Wilderness #2: Walking with Others in the Wilderness

Moses said to Hobab, descendant of Reuel the Midianite and Moses’s relative by marriage, “We’re setting out for the place the Lord promised, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us, and we will treat you well, for the Lord has promised good things to Israel.” But he replied to him, “I don’t want to go. Instead, I will go to my own land and my relatives.” “Please don’t leave us,” Moses said, “since you know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you can serve as our eyes. If you come with us, whatever good the Lord does for us we will do for you.”

Numbers 10:29—32
A Monastery in the Desert

Edward Powell was the pastor of Grand Bay Baptist Church when my family and I were living in Nerepis. I love Edward. He was one of the most supportive friends I had during our time there. One of the most wonderful things about Edward is that at the end of every conversation with him, either in person or on the phone, he would pray for you. Even when he left a voice mail, he would pray.

A few years before moving here my wife went through a few months of having horrible insomnia. Most nights it took her hours to fall asleep. Sometimes she would have fallen asleep just before the sun came up. Once in awhile she didn’t fall asleep at all. And so you can imagine what that must have been like. I was a full-time pastor. We had our three kids. It was exhausting and stressful. After talking to Edward about this, he offered to come over to spend some time praying with us about it. He also asked if he could bring someone else who had had a similar experience. So they came over and we shared and we prayed. What I still treasure is how someone was with us when we were having a hard time. Whatever else we can say, we didn’t feel alone.

In Galatians 6:2, Paul writes: Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. We all have burdens. But we don’t have to carry them alone. Sometimes the only thing worse than being in the wilderness is being alone in the wilderness. This morning we’re talking about walking with others in the wilderness. Our key question is: Who will walk with you in the wilderness?

There’s a stereotype about men that if they get lost while traveling they don’t want to ask for help with directions. And the truth is, a lot of us don’t like asking for help. Maybe because it makes us feel vulnerable. We don’t want to look weak. We think we should find our own way through whatever circumstances we’re in.

As we see in our passage from Numbers, the Israelites were in the wilderness, journeying to the promised land. And in our passage Moses asks Hobab to come with them to help guide them. Now, some might think this shows a lack of faith on Moses’ part. After all, the Israelites had the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night to guide them. But I think it shows humility on Moses’ part. I think that it takes courage to ask for help. It takes courage to admit you need help. It’s risky. It means stepping beyond our fear and pride.

We live in a culture that emphasizes self-reliance, independence, handling things on your own. We don’t want to bother other people with our worries. We think we shouldn’t, that we’re not supposed to. And I think this same attitude or way of seeing things is in the church too. If I can be honest, too often even in church (or around other Christians) it’s sort of like we have to not only put on our best clothes but our best moods. We have to pretend we’re not hurting, that we’re not confused, that we’re not having a difficult time. It’s as though being open about our struggles will somehow ruin everything.

Once I had someone who led a depression support group come share with our church. I was really struck by the fact that those who go to this group can simply vent, talk about messy stuff, and be themselves. Like AA. When you go to a support group, there’s no hiding. Simply attending is an admission that you need help from other people. Though it often isn’t, church ought to be like that too.

So, the first thing about walking with others in the wilderness with others is this: Walking with others in the wilderness means admitting we need others. Coming to church should be like admitting that I can’t trust God on my own—and all the more so when I’m in the wilderness. When we come here, to some extent we should be free to stand up and say, “Hi, my name is Derek, and I struggle with anxiety.” The community of the church is—or should be—a support group.

So, let’s ask: When you’re going through a difficult time, is asking for help difficult? Do you experience church as a place where you can be honest about your struggles? Would you like it if church were this kind of place?

I’ve had the blessing of being in online spiritual formation groups with other pastors, and I am in one now. We meet each week online. It’s a valuable and profound experience because there are things pastors can only talk about with one another. Because only other pastors understand. We’ve traveled the same territory.

When Moses asked his brother in law Hobab to come with them to serve as eyes to guide them on their journey, he had a specific reason for doing so. When Moses married, he married a Midianite woman—Zipporah—and Hobab was Moses’ brother in law. Midianites were wilderness nomads. This means they knew the territory.

That’s why Moses says to Hobab: Please do not leave us, for you know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you will serve as eyes for us. So in asking Hobab, he was asking someone who could help them on their journey, someone already familiar with where to look for water, where to find vegetation for their animals, what the dangers were. Moses knew what he didn’t know.

Rob Renfroe, in his book A Way Through the Wilderness, writes this: “God will bring into your life someone who knows the terrain and challenges you are facing. God will place someone in the middle of your wilderness who has been there before you, knows the way through, and will teach you the lessons you need to learn.”

Now, it’s probably the case that you won’t share your deepest struggles with everyone. Maybe there’s one or two people who you know you can trust with your struggle. You know they’ll accept you and love you no matter what you share. Proverbs 17:17 says A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. It also makes me think of Paul’s words in Romans 12:15: Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

But there’s another dimension to this also. I know that if I am having a hard time in my life and I’m having trouble seeing why God might allow these particular circumstances, I don’t just want someone who’s had a similar experience, but someone who can show me how to trust God even when life is hard. In other words, I would want a more experienced Christian, a spiritually mature believer who has also wrestled with God.

Because, remember, Moses and the Israelites weren’t on just any journey. They were going where God was leading them. They were learning how to trust God in the most barren, desolate places. They were on their way to the Promised Land. So are we. Between here and there, we’re learning to trust God.So we can also say this: walking with others in the wilderness means having others with us who know the terrain and can encourage us to keep walking with God while we’re going through it.

Let me ask:If you were to find yourself in a spiritual wilderness, who could you talk to about it? Who has been where you are? Are you comfortable asking for prayer for personal struggles?How might God want to use the presence of other people in your life to draw you closer to him?

After he asks Hobab to come with them, Moses says to him: And if you do go with us, whatever good the Lord will do to us, the same will we do to you. Hobab will enjoy the same blessings as Moses and the Israelites. So lastly: walking with others in the wilderness means sharing what we learn with others. We help as we’ve been helped. We bless others as others have blessed us. When we’ve had someone pray with us about our struggles, we’re learning how to pray with others who are hurting. There are times when we’re on the receiving end; other times we’re on the giving end.

Walking with others in the wilderness is also not mostly about giving advice or having answers to someone’s problems. It’s mostly about being there. Being present. Because people will have problems we have no idea how to solve, but that doesn’t mean we can’t walk with them.

So maybe it’s being a shoulder to cry on or taking someone out for coffee so they can talk and you can listen. We underestimate the value of listening. Listening is a form of ministry. In fact, more than advice, it’s about sharing our own stories. It’s a way of saying, “Been there.” It’s also about remembering and sharing how God was with us while we were in the wilderness.

The question to ask ourselves is this: Who around me is hurting or struggling? Who can I come alongside and encourage? What can I share from my own experience that will help someone else to trust God even in a difficult season? Because when we—or someone we know—ends up in the wilderness, it’s important to know that you’re never alone.  

One thought on “Wilderness #2: Walking with Others in the Wilderness

  1. Love this. You are absolutely right… the Holy Spirit stands by to help guide us through the good, the bad & the ugly. But we have to humble ourselves to seek him. God impressed upon me years ago that it is the God-pursuing ones whose steps are ordered by Him. And He promises in Jeremiah that he WILL be found by us! Part of that is acknowledging those He sends to us – that godly voice in the midst of a rough place, AND to BE that godly voice for someone else. God created us for relationship.

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