October 10, 2021

When You Are Wandering in the Wilderness

            Participate in nursing home worship a few times and you will soon discover that residents who no longer talk will begin singing, from memory, some of the great old gospel songs. Singing unlocks memories still preserved in aging minds. Seeing and hearing that happen is a beautiful experience.

            A good memory is a gift of God and I am delighted that in my advanced years I still remember the words of many hymns that I have sung hundreds of times in worship. So, to frighten loneliness away, I often entertain myself by singing songs that I love, songs that reaffirm lessons God has taught me. “Trust and Obey” is one such song, and as I sing these words I am refurbishing my faith:

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,

What a glory He sheds on our way!

While we do His good will He abides with us still,

And with all who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way

To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

            Those two words – trust and obey – are the gates to victorious living for Christ followers. Trust the Lord. Why? Because of Who He is. He is the Creator of all things, of the world, of myself, and of all those who are dear to me. He is my Redeemer who loves me. I can trust Him because He loves me. He is my Shepherd who is ready to guide me, correct me, comfort me and use me. He forgave my sins when He died on the cross. He is the only true Source of joy and peace and hope. He offers me the free gift of eternal life. He keeps His promises.

            Obey the Lord. Why? Because obedience is the pathway to blessing. He rewards my obedience with His blessings which are greater than the blessings offered by the world. Obedience is the gate to life. Disobedience is the gate to defeat, disappointment and death. If I break the Lord’s commandments, I really break my life. To refuse to obey the Lord is like spitting into the wind or like sliding down the banisters of life with the splinters all pointed in my direction.

No one ever defined “trust and obey” better than Solomon: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6). A man is never wiser than on the day when he admits that he is not smarter than God. Until that day the foolish man “leans” on his own understanding instead of trusting God.

Study the Psalms and you discover that these songs the Israelites sang often included the “commands” of the Lord, the most frequent of which is “Praise the Lord.” Psalm 100, for example, includes several commands: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord; Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before His presence with singing; Know that the Lord is God; Enter his gates with thanksgiving; Be thankful to Him and bless His name.”

Psalm 100 was evidently composed to be sung during the annual celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, known also as the Sukkot. When God established this feast, through Moses (Leviticus 23), He used this words: Take branches from luxuriant trees—from palms, willows and other leafy trees—and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.” There is a command: “Rejoice before the Lord your God.” The Israelites were instructed, by God, to live for seven days in temporary shelters, or “flimsy booths” to remind them of their disobedience while wandering in the wilderness and living in temporary shelters when God “brought them out of Egypt.”

How did they disobey God? They complained about their problems instead of praising God for their deliverance. So why does God command them to “rejoice in the Lord their God? Because praise – rejoicing – is the pathway out of the wilderness! We see this clearly in the New Testament when Saint Paul, more than once, tells his suffering Christian friends to rejoice always, giving thanks in all circumstances!

I have learned that rejoicing is the pathway out my wilderness days. Complaining only makes my plight worse. But what helps is to embrace the truth that God’s commands are not suggestions! What He instructs me to do are commands. So when I am in the wilderness of self-pity, or depression, or loneliness, or discouragement, or suffering, or prolonged grief, I try to remember that God commands me to get outside, look up at the stars and the clouds, and rejoice in the Lord!  The truth is, no matter how dire my circumstances, I have reason to rejoice in the Lord my God!

And what better way to rejoice than to sing! I can sing the Psalms! I can sing the songs stored in my memory bank, like this one: “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say Rejoice!” When I am in tears, when sorrow has me by the throat, I can refuse to complain and rejoice in the Lord – and walk right out of the wilderness.

When you find yourself in the wilderness, remember: There is a way out. You don’t have to stay there!  You can sing your way out! + + +