God had freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, protected them from the Egyptian army, and given them laws and a covenant to bless them forever. But as soon as they actually saw the land God had promised them, they drew back in fear. In response, God disciplined them by having them wander for an entire generation (forty years) in the wilderness before allowing them to move into that land (Exodus).
What is a wilderness experience?
This is the primary wilderness experience that gives our metaphorical "wilderness experiences" their name.
We sometimes feel far from God, spiritually dry, or that our prayers are hitting the ceiling, so to speak. We may feel a sort of spiritual depression, and find it difficult to find the joy of the Lord. Some, during this time, experience a spiritual attack. Others undergo temptation. These wilderness experiences can be the consequences of our own failures and lack of attention to our relationship with God. But often a wilderness experience will seemingly appear from nowhere, perhaps as a time of testing by God to produce maturity in us.
Often these wilderness experiences occur following "mountaintop experiences"—times when we feel close to God and are especially aware of His presence. After such a high, the valley of a wilderness experience can feel especially low.
So, what are we to do?
First, remember that God is faithful. Nothing can separate us from His love and goodness (Romans 8:38–39). Despite how it may feel, God has not abandoned us in the wilderness.
Also remember we are not the first, nor will we be the last, to suffer through such a season. Elijah (1 Kings 19:1–18), Paul (Galatians 1:17–18), and Job (see the entire book!) all had wilderness experiences.
Jesus intentionally went into the wilderness before starting His ministry on earth to prepare for His ministry. He drew close to God, removed all the distractions for a time of devotion, and was tempted by the enemy. We can follow His example of faithfulness and obedience to God despite our circumstances.
To follow Jesus' example, strip whatever hinders your relationship with God, draw close to Him, resist temptation with the Word of God (Matthew 4:1–11), rely on the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1), and ask God for help (Mark 1:13).
Paul wrote, "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsake; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies" (2 Corinthians 4:7–10). We can be sure that even when we experience hardship, God is faithful. No wilderness experience will crush us. Rather, we can endure it with joy, knowing that it is a temporary trial which can produce godly maturity in us (Romans 5:3–5; James 1:2–4).
Note: Wilderness experiences can sometimes feel or lead to depression. It's a good idea to talk with a friend who can give you godly encouragement and prompt you to seek professional help if they feel you need it.
Waiting on God is hard. Why?
What does it mean that God 'restores my soul'? How can God restore my soul?
Why is it that God sometimes seems silent or absent in the life of a believer?
Why should I trust in God and how can I learn to trust in Him?
What things can help if I don't feel love for God?
Truth about the Christian Life