The Desert

A few weeks ago, we were challenged to remember the Lord, especially during the good times, and to creatively put things in place to serve as a reminder to us of how good and faithful God is.  This morning, I felt that God wanted to challenge us on this a step further.  I felt that God wanted to encourage those of us who are in the desert places and seasons of life.
For those who are not familiar with this bit of Bible history, the nation of Israel started out as a family, Jacob and his twelve sons.  God renamed Jacob to Israel after He wrestled with him all night for God’s blessing.  To make a long story short, one of Israel’s sons, Joseph, was brought into the land of Egypt, out from the land of Canaan, after being sold by his brothers.  Joseph eventually was blessed and raised up as the second in command in the land of Egypt and, due to famine, the rest of his family moved to Egypt along with him.
In Egypt, their family grew quickly and filled the land of Egypt.  Over time, Joseph’s generation passed away and the king that once favored Israel as well.  The new king that came into power in Egypt was fearful that they would overpower him, so decided to make them their slaves and oppress them with forced labor.  He even told the midwives to kill any boys who were born.  One boy’s life was spared and was adopted by the Pharaoh’s daughter who name him Moses.
After 430 years, God raised up Moses as the leader over Israel who lead them out of their Egyptian slavery and into a good and spacious land that God promised to them.  God displayed many awesome signs and wonders of His power and great love for Israel as He brought them out from their slavery and into their promised land.
However, something went wrong during the time between when God freed Israel from their Egyptian bondage and the time that they entered into their promised land.  This is the desert place and season that I mentioned earlier that I believe that God desires to speak to us about today.

Psalm 106:6-14;21-25
6 We have sinned, even as our ancestors did;
we have done wrong and acted wickedly.
7 When our ancestors were in Egypt,
they gave no thought to your miracles;
they did not remember your many kindnesses,
and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.
8 Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
to make his mighty power known.
9 He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up;
he led them through the depths as through a desert.
10 He saved them from the hand of the foe;
from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them.
11 The waters covered their adversaries;
not one of them survived.
12 Then they believed his promises
and sang his praise.
13 But they soon forgot what he had done
and did not wait for his plan to unfold.
14 In the desert they gave in to their craving;
in the wilderness they put God to the test.

21 They forgot the God who saved them,
who had done great things in Egypt,
22 miracles in the land of Ham
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
23 So he said he would destroy them—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him
to keep his wrath from destroying them.
24 Then they despised the pleasant land;
they did not believe his promise.
25 They grumbled in their tents
and did not obey the Lord.
The whole problem that Israel created for themselves is summed up in verse 13: they forgot what God had done and did not wait for his plan to unfold.
No one likes to wait.  We live in a microwave culture where everything is available to us when we want it and exactly how we want it and we accept nothing less.  This Israelite problem still plagues us to this day.  For example, go to a restaurant and observe the reaction from someone who isn’t waited on after 15 minutes or receives their meal only to find that it isn’t exactly what they ordered.
It looks much like the Israelites who complained about what they were given and their moaning that they should have just stayed in Egypt and never came here.
However, we have to understand that God has a purpose even in that desert place that lies between where we receive our freedom and where we enter into God’s promise.  As we learned two weeks ago, in these desert places, it is critical for us to remember these three things:

1. Where you came from

2. What God has already done for you

3. God’s promise – where you are going
Remembering these three things helps keep us focused and to keep our circumstances in perspective.  It helps us to remember that we’re not going to be in this desert place forever – it is not our final destiny.  Just like every season in the natural world, this season of life has a set time when it will end and transition into a season filled with new life and all of the things hoped for.
There is, however, a purpose that God has for these desert seasons of life that we’re going to learn of this morning.
The first purpose is to grow our faith and character.
Take for example, this packet of seeds.  This packet is like the bondage that we are freed from.  As we’re freed from our bondage, we receive a promise from God.  The picture on the seed packet is like the promise from God, a field full of juicy watermelons.  However, when God hands us this promise, it comes in a seed form.  This seed looks nothing like a field of juicy watermelons, right?  However, we all know that given the right circumstances and some time, this will certainly result in that field of juicy watermelons.  That potential exists within it, but there are some things that must take place before that seed reaches it’s full potential.
The desert seasons of life are just like this seed.  It’s shoved down into the dirt all alone.  It feels abandoned and confused and where that seed is doesn’t look anything like God’s promise.  Where it is at doesn’t even seem to fit into God’s plan as we would understand it.  It’s dirty and even gets crap thrown onto it from time to time.  It is not a desirable season for that seed by any means.
However, we’re aware of what happens with a seed through this season.  It grows and matures and is transformed as it reaches up through the dirt breaking out into the sunlight.  The same thing happens with us.  As we trust in God for what is completely unseen, our faith is strengthened.  Our character is also grown as we are transformed and mature into a better person.
This leads to the second purpose which is to prepare us to receive God’s promise.
Most significant responsibilities in life require a time of preparation and training before we receive them.  Some examples are driving, hunting, and many jobs.  If you place a 6 year old behind the wheel of a car or give them a loaded pistol, or hand them a scalpel and patient prepped for surgery, the results would likely be tragic.  The same is true for us spiritually.
God knows whether or not we are prepared to receive His promise.  He knows that if He gives us what He has planned too early, it will become to us a curse instead of the intended blessing.  He knows that it would cause us and others harm and not the intended good.  It would bring destruction instead of the intended construction.
The desert seasons are often purposed to force us to make changes in our lives in order to mature and prepare us to be able to receive God’s promise and to be a good steward of it.  This also requires wisdom and much patience on our part because usually, we feel that we are ready for the promise and want it now.
I can remember feeling that way about hunting, I just couldn’t wait to get my hands on that gun and got frustrated because I didn’t understand why I had to wait until I was a certain age before I could have it.  Then, once I could have it, I could only use it when I was with my dad and only after he showed me how to load it and properly handle it.  I didn’t understand why I had to keep putting the safety on and only to take it off after I was aiming right on the target.
Over time, however, I began to understand all of these things.  I’ll never forget the first time that I let the hammer down too quick on my dad’s 30-30 and had it fire right after loading it.  I’ll never forget how everything suddenly turned into a target the first time that I was allowed to take my gun out alone.  I’ll never forget the first time that I left my safety off and had a shotgun go off near my head while I was walking through thick brush.  After all of these potentially deadly incidents, I understood why that frustrating season of preparation was necessary.
This is just an example from one area of life, but there were many more where the words of my dad or a teacher would come back to mind after making the mistake that I was warned about.  A recurring one for me seems to be my dad’s words when I got my first pocket knife to ‘always cut away from yourself’.  These words ring through my mind every time that I’m getting stitched up after slipping with a utility knife.
The last purpose for these desert seasons which we’re coving this morning is that it grows us closer to God.
Proverbs 3:5-6
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
The straightest path and quickest way out of a desert season is to keep trusting in the Lord.  When we begin to rely on our own understanding and reasoning, we begin to forget where we came from and where we are going and turn away from God.  This isn’t at all God’s purpose during these seasons.
It’s during these seasons of complete faith and trust in God where He wants to bring us into even deeper intimacy with Him and show us just how awesome He is and how great His love is for us.  It was in the desert place where God miraculously provided manna for the Israelites to eat and brought forth water from a rock.  He lead them by a pillar of cloud through the day and a pillar of fire by night and His protection was ever with them.  God personally showed the Israelites His glory.  He trained the Israelites for battle and enabled their success in war and also gave them wisdom to know which cities to refrain from engaging in war with.
Yet something happened when they finally reached the promised land.  God commanded them to go into the land and take possession of it and to not be afraid or discouraged.  He assured them that He would deliver their enemies into their hands and that they would be successful.  However, instead of doing what God asked them to, they decided to send 12 men, one from each tribe of Israel, to spy out the land.  The spies went out and brought back a good report about how bountiful the land really was, but 10 of the 12 men caused the nation of Israel to fear because the people were much taller and stronger than they were and the cities were greatly fortified.  Only 2 encouraged the Israelites to continue forward and to trust in God.
Instead of going in fearless and encouraging themselves in the Lord, they backed down in fear and grumbled and complained against Moses and the Lord wanting to go back to Egypt after they had seen the promised land.  Because of their disobedience, they got to spend even more time, in fact the rest of their lives, in that desert place and God waited until their whole generation passed away and raised up another leader before Israel entered into this promised land.
Instead of drawing near to the Lord and moving in faith to see God’s miraculous way of enabling them to take their land and overcome their enemies, they ran away from the Lord in disobedience.  Unfortunately, we have a tendency to do the same thing.
There are many times when we are at the threshold of our promised land and God encourages us to boldly enter into it, but we’re too afraid to and so we remain in the desert season until God presents us with the opportunity to enter in again.  Our faith in God and what His word commands that we do gets put to the test and will continue to get put to the test time and time again until we finally pass His test, overcome our fears, and enter into the blessed and plentiful life that He has waiting for us on the other side.
This morning, if you find yourself in that desert season of life in between the freedom from the bondage of your sins and entrance into God’s promises, don’t be discouraged.  Be encouraged that there is a great work that God wants to do in your life and that He desires to reveal Himself to you in a new and powerful way.  Remember the reality of where you came from, what God did for you in the past, and where He is taking you now.  Allow Him to build your faith and character, to prepare you for His promise, and to draw closer to Him in complete trust.  When confronted with that same situation in life again, overcome your fears and face the confrontation head on, knowing that God is with you and He is for you!  God’s promised land for you is certainly waiting for you on the other side of that confrontation!