strengthens me.” –Philippians 4:12-13

Last year, on New Year’s Eve, my brother and I braved the cold to watch the locally famous Marietta “square drop” and wrote our resolutions down next to hundreds of others.  My resolution: “Learn to be content in every season of life.”  No biggie.  And certainly not as demanding as ones I’d made in the past, or so I thought.

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2017 was a good yearfull of new experiences and new (what I hope will be lifelong) friendships.  But it was also a difficult year.  God stretched me in some very unexpected (and often uncomfortable) ways, so it was a year of tremendous emotional and spiritual growth.  Yet in spite of all that, I was still wrestling with God over one very important area of my life.  My will.

When I rang in 2018, I’ll be the first to admit that I was anything but content with how life was going.  I was dissatisfied in my job.  (Let’s face it. Childcare can be a thankless and tedious field to work in even on the best of days.)  I was over school.  (I’ve had senioritis since kindergarten.)  Not to mention, I was beyond frustrated with the way things were looking for me in the romance department.  (At that point, singlehood seemed more like a death sentence than a blessing.)

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” –1 Thessalonians 5:18

What I hadn’t anticipated that New Year’s Eve, when I committed to learning how to be “content in every season of life,” was that God would take me up on that challenge.  And the lesson began with me dying to my will.  Because how could I be content with where God had me if I was still holding on to my expectations for where I “needed” to be?

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Up until a couple of months ago, the suggestion to “give thanks in all circumstances” was one piece of advice I was all too happy to ignore.  Why?  Um, have you ever tried to be content when everything you thought you wanted was going up in smoke?  (Disclaimer: It’s NOT easy.)  Now, discontentment, that’s easy.  Walking through life grumbling and complaining?  Easy peasy.  I used to do it everyday without fail and twice on Sundays.  (Honestly, I should’ve collected a paycheck for complaining, I was so good.)

We humans are naturally inclined to put ourselves first, and that’s exactly what discontentment requires of us.  It is, for all intents and purposes, self-focused.  But contentment?  That’s another ballgame.

Contentment requires us to look beyond ourselves and our circumstances and focus on God.  This is a tall order in today’s me-centric society.  When the message of entitlement seems to permeate every fiber of our culture, blaring from every outlet at once, it can be tempting to buy into the lie that “I am all that matters.”  But when we take our focus off of ourselves and what we want and think we need, and turn our focus to God—and what He desires for us—contentment is a natural result.

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One way that the Lord really brought this lesson to life for me was through the example of Adam.  Before God brought Eve into his life, it was just Adam and God.  And, try as I might, I can’t find any mention of Adam being dissatisfied with his living situation.  I mean, living in a paradisiacal garden with the God of the universe sounds pretty fantastic to me.  I don’t know about you…

“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.'” –Genesis 2:18

But this was what really got me: God decided when Adam needed a helper.  Not Adam.  Adam didn’t know what he was missing until God brought it to him!  He was content to live his life just as he always had—tending to the garden, caring for the animals, and living in constant fellowship with his Father.  But in that place of contentment, God met Adam’s need before he even realized he had one.

Contentment rests in the promise of God’s ability to supply our needs as they arise.  Contentment means that we put our faith in His faithfulness to accomplish His will in our lives.  I think this is what Paul was referring to when he shared the secret of contentment with the Philippians: “I can do all things through Messiah who strengthens me.”  When He is our source of strength, there’s no reason to wallow in self-pity when things go south or wear ourselves out trying to meet our own expectations, because the end result isn’t up to us.  It’s up to Him.

I won’t pretend that I’ve mastered the art of contentment.  It’s something I have to work on every day.  But I can tell you one thing I think I’ve finally figured out:  It pays to be content.  In every season.  In every situation.  In every moment.  In everything.

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9 Words for Wilderness (Part 2)

Until about 10 minutes ago, I had no idea which word for wilderness I was going to write about. To be honest, between work, school, and the general craziness that comes with being a living, breathing human adult, I didn’t know if I would be able to post anything at all anytime soon.

But let me just say, the Lord truly is an eleventh hour God—showing up in ways (and often when) I least expect Him to. That might not rattle the cages of you spontaneous, go-with-the-flow types, but if you know anything about me, you know that I’m a planner. My lists have lists, and I make lists for everything.

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Confession: I have the next 2 months of my life scheduled out in embarrassingly fine detail. That’s a time-management skill though, right?

So staring down a list (case in point) of 8 possible directions to go with this series left me feeling more or less like a deer in the headlights. AI was looking over the other words I could write about, however, there was one that stood out head and shoulders above the rest. Maybe because it’s the one that speaks the most to my present situation.

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The word is tsivah. (Or צִיָּה for you Hebrew scholars out there.)

With a variety of meanings, all synonymous with “parched,” like “dry,” “barren,” and “drought,” this is the one word for wilderness that makes me really, really thirsty. And to add insult to injury, it’s pronounced “see-YAH”—which is exactly what I’d say if you told me that you wanted to take a trip there.

No thanks. You have fun in that dry, barren wasteland. I’ll be over here by the pool with my big ‘ole glass of iced tea.

But something in the definition of tsivah really caught my attention. (In my last post, I mentioned my deep [and completely rational] love for Blue Letter Bible’s lexicon.) As I read on, I was surprised to find that this word is also translated as “solitary place.”

The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.” -Isaiah 35:1

Side note: “Them” that Isaiah is referring to in the verse above is Israel. (Namely the Jewish people.) If you’re not already Jewish and you’ve made Jesus your Lord and Savior, you’re now a part of “them,” too. (Can I get 3 cheers for adoption?)

What I see in the words of Isaiah is the beauty that comes out of the struggle. The children of Israel had been going through a never ending cycle of deliverance, sin, bondage, and deliverance for a very long time. Needless to say, that can make for a frustrating existence, not to mention an isolating one.

If you’ve walked through any measure of difficulty in your life, you—like me—have probably been tempted to believe the lie that you’re walking it alone. (And if you’re anything like me, you’ve been a sucker more times than you care to admit, believing the lie over and over again.) Even when faced with the truth that you’re not alone, however, that feeling of isolation can be a difficult one to shake.

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Sometimes that feeling of loneliness can be so strong it’s tangible—wrapping around your heart and wringing out all your hope, joy, and peace, then dragging you down to a place that you never wanted to go. Believe me, I know. I’ve been there.

As an introvert, I physically need to be alone from time to time to recharge. Give me a good book, and I will happily camp out on my sofa all day long with my favorite blanket and read. (Just don’t forget to feed me.) But I’ve also been in a near-constant battle with depression since I was 10 years old, and depression thrives on isolation. And so does addiction. And anxiety. Why?

Because God didn’t create us to be alone!

Even the most introverted person in the world gets antsy when left alone for too long. Too much solitude is uncomfortable for anyone, and this is a good thing. We were never meant to live in that place.

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In Isaiah 7, we read that the dry, parched wasteland that the people of God had called home for so long was about to go through a radical transformation—becoming a lush, tropical paradise. It would be beautiful, habitable, and unrecognizable.

“And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes.” -Isaiah 35:7

This is such an incredible illustration that these dry, barren, solitary places aren’t meant to be where you or I make our home. We’re just passing through them, and one day “the desert will rejoice” and we will see why we needed to travel down that path. Go through that experience. Face that failure.

The wilderness is often a place of struggle and tremendous hardship. But more than that, it’s a place of preparation. Sometimes we enter this place of solitude by choice. But more often than not we don’t. Regardless of how we get there, however, God will always prove Himself to be faithful, leading us out of those dry, barren places and into the next seasons of our lives as we continue to seek Him.

“He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water. And there he lets the hungry dwell, and they establish a city to live in.” -Psalm 107-35-36

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A Dance Invitation

To be honest, I have no idea how to begin this whole blogging thing or if anyone other than my mother is ever going to read anything I post. (Hi Mom!) But for the past few months I’ve had this desire to write about life’s rough patches—i.e., wilderness experiences, dry seasons, valleys, or whatever the church kids are calling them these days. Personally, I prefer the term dances in the desert.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t enjoy going through these experiences any more than the next girl (or guy), but there is a lot to be said about walking through a difficult season in life and the growth that often results. Especially when you walk through that season leaning on the strength of Jesus Christ. So I hope you’ll join me on this journey, as I take a closer look at this beautiful place that is the wilderness and the source of joy and hope that traveling through this place can bring.

He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.” –Deuteronomy 32:10