God's Lessons in the Wilderness
Q1: Who has been to a desert? What do you observe in the desert places?
Do you know what the largest desert in the world is?
It's not the Sahara desert,
It's not the Gobi or the Mojave desert.
The largest desert in the world is the Antarctic.
This may come as a surprise because what we know of deserts are hot and dry and sandy places. So how can the Antarctic possibly be a desert?
It's because the desert is not defined by heat; though most deserts are hot, but a desert is actually defined by precipitation, rainfall or snowfall. And any place that receives less than 10 inches of rain or snow in a year is a desert. And the Antarctic receives less than two inches a year.
There are 4 Types of Desert: - Subtropical (Middle East) - Semiarid. (North America and Asia) - Coastal (Australia and South America) - Polar (Antarctic and Arctic)
A desert can also be a place that has more evaporation than precipitation, low in humidity and is moisture deficient.
So why all of this talk about deserts?
It’s because deserts are a very significant landscape of the story of the Bible. Almost every famous Bible character you know had significant events and encounters with God in the wilderness. (So what makes you and I think that we are exempted?)
We often view deserts as a negative place.. and justifiably so because it paints a very dry and uncomfortable picture that we do not like: Jeremiah 2:6
They did not say, ‘Where is the LORD
who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who led us in the wilderness,
in a land of deserts and pits,
in a land of drought and deep darkness,
in a land that none passes through,
where no man dwells?’
But many of the great things the Lord has accomplished was done in and through the wilderness. The Bible has a lot of positive things to say about it as well.
Another reason why we are talking about deserts is that the desert is a great metaphor for the soul. Deserts could be internal circumstances that affect our soul but they can be the state of our soul itself. And I have found that there are three types of what I call SOUL DESERTS. And I've been through all three of them.
1. When the HEAT TURNS UP
Q2: What do you think this means? Have you experienced this?
The first soul desert is like the Sahara, where it's hot, and the pressure is high. And many of us are experiencing this right now. Maybe you're in a financial bind, or a family crisis or your family's been under lockdown, and you are under stress, and you're under all of this pressure and there're heated conversations going on in the house. Or perhaps you're being treated unfairly in a relationship or at work. And you feel exposed, vulnerable like the sun is just beating down on you and things are heating up, the soil is parched, and the fruit of your labour; everything that you have worked so hard for, for so long is withering on the vine.
Maybe you try to read your Bible, but it's like chewing on sawdust. And no rain has fallen on your soul in a long time. So you're living off of memories of past encounters that you've had with God, and you find yourself longing for a fresh drink of living water. And your prayer is God, get me out of this. When is this going to end?
2. When your HEART TURNS COLD toward God.
Q3: What do you think this means? Have you experienced this?
A soul desert can also be just like the Antarctic. When your heart turns cold toward God or toward the people around you. Maybe you've lost your passion for life or your passion for God, and you just feel burned out. Or maybe you're angry with God over something He did or did not do. And it seems like your prayers are just hitting the ceiling and you read your Bible, and you try to pray but you just come away thirsty and dissatisfied. It's as though God has nothing to say to you, or maybe that He's just absent. And you might've turned your back on Him because of it. If your heart is turning cold, then your prayer these days is either God where are you or God, I just don't care anymore.
3. When you are HARDLY TAKING IN and MOSTLY GIVING OUT
Q4: What do you think this means? Have you experienced this?
Or perhaps you're in a desert in which you are giving out more than you're taking in.
And your life is in an unhealthy balance. There's too many commitments, too many expectations of you, too many people and projects demanding your attention. They can even be good things, but too much of anything isn't good. It's like there are too many plants in the ground, but there's only so much water and so something is gonna suffer. There are so many demands on you, and just not enough of you to go around. And even when it does rain, it seems like the rain just evaporates before it's had time to soak in. There's nothing left over to enjoy. And your prayer these days is God, I don't have anything left to give.
When the heat turns up, or when your heart turns cold,
or when you're giving out more than you're taking in,
these are all DESERTS OF THE SOUL.
So what does the Bible tell us about how God works in the desert?
Well, let's look at our lives in light of the Word of God. Throughout the Bible, God often met people in the desert. As He spoke to His People in the desert then, I believe God speaks to us also, especially now. We find this pandemic as a desert season - a wilderness experience. What can we learn here?
These are 5 Insights that God wants us to understand of DESERT SEASONS of our lives:
1. A place of CALLING and PREPARATION
God spoke to Abraham in the desert.
God spoke to Jacob in the desert.
Joseph’s life was a desert and so was Job's
He spoke to Moses in the desert.
David was honed and shaped in the desert along with his mighty men
He spoke to Elijah in the desert. (Before 1 Kings 18 victory was 1 Kings 17 mystery)
He prepared John the Baptist in the wilderness
Even Jesus went into a desert and was tested before He began His public ministry.
The apostle Paul prepared in Arabia for 3 years after his conversion before he met with the. apostles. (Galatians 1:11-20)
Hebrews 11 which is the Hall of Faith. Almost every single character there are called, prepared and shaped by God in the scorching heat of the desert. Why is Solomon not there? Why is King Saul not there? If you observe the characters of the Bible, those who were able to finish strong in the faith were the ones who underwent the desert seasons of molding and preparation. Both Solomon and Saul were carried away with the comforts and privileges of the palace.
Know this, if you are finding yourself in the desert right now, it’s not a punishment - or not necessarily a consequence of your bad actions. Perhaps you did nothing wrong to deserve it - but somehow the Lord allowed it. Take heart! it means GOD WANTS YOU TO FINISH STRONG. You have a calling and God is preparing you.
Q5: Reflect on this. What thoughts come to your mind in this first lesson? Have you experienced this?
2. A place of TESTING and TRANSITION
Perhaps the most famous of WILDERNESS stories in the Bible is the Exodus when the Israelites were set free from Egypt and on their way to the Promised Land. A desert season is often a ‘holding period’; the in-between place from Egypt to Canaan; From the land of slavery to a land of promise.
In the wilderness, the Israelites were tested by God while they are being transitioned.
Times of difficulties lay bare the true condition of our hearts and the Israelites had just shown theirs.
1 That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. 2 All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”
We live in a time where grumbling, complaining and anger. Social media and news is full of them.
19 In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.”
20 The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. 21 Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, 22 not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times— 23 not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. 24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.
Q6: What do you think made Caleb different from the rest of the Israelites? What tests have you gone through lately?
Hebrews 3-4 and 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 make the experience of Israel in the wilderness analogous to the New Covenant church’s experience in the world. Our Christian Life in the present time has been likened to the wanderings of the Israelites in the Wilderness. As long as we are here on earth, we are in the wilderness. We have been saved from our Egypt of sin; but we are not yet in our eternal Promised Land. And while we are here, transitioning, we will be tested. But THE TEST is FOR OUR GOOD.
3. A place of DISCIPLINE and HUMBLING
There are only two reasons why we find ourselves in the wilderness. It is either (1) God brought us there; (2) We brought ourselves there. And God allows the consequence of our wrong decisions and actions to discipline us and humble us.
2 Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 4 Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.
GOD BRINGS YOU TO THE WILDERNESS NOT JUST TO TAKE YOU OUT OF EGYPT, BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY TO TAKE EGYPT OUT OF YOU.
5 Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 6 You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”
Do you feel this way sometimes? Like you have everything and yet you still want more and more.. and never have your fill.. or satisfaction.. sounds like a desert soul to me.. dry.. and unsatisfied. Our disobedience will always meet God’s forgiveness, yes, to the repentant, but also God’s discipline - and don’t mistake discipline for punishment. Discipline is a form of God's grace because He loves us a father loves his child.
The desert season is a season of shaping - allow the Potter to shape you. Don’t miss His process! A lot of us don’t like discipline because it is uncomfortable - but there is no true success without discipline. If we are hearts are growing cold or idols are already infiltrating it; sometimes the Lord has to strip away many things so He can give you everything - Himself.
WHEN GOD IS ALL YOU HAVE, THAT’S THE TIME YOU REALIZE, GOD IS ALL YOU NEED. HE IS MORE THAN ENOUGH.
Q7: Have you experienced God's discipline and humbling? Share a time, when you brought yourself in your own desert and God had to teach you a painful lesson there.
14 “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.
15 There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor [trouble] a door of hope. There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt.
16 “In that day,” declares the Lord, “you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.’
17 I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips; no longer will their names be invoked.
4. A place of MIRACLES and PROVISION
We recall how the Israelites were supernaturally protected, provided and preserved in the wilderness. The water from the Rock, the quail and the Manna from Heaven, the Cloud by Day and the Pillar of Fire by night. Most miracles we will thank God for and are most grateful about are those that sprang as miracles in the desert. If you are in the desert now, brace yourself for God's supernatural provisions and miracles.
Q8: What miraculous provisions have you seen God do for you in the desert?
Abundance sometimes makes one ungrateful.
A word of caution to parents. Many of us grew up in poverty and because of the hardships we experienced in our childhood, our philosophy became that I won’t let my children suffer this. But those wilderness experience is what made you who you are right now. We sometimes can become overprotective of our kids. Little do we know that we are taking away their opportunity to experience the Lord in the desert. We can sometimes bypass the process of God to shape and mold them as they go through their own personal wilderness because we sometimes take it away from them. Because all we gave them is comfort, leisure and abundance.
Look at the story of Hagar and his son Ishmael:
14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.
15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.
17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”
19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.
20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. 21 While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.
God saw Hagar but it was the boy He heard crying. And so He provided a well of water for them to live. We must allow our children to cry and they must learn to call upon the Name of the Lord in their desert. There is where their faith muscles can develop.
Your DESERT PLACE is GOING TO BE A PLACE OF MIRACLES.
For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, And streams in the desert (Isaiah 35:6).
I will open rivers in desolate heights and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, And the dry land springs of water (Isaiah 41:18).
The Lord will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her waste places; He will make her wilderness like Eden, And her desert like the garden of the Lord; Joy and gladness will be found in it, Thanksgiving and the voice of melody (Isaiah 51:3).
5. A place of PRAYING and WORSHIPPING
The Hebrew word for desert means "the place of speaking". The reason why sometimes the Lord takes us to the desert is that there is nothing there. Because there we realise that He is everything. Because it is quiet there and He wants to remove the distractions of our lives and it is a place where we can hear God speak.
When David was in the wilderness, He was at his best. He was at his closest to the Lord.
But when he is at his palace of comfort, he was at his worst. Those were the times that he failed and fallen into sin and all sorts of troubles.
When he was chased by Saul to kill him, he hid in the caves in the desert, and God taught David many lessons there.
Q9: What has been some of the most beautiful and valuable lessons God has taught you so far in this desert season of the pandemic?
One of my favourite Psalms is Psalm 63. David wrote it when he was in the desert of Judah being pursued by Saul. For David, the heat was turned up, and the pressure was high; he is being spread out so thinly and he had nothing more to give, but his heart di not grow cold towards the Lord. And here's what he wrote:
"Oh God, You are my God.
Earnestly I seek You, my soul thirsts for You.
My whole being longs for You in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
I've seen You in the sanctuary,
and beheld Your power and Your glory.
And because Your love is better than life
my lips will glorify You.
I will praise You as long as I live,
and in Your name, I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods.
With singing lips, my mouth will praise You.
On my bed I remember You.
I think of You through the watches of the night.
And because You are my help,
I sing in the shadow of Your wings.
My soul clings to You, and Your right hand upholds me."
David says, "Earnestly, I seek You
in a dry and weary land where there is no water."
Does that sound familiar?
Are you in a dry and weary land where there's no water?
I've been there many times myself.
Q10: What can you observe and learn from David's heart and thirst for God based on this Psalm?
But you know who is the one person who experienced the scorching extremities of the desert more than anyone in the world has ever gone through? None other than our Lord and Saviour, JESUS CHRIST
JESUS was in HIS ETERNAL ABODE IN HEAVEN and HE CAME DOWN TO THIS DESERT - THIS BROKEN WORLD. THE HEAT TURNED UP AGAINST HIM HEARTS TURNED COLD TOWARDS HIM HE GAVE ALL, and HE RECEIVED NONE And the Greatest desert JESUS experienced? It is when He shouted: "Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachtani?"
(My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?)
The most excruciating desert of all is the one where God turns His back and abandons His Son, deserted and dying on the cross. Why did God do that? JESUS endured the excruciating heat of desertion.. He was deserted.. because He saw you and me. He heard the cry of the boy in the desert (that's us). And He said I won’t let them die. So God provided the Water of Life in this wilderness of ours. JESUS! That whoever is thirsty may come and drink and LIVE!