Wilderness Worship

“Wilderness is still the place of worship.” 

– Michael Card, A Sacred Sorrow

wilderness

Everything Jeremiah knows and loves is gone. The enemy has come into his city—God’s city–to steal, kill, and destroy. To him, the world is ending.

He mourns the destruction of his nation in the Old Testament book of Lamentations. There, he uses horrific word-pictures to articulate what he sees and to express what he feels. We, particularly North Americans, aren’t used to these graphic laments. They are shocking—God is like a bear lying in wait. Upsetting—God points his arrows at his own people. Even gross—mothers resort to boiling and eating their own children because of famine.

These images are supposed to shock us, upset us, and even gross us out. Jeremiah uses exaggerative words to try to do some justice to this Babylonian invasion. He wants us to feel it. And we do.

By the end of Lamentations, you get the sense everything is wiped out. Absolutely obliterated. Make no mistake, there is carnage and corpses all around. Jeremiah is surrounded. But it’s a desolate kind of surrounded. There’s no refuge. No place to hide. You can see for miles. It’s devoid of life. The great City, now like the wilderness that lies to its east.

Jeremiah’s life has become a wilderness. And his life represents Judah’s very existence. He’s alone and hopeless. So is the nation. But in the middle of his tear-stained poetry, he sings of hope for him and the nation. He turns his attention to the only Refuge left:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

It’s easy for us, when we feel like everything in our life, or even one treasured thing, has been wiped out to flatly say, “Okay. Everything will be fine. God’s got this. He’ll come through.” Of course he will. But what kind of “come through” do you have in mind?

The hope for Jeremiah—and you and me—is God himself, who is our “portion.” It’s this word—portion—which changes everything. It’s like Jeremiah is saying, “The only thing that will get me through the wilderness is Yahweh himself. Nothing else will do. He’s all I got left.”

I find it’s that way for me. What about you? It’s in the wilderness where God exposes our false hopes—whatever they may be. We had been in a vanity fair of material possessions, ministry success, political ideology, a soul mate, organizational influence, family status, social reputation, financial security. At one time shiny and full of promises, now, they’re crushed, rusted over, and wiped out. We’re alone.

At first, it’s grim. The world—our world—is ending. So we kick and scream. God, why? Just like Jeremiah and the other prophets.

But then we weep not mainly because of the carnage around us bad as it is, but because we begin to see our own sin. We desire the fair. There, it’s easier to hide our true selves. There, it’s easier to hide from our true selves. We desire the fair more than we’d like to believe.

But God won’t let his children stay there long. Eventually, he leads us into the wilderness—as he did his own Son. There he reveals there is no hiding place but him. Even more, he reveals that he is our prize, our treasure, our inheritance. He takes us into the wilderness not to exhaust us. Though does it feel exhausting. Rather, it’s to refresh us with himself. Indeed, he must be our refreshment, because he is the only thing, the only One, wholly capable of doing so.

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