What is a wilderness journey? And why does mine never seem to come to an end?

Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be My follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow Me”(Luke 9:23). i am certain i had heard that verse many times before, but the first time i remember hearing it was February 21, 1991. i was enjoying my life. i had a wonderful wife, a delightful son and daughter (3 and 1½), and a successful career. Though at 36 i had not yet reached the pinnacle of my career, i was climbing the ladder and everything was good.

A few weeks earlier, the woman that God had given me turned to me and said, “a Bible Study is starting that I would like to attend, and I want us to do it together.” i can honestly tell you that was the last thing i wanted to do, but as LaVonne flashed those baby-browns at me, i couldn’t come up with a good enough reason quickly enough. So, on that Thursday night, i found myself sitting beside my wife in a couple’s living room with 16 other people – feeling somewhat trapped. At that moment, i was walking through a job change so i figured if i hung in there for a few weeks my new job would give me good reason to bow out gracefully. As a matter of fact, i smugly shared a prayer request that first night that was anything but sincere, asking folks to pray that my new job wouldn’t prevent me from continuing for the entire six-month study. i figured that was a good way to begin setting the stage for my departure. (By the way – be careful about what you ask others to pray for. They prayed… and that new job fell through!) Thus began a journey that the Lord used to draw me to Himself on Sunday, May 26, 1991. Granted, it was a journey, not a single moment. But that’s the day, i nailed it down and made it public.

Throughout the weeks prior – and most every day since – i knew i wanted to follow Jesus wherever and however He leads. i knew that taking up the cross wouldn’t be a cushy assignment and it wouldn’t be an easy journey. But i also knew there was nowhere else that i was supposed to be – or truly wanted to be. The journey led to an unexpected career shift into vocational ministry. And the last 27+ years has been characterized by more unexpected twists and turns that invariably have brought us back into the wilderness.

You’ve been there. The wilderness is that unfamiliar place that you didn’t intend to walk into. It’s full of unknowns and challenges. It can be a wilderness that was brought on by health challenges, loss of a loved one, loss of a job or increased challenges at your job, financial challenges, and the like. It’s that place that you’ve never walked through before. Sometimes we willingly step out on a wilderness journey, but most times we are unexpected travelers. Nothing about it is familiar, and you can’t draw from past experiences to maneuver. All you can do is trust the Father and look to Him to lead you on and lead you out. But i have come to learn that it is less about the destination than it is about the work that He is doing in my life through the journey.

i have found that you encounter three types of people when you’re walking in a wilderness journey. I learned this from Bruce Wilkinson years ago. There’s the “bully” – the one who wants to tell you all the things you have done wrong, and the reasons for why you’re where you are. They may not have intended to beat you down, but that was the result. The next one is the “buddy” – the one who is a sympathetic ear. They want to encourage you, but they just don’t know how. They haven’t walked this way before, so they don’t have a good frame of reference. The third is the “buster” – and may their tribe increase! The buster has walked through their own wilderness – may even still be in the midst of one themselves – but God uses them to encourage you, speak truth to you, and give you a hand-up along the way. i have met all three through my journeys – even this week. And i am grateful for the many “busters” God has placed in my path along the way.

Several folks have asked me – even this week – why i keep writing books about journeys in the wilderness. Maybe it’s because i have spent so much time in the wilderness that the Lord is permitting me to earn my PhD in wilderness travel {smile}. But actually – it is because my hope and prayer is that through the books, LaVonne and i can be “busters” that come along side others who are in their own wilderness journey. To quote D. T Niles, we are but “beggars wanting to share with other beggars where we have found bread.” And one thing we can tell you is that the Lord is faithful. As much as we may long to be out of the wilderness, we wouldn’t trade a day of it – and all that the Master has taught us and done in our lives through it. So over the next few weeks, i plan to write more about what God is teaching us through our journey. My prayer is that it encourages you along your way!