I love The Cosby Show. Don’t know a single kid from the 80’s who doesn’t. TVLand ran a marathon the other night and StevieP and I could not turn it off.
I tried to pick my favorite episode, but with every one we watched or reminisced it seemed they all are favorites. Among the top are the one where Theo is introduced to “The Real World,” the one where Theo gets his ear pierced, and the one with Rudy’s sleepover when Cliff gives the kids bucking horse-rides, saving the last ride for Peter. (If you need to smile right now, click the links to watch a clip of each episode.)
One particular Cosby episode has come to mind, though, the one where newly married Sondra and Elvin announce their plans to open a “Wilderness Store” in Brooklyn. Claire and Cliff are livid as plans for medical school and law school are seemingly laid to rest. Cliff hopes Elvin catches poison ivy and Claire wants Cliff to take Elvin “on a long trip in the country and drop ‘em off.”
If you ask me, Cliff and Claire were right to be concerned. I mean, think about it. A “Wilderness Store” in Brooklyn? Doesn’t make for a great business venture. But the couple’s bad business idea was the least of the Huxtable’s worries; they didn’t want their “baby” throwing away her dreams and spending life in “the wilderness.”
Without knowing it, many of us have done what Sondra and Elvin did, only spiritually. We’ve thrown away our dream of happy, fulfilled living for the reality of disciplined, mundane Christianity.
I have been living in the spiritual wilderness for the past I-don’t-know-how-long. If you were to watch me, you’d see me going about business as usual, everything the normal amount of crazy for my life and home. But underneath the surface my heart has been sore. My soul, parched. My body weak and spirit weary from living out my faith with an assortment of action and busyness.
If you missed my previous post, click this link and go back to take a look at where I was. I was frustrated with just about everyone around me; family, friends and strangers alike. Everyone seemed to rub me wrong or let me down. I was moody, swinging from overly emotional to intentionally aloof.
I was pouring every last ounce of me into doing my faith and ministry and it was leaving me dry. Parched. Empty.
But isn’t living for The Lord supposed to fulfill me?
Before I go too far into my story, let me simply explain what I mean by “the wilderness.”
First outta the chute, let’s clarify what The Wilderness is NOT:
- It’s not a trial, difficult situation or circumstance.
- It’s not grief or sorrow due to a loss.
- It is not “burn out.”
- It cannot be blamed on Satan.
Here’s what The Wilderness is:
- It is dryness within, a lack of purpose, a loss of meaning.
- It is “going through the motions” with no passion.
- It is having eternal life in the hereafter, but no “abundant life” on earth.
- It is the result of sinful attitudes.
If you read that list and it meant nothing to you, you may not be a Wilderness wanderer. However, if you read that list and found yourself saying, “OhMyGoodnessYES!” then this is for you.
Welcome to The Wilderness.
As I mentioned in my last post, The Lord took the blinders off me with a series preached by Pastor James MacDonald titled, “Lord, Change My Attitude Before It’s Too Late.” Y’all, I honestly had no idea that my attitude was the root of my problem. I listened intently to each of the messages broadcast during the month of June and all I can say is I needed steel-toed boots. God stomped all over my toes with this.
I began to understand how He feels about my attitude, how it speaks so much louder than my actions of who I really am. It was an embarrassing realization, which I will no doubt share the hideous details of, but the facts I quote will come from James MacDonald’s book, which bears the same name as the series. Seriously, I cannot even begin to tell y’all how much I needed this.
So, have I scared you yet? Ready for a hike? Hope you grabbed those boots I mentioned ‘cause this trail ain’t for sissies.
The Wilderness. Think more of a desert than a forest. Imagine dry, lifeless, scorching heat. Someplace you probably wouldn’t choose to visit and definitely wouldn’t want to live.
This is where the children of Israel found themselves after their exile from Egypt. They had been slaves and God sent Moses to set them free. They physically experienced Almighty God through the parting of the Red Sea, a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. They had the Ten Commandments and the Ark of the Covenant ridin’ sidesaddle. They had both visible and tangible evidence of God, even though they were in the physical wilderness.
After eighteen months of traveling, they made it to the edge of the land “flowing with milk and honey” God had promised them. But guess what happened? God said No. Nope. Nu-uh. No-way-Jose am I giving you this land now. Back to the wilderness you go. Scoot-scoot.
Have you ever stopped and really wondered WHY God wouldn’t let them go in? WHY a loving God would instead kill off an entire generation of His own people?
Hearing this story since childhood, I’ve always chalked it up to crazy Old Testament stuff and focused just on the end of the story, when they sent the spies to check out the land and the prospects of their occupying it.
I’ve always assumed God wouldn’t let them in because they were afraid and didn’t trust Him. The twelve spies returned and only two of them (Joshua and Caleb) had faith God would provide victory; the other ten had no faith whatsoever. They were ready to stone the two faithful spies and even said, “We wish we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness,” (Numbers 14:2). They were certain “Jehovah will kill us there, and our wives and little ones will become slaves,” (Numbers 14:3).
Seriously? After all God had done for them, they reasoned that He would bring them into the Promised Land simply to kill them? What a waste of time and miracles.
I figured these comments alone were enough to make God mad and decide to pull the plug. I mean, they were getting what they asked for, right?
But here’s the thing I’ve learned: The incident with the spies was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“God never gets angry without a good reason.” ~James MacDonald
These people—these precious, chosen children of God, had bad attitudes from Day 1. God had been putting up with their “grumbling” throughout the entire journey and by this point He was just done with them.
“The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron saying, ‘How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel, which they are making against Me. Say to them, “As I live,” says The Lord, “just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you. Your corpses will fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against Me.”” ~Numbers 14:26-29
Wow. Would you agree that God was angry and that it possibly had to do with the peoples’ attitudes?
As MacDonald teaches, “God doesn’t just lose it and then wonder what happened.” This radical move was purposeful. It was intended to teach us something, as we see it referred to over and over again in scripture.
“All these things happened to them as examples—as object lessons to us—to warn us against doing the same things; they were written down so that we could read about them and learn from them in these last days as the world nears its end.” ~1 Corinthians 10:11
When I really felt the gravity of the situation, I wanted to know exactly what those people did so I could do the exact opposite. I do not want that sort of righteous anger zeroed-in anywhere near the target on my back.
So what did they do that was so bad? The old King James Version of scripture says they were “murmuring” and God heard it. ALL of it. Their complaining, grumbling, pitiful, irritating murmurmurmurmur…and He was like, “One more outburst from you and I will be forced to strangle you with this microphone wire.” (Adam Sandler, The Wedding Singer. You’re welcome.)
If you’re a parent, I’m sure you know exactly the sound I’m talking about. It’s annoying and God was finally like, “ENOUGH!”
Here’s an understatement: God is serious about our attitudes. Maybe, like me, you’ve been mostly concerned with your ACTIONS, but I’m here to ask you to rethink that. This story and these passages of scripture make it dead clear just how important our attitudes are to God. And His response to our attitudes is still the same as back then: He judges them. Only, He doesn’t thrust us into a physical wilderness anymore; He allows us to experience a spiritual one.
The cool thing is we have a big part in determining whether this happens to us or not. We choose our attitudes. They don’t choose us; we choose them. We must accept this as fact or else we will never be able to choose differently.
“Attitudes are patterns of thinking formed over a long period of time.” ~James MacDonald
Take note of that statement because the course of this study hangs on this thought. Over our lifetime, we develop patterns or ways of thinking about the world. Attitudes are like habits and some of them are harmful.
I began to take notice of my patterns of thinking and uggh. They were disgusting. I began to annoy myself with my own thoughts. No wonder God got sick of it; He was listening to THOUSANDS of peoples’ thoughts and words. Remember Bruce Almighty and all the voices in his head whenever people prayed? Now imagine them all whining, complaining, griping. (Oh wait. I’m a mom and a youth pastor’s wife. I don’t have to imagine.)
There are five attitudes that Pastor MacDonald identifies that constitute this “murmuring” way of life that leads to wilderness wandering. I will go ahead and tell you I have had all five at some point or other, and when this series aired, I was specifically dealing with three.
Now here’s a cliff hanger. I know you’re dying to know what the five attitudes are, but if I tell you now you may not wanna come back. Just sayin’.
I’ll focus on one attitude per post, hopefully in a timely manner. School has started around here so this house has been a’hoppin’. I write when I’m provided the time, so if you want to find out more—help a girl out and pray that I have time to write!
If you’ve identified yourself as a Wilderness wanderer, take heart. God makes His best moves in The Wilderness. It is where He spoke to Abraham, Moses and David. Where He made manna rain down. Where He courts His people and speaks tenderly to them.
I know it’s never easy, but let’s purposely open ourselves up for change. For Relocation. Let’s get a bag and get to packin’ so we can move out of The Wilderness and into the Promised Land of abundant living.
Like the new song by Casting Crowns says, “It’s time for us to more than just survive; we were made to thrive.”
I want to thrive. I’m ready for joy AND happiness. I want to move past just hoping He comes through for me while I scurry about making backup plans “just in case.” That kind of living is exhausting and He has such a better plan for us anyway.
Regardless of my circumstances, I want to live in the cozy security of God’s promises, where I can snuggle up at night, sleep peacefully, and wake up with a soul that sincerely feels good. Don’t you? There’s nothing wrong with that, friends!
“You can stop the flow of negativity that causes happiness to hemorrhage, and you can start the flow of good attitudes that causes abundant joy to overflow.” ~James MacDonald
If you’re really ready to embark on this journey, then you will be able to agree with the following list from MacDonald:
- You have decided that you believe attitudes are critically important for your life.
- You understand that attitudes are very important to God.
- You understand that there are serious “wilderness” consequences to wrong attitudes.
- You have decided that you want your attitudes to change.
- You have embraced the idea that you can’t change your attitudes without God’s help.
- You are willing to study God’s Word to learn which attitudes need to change and how to begin.
If you’re in agreement, pray this prayer with Pastor MacDonald and me…
“Lord, thank You for the powerful message that You have preserved more than three thousand years. Thank You for loving me enough to seek me and pursue what is best for my life. As best I know how, I submit all my attitudes to You in this moment and pray that You will begin the process of transformation in me. I want the landscape of my life to change. I want to experience the unhindered joy and blessing that You have promised to those who will leave wilderness attitudes behind and move into the promised land of attitudes that please You. Change my attitudes for Your own pleasure, and use [these] truths, which come from Your Book, to do it, I pray. Do that work in me, oh God, and begin today. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen!”
See you at the next stop.
“But I will court her again and bring her into the wilderness, and I will speak to her tenderly there…I will transform her Valley of Troubles into a Door of Hope. She will respond to me there, singing with joy as in days long ago in her youth after I had freed her from captivity…” ~ Hosea 2:14-15