When I was young I would go fishing with my grandfather in the “river swamp.” This was an area of creeks, small lakes, Cyprus trees, dangling moss, palmetto bushes and muck. I loved it and I feared it. In the midst of the vegetation lurked alligators, rattlesnakes, moccasins, and huge spiders. With ever step through the thick vegetation I scanned the ground for the gators and snakes. In all the years of trekking through the swamp I saw one alligator and three or four snakes. While looking for them I must have walked dozens upon dozens of times right into huge spider webs with non-venomous, hand-sized, rainbow colored spiders staring me right in the face. I learned to hate those spiders.
During World War I my grandfather served the war effort by harvesting Cyprus railroad crossties in the Okefenokee Swamp. The process required building a railroad into the swamp. A train carrying the workers would back into the swamp each day loaded landfill and steel rails to extend the track deeper into the swamp. It would exit at the end of the day loaded down with crossties.
When my grandfather told me this story I asked if he was ever afraid of getting lost in the big swamp. He quickly replied, “no.” I asked how he could not be afraid and he responded, “I never let the train get out of my sight.”
Journeys through wild lands are frightening. There are dangers there, and fear of those dangers can paralyze us. Spiritual and emotional wildernesses are also lonely. To be there is to be alone. The temptation is to find a “safe place” and linger until help arrives; that is what we a taught to do. But God has other plans for leading us into those lonely, desperate places. He is not content with our mere survival.
The wilderness is a place where we can learn to live life to the fullest. Yes, there are dangers requiring vigilance, but there is also an abundance of the nutrients of life, everything we need to abound. More importantly the wilderness is the best place to look inward for the grace of God already imparted, to discover our abilities and strengths. And most importantly the wilderness is the place where God reveals Himself as our provider and protector, if we let him. Abundant life in the wilderness requires vigilance and trust. Know the signs of the enemy, learn your strengths, and never take your eyes off of the Savior.
May 6, 2010