It’s funny. As I dig around in my Bible, it fascinates me that the word ‘wander’ appears to have a negative connotation. I tend to see it used in the Old Testament in the context of the Israelites wandering away from God, and therefore, wandering around in the desert. Or, I’ve seen examples of ‘wandering’ in the New Testament regarding believers who have strayed away (like sheep) from the truth in favor of legalism (Pharisees) or simple unbelief (disciples).
Yet, in our Western culture, when one says, “I went for a walk and wandered around,” this sounds like it might be restful, or renewing for one’s spirit. In fact, there is a poem by J.R.R. Tolkien which includes the words, “Not all those who wander are lost”. I’ve seen that quote emblazoned upon many a bumper sticker, coffee cup, and body art. Sounds like wandering gives us a much desired for escape from reality. In Western culture, we wander away from: stress, disillusionment, feelings of abandonment, insecurity, or lack of love, anxiety, depression, and overall dissatisfaction in life. Seems we’re desperately looking for that renewing of spirit, mind, and body, but don’t quite know how to achieve it. I can see why we’re tempted to wander – if our everyday life is full of stress, etc., why wouldn’t we want to try something new?
I submit to you, my friends, that this wandering has been going on for a long time and for the same reasons as I listed above. Every time the Israelites were focused upon God, they were purposeful, unified, their needs were fulfilled, and they were satisfied. BUT they needed to keep their eyes CONSTANTLY on God and His purposes and promises for them, or they became vulnerable to the enemy’s whispers (see: Adam and Eve – original Sin). When they lost their focus and began to wander, their eyes and lives shifted from God-focus to self-focus. Suddenly, the food (manna) tasted bad or was boring; they became dissatisfied and began to complain; they lost their patience with each other, their leaders, and God. And then? They began to take things into their own hands to attempt to re-create their purpose, unity, provision, and satisfaction and their own version of God.
As I work through this post, I realize that wandering – going around aimlessly – is time-wasting. Oy, there are few things I like less than wasting time. Just saying. Wandering also wreaks havoc on my mind, body, and spirit. The good news is there is a prevention and cure for wandering: I must daily remind myself of who I am, and whose I am (sorry grammar nerds). My example of taking a walk and wandering around in the forest can actually be a part of filling one’s spirit and keeping one’s eyes on God. The difference is in the intentionality of one’s behavior. I ‘wander’ around in the forest, so that I can fill my senses with God’s magnificent creation, speak with Him, and celebrate His majesty. I’m not simply walking around without aim, whether I know where I’m going or not. God wants us to enjoy him and we glorify him by doing so. Sabbath – or rest – is so important to prevent wandering hearts that God wants us to take this intentional rest with Him every week. In fact, we are commanded to take this rest—that’s how seriously God takes Sabbath. If we never fill up, we pour out empty. When I wander away from God, I tend to feel lackadaisical about my purpose, my anxiety and depression flare, and my overall life satisfaction is low. Friends, that’s a dangerous place for me, because where my eyes/spirit wander off to, my body, attitude, and actions follow. If I step away from focusing on my relationship for even one day, I begin to wander. I consider giving into the temptation of selfishness in this area, or lack of discipline in that one. Or maybe I just start feeling sorry for myself or like my life is just a big old bummer. It’s a comfort to know I’m not alone – the disciples, who were Jesus’ close friends, did the same. In the Gospels, Jesus often prophesies about and rebukes his friends for their lack of faith and trust in Him. But He still loved them and forgave them. If they had kept their eyes on Him and minds on His promises, well, they wouldn’t have needed Him to die on a cross to save them, would they?
Through his unending, amazing, grace, Jesus loves me enough to allow me the free will to keep my eyes on Him or to wander away. And though I love Him so much and try not to, this side of heaven I know I will continue to wander from Him—which He knows – yet he loves me anyway. Ugh, I could cry just typing that last couple of sentences. I hope that through my daily walk this process will be a sanctifying one, though, which means I’ll get closer and closer to him, and less prone to wander.
Jesus, I thank you for your incredible love for me, just as I am. I thank you that Your work on the cross makes me worthy enough to come to the throne room for forgiveness every time I wander. Dear Lord, as the song says, “bind my wandering heart to thee” forever and always. In Your precious name. Amen.