Wandering Toward Something

by Stephen Weinkauf

It has been about two weeks since my schoolwork ended. I’ve been attending seminary for the past three years, and it feels weird to be done. This Sunday, my internship at Kossuth will also come to an end. This internship has been four and a half years, so it also feels weird almost being done.
When I finished my classes, I felt a bit jet lagged. I had almost nothing to do, but I still felt stressed. I think I was emotionally jet lagged, too. I had been wandering in the wilderness of seminary, and now that I was done, I didn’t know how to feel; my emotions hadn’t caught up to me yet.
This week, I’ve been on vacation with my family in Florida. I think it has been good for me. I think I’ve been able to begin processing some of the things that I couldn’t process immediately after ending classes. During the flight down, my mind started wandering to people, classes, memories, and fruit from these past years. I did not expect it at all, but I think my emotions caught up. Luckily, the people who were supposed to be in my row with me didn’t show up, because I got very emotional as these thoughts and memories flooded my mind.
One of the things I’ve discovered this week is that I am a lot more afraid of the future than I had realized. Where I was ignoring this before, now that I’m on vacation, it is all I can think about. I’d describe seminary and this internship at Kossuth as the wilderness. And now, I am in waiting to enter another wilderness.
Throughout Scripture, “wilderness” can mean a lot of different things. Sometimes it is just literal wilderness, sometimes it is punishment, and sometimes it is something else. But it is usually a place of suffering that leads to growth. In Deuteronomy 8:3, when writing about the Israelites wandering for 40 years after the exodus, it says,

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

God brought the Israelites into the wilderness to humble them and teach them that they needed to rely on God. They could only live by his words.
So, as I process this past season of wilderness, God is showing me what he has taught me about my own sin, my pride, and about his sovereignty in my life. I’m sure he will continue to teach me these lessons in this next season of wilderness.
At our last internship meeting, I was still struggling to process what had just happened these past three years. Abraham brought my attention to Deuteronomy 2:7. God has used this verse to help me articulate what he has been teaching me in these wilderness experiences. It says,

For the LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the LORD your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing.

He Has Blessed My Work
One thing that I noticed immediately when seminary started is that my personal discipleship opportunities took a hit. I didn’t have as much time to plan for leadership meetings or meet with students regularly. I still did these things, but I had to significantly diminish the time I gave to these ministry opportunities. As I look at the discipleship and training I did, I only see failure. I know I learned a lot, but I failed a lot in the process. But as I look at this, I cannot be discouraged because I see so much fruit in these opportunities as well. I’ve seen so much growth in the students and leaders that God has brought into Kossuth and Salt & Light, but this is because God, and only God, provides growth. Where I am weak, where my work is inadequate or even tainted with sin, God is good—and he has certainly blessed the work of my hands. Paul writes it this way in 1 Corinthians 1:6,

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

He Knew I Was in the Wilderness
God knows when his people are in seasons of hardship. He may not always ac, or deliver from that hardship, but if he doesn’t, it is intentional, because he knows what is going on. When the Israelites are enslaved in Egypt, Moses writes in Exodus 2:24-25,

And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.

Whenever someone asked me how things were going, I usually gave a generic or vague answer like, “fine” or “difficult, but good.” And I wasn’t fibbing, I just don’t think that I was good at understanding or articulating how difficult this season was. But, while I didn’t know, God knew, and he allowed others around me to recognize this and help me. I am thankful for the elders who noticed that I was overloaded and not asking for help. While I was unaware and harming myself with overwork and stress, they were quick to help and restrict my responsibilities so that I’d have time to sleep. There were times when they’d take away responsibilities, like leading a Connection Hour class, and, in my pride, I’d be a tad upset, but now I am grateful. I was overlooking my own weaknesses and wanting to do more, but God knew my sin, he knew that I was in the wilderness, and he worked through others to guide me and teach me that I am an imperfect human who needs God.
He Has Been with Me
When you are in the wilderness, your pride leads you to believe you are alone in this and need to work yourself out. This is exactly what God wanted me to learn. He taught me that I thought I was alone and had to do it all. Then, in my weakness, I only failed. God was with me through it all, when he blessed my work, as he knew me in the wilderness. Whether I recognized it or not, God has been with me. Any growth, any fruit, any blessing was only because of his presence and work.
I Have Lacked Nothing
In 1 Kings 19, Elijah flees to the wilderness. After following God, Elijah flees because very prominent figures are angry at him and seeking to kill him. He flees to save his life but then asks God to take his life. He fears these humans and does not trust God, but God teaches Elijah to trust him by providing for Elijah in the wilderness. After asking God to kill him, Elijah falls asleep and an angel brings cake and water. Elijah eats it and falls back asleep. So the angel comes back with more and says, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” Elijah arises and eats again, and he is given strength from that food to travel for 40 days!
I always hoped to wake up to fresh cake and water from the Lord, but that never happened. But, just as God gave Elijah everything he needed while in the wilderness, God has done the same for me. Where I could do nothing, where I had no strength, God empowered and strengthened me. It wasn’t always food, but God provided everything I needed. He provided it through Scripture, through prayer, and through my church family and dear friends.
All four of these truths about God combined while I was in the wilderness. I didn’t even realize God was keeping me and protecting me in these ways while I was in the wilderness. God humbled me by showing me my weakness and pointed to him by showing me his goodness, strength, and purposes. While I thought I was just aimlessly wandering, God was leading me towards him. The wilderness was not for me, it was for God’s glory. God used the wilderness to bring an arrogant, stress-addicted, sleep-deprived sinner with trust issues to a deeper dependence on him, and to God alone be the glory!
What’s Next
As of writing this, I am unsure what the future holds. I am currently applying to churches but have yet to move forward with any. My internship ends this Sunday, so I will be seeking a temporary job to cover the bills as I begin to seek more actively for a church where I can serve in pastoral ministry.
The more I realize that this internship is ending, the more it hurts. I’ve realized that I’m entering another wilderness, and it scares me. But the more I process what God has taught me while I was wandering in the wilderness of seminary, the more I look forward to the next wilderness with hope. I do not yet know what the future holds, but I know at least four things: God will bless the work he does through me, he knows the struggles I will face, he will be with me, and I will lack nothing. I know that my wandering will not be in vain, even if it feels that way. As I am wandering, God is guiding me toward him. If you find yourself in a wilderness right now, I pray these reminders will comfort you as they do me.