God, the Founder of “Experiential Learning” | Reflect on Exodus 17:1-7

experiential learningI have taken my taste buds for granted for my whole life. After enduring a two-day tooth ache, I concluded that one of my molars was begging for a root canal. The numbing shots hurt a bit, but everything went smoothly. Then came the most gloomy part of the whole experience…

After paying my bill, I headed straight to Chick Fil-a to see if an eight count nugget meal and milkshake would make me feel better. As is my custom, I drove off, peeled back the seal on one of the BBQ sauce containers, dipped a nugget in that dreamy auburn-colored dip, and took a bite. In utter astonishment, and shuddering disappointment, I could not taste a thing!

My tongue was so numbed by the experience at the endodontist that it had become temporarily unable to perform fully the purpose it was design for. My taste buds were cut off from my brain, and my food tasted like nothing! It was in that moment that I realized I had taken my taste buds for granted my whole life.


Experiential learning is by far one of the best ways to gain deeper understanding of things that may have become all too familiar to us. This experience revealed to me that I take a lot of things for granted.

Here’s a basic law of life: we often don’t appreciate the value of something until it is taken away from us. When our health is taken away (i.e getting sick), then we immediately begin to appreciate good health. When comfort is taken away, we appreciate more deeply the way God has provided for us. When a member of our team who we’ve not appreciated fully leaves our team, we realize how important their contribution was.


In the past week, I went to Mexico to speak at a conference and due to the hot climate and presence of scorpions in the area, everyone slept in hammocks. I didn’t sleep well for 4 days because, although hammocks might be nice for an afternoon nap, I never quite adjusted to sleeping through the night, so I went without sleep. That experience made me all the more grateful for my bed at home. Then when I came home I got really sick from some water-born bacteria I had picked up and for 2 days and felt absolutely awful. My good health was taken away, so naturally I gained a deeper appreciation for good health, and antibiotics! And then today, a surprise tooth canal caused me to be in awe of how much I’m grateful for taste buds, because I lost touch with them temporarily and REALLY missed them! I think God might be teaching me something this week.



Wilderness experiences by their very nature strip away things that we take for granted. And the result, if we submit to the process and learn from it, is that we become more aware and grateful of God’s goodness to us. My friend Bob, from Rio Grande Bible Institute reminded me this week of a biblical example of how God intentionally removes comforts temporarily to accomplish a good purpose:  In Exodus 17, God led the people of Israel to a desert location called Rephidim, yet the Scripture reads, “but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water to drink.” The passage continues:

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?” But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”


Wilderness leaders practice intentionality because God models intentionality. One of the primary lessons from this passage is that God intentionally removes comforts at times to deepen our trust in him. This is not mean or insensitive of God. In fact just the opposite, it is the most loving thing he could do.  God intentionally took water away temporarily from his people for the purpose of deepening their gratitude. God knows that if we never experience trials or hardship then we won’t be thankful for all that he provides for us. Ungratefulness is seriously hazardous to our spiritual health. It causes us to drift away from the shores of his grace and float off into a dangerous sea of self-sufficiency.

Wilderness leaders exercise intentionality by removing comforts or facilitating experiences that take people out of their comfort zone to root out self-sufficiency and pride. This process creates a platform for learning where genuine gratitude becomes possible. It’s good medicine! When gratitude takes root in one’s heart, this bears all sorts of good fruit: joy, peace, self-control, patience, etc (See Gal. 5:22).

RELATED POST: Controversy over the Comfort Zone Model? | A Response


1. Has God removed something from your life that you have taken for granted? How are you responding to his intentionality in your life? Are you responding like the Isrealites at Massah and Meribah, or are you responding more like Jesus who prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

2. How could you facilitate a wilderness experience for a small group that through some creativity and intentionality could expose for your group some things that they are taking for granted?

3. Please comment below how you resonate with this post!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

8 thoughts on “God, the Founder of “Experiential Learning” | Reflect on Exodus 17:1-7

  1. I know that there are things in my life that I take for granted every day. Just being able to walk, talk, see, and hear are but a few things that I am definitely grateful for but don’t always show God the gratitude that he deserves. It can be tough when we are experiencing a hard time in our lives to be grateful for all that God has done and all that he has given us already. At times, we can be too focused on what we want from God and those around us that we don’t recognize what we already have. Being is school is a great example of this.

    For me as a returning student, it has been a challenging and rewarding opportunity to explore what God has planned for my life and to learn more about him and his word. I know that not everyone has the opportunity that has been given to me to further my learning and I am grateful for that but I don’t always show it. The end of the semester is the hardest for me to show my gratitude when I have more papers due than I can count or wish to acknowledge and am facing finals week. It is easy to complain about how difficult it will be in the next week to get everything finished.

    Even during this time, God is encouraging me to appreciate what I have been given through the words of a random person who encouraged me to take a few minutes out of every hour to be thankful and refocus on why I have been given such an opportunity. The challenge then is to actually do it and recognize that God works through the tough and uncomfortable times in our lives to teach us valuable lessons in humility and thankfulness. How much better would life be if we lived in such a way as to show God gratitude and thankfulness than complaining and desiring the things that we don’t have. I think that it is important to “stop and smell the roses” so that we don’t take for granted the little things of this life.

  2. Great posting. I really appreciate your illustration regarding your taste buds. Its hard to imagine something so small having such a significant impact on your quality of life. I suppose if you never had them, you wouldn’t miss them, but once experienced, tasting is such an important part of eating. Not just for the enjoyment of tasting good things, but also the prevention of eating harmful things.
    I agree that we get so comfortable in our lives that we easily forget who is providing for us. Having our lives shaken up, even with something temporary like the loss of taste or having a vehicle in the shop for a few days, is a great opportunity to be reminded of how much God blesses us in our lives. Of course, we have a tendency to blame God for the inconvenience rather than acknowledging that he was the one who initially gave us the blessing in the first place. And his blessings of us are ultimately for his glory anyway, not for our own.
    Outdoor ministry, as a form of experiential learning, is a great opportunity to provide for the removal of comforts. While we seek the beauty and tranquility of nature, it comes with the cost of no modern restrooms, cooking facilities, or plush mattresses. Rather than just accepting that the luxuries we have at home are our norm, we can begin to see how much we appreciate these things and how much God has truly blessed us. It is not a matter of entitlement that we somehow deserve any of these things, but should force us to question why God has placed us into the positions we are in, and how we can use this position to further His Kingdom. Without being forced to face our expectations of comfort, it would be so easy to focus only on ourselves and sustaining what we believe to be our deserved level of comfort (or worse, continually strive to attain a “better” level of comfort), and lose sight of where God is calling us to truly focus

    • Thanks Alan for your post! I agree that often we blame God for the inconvenience because we feel entitled to have him work in our lives on “our terms” not his. Great insight!

  3. Ashley, Thank you for all your wisdom and insight! I have taken all of your teachings to heart and they have helped me and my family consistently in our ministry position here at Alaska Bible College! I find your book and posts to be especially helpful as ABC is currently developing an Outdoor Ministry program! This recent post regarding the removal of comforts in our lives hit home yet again and directly related to a conversation my wife and I had just last night! Thank you!

    • Thanks so much Jeff for sharing your story. I love to hear how others are connecting with some of things that I’m connecting with as well!

  4. Thanks Ashley for this exhortation to not take
    things for granted. The questions you posed, “Has
    God removed something from your life that you have taken for granted? How are you responding to his intentionality in your life?” came at a good time
    in my life and I found that I needed to reflect on the answer. Sometimes God is
    more comfortable taking in out of our comfort zones than we like! But as you
    said it is because he loves us and wants us to grow and trust him more.

    • Thanks Justin for your insight… so encouraging to know that Christ is meeting each one of us in the unique aspects of our own journey.

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