Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron; the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become booty; would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” So they said to one another, “Let us choose a captain, and go back to Egypt.”
Once when Daniel Boone returned from exploring in the Cumberland Wilderness of Kentucky he was asked if he had ever been lost. “Nope”, he replied, “not lost but bewildered a heap of time”. Yes, the Wilderness can certainly be bewildering and disorienting.
Mark Batterson, Pastor of National Community Church in Washington D. C., writes about spiritual growth through bewilderment and disorientation:
New chapters in our lives often begin with an orientation. You go through an orientation when you start at a new school or get a new job. But God begins new chapters in our lives via disorientation. Jesus didn’t do orientations. Jesus did disorientation… We won’t know exactly where we are going much of the time, but that disorientation develops our dependence upon God. And it is our dependence upon God, not our best-laid plans, that will get us where God us wants us to go.” (Wild Goose Chase: Reclaim the Adventure of Pursuing God)
The death of my wife Melodee from a long battle with cancer was disorienting. It was Wilderness time for me. And so was the unwanted divorce in a later marriage, the loss of a job, a new job, the empty nest, and the times it seemed God didn’t care. These are times we can be tempted just like the Israelites to regress, to go backwards, to go back to Egypt.
It was in the Wilderness that I was helped by Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann’s book, Spirituality of the Psalms. Brueggeman can help us better understand the bewilderment of the Wilderness as he points out the three major categories of Psalms. He calls these three categories: Orientation, Disorientation, and Reorientation.
We delight in the Psalms of Orientation in which life makes sense to us. In these we express confidence in God and praise Him for a blessed and well-ordered life (see Psalms like 1, 8, 14, 33, 131, 104, 145). The Psalms of Disorientation are dark and very different, as our world has collapsed and sunk into the ‘pit’. These Psalms groan with a sense of abandonment by God (see Psalms like 13, 22, 73, 79, 88).
The Psalms of Reorientation actually celebrate a new orientation in which we praise God for lifting us out of the ‘pit’ and guiding us safely through the Wilderness. These Psalms are exuberant about a new stage in our journey of faith, and not simply a return to the way things used to be. We sing for having learned that the ‘pit’ and the Wilderness are not the end (see Psalms like 23, 27, 40, 100, 103).
Brueggemann points out that there are more Psalms of Disorientation in the Psalter than those of Orientation or Reorientation. That tells us God understands our confusion and pain. He feels with us in our cries of abandonment and bewilderment as we journey to the Promised Land.
- What category of Psalms best suits your feelings and thoughts today? Orientation? Disorientation? Reorientation? Talk to God about this.
- Pastor Mark Batterson wrote: “God begins new chapters in our lives via disorientation”. Do you sense in the midst of some pain and trouble that God might be initiating something new in you? If so, how?
- Why not pick a Psalm from one the three Psalm categories above and make it your prayer to God today?