I Think We Walked Passed That Tree Already:
Recognizing When We Are Lost
The process of realizing that we are lost is very similar to that of the stages of grief. First, there is denial: “I know exactly where we are. When we come up over this hill it will be right there.” Then anger: “Get that map out of my face! It’s a no good, outdated, piece of junk!” Next comes bargaining: “Well, just for argument’s sake, let’s say I should have taken that turn back there…” Shortly followed by depression: “What is life but just a long, sad, stretched out piece of road before us? Is it even worth carrying on?!” And then finally acceptance: “Okay. You win. We are lost.” We see the symptoms of our lostness long before we accept it for what it is. It is not until it is staring us dead in the face that we are moved to accept the reality of our situation.
Our pride gets in the way of us truly grasping what is happening, which proves to be a significant problem as we do not realize the error of our ways until after there are already consequences to be faced. If we had recognized the fact that we were lost earlier on there would be far less backtracking to do and it would be far less difficult to do it. I personally have found myself in that situation more times than I would like to admit throughout my life, and it meant that, once I came to terms with how deep I had gotten into the spiritual wilderness, I had to break off a number of relationships I had built in my lostness. My lostness did not only hurt me, but it also did a lot of damage to the ones that I dragged along with me. Praise be to God, though, because, despite my shortcomings and failures, He has brought about good in all of those situations! He has certainly proved the statement true, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen. 50:20 NIV)
But how do we recognize when we are beginning to drift out of the city of God and into the spiritual wilderness? There are several aspects that really define the spiritual wilderness, and the recognition of any one of them can serve as a warning that we may be wandering. The most evident feature of the spiritual wilderness is isolation. We no longer see or spend time with other believers. We begin to lose interest in fellowship and church. It may start out as just deciding that we are really tired this morning, and it probably wouldn’t hurt if we just slept through church just this once. Or maybe we stop making time to meet with a friend that we know holds us accountable. It is never just an all of the sudden thing. No one wakes up one morning and decides that today would be a good day to never step foot in a church again. So when we begin to feel ourselves becoming isolated from the Christian community, then we know that we are on the brink of the spiritual wilderness. We need to turn back before we find ourselves in the complete isolation of the spiritual wilderness not certain which way to turn.
The spiritual wilderness is also devoid of infrastructure. There is nothing there that was not either grown there or dropped there by someone passing through. You don’t find public restrooms in the middle of the forest, nor air conditioning in the middle of the desert. No one bothers to install an electrical outlet in the middle of nowhere because there is no one around to use it. In the same way, the spiritual wilderness does not have any of the usual infrastructures that we would normally rely on for things like transportation, communication, and basic living.
We can’t turn on the tap and find the Living Water, we can’t turn up the spiritual thermostat when we are in need of the warmth and comfort of the Spirit, and our shelter must be erected with our own hands. This happens when we neglect our quiet times with God, thereby turning down the opportunity for our cup to run over with the Water of Life. We spend no time abiding in God, and so we can not receive the warmth and peace of Spirit. And when the perilous storms come, we have no place to take refuge, as we have lost sight of what it means to have the Lord as our fortress. All of these are clear indicators that we have left civilization and are off wandering on our own, away from the fold of God.
Yet do not lose hope, because, like the wandering sheep, Christ promises that He will come after us and bring us back to Himself. “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.” (John 17:11-12 NIV) He laid down His life for the sheep. How much more will He chase after those that are His and accept us when we return to Him? No amount of wandering and lostness can ever diminish the love that God has for His people. He will always bring them back to Himself as long as we are willing to humble ourselves, receive His help, and let Him guide us back into the city of God. If we recognize today that we are in the spiritual wilderness, let us commit to turning back at once. To stumble in the darkness no longer and let the Light of the World illuminate our lives so that we can walk with Him once more.
With the love and grace given to us through Christ,