Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Desert Experience

The Negev south of ben Gurion's tomb in Israel
Exodus 3:1-3

There are times in our lives and the lives of churches and nations when the Lord shakes everything that can be shaken so that He can be revealed (Hebrews 12:26-29). He does that best in what are called desert experiences. You have either been in the desert, you are still in the hiddenness of the desert, or you are headed toward the desert. God uses desert experiences to reveal Himself in our lives and prepare us for the next assignment He has for us.

Jesus went through a desert experience (Matt. 4:1; Luke 4:1). Paul went through a desert experience (Gal. 1:17-18). John the Baptizer went through a desert experience (John 1:80). The children of Israel went through a desert experience (Exod. 12-Josh. 1). Moses went through a desert experience (Exod. 3:1-3).

Whether we find ourselves on the back side of the desert through our own doing or whether God has brought us there, He uses desert experiences to refocus us and prepare us for what is coming in our lives. The desert is not a bad thing. It is a training ground. God has purposes and blessings set aside for us both in the desert and afterwards. He places in the desert those whom He wants to take deeper in intimacy with Him. 
  • In the desert, He sharpens our listening skills to learn to pick out His Voice from the cacophony (Psalm 95:7-11; John 10:3-4, 16, 27; Heb. 3:7). 

  • In the desert, He wants us to learn that the right response when things get out of control is to trust Him, to trust that He is in control (2 Sam 22:3; Job 13:15; Psalm 18:30; 28:7; 34:8; 37:40; 62:8; Isaiah 26:3; 50:10; Heb 2:13). 

  • In the desert, He takes away every option that is in the flesh, forcing us to trust Him to do everything of eternal significance (Rom. 8:1, 4; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; ). 

  • In the desert, He burns and blows away the wood, hay, and stubble of our own personal pride, confidence in the power of self, and carnal striving (1 Cor. 3:12-15). 

  • In the desert, He speaks tenderly to us in our time of trouble and makes it a doorway of hope (Hosea 2:14-15). 

  • It is in the desert experiences that we give ourselves to Him in a new way, and He affirms a closer relationship with Him through his unfailing love (Hosea 2:19-20).
Jesus came out of his desert experience in the power of the Spirit to proclaim his first public message, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me . . . (Luke 4:18-19). Henrietta Mears says that Moses spent 40 years thinking he was somebody, 40 years finding out he was a nobody, and 40 years finding what God can do with a nobody.  Moses was hidden in the desert, tending sheep, not aware of the groaning of Israel under the weight of Egyptian slavery, but God heard them (Exod. 2:23-25). And Moses was not lost from God. God knew right where Moses was.

It was on the far side of the desert that Moses came to Mount Horeb, the mountain of God (Exod. 3:1). It was in the hum-drum, hidden, sheep-stinking, hot, dry, back side of the desert that Moses had to be in order to see the appearance of the angel of the Lord in the flames of fire in the bush (Exod. 3:2-3). The consuming fire of the unconsumed bush is only found at the mountain of God, and the mountain of God is only found on the back side of the desert.

God used Moses to lead a His own precious flock of sheep, the sons of Israel, back to that same mountain. God took his people into the desert to strip them of their idols of Egypt and teach them of Himself, so that He could use them for His glory and bless them in their next assignment, the Land of Promise. God has been known to take a church into the hiddenness of the back side of the desert in order to strip them of their idols, teach them of Himself, so He can use them for His glory and bless them in their next assignment.

He miraculously supplied their needs with water and manna and quail despite their griping in the desert. He miraculously gave them an unmistakable vision of His presence in the cloud and the fire. He made covenant with them and gave them direction and teaching and directed their worship in a new direction, the Tabernacle (Exodus 25-31, 35-40).

In the desert, God’s people sacrificed, worshiped, and celebrated the festivals, Exod. 20:24). And they griped and complained and were tested and failed their tests. They wanted to go back to Egypt, to do away with the discomfort of the desert. They had no vision of the Land of Promise. The committee of 12 they appointed utterly failed to follow God (Exod. 13-14), keeping them in the desert until a new kind of leader came out of the furnace of the desert – a Caleb, a Joshua.

They went into the desert a rag-tag, motley crew of freed slaves with little vision beyond their stomachs. They came out of the desert in companies and ranks, marching at the trumpet’s signal. They went in slaves and came out warriors feared by the entirety of the region.

Why did He do lead them into the desert? Because of his everlasting covenant with them (Psalm 136:16). God knows that for some of us, the desert is the only place that will drive us to cry out to Him (Psalm 107:4-6). He filled their hunger and thirst with good things and satisfied them (Josh. 23:14; Psalm 103:5; Luke 1:53).

The desert teaches us lessons we cannot learn in spiritual ease or success or business-as-usual. The desert is a testing ground, a consolidation ground, a trusting ground, a time of grounding in His Voice and His Word for the next assignment. Do not rush the desert experience, and make your focus His Face and His Voice.