This is part 2 of a 3-part series. Read part 1: Alone in the Desert.
So have you encountered your desert experience with God? Are you currently in the thick of it? Do you know someone else who seems to be going through the desert or has been through it? Maybe because you’re new to faith or God just hasn’t brought it yet (and His timing is always spot on)?
It could take the form of…
- sickness (e.g., Lazarus, Job)
- devastating loss (e.g., Ruth, Job, Mary + Martha)
- Spirit-directed isolation (e.g., Jesus, John of the Baptist variety, John the Apostle)
- loss of position/affluence (e.g., Moses, Joseph, Paul)
- an unexpected call to leave everything for the unknown (e.g., Matthew, Abraham)
Does any of this strike a chord?
While the desert experience is not, to put it mildly, an eagerly sought-out vacation destination, surprisingly, it is a good gift from God. When we find ourselves alone in the desert, God is drawing us into such a HUGE opportunity to experience greater intimacy and oneness with Him as we enter the “desert” of our life’s journey.
(And if you’ve finally gotten through your desert experience – hallelujah! Please, please share your story with others – you have a great testimony that will encourage us and glorify God!)
THAT GREAT CLOUD
“…since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” –Hebrews 12:1
You know all those people I mentioned earlier with their own desert experience? Like David, Paul, Ruth, and Jesus? From Scripture we know that God always brought about spiritual growth, a fixed rootedness in Him, a definitive sense of their identity, and the fulfillment of His unique purpose for their lives. During their time in the desert, the Spirit led them away from the crowds, from the familiar, from their family and closest friends to be alone with the Spirit of God. God used this time to prepare them for the new season He had in store, one that was unprecedented in their own life’s story.
And that’s exactly what He’s doing in you.
Take Abraham for example. This man, who was well above his 80s with a wife well past senior citizen status, became the “father of many nations,” including the people of Israel, and lived a life marked by the title “friend of God.” (see Genesis 11:20-12:9; James 2:23)
Joseph? His captivity ended up being the very means God used to keep Jacob (Israel) and his family from starvation. Through this, God used Joseph’s desert experience to save the whole country of Egypt and preserve the future nation of Israel so that the Savior could be born through them! (Genesis 37:7; 39:1-47:28)
Moses? Well, he became God’s right-hand man, leading the 400+ year captive people of Israel out of slavery from Egypt, the world’s largest political and military power on the planet. (You try doing that sometime!) He regularly met directly with God, and even took leaders of Israel out to dinner with God (like, God actually being there – amazing!). (Exodus 2:1-14:31, especially Exodus 24:9-11)
Ruth? There was a significant plot twist in her story as a widow with no children. Even though as a woman from Moab, Ruth was an outsider, God included her in His plans in a big way. She ended up being pursued by a kind, strong man of God named Boaz, who she married, and together they raised Obed, making her the great-grandmother of the second future king of Israel! Who says God doesn’t love all people?! (Ruth 1-4, especially Ruth 4:13-22)
David? He became that second king of Israel! And he loved and obeyed God so much (and fully repented when he sinned), that God calls him “a man after His own heart.” (1 Samuel 16:1–2 Samuel 2:7; 1 Samuel 13:13-14; Acts 13:21-23)
Job? After he prayed for his wayward, advice-giving friends and retracted some statements of his own, God restored everything he had lost: his reputation, his community, his wealth, and granted him even more children. (Job 1-3; 27-39; 40:1-14; 42:1-17)
The prophets? To each one, God gave a unique nearness and insight into Himself. For example, Isaiah had visions. Elijah healed, outran chariots, and raised the dead by the power of God (see 1 Kings 17 and following). Daniel had dreams of future things and survived dens of lions. And Hosea learned a love beyond reason within a marriage to a faithless bride.
John the Baptist? He may not have lived long, but he got to fill a critical role many, many before, during, and after his time would have DREAMED of! He got to tell everyone that God’s long-awaited promise of the Messiah was here (God’s hope had finally come in Jesus!) and be a part of kicking off His ministry. (Luke 1:8-17, 67-80; Matthew 3:1-4:1; Luke 2:25-35)
Jesus? As the Son of God Who became Man, He embraced our humanity. He healed, He delivered, He set free – He’s the Savior of the world Who not only beat death but came back to life by the power of God. (Luke 4:14-21; Mark 1 and following)
Paul? He brought the Gospel to the Gentiles (those who were not Jewish) and wrote much of the New Testament books we cherish today, like Romans and Ephesians. (Galatians 1:11-2:10)
And with each one of these examples, God didn’t just give them His blessings of power, position, favor, a family, or wealth. No, He gave them Himself, His presence in a way that was so close, so intimate that they knew a greater joy and were forever changed. And there are so many more men, women, and children in Scripture and in our rich Christian heritage who have experienced the same. I bet if you could ask each one, you’d find them telling you that the incredible gift of God’s presence was best gift of all. How very encouraging!
So since we’re all going to face a desert experience at some point (perhaps multiple points) in our journey, how do we survive this bitter, arid, rugged terrain for the soul?
Read part 3: Thriving in the Desert