When nothing seems to be happening to us spiritually and we are left to our restlessness, the key question comes: Has God forgotten me? Maybe I need to make something happen? At such times, we aren’t sad, depressed, or even persecuted. Just nothing. Wilderness and void are all we feel, when we used to feel so much.
Maybe you’ve never articulated those questions or concerns. But it’s in such boredom that we reach for our idols. Something to give us something—anything. The Israelites needed something. “Make us gods, Aaron!” And they put together an ad hoc god (Ex. 32). Sure, that god might not have been beautiful or majestic, but it was a god on their terms. I can imagine them thinking: “The God of Moses seems to do things at His own pace and on His own terms. We need a god to work for us.” It didn’t matter to them that the god they made seemed to be jury-rigged with pieces here and there. We can put up with a lot of dissatisfaction with our idols as long as they are working on our terms.
Have you ever noticed that? We can have idols and small gods and little indulgences that aren’t all that satisfying, but what they have going for them is that we control when they satisfy us. It’s on our terms. The God of Moses seems to do as He pleases and comes and goes when He wants. We are at His mercy. The idols, though they are ridiculous, ugly, and thrown-together golden-calf gods, are our gods and do as we please. We are tired of a God whose Spirit blows where He wishes (John 3:8). We are tired of waiting. We are tired of nothing, day after day. In our own way, even we cry out, “Make us gods, Aaron!”
Yet, the wilderness of spiritual life is where maturity begins to take root. Psalm 92 gives us an image to consider. “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar of Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age” (Ps. 92:12–14). Here’s what mature Christians are like: they are planted, they flourish, grow, and bear fruit—even in old age. The remarkable thing about a tree growing, flourishing, and bearing fruit is that there are a lot of settled, still, and quiet moments, quiet days, and quiet years of fruitfulness. Otherwise, the tree would be uprooted, weak, and unfruitful. Waiting is boring, but it’s where depth takes root.
The wilderness of spiritual boredom is a dangerous terrain, full of temptations to remember old lusts. We get nostalgic for old slave masters. “Remember how good it was!” But a new kind of growth and spiritual strength comes when we wait amid the boredom. We pray and long, looking and waiting for God, as the watchman waits for the morning. A watchman has nothing else to do but wait and watch. But he’s the first to see the light. Spiritual maturity and deep joy come when we learn to teach our souls to wait.
The Israelites hadn’t learned how to wait for the God of Moses to come down the mountain. Quickly, they assumed they had been abandoned, left to die in the wilderness. And so, they took their joy and lives into their own hands. Christians, however, learn to remember and say to ourselves: “No. We will wait here. Remember, O soul, all that God has done. He will come down the mountain into the valley with us again.”