Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Demands in the Desert

Leslie Basham: Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: It’s one thing to ask God to meet our needs, to pray for our daily bread. It’s another thing to develop a demanding spirit. “Lord, You have to do it, and You have to do it my way and in my time.”

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, September 22.

There are times when God seems so present and your emotions overflow toward Him. But there are other times that just feel dry. When you’re dry, will you still worship Him? Consider that as you listen to today’s message in a series called, Walking Through Life’s Deserts. Here’s Nancy.

Nancy: Well, we said that deserts are unavoidable; and if you have lived as a Christian for any length of time, you know that what I’m saying is true. There are desert experiences and those desert experiences may be in relation to physical issues in our lives, health issues. It may be a time of financial difficulty or stress. Maybe we’re stretched in our season of life as a new mom or a mom of a bunch of little ones or an empty nester.

Some change in life can often bring about a desert experience. We have some here who have moved recently and you’re facing holidays and aspects of life without the people that you have been around in the past. You’ve been uprooted. That can give a sense of being in the desert.

Sometimes it’s just changes in relationships, changes in a season of life, changes of responsibility. The desert can be a time where you’re just exhausted through giving out, pouring out, serving the Lord, but there comes a time when you’re just depleted. In that weakened, vulnerable condition, we can find ourselves in a desert.

When Jesus was in His desert for forty days, He didn’t eat for forty days. Mark 1 gives us that little detail, and He was hungry. Well, you say, “Of course, He was hungry.” But I think it helps us to know that Jesus identifies with points of human weakness that make us feel that we are in a desert experience.

Maybe months ago whe n you would read God’s Word, it was alive. Tears would come to your eyes. It was just so quickened inside of you, and you would read it. It was just wonderful. You would sit in church and everything was just speaking to you, and now maybe there’s a season of your life unexplainably where it all just seems like cardboard—tasteless, boring, dull. You can’t sense God’s presence.

God is sweet to give us times when we really can sense His presence. Times when the tears of joy come naturally. But I think God is also sweet to give us times when, as we mature in our faith, we walk with Him and love Him not because we can feel Him but because we trust Him.

We need both of those seasons. And God knows when we need which. Now when we find ourselves in the desert—it may be that in your family you’re in a desert or in your workplace or even in your church.

We get letters and emails from people saying, “Our church is going through a really tough time,  or “I just don’t sense the presence of God in our church at this time.” 

The question isn’t, “Will we go through deserts?” The question is, “How will we respond when we find ourselves in the desert?” We will find ourselves in the desert. We have said that God has purposes for sending us into the desert. I’m talking now about deserts that are not because God’s disciplining us but because God has purposes to make us more like Jesus.

It’s His design to send us into the desert. It’s not necessarily that we did something wrong or that we sinned or that God is chastening us. God loves us. Even when He chastens us, He loves us. But the question is how we respond to that desert, to the hardships and temptations of the desert.

In order to see the wrong way to respond to the desert, we can go back to the Old Testament and look at the Children of Israel. They got it wrong about ten times out of ten! Actually, that encourages me a little bit in the sense that I get it wrong so often myself. I realize how merciful God is, how longsuffering, and how God, in spite of the fact that they didn’t respond well to the deserts, God did end up taking them to the Promised Land.

It was a lot longer route than it needed to be. It took a lot longer. It was a lot more round-about. God is going to take us to spiritual maturity, to be like Christ, to that glorified state, to Heaven; but the route of becoming like Jesus may be a little longer than it needed to be if we don’t respond to the deserts in the proper way.

The natural response to the desert in our lives is so similar to what the Children of Israel did. They hardened their hearts against God. God was the One who led them to the desert, but their natural response was to harden their hearts.

That came out in two ways. First of all, unbelief and secondly, rebellion. Unbelief and rebellion. First they doubted God. Unbelief. When they found themselves in the desert—no water, no food. What were they going to do for provision? How were they going to find their way? How were they going to deal with the obstacles and the hurdles?

Instead of trusting God who led them there, instead of saying, “Lord, You’ve led us here. This is Your choice. If you took us here, then You must be intending to provide us.”  Instead, they doubted God.

You find this all the way through the Old Testament. Psalm 78, verse 32, talking about the desert wanderings of the Israelites, said, “In spite of his [God’s] wonders, they did not believe” (NIV). They did not believe. God had demonstrated Himself and His power over and over and over again.

Think about what they’d seen in Egypt. Think about the plagues and God taking them out from 400 years of slavery. They had seen the wonders of God. Think about how God took them through the Red Sea; about how God provided manna; about how God said to Moses, “Strike the rock and water will come out” (Ex. 17:6 NIV); and water did come out. Think about how God destroyed the Amalekites as Joshua fought in the valley and Moses stood there with his arms uplifted to heaven.

They had seen the wonders of God, but they still doubted God. Isn’t that like us? We see God provide. We see God come through. We’ve seen Him come through for others. We read about it hundreds of times in the Scripture. We’ve seen Him come through hundreds of times for us. Maybe thousands of times over the years. But then we get in a fix, we panic, and we doubt God.

Psalm 78 says,

They spoke against God, saying, ‘Can God spread a table in the wilderness? He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed. Can He also give bread or provide meat for his people?’ . . . they did not believe in God and did not trust His saving power (vv. 19-20, 22).

They had seen God act. They knew what He could do. But when it came to the next situation, they did not believe in God. They did not trust His saving power. Exodus 17:7 says, “They tested the LORD by saying, ‘Is the LORD among us or not?’” Is God here? They doubted.

We’re tempted to doubt in our times when we can’t see God, when we can’t see the next step, when we can’t see where the provision is coming from. We’re tempted to say, “Is God really here?” When we doubt God, we’re prone to jump in and try and fix it ourselves, to take matters into our own hands. So you go get another job or you go take out a loan or you do something to fix your situation.

I wonder how many miracles we miss out on of God’s provision because we take matters into our own hands. We say, “I’ll handle this.” We don’t wait on the Lord. Just like the Children of Israel. They doubted God. Unbelief.

Then they resisted God in their desert. They resisted God. Rebellion. Again, Psalm 78:8 says they were “a stubborn and rebellious generation.” They rebelled in the desert against the Most High. They refused to listen to His voice. They resisted God. They rebelled against God. “God’s not coming through for us. We’re going to do it our way.”

When we resist God, when we rebel against Him, it comes out in us in much the same way that it did in the Israelites. You know how it came out in their lives? Murmuring, grumbling, complaining, whining. That’s rebellion. They whined against God. They whined against God’s man. They accused God’s man. They accused Moses. They blamed Moses.

Do you find yourself blaming other people when you’re in your desert? “If only my in-laws hadn’t . . .” or “If only my children hadn’t . . .” or “If only our youth director hadn’t . . .” or “Our pastor—I can’t believe he did that!”

We blame someone else, and we ultimately end up blaming God. They whined. They grumbled. They murmured. Exodus 15, they’re in the desert. They don’t have water so it says, “The people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What are we to drink?’” (Ex. 15:24 NIV). “Do something!” Ever find yourself saying that to your husband? They grumbled. They complained. It’s a sign of rebellion.

Exodus 16—same thing. The whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.

If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death (v. 3 NIV).

I mean, it’s amazing what a hard heart, a resistant heart will cause you to say. Things that if you were thinking straight, you know aren’t true. They knew that they didn’t want God to kill them in Egypt. They were delighted to get out of Egypt at the time. They talk about all the good meals they had in Egypt. If they would have been thinking straight, they would never have wanted to go back there. They were slaves. Now they were free. God was their Lord.

God had led them into the desert, but they were scared. Isn’t it often fear that makes us curl up and whine and complain and become desperate and murmur and grumble?

Then they demanded relief. Again, a sign of rebellion. “Lord, we’re not content with what You’ve provided or how You’re doing it.” So they demanded relief. Psalm 78 again, verse 18: “They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved.” Demanding the food they craved.

It’s one thing to ask God to meet our needs, to pray for our daily bread, to appeal to God, to say, “Lord, You promised to meet my needs and in Jesus’ name I’m asking You to do it.” It’s another thing to develop a demanding spirit. “Lord, You have to do it, and You have to do it in my way and in my time.”

“You have to bring me a husband. I’m tired of this desert of singleness.” “You have to give me a child. I’m tired of this desert of infertility.” We become demanding. “Give my husband a job.” “Give me a job.” “Give me a better job.” “Give me a pay increase.” We demand of God and of others that they meet our needs now.

Demanding of your children that they be something that they aren’t yet. Demand of God that He change your children or that He change your husband. “Lord, I’m tired of living with this man the way he is. He’s lazy. He’s undisciplined. He’s unproductive. He doesn’t have a heart for You. He won’t work.” Whatever.

Then you demand, “God, change my situation.” God’s saying, “I want to use your situation to change you. I can change your husband. I can change your children. I can give you a job. I can fix your health.”

Or, “I’m tired of this pain. Take these problems away.” We become demanding. It’s rebellion. It’s saying, “Lord, I’m not surrendering to Your will and Your choices for my life for this season.” It’s rebellion.

Hebrews chapter 3 describes for us what happened when the Children of Israel responded in unbelief and rebellion. Let me ask you, if you have your Bible, to turn to that passage: Hebrews chapter 3. Just read this description with me of what it was like and why it is so important for us to learn from the example of the Israelites because, as Paul said to the Corinthians, “These things were written to us for an example that we might learn from their failures” (1 Cor. 10:11 paraphrased).

Hebrews chapter 3, beginning in verse 7:

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, 'They always go astray in their heart'" (vv. 7-10).

By the way, how you respond in the desert is a heart issue. It’s God wanting to do a work in your heart, and the way your heart responds will determine how you fare in your desert. God said they always go astray in their hearts.

“They have not known my ways. As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest’” (vv. 10-11). You see, God was preparing a rest, a place of abundance, a place of peace for His people, but the way to get to the rest was through the desert.

The Children of Israel said, “No, we want the rest now. We don’t want to go through the desert. We don’t want the hardship. We don’t want what it takes to get to that place of abundance and rest and peace and freedom from our enemies. We want the rest now and we want it our way.”

God said, “Because they didn’t know My ways and they hardened their hearts against Me, I said to them, you won’t experience My rest.”

Then the writer of Hebrews says in verse 12 [This is for you, friends]: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart.” Did you know that to doubt God, to respond in unbelief is to have an evil heart? See we tend to justify. I know I do in my own life. I say, “It’s natural that I should be feeling this way. You’d be feeling this way if you were in my circumstances. I’m not putting my fist in God’s face. I’m just afraid.”

If that fear leads to unbelief, doubting God, God says that’s an evil heart. That should make us take unbelief seriously. Any time I don’t believe God, I’m not trusting in Him, I’m not relying on Him, there’s an evil heart.

So he says,

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day . . . that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (vv. 12-13).

It’s important in our deserts that we be part of a community of faith, that we have people around us who will love us enough to look us in the face and say:

  • Are you trusting God? 
  • Are you believing God? 
  • Is your heart getting hard? 
  • Are you receiving God’s grace? 
  • Are you getting to God in this situation?

 

Sometimes when you’re in that situation, you don’t want somebody in your face asking those kinds of questions, but that’s when we need that. We need—I need—those people in my life. You need those people in your life. People who will be honest with us, who will exhort, who will encourage us, who will challenge us, lovingly, compassionately, but honestly.

Exhort one another. How often? Every day. It takes less than twenty-four hours for me to fall into an evil, unbelieving heart. That’s why every day I need the accountability of other believers. I need people praying for me. I need people challenging me. I need people holding up my arms. I fall into unbelief.

I can’t tell you how often in this ministry I find myself falling into unbelief. The pressures come around and I find myself in desert experiences saying, “Can God provide a table in the wilderness? Where are the funds coming from for this ministry? Where is the material coming from for this next recording session?” I find myself lapsing into unbelief and then becoming demanding, resenting and resisting the very desert that God led me into.

That’s why I thank the Lord for the people in my life who exhort me daily so that my heart doesn’t become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Verse 15: “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” Listen to God when you’re in your desert. Let Him speak to you. Let your heart be tender. Let it be soft.

Verses 16-17:

For who are those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he [God] provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?

Listen, God never intended those Children of Israel to die in the wilderness. He intended them to go through the wilderness to the Promised Land. But hundreds of thousands of them died in the wilderness because they never believed God. So they perished.

Some of you will perish in your wilderness. You’ll walk the rest of your life in an unnecessary wilderness, extended, prolonged much longer than it needed to be if you don’t get to God and to His grace and soften your heart and receive what God has for you.

Verse 18:

To whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient?

So we see that they were unable to enter God’s promised rest because of unbelief. Because of unbelief. So God was grieved. God was angry. The Israelites never entered His rest. They were kept from entering the Promised Land. The wilderness and the desert that God intended for their good became for them a place of destruction and misery and death.

You make the choice what your wilderness will be. Now that’s the natural way to respond to the wilderness: unbelief, rebellion, hardening your heart. But as we look at Jesus in his wilderness experience, we find a supernatural way to respond to the desert. Not in doubt, but in trust. Not in rebellion, but in obedience.

When the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, what did Jesus do? He followed. He went. He accepted those forty days as God’s plan for His life. When He was hungry, alone, and tempted, what did He do? He trusted. He trusted God’s Word. He relied on God. He depended on the Word of God.

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). He looked the Tempter in the face and said, “God’s Word says . . . I take my stand on God’s Word.” Trust in God. He looked to God to meet His needs. He refused to demand relief or to accept Satan’s offer of premature relief.

In her book, Finding Focus in a Whirlwind World, Jean Fleming says,

Relief may come in many forms, but true comfort comes from God alone. Other means of relief can keep us too busy to feel the pain, or can sedate us, dulling the sensation of pain, but only God provides deep, rich comfort in the midst of suffering.

The Tempter will offer you a shortcut out of the desert—immediate relief. But if it’s not God’s time and God’s way, don’t accept it.

I was reading this morning in a little book by Calvin Miller, and he said we basically have two choices to make in dealing with the mysteries of God. When we’re in the desert, essentially we’re facing mystery. We don’t know why God’s doing it, what He’s up to, how long it’s going to take, when He’s going to get us out, how He’s going to get us out. So Calvin Miller says we basically have two choices to make when we’re dealing or faced with the mysteries of God. We can wrestle with Him, or we can rest in Him.

Which are you doing? Which are you prone to do? I’ll tell you I’m prone to wrestle, to chafe against the pressure, to resent it, to resist it. You can wrestle with God, but you won’t win. Or you can by faith rest. The Lord knows the way through the wilderness. All I have to do is follow.

The old song—you can’t say it any better than this: “There’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.” In your desert, are you going to doubt and rebel, or are you going to trust and obey?

Leslie: Will you pray with Nancy Leigh DeMoss in just a minute? Ask God for more trust and more obedience.

If you were about to drive through the desert, wouldn’t it be nice to have something to listen to along the way? Some kind of expert who could explain about the danger and the beauty of the terrain? That’s the way a lot of listeners are approaching Nancy’s current series, Walking Through Life’s Deserts. They may not be driving through a literal desert, but they’re listening to the CDs while in a place that’s dry and dangerous emotionally.

Do the same thing. When you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size, we'll send you the series on CD. You'll hear more material on these CDs than we have time to air this week. You'll be able to listen as Nancy and some friends describe the way they saw God guide them through desert experiences.

Along with the CDs, we'll include a booklet called, “Promises to Live By.” Just call with your donation at 1-800-569-5959, or order “Promises to Live By” and Walking Through Life’s Deserts when you visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Helping others through the desert is hard work. We love helping women find freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ. It’s what we’re called to, but it is challenging. Would you help us by praying for this ministry? We need it. If you’re willing to make an extra special commitment to pray, give, and share the message of Revive Our Hearts, would you consider being part of our Ministry Partner team? There’s some definite benefits to joining. Get more details about being part of this important group at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Tomorrow we'll talk about survival skills. What do you need to know before entering a desert. Nancy will talk about surviving the desert tomorrow. Now let’s pray with Nancy.

Nancy: Thank you, Lord, for giving us a wonderful example in the Lord Jesus of what it means to trust and obey. Today as we’re faced with the mysteries that You bring into our lives—things that we can’t understand, things we can’t fix, things we can’t change, when we can’t see Your ways, when we’re tempted to doubt, help us not to wrestle, but to trust, to rest, to lean hard. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.