Here's another possibility regarding this "being in the wilderness" feeling. Perhaps it isn't just a transition between the familiarity and security of the institutional church, and the move into the ... well, into what???
That's a good question. What comes after the institutional church? Maybe you've read a book or heard stories of how wonderful it is to be part of the "New Testament church." Maybe you've just bailed out of where you were, but have no idea what happens next.
Maybe you found a little group, a little gathering, that seemed to you (at first, anyway) to function like those wonderful descriptions of the early church in Acts. But maybe it didn't take long before your expectations were crushed and disappointment crept in; and maybe you're wondering if it can be "fixed" or if you should look elsewhere or if there's a "real New Testament church" anywhere. Maybe it's safer to just stay in the wilderness. Hidden.
Maybe you live in a town where it seems that all believers, all the ones you've met anyway, are content with the traditional status quo, and you are pretty sure you really are alone. (And maybe it seems like it's easier to hide away, away from their questions, and their judgements. Because you really feel like finding real church is going to be impossible.)
Maybe you've heard rumours that there's a little group out there gathering and focusing on living together centered in the headship of Christ, but you don't know how to contact them, or you're shy ... or afraid. Afraid that once again, "church" might not work out. Afraid that maybe you'll be rejected. Afraid that you'll be asked to accept some doctrine or theology you're not comfortable with - or that they will be opposed to what you believe. Afraid that hidden behind their apparent loving community there might still be human control and authority and that it might just end up being "going to church at home." (So maybe it's safer to just stay put in your little wilderness cave, right?)
Maybe some part of your heart is still back there in the group you left; maybe you miss people, or the particular "worship" form, or the "security" or whatever. Or...
Maybe some part of your heart is elsewhere. Maybe you're still clinging to some "idols" in your life. Maybe you're preoccupied with some favored activity in your life. Maybe you're longing for some thing you believe will make you happy. Maybe something in your life already gives you a lot of happiness and you're afraid you'll have to give it up.
When it comes down to it, maybe you are actually afraid that you'll be required to give all of your heart to Jesus. (Aren't we all afraid of that? I know I am. Sometimes I'm sure I've given it all over - and then He gently points out another thing I'm holding back. So maybe I'm afraid of that, too. Because maybe I'm afraid that His gentle requests hide disapproval now and judgement down the line. Isn't that a "lesson" I learned a long time ago? I "know" it isn't true, but sometimes maybe I'm still not convinced...)
Maybe you're wondering if you might be wrong after all, even heretical, and that you're sliding down a slippery slope. That maybe you really should go back to ... well, back to Egypt, maybe? Though you desperately don't want to. But... what if? (No, I just can't go back. But if I go forward, and I'm wrong, what then? I've been wrong so often. Haven't I? Haven't I?)
Maybe the idea of seven day a week togetherness, that sharing-community-life kind of living, is a bit overwhelming when you've been used to putting "church" into a safe compartment of your life. (And do I really want "those people" to truly be family? Living right here in my every single day life? With no safe cocoon to retreat to? Do I?)
Maybe the freedom Christ promises you in Him scares you. Maybe it doesn't sound very safe. Maybe you're afraid that the real Christ, the one that you've seen glimpses of in the New Testament and even in your own walk with Him, the Christ who is unfettered by the scaffolding that man has built around Him, maybe you're afraid He really isn't safe. Maybe you're afraid He'll ask you to go way beyond your comfort zone. (And probably you're right. Oh. Is He worth it? Is He?)
Maybe you left institutionalized Christianity with your heart deeply wounded, and while you know Jesus has been healing you, you're still afraid to step back into anything "church" again because your experience with that word brings pain just thinking about it. (Maybe "church" - even the "real church" - will hurt me again. Can I take that?)
It could even be that you've even actually been having an amazing personal journey with Jesus, just the two of you, and you really don't look forward to the idea of stepping out and sharing that journey with others. Maybe you're pretty sure that other folks would mess up your beautiful little safe space. You don't see it as a wilderness but as a beautiful little secret garden and you really don't want it invaded by others, and you also don't want to open the gate and step outside because you are pretty sure it is a jungle out there. (And even though you sense pretty strongly that Jesus is asking you to join Him out there, you're really not sure you want to go.)
Maybe any or all of these "maybe's" are keeping you (and yes, me) in the wilderness. Keeping us hiding out. Alone. Separated from the church, our family, our brothers and sisters in Christ. And because of that, separated in some sense from the fulness of Jesus Himself, because the family is in Him and He is in them. And it is only in being one with His family that we can be and have all that He wants for us in Him.
Are you in hiding? Am I in hiding? Are we holding ourselves back from all the potential He is offering us, wanting us to experience in Him and in His family? Holding ourselves back from our part in His Kingdom, from our inheritance as children of the King?
Perhaps the wilderness I feel I am in now, was, in the beginning, a necessary transitioning place where Father wanted to meet with me, to reveal Himself to me, to show me how much He loves me, to clear away all the scaffolding that was keeping me from meeting Him and knowing Him face to face.
But clearly, He doesn't intend for me to stay in the wilderness. The promised land is just ahead. The gates to the fulness of the Kingdom are wide open. My King and Lord and elder brother is standing there with His arms held wide open, begging me to come on in and take my place as His honored and beloved child.
So why am I hanging back here in the shadows? Why do I cling to the wilderness? Why don't I want to go all the way in? What am I hiding from? Are my reasons for hiding worth what I am giving up? Why won't I trust Him?
Why oh why don't I trust Him?
Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit ... I do want to trust You. I do want to stop hiding. I do want to walk wherever You take me. I do want to be part on Your family - on Your terms, whatever that means and however that works out. (Whether I "like" it or not. Oh dear).
No more hiding, Lord. (Please help me. Thank You).
(Oh, by the way... Here are a couple posts that have helped me see that I have been hiding. And that have encouraged me to leave behind my "safe" little hiding spot, barren wilderness though it be, and take Jesus hand, and take the hands of all my brothers and sisters whenever and however He chooses to bring them into my life. Walking together. In and through and by His love and His life.
"Coming out of the theological closet" by Kurt Willems at redletterchristians.
"Loneliness and the Journey" by Wayne Jacobsen at lifestream
"12 steps to identifying your functional saviors" at the thinklings
Thanks to all of you for these articles.
(Oh yes. And thank YOU, Lord. Most of all.)