Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Discipline in the Desert

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss says time and testing will help you answer these questions about your relationship with God.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: When we make wrong choices, God disciplines us—because He hates us? No, because He loves us. He wants to make us holy. He wants to make us like Jesus. If you’re a child of God, you can’t get away from the discipline of God.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, September 19.

Last week Nancy gave up important counsel on handling dry times. We are continuing in that helpful series. It's called Walking Through Life’s Deserts.

Nancy: Well, have I got you depressed yet—all this talk about the desert and how hard it is? If you’re not in a desert, you’re thinking, “What in the world is she talking about?” Well, I just want you to know that I’m preparing you for something that’s coming up ahead because you can’t live the Christian life for any length of time and not find yourself, at times, in deserts.

I want to address the question today, “How in the world do we end up in the desert?” How do we get there? Why does God take us there? Over the next several sessions we’ll talk about some of God’s purposes in the desert, but today, “How do we end up in the desert?”

I want to suggest there are two primary ways that we end up in a desert. Sometimes we end up in this desert experience because God is disciplining us. Sometimes it’s God’s discipline that takes us there.

That means we’re in the desert as a consequence of our own wrong choices. God said, “Don’t.” We said, “I will,” and God said, “Okay, here are the consequences.”

You make choices in life. Every choice you make in life—I don’t care how old you are, how godly you are, how not godly you are—every choice you make in life has consequences. We have some high school gals here with us today, and you girls are making a lot of choices at this season of life. You make wise choices, you will experience blessing in your lives; you make foolish choices, you will experience consequences.

If you don’t guard your heart, if you don’t apply wisdom in who you date and what you do on dates, and your moral life—in some of those areas you can make choices that will go with you in terms of painful consequences for the rest of your life.

Now, that’s not to say there isn’t grace. Through repentance God can give you a fresh start, but there are some choices that all of us have made in life that we are going to experience, to some degree, the consequences of those choices for the rest of our lives. You can’t avoid those.

When we make wrong choices, God disciplines us—because He hates us? No, because He loves us. He wants to make us holy. He wants to make us like Jesus.

If you’re a child of God, you can’t get away from the discipline of God. I mean, if you’re a child of good parents, you can’t get away from discipline because good parents discipline their children. God is a good Father. He disciplines His children.

It happened in the Scripture. We’ve been looking at the Israelites, for example, in their wilderness wandering. When they came out of Egypt, went across the Red Sea, God took them into the desert, but God did not intend for their wilderness experience to last for 40 years.

God intended for them to be in the wilderness, but not for 40 years. The Israelites were rebellious. They did not believe God.

They said, “We'll have it our way. We won't go Your way.” As a result, they wandered in the desert for an extra 38 years.

They could have been in the Promised Land all that time. They could have been enjoying God's blessing and fullness and abundance, but they ended up for 38 of those 40 years unnecessarily in the desert.

It's not just the Israelites. I have seen people do this. I'm thinking of a friend right now who is in a long, hard desert that will go on probably for years to come now because of wrong, foolish choices that he made not to obey God in the area of his marriage and his morals. There are consequences. He is now broken and repentant and so sorry and cannot believe what he did, but there are consequences that that man will continue to pay for choosing to say "no" to God.

Numbers 32 says, “The LORD's anger burned against Israel and he made them wander in the desert forty years” (v. 13). That was God's discipline. It was God's chastening.

Psalm 68, verse 6 tells us, “The rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.” Sounds like a desert to me. “A sun-scorched land”—who dwells there? The rebellious.

Sometimes we end up in the desert because we said "no" to God, and God says, “You think you're in charge? Let Me show you who's in charge.”

Now, I'm assuming you're a child of God. I'm talking about believers here. When a believer willfully sins against God's Word and does not submit to God's authority in his life, he's going to land in the desert. God is going to chasten him.

I have a friend named Karen who experienced years of chronic depression and suicidal tendencies. She had so many emotional and mental and even physical issues and baggage in her life. When God brought her through that desert and she looked back on it, she said, “I know now that those years of depression and suicidal tendencies stemmed from my own rebellion against the Lord when the storms of life were tossing.” There were some storms in her life. She didn't have control over those, but she resisted God's grace when she was in those storms—some things that were happening in her family.

She got bitter instead of being grateful. She didn't trust God. She didn't believe Him. She rejected God.

She had turned her back on Him, and she rebelled against God in the midst of those storms. As a result, this woman ended up in years of an unnecessary desert experience in her life.

Hebrews 12 tells us that God chastens His children. Why? To purify us, to make us holy, because He's a good Dad. He loves us. He wants us to be like Jesus.

I know there are some desert experiences in my own life that I have experienced unnecessarily where God was just disciplining me. He was saying, “I need you to know that you can't go your own way and get away with it.” I am so thankful as I look back now on 40-some years of walking with God that God loves me enough not to let me shake my fist in His face and say "no" and get away with it.

Now, I haven't really shaken my fist in God's face, but sometimes we do it in subtle ways. When I've said, “I'll live my own life. I'll go my own way. I'll make my own choices,” and God says, “I can make your life hard. I can make you need Me. I can make you want Me,” and God is so good to do that.

When you find yourself in the desert as a result of God's discipline, what's the answer? Repent. Confess to God. Sometimes it takes the discipline to show you how you've sinned, and if you're in a desert and you're there as the consequences of your own, sinful choices, the answer is simple—honesty, humility, brokenness, repentance.

Agree with God about your sin. That doesn't mean the consequences will all go away or that they'll all go away quickly, but God will begin once again to be able to bless your life when you say "yes" to Him.

Now, I said that sometimes we end up in the desert as a result of God's discipline, but that's not the focus I want to make during this series on the deserts. There's another reason we can end up in the deserts. It's not God's discipline. It's not the consequence of our own wrong choices. It's God's design, God's plan for our lives.

You say, “God sometimes plans to send us into the desert, even though we haven't sinned?” Yes. Yes, this is God's plan to help make us like Jesus, and I want you to see that in both the Old Testament and the New.

Turn, if you would, to the book of Exodus chapter 13. I want us to take one more look here at an instance in the lives of the Children of Israel. Earlier in this series we looked at chapter 15 where the Jews had just been through the Red Sea, and they end up in the wilderness. Now we're backtracking to Exodus 13, right after the Children of Israel are coming out of the land of Egypt.

I think this is an amazing verse here, Exodus 13, verse 17. “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near.” That was the closest, most direct route to get to the Promised Land, but God didn't lead them the closest, most direct route.

“For God said, 'Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt” (ESV). The people weren't ready to fight against the Philistines yet. They weren't ready to handle war. They'd been slaves in Egypt for 400 years. They weren't organized. They didn't know how to deal with battle. God needed to prepare them for what they were going to face, so what happened?

Verse 18, “But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea” (ESV). Notice what you see in this verse. God led the people. God was still leading, but God didn't take them the most direct route. God led them around. It seemed like they were going in circles.

Ever feel like that in your own life—like you're going around—like, “God, You could get me here quicker than this”? He's not doing it the most direct route. He's taking you in a circuitous route. “He led them around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea.”

How did they get to the Red Sea? How did they get to the wilderness? God led them. They were there, not because they had sinned.

Now, the next 38 years was because they had sinned, but the first time they ended up in the wilderness, it was not because they had sinned. It was just the design of God for their lives.

It was God's plan, God's perfect plan, and sometimes you, too, will end up in the wilderness because God said, “There's something I need to teach you here. There's something I need to do in you. There's some way I need to prepare you for what lies ahead.”

The same thing happened with Jesus. We read earlier in this series in Mark chapter 1, after Jesus' baptism it says, “The Spirit sent him out into the desert” (v. 12). Some of the translations say, “The Spirit drove Him out into the desert.” Another Gospel account says, “The Spirit led Him out into the desert.”

There's the picture. The Spirit is going before to lead Him and going behind to send Him. Before and behind is the Holy Spirit saying, “You're going to the desert.”

God sent Him there. Jesus didn't end up in the desert because He had sinned. He never sinned.

God wasn't disciplining Him. He did not need to be chastened, as we sometimes do. The Scripture says He was full of the Holy Spirit. He returned from Jordan. He was led by the Spirit into the desert.

Now, that goes against some of our modern theology that says, if you're obeying God, if you're right with God, if you're walking with God, nothing will go wrong in your life. Your husband will love you. Your kids will love you.

You'll have a husband. You'll have kids. You'll get good grades. You'll get a good job. You'll have enough money. The sun will always be shining. You'll have good health.

It's a lie. It's not true. I mean, just look around. God sometimes, by His design, will lead us into the wilderness to bring about growth and fruit in our lives that we can't experience any other way.

A friend wrote me recently as we were dialoging about deserts, and she said, “I think the hardest part of a desert experience for a Christian is the nagging feeling that there must be some way I am disobeying God or making Him angry, or things would be a lot better than they are. I would see results, like something good happening, and things going well.” Then she said, “The truth is that Jesus, when here on earth, was always exactly in the center of His Father's will, and His life was anything but easy, pleasant, and full of immediate results.”

You see the point there? We get disappointed because we think, “If I'm obeying God, everything should be going well, and if everything isn't going well, I must have done something wrong to make God mad.” Now God may be disciplining you. God may be chastening you out of His love, but you may have done nothing wrong.

You may have ended up in the wilderness just because God wants to mature and grow you. So when you find yourself in the desert, ask yourself a couple questions. Am I here because of God's discipline? Am I reaping the consequences of my own wrong choices?

Proverbs says that people make choices to do their own thing, to go their own way, to rebel against God, and then they get mad at God when they experience the consequences. That's a very loose paraphrase of that verse in Proverbs, but it's true. We want to go our own way, and then we are surprised when negative consequences come into our lives.

If you have said "no" to God, if you are living your life going your own way, doing your own thing, being the boss of your own life, then don't be surprised when God disciplines you. So ask yourself when you come into a desert, “Is this desert, are these negative circumstances and experiences—are they just the result, the consequences of my own, wrong choices? Am I here because of God's discipline?” As we've said, if the answer to that is "yes," then the answer to your desert is simple—repentance.

Agree with God. Confess your sins. Say, “Lord, I have sinned. Forgive me.” Not just because you want to get out of the desert, but because your heart is grieved that you have sinned against God.

Then if God does not show you something in your life, some way you have sinned against Him, don't go on a witch hunt. Don't say, “I just know I must have sinned. I must have done something wrong for God to send me into this desert.”

Listen, if you've done something wrong, God's Holy Spirit will show you. You don't have to go on any great big hunt for it. If God does not convict you that there is some way that you have sinned against Him, then say, “Am I in this desert by God's design? Am I here because He led me here—as He led the Children of Israel out of Egypt into the desert?” God was taking them to the Promised Land, but He took them the roundabout way, by way of the desert.

Now let me say, either way, whether by God's discipline or God's design, God is involved with you in your desert. God does not send you to the desert and then leave you to make it on your own.

Now, one of the characteristics of the desert may be that God seems very far away, but I want to assure you, God is there. He is active. He is at work. He is going to minister to you and meet your needs in the desert, and so you can trust Him.

Whether it's God's discipline or God's design, you are not there by accident in those difficult, desperate circumstances that you find yourself in. God has not made a mistake. God has purposes for your life that can only be fulfilled in the desert, and so, if you trust Him, then you can accept His plan, and you can embrace His purpose.

You say, “Lord, I don't understand. I can't see why You're doing this. I don't know where you're leading. I thought you were taking me to the Promised Land. This certainly is not the most direct route there, but I trust that You are taking me there, and that You in Your wisdom and Your providence are leading me into this desert.”

Do you remember that chorus,

My Lord knows the way through the wilderness,
All I have to do is follow.
My Lord knows the way through the wilderness,
All I have to do is follow.

Strength for today is mine all the way,
And all I need for tomorrow.
My Lord knows the way through the wilderness,
All I have to do is follow.

As you trust Him and trust His plan and trust His purposes, then you can do something else while you're still in your desert. You can thank Him. You can thank Him. Even when you can't see the outcome, you can't see how He's going to get you through, but you can know that He is good, and He is fulfilling His purposes in your life while you're in that desert.

One woman wrote to me recently about a desert with intense temptation that she's been going through for a number of years. She said,

Through this desert God is revealing Himself as faithful and powerful. When He covenants with His people in a promise, He always delivers.

I would not trade this battle. I no longer wish for a quick fix, for He is building strength and virtue into my life. I am thankful for this time. It is a daily reminder of the power of the gospel—His death and resurrection and life lived through me. The gospel is real to me and good news.

When you've been in the desert or you are in the desert, facing intense temptation or loneliness or hardship or struggles, you come to the place where you don't long for a quick fix. All you want is to know God, to see Him, to see His hand, trusting that He is leading you all the way through that desert.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been giving much-needed perspective on what it's like to walk through dry, desert times, and she'll be right back to pray.

If you're in a desert, nothing provides better direction than God's Word. Nancy wrote a booklet filled with Scripture to encourage you to focus on God during dry times. It's called Promises to Live By. Spend some time with this booklet every day, and you'll find yourself reacting to situations differently.

You can get a copy of this helpful booklet, along with CDs of Nancy's message, Walking through Life's Deserts. This CD series has quite a bit more practical material on it than we are able to air this week. We'll send you the CD set and the booklet, "Promises to Live By" when you make a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts. Just call 1-800-569-5959. You can also take advantage of this great offer when you visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

You know, the desert teaches us a lot about trust. Who do you lean on when you are in a desert. Hear more on Monday when Revive Our Hearts returns. Now again, here's Nancy.

Nancy: Let's bow our hearts before the Lord, and I want to just ask you as you think about the hard things you may be experiencing in your life right now. Maybe you'd call it a desert, maybe not quite. Maybe it's bordering on a desert.

Let me just give you a moment to ask, “Am I in this situation by God's discipline? Have I gone my own way, resisted God's authority in my life, failed to trust Him, failed to obey Him? Am I reaping the consequences of my own choices?”

If that's true, then would you just agree with God and confess whatever He has shown you, and say, “Lord, I've sinned”? “I'm right where I deserve to be. Please forgive me. Please restore me to a place of obedience and surrender to You.”

He may not immediately remove all those consequences, but He will restore your heart. He'll forgive you. He'll cleanse you. He'll restore your fellowship with Him.

Then maybe in your heart you say, “God hasn't shown me any sin. I don't think I'm here as a result of any disobedience on my part. I'm open for God to show me that, but I think I'm here by God's design.”

Could I just encourage you to trust the hand of God that has led you to this place, into these circumstances beyond your control, that are not beyond His control, and to trust that He is there with you, involved with you in that desert, that He is loving you, caring for you, leading you, that He knows the way through the wilderness, and all you have to do is follow?

Lord, I pray that You would encourage and strengthen the hearts of Your people this day. Thank You for what You do in our lives in the desert, and I pray that we would stop demanding that You give us a quick fix, that You would relieve our pain, and that we would be more concerned about being right with You and about knowing You in ways that sometimes require pain.

I pray that we would want to know You and have You and walk with You more than we would want even to be free from our desert. Thank You that in Your time and in Your way You can, and You will deliver us. In the meantime, help us to trust You, and even to come to the place where we say, “Thank You, Lord. It's good for me that I've been afflicted, that I might learn Your law.”

Encourage the hearts of Your people this day by Your grace. In the name of Jesus I pray it, amen.

Pass me not oh gentle Savior,
Hear my humble cry.
While on others Thou art smiling,
Do not pass me by.

Savior, Savior, hear my humble cry.
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.1

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

All Scriptures are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

1Fernando Ortega. "Pass Me Not." Hymns of Worship. Word Entertainment, 2003.

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