“Not all who wander are lost.”
One summer, while in college, I visited Mackinac Island (in Michigan) with some friends. Being from Michigan, I have always enjoyed going to the island. My friends and I wanted to visit Arch Rock. It is a beautiful arched rock over looking one of the Great Lakes. Since I was from Michigan (and had visited the island multiple times), my friends assumed I could get there with ease. So we walked, and walked, and walked, and walked. Eventually we made it. However, we found out we wandered to Arch Rock via the long way! My friends were a bit upset with me when they found out there was a more direct route than the one we took.
Isn’t that how we view the Christian life? We know where we are supposed to go. We know what God wants for our life. We know the passages and the songs, yet don’t we find ourselves frustrated wandering?
How many times have we looked at other Christians who have “wandered from the path,” and judged them as being away from God?
Is wandering bad? Can God actually want us to wander?
We often view wandering as a season of trial or a cursed season. But, what if we changed our life from a wandering whiner to a wandering worshipper?
The curse of wandering
“Did you hear about him? He is wandering away from God.” “I can’t believe it. She was such a good Christian. Now look at her. She is wandering from the right path.”
Ever heard these things? Ever had them said about you? Ever said them about others?
So often when we thinking of wandering as a curse. It is a time when we have “wandered away.” The curse comes from the thought that, in wandering, we are away from the presence of God.
We look at passages like Genesis 4:16 (seeing Cain walking away from God’s presence), and we tremble in fear. We do not want to be wandering like Cain. We do not want to be wandering like the cursed Israelites for not following through on taking the Promised Land (Numbers 14).
Yet, before the Mosaic law, there was someone who was sent into wandering, not as a curse, but as a journey of promise. Times of wandering do not have to be a curse away from the presence of God (we already know we cannot be away from God’s presence Psalm 139:1-12).
Let’s look at the life of the Wandering Worshipper.
The Call to wander
Genesis 12:1-3 starts this man’s journey. God calls Abraham to leave his home, his family, his land, his national identity (everything that is tied to a place), and leave for a land God will reveal to Abraham. The destination is never disclosed. A map does not magically appear in Abraham’s satchel. Instead, he is called to wander until he comes to the place God’s called to him to be.
To wander is a call unlike any other. In our modern day, we want to know the final destinations, the directions, and a comforting, monotone GPS voice to guide us there. Unfortunately, we view our Christian life as this as well. We rely so much on Psalm 37 to be a promise of golden stepping stones to line our way, that we forget that the wandering King David wrote this psalm.
When we are called to wander, we are called to trust the Lord with every step, every settling, every identity, and every new chapter. The Christian life is not the American dream. It is not filled with the perfect wedding, white picket fence, a growing career, stable finances, and a family that greets you at the door. In reality, it is a call to wander. It is call to trust God no matter what comes and where the path takes us. After all, he is the one who specially created our own race for our testimony and his glory (Psalm 139:13-16; Hebrews 12:1).
The wandering God brings into our life is a calling. Is he surprised when that family member or friend “wanders from the path”? No. He brought that wandering for their testimony and his glory.
build, worship, depart, repeat
One of the most fascinating things about studying the Bible is seeing things that are repeated. In the life of Abraham, we see this pattern of building an altar over and over again (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:4; Genesis 13:18; Genesis 22:9).
He built so many altars that he could do it in his sleep. Abraham built altars, worshipped God, went to his next place, and repeated. He is the original “rinse and repeat.” He kept his eye on God’s promise and stayed in the presence of God during his time of wandering.
We can stay in God’s presence while wandering? Yes! We can tell if someone has “wandered away” from God or has been called to wander. How? John 3:20-21 tells us that those who desire to be in the light are in God’s presence. They haven’t run away from it like Jonah did (Jonah 1). There is a difference between running away and wandering. Check yourself. Are you still drawn to God’s Word? Still drawn to church? Still drawn to worship? Then you are not like Cain or the people of Israel. You are in a call to wander.
pitfalls in wandering
Unfortunately, we tend to romanticize the people in Scripture. We look at people like Abraham, and we tend to think he was guided by God and floated in God’s presence like Jerry (the mouse) being led along by the smell of cheese (Tom and Jerry Clip). Instead, Abraham had to put on his Nikes on each foot and just do the journey ahead of him. Even when he fell into pits.
In Genesis 12:10-20, we find Abraham and Sarah needing to find a sustainable life in Egypt due to a famine. However, Abraham saw this new chapter filled with potential danger. So, he concocted a plan. He told Sarah to lie about being his wife so he wouldn’t be killed. He told Sarah to tell people Abraham was her brother. He lied, she lied, and a plague descended chaos upon Pharaoh and his family.
We would call out Abraham for sinning. We might shame him so much that he would hang his head in shame as he thought about his actions bringing such chaos on Pharaoh’s family. When we see Abraham in church worshipping, we hope he is repenting for his sin or we judge in disgust over how he could worship God after what he brought on that poor royal family.
Yet, what does Abraham do after leaving Egypt? He worships the Lord again (Genesis 13:1-4)! He desired to be close to the Lord and worship him. That doesn’t mean he didn’t recognize his sin. But, God’s presence was more important than beating himself up for lying.
How many times do we shame people for their sin and mistakes? How many times do we see the “Wanderer,” and put them down rather than allow the intimacy of worship take place in their heart? Yes, there are pitfalls in wandering. But, that doesn’t mean the wanderer has stepped away from God. Again, look for what they desire.
Pitfalls can lead to greater intimacy with God. Pitfalls are not moments for shame, but moments for worship.
Leaving the “CHRISTIAN DREAM”
A perfectly dressed family, sitting in church worshipping together, having time around the Word, all following the path we think God wants… Isn’t that the Christian dream? It is a dream akin to the American dream.
We think life should go one way. We think our family members or friends should be like this or be like that. But when that does not happen, we criticize them for not fulfilling “God’s will.” In reality they have not fulfilled our American Christian dream. We have allowed patriotism to pollute our piety rather than allowing piety to bend our knees to God’s path before us.
Did Abraham’s life fulfill the Christian dream? Living in tents and traveling from place to place sounds like what we all want, right? The reason Abraham did not see his wandering as a waste is because he saw God’s promise from afar (Hebrews 11:8-10). God’s promise was worth more than what others thought of his wandering.
How do we see people who are wandering? Sure, they may be off the path. Usually, that is the path you think is best for them. Life happens. Happily Ever Afters” don’t work out. That doesn’t mean someone is outside God’s presence. They may be on God’s path, but that path is away from your idolatry of the Christian dream.
Let’s take a lesson from Abraham. Let’s become a wandering worshipper. Let’s embrace the chapters of wandering as times to build altars, worship, depart, and repeat. Wandering isn’t a curse. The Covenant of Grace is not based on our works bringing blessings or curses. Jesus has atoned for our sins, reconciled us to God, and brought us into a journey led by the Holy Spirit.
Wandering does not mean we are lost. It means we are trusting God for the next place we are to settle as we step into his promises.