A time of preparation.
A time of life-altering, growth and deeper rootedness in God.
A time of deep character and identity forging.
Yes, that’s a perfect description because the fires of the desert are completely intense and painfully altering.
THE DESERT TERRAIN
Jesus. John the Baptist. Abraham. Paul. Moses. Each of these went through their own desert experience. Literally. Jesus spent a Spirit-led 40 days in the wilderness. John the Baptist seemed to be a desert dweller his entire adult life. Abraham (formerly known as Abram) left his family at God’s command and spent his days following this God of big promises, dragging his family, belongings, livestock, business, and large staff of employees through the desert. After his largely known “Road to Damascus” encounter with Jesus, Paul (formerly/aka Saul) spent a number of years in Arabia. And Moses fled from the beautiful, luxurious palaces of Egypt to lay low after becoming self-appointed judge, jury, and executioner to end up hanging out with sheep in the desert.
And for some, like David, Joseph, Job, the prophets, even Ruth, their desert experience looked a bit differently. David ran… for over a decade! He hunted for his life by King Saul, his best friend’s dad who once invited him to dine regularly at the royal family table (talk about a friend turning on you!). Joseph spent years, I mean, years in captivity first as a slave and then as a wrongfully accused prisoner in Pharaoh’s finest jail. Not even Pharoah’s servants remembered him.
Now Job – well, he lost everything. Sons. Daughters. Wealth and food in the form of livestock. Health. Even his wife’s respect (If you’ve read the story, remember her words? “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die.” –Job 2:9 Not exactly words of comfort from the Mrs.!). The prophets spoke what God told them to and quite often had to run for their lives, hide from shady characters, live in isolation, give away their heart to very broken people, get taken into captivity, and even die. And a recently widowed Ruth left her homeland, her culture, her family, her friends to travel miles with her mother-in-law Naomi to some place called Bethlehem to live in almost certain poverty, loneliness, and marginalization.
And the interesting thing is: none of these circumstances was their doing or necessarily their fault.*
Yet, apparently, even in all this, God had a well-crafted plan.
PURPOSE IN THE DESERT
Right now, I’m in the midst of my own desert experience. You might be in one too. And if you’re lucky enough to never have experienced the desert, well, there’s no such thing as luck. It will come. It comes to us all.
This isn’t cynicism.
It’s just reality.
The point of the desert experience is to hear the voice of the Father God more clearly, learn your identity in Him more fully, and grow further into the plan and purpose He has for your life…
Not the purpose you have for your life.
Not the purpose your family has for your life.
Or your friends.
Or your boss.
Or even the people in your lifegroup.
God’s purpose for you.
But it’s all too easy to forfeit. Why?
Because who the heck wants to live in the desert?!
I don’t mean the luxury-suite, skiing indoors, vacation kind like in Dubai or even the glitzy, foodie-haven, sparkling-poolsides of Vegas desert.
I’m talking about the achingly-lonely, desperately-parched, rattlesnake-filled, famine-stricken, heat-stroke laden, who-the-heck-came-up-with-this-forsaken-place kind of desert!
Yet, this is the very place where God gets us alone with Him, teaches us total dependence on Him, and shapes us according to His perfect, beautiful design. We must go through desert experiences if we’re going to let God glorify Himself through our lives and become what He wants us to be.
Not your friends.
Not your family.
Not your colleagues.
Not your church peeps.
Not even yourself.
As we gain more experience with God, seeing Him care for and provide for our every personal, physical, spiritual, emotional, financial, and relational need in mind and heart from day to day (heck, from minute to minute!), He shows us what really matters in life — Him.
Because after all, He’s the main point.
(I know, it’s easy to forget that. I do too.)
And if you have any doubts about where God stands on the matter, let this word from Isaiah 45:18-25 clear it up for you:
For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (He is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited),
“I am the Lord, and there is none else.
“I have not spoken in secret, in some dark land; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek Me in a waste place’; I the Lord, speak righteousness, declaring things that are upright.
“Declare and set forth your case; indeed, let them consult together. Who has announced this from of old? Who has long since declared it? Is it not I, the Lord? And there is no other God besides Me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none except Me.
“Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.
“I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.
“They will say of Me, ‘Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength.’ Men will come to Him, and all who were angry at Him will be put to shame.
“In the Lord all the offspring of Israel will be justified and will glory.”
Funny thing is, while writing this post, I asked God to help me find the right verse to illustrate this point about His glory. I open my Bible, flip a few pages and land on this…
Are you feeling utterly schooled like I am right now?
Who says God isn’t clear?
Truth is, there are dozens if not hundreds of verses throughout God’s Word that underscores this same foundational, theological truth:
God is God.
I am not.
You are not.
We are not.
He alone is God. And He alone will get the glory.
And the beauty is, He’s going to use our desert experiences to glorify Himself through our lives.
*Now that I think of it, with many of these desert-experience people, even after their intense desert experience was over, they tended to go back to the “desert” voluntarily! Look at Jesus – off to the mountain in the wee early morning (Luke 6:12-13) or to a secluded place (Mark 1:35) to pray. And Moses, interestingly enough, went to the mountain or the tent of the meeting to meet with God face to face – like face to face (Exodus 33:7-11; 34:29-35)! Is that not incredible?!
I think there’s some beautiful secret they learned in the midst of solitude, in the lonely night hours where God was the only One there, the only One to hear their pain and catch their tears. It’s like they caught a deeper glimpse of God’s heart and His glory, were forever changed and captured by Him, and never looked back or wanted life as it was before. Now that’s something to look forward to!