Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Equipped in the Desert

Leslie Basham: When trouble comes into your life, maybe you just see trouble. But God sees an opportunity to teach you something new. Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: What you don’t know as you’re faithful in this obscure, limited place right now is what in the world God may be equipping, fitting, and prepareing you for. So seek Him while you’re in the desert. Let Him tutor you. Let Him teach you. Let Him equip and fit you.

Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, September 21.

The desert is a great training ground—not fun, not comfortable, but effective. For the last several programs, Nancy’s given us perspective on walking through a spiritual desert. If you missed any, you can hear this helpful teaching at ReviveOurHearts.com. Here she is now to continue in the series, Walking Through Life’s Deserts.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: As I was working on this series on the deserts, I sent out an email to our staff at Revive Our Hearts and Life Action Ministries and just asked our staff and their mates, “Tell me about your desert experiences. What’s a desert you’ve been through? What’s one maybe you’re going through? What have you learned from them?”

I was amazed—I guess maybe I shouldn’t have been—at how many people that I work with, people I know, people I love that are going through some tough deserts that I didn’t know about. And as you look around this room, as you look around your church, as you think about the people you know, there are probably more people than you realize who are going through deserts.

In fact, you may be going through one, and you may be thinking, “No one else knows I’m going through this.” But it’s what’s in your heart; it’s what you’re experiencing. And I think it helps us to remember that this is a common experience. If you are a child of God, you cannot avoid desert experiences.

You may not be in a desert right now. Cheer up; you will be. So if you feel like you don’t need this series right now, don’t turn off the radio. Don’t close your notebook here because you will need it. We all have these experiences, but there’s something precious about the deserts as we look back on them, something so valuable about walking with God by faith through the deserts.

One of those women I emailed wrote back, and she described a ten-year desert she has been in with just one catastrophe after another taking place in her family and around her—relational issues, health issues, so many issues. But she said,

In the midst of the desert, I’ve searched harder, longer, more thoroughly and more desperately than I did when I was on a mountaintop. The hotter the sands of the desert become, the more intense becomes my search for the cool oasis of strength, hope, goodness, grace, power, and God’s presence.

And maybe that’s one of the very reasons God sometimes sends us into the desert, knowing that we’re most blessed when we seek for Him with all our hearts, and that we don’t naturally tend to seek for Him when we’re on the mountaintop. That’s when we can easily rely on ourselves.

But when we get into the desert, we get desperate. We go on a search for God, an intense search for God. And I know that my most intense times of searching after God’s cool, refreshing presence have been in those hot desert sands.

We’re talking about why God sends us into the desert. And we’ve said:

  • He wants to test us. 
  • He wants to humble us. 
  • He wants to teach us. 
  • He wants to make us dependant on Him so that we walk by faith. 

Because without faith it’s impossible to please God. And so God strips us of our reliance on ourselves and on others when we’re in the desert.

I want to share with you today several other reasons that God may send us into the desert, some of the purposes of God for taking us into desert experiences. And you say, “Why do I need to know what the purposes are? What does it matter? I’m in the desert.” If you know something of God’s purposes, it will help you to endure.

Because you can remind yourself of God’s purposes, you can counsel your heart. There is a purpose in this. This is not meaningless. This is not abstract. This is not outside of the realm of meaning and purpose. There is a reason, whether I can see it or not. Whether I understand it or not, there is a reason as far as God is concerned.

Here’s another reason God sends us into the desert. He wants to prepare us for future service. He wants to prepare us for future service or ministry, to equip us, to fit us to be more useful to Him down the road.

We’ve been reading in this series about the wilderness experience of Jesus. You read about it in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Each account gives us a few different details. In Luke’s account, chapter 4, we read about how after the wilderness experience of Jesus (forty days in the desert being tempted by Satan), Jesus returned to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit”(v. 14).

Now it’s the Spirit who sent Him, led Him, drove Him into the desert. The presence of God was with Him in that desert. He’d been baptized; God had publicly affirmed Him; He’d had those forty days in the desert. And when all of that was behind Him, He returned to Galilee where He was to begin His earthly ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit.

News about Him spread through the whole country. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised Him.

God’s called you to a ministry. There are ways that God wants to use you down the road, things that you don’t even know that God has in store for you, ways that He wants you to serve Him in future seasons of your life. God uses the desert to prepare you for that.

Do you want to function in your own flesh, in your strength, in your own power, just doing natural, explainable ministry? Or do you want what I long for, and that is ministry that is marked by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit?

That’s what I want. That’s what you want as a mom. You don’t want to just survive. You don’t want to just go through life teaching your kids, home schooling, cleaning, cooking, keeping your home, going to your job—you don’t want a natural, explainable ministry. You want the power of the Holy Spirit to be on you.

How does that happen? Some of that happens in the desert. That’s where God prepares you. That’s where He equips you. That’s where He fits you for future ministry.

It was true for John the Baptist. We read in Luke 1:80,

And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness [in the desert] until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

What was he doing in this isolated, out of the way place where he didn’t have a whole lot of social interaction? God was preparing his life. God was preparing his character. God was preparing his heart. God was giving him a message.

I spent years in obscure ministry speaking to small groups of women in small settings. And there were times when some people around me would think or would suggest, “You need to be speaking in bigger platforms. You need to have greater ministry. You need to get word out about your ministry.”

Well, I’ll tell you now that the pressure of public ministry is so daily and so intense, I am so thankful for years of obscure ministry, behind the scenes, faithfully seeking the Lord, growing, learning, being stretched, developing. God was preparing me. He was equipping me. He was fitting me. I was in the desert, in a sense, during those years studying God’s Word.

Now I’m still studying God’s Word, and I still at times have desert experiences. And when I do, I know that God is preparing me for whatever it is that He has ahead for my life. He’s preparing us for future ministry.

Any great servant of the Lord has had a time or an experience in some way of desert experience. Moses, before he became the man God used to set God’s people free, spent forty years in the desert where he had to feel isolated and useless and abandoned and maybe feeling, “I’m never going to be any use to anyone.” He had no idea during those years how God intended to use him.

And you have no idea now. I have no idea what God intends to do with our lives down the road. But God knows, and He knows what it will take to fit us for that.

The apostle Paul, after he was converted, went into the Arabian Desert for, some scholars say, as long as 14 years. He wasn’t writing epistles. He wasn’t founding churches. He wasn’t preaching. He was listening to God. God was revealing truth to him directly by the power of the Spirit.

But God does that today to us through His Word. So you think, “These are obscure years. I’ve got these three toddlers at home. I have no ministry.” Well first of all, that’s a huge ministry! But you don’t know as you’re faithful in this obscure, limited place right now, what in the world God may be equipping and fitting and preparing you for.

So seek Him while you’re in the desert. Let Him tutor you. Let Him teach you. Let Him equip and fit you.

Then God sends us into the desert to build endurance, to build endurance, to condition us for future battles. The Children of Israel were going into the Promised Land where they were going to have war. There were Canaanites and Perizzites and Amorites and Hittites and all sorts of “ites” in the Promised Land.

They weren’t ready for battle when they came out of Egypt. So God sent them into the desert to prepare them, to build endurance, to condition them to face the giants that they would face in the land.

One writer said that God wants us to be not hot house plants, but storm beaten oaks—not sand dunes driven with every gust of wind, but granite rocks withstanding the fiercest storms. How do you become that storm beaten oak? How do you become that rock that can withstand a storm? How do you develop endurance in the Christian life? By going through deserts; by going through storms.

You know even nature and biology teaches us that the best things don’t come easily. They take effort and work and hardship to develop. Birthing a child—there’s labor, there’s pain. In order to have that end result, God uses the deserts to build endurance.

I look back on some earlier points in my ministry experience. I was in my early 20s, and I remember then thinking, “This is so hard!” I look back on it now, and I think, “Oh, for those days! That was so easy.”

Some of you when you had your first child you think, “Oh my goodness, I will never survive this. This is so hard. This takes more than I have. I cannot get through this.” And now some of you have three, four, five, six, eight kids! It’s not that it’s easy, but you look back on the days when you had one, and you think, “What was I whining about?”

What happened? God used hardship to build endurance. You didn’t think you could survive without sleep. And now you’ve found that sleep is kind of overrated, that you really can endure. It’s not easy. But God uses those desert experiences to build endurance, to condition us for future battles.

Then God uses the desert to show us His grace and His glory. God sends us into the desert to show us His grace and His glory.

In Exodus 16 when the Children of Israel were in one of their deserts, Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “In the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord” (v. 7). Where were those words spoken? In the desert. That passage goes on to say,

And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud (v. 10).

We said earlier in this series that when you’re in the desert and you don’t have the competing lights of the city, you can see the stars at night. Now there are no fewer stars in the sky if you live in the city. But you can’t see them until you get into the dark place.

The Children of Israel saw the glory of God in the dark nights of the desert in a way they didn’t see God’s glory when they had everything going well. They saw the glory and the grace of God.

Isaiah chapter 40, a real familiar passage: “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God’” (v. 3). God comes to meet with us in our deserts. And that passage goes on to say, “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (v. 5).

Not only will God reveal His glory to you in your desert, but others will see the glory of God. I want my life to be the kind of life that causes others to look and say, “What an incredible God!” If they don’t see me stretched and receiving God’s grace, if my life just looks easy and there are no problems and there are no challenges and there are no struggles, what’s going to make them think that God is great?

But when people see me walking through hardship or testing or trials or affliction or adversity or dry times and still saying, “Yet I will praise Him;” they see God manifesting Himself to me in those times; they see the glory and the grace of God reflected in my spirit, in my tone, in my words, and in my countenance, then not only do I see God’s glory, but they see the glory of God.

Isaiah 35: “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom . . . . They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God” (vv. 1–2). And that’s what it’s all about. It’s not about me. It’s not about my convenience, my comfort, my happiness, my ease. It’s about pointing people to Him.

You want to really see God? You want to really know God? You want to see God’s glory? God’s glory shines most brightly in the darkest nights. The Children of Israel looked toward the wilderness. Don’t run from it; look toward it and behold the glory of the Lord here in the cloud.

There are aspects of God’s glory, His grace, and His provision that you will never experience apart from the desert.

As I was studying for this series I came across a passage I hadn’t read in some time, and it just ministered so beautifully to me. I love this. It’s in Deuteronomy 32 beginning in verse 10. And Moses is reminding the Children of Israel how God had met their needs, how God had walked with them through these forty years of desert experiences.

And Moses says in Deuteronomy 32:10, “He found him,” speaking of Israel, “in a desert land and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him,” that is Jehovah God, encircled Israel His people, “he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye,” in the wilderness, in the desert.

“Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings catching them, bearing them on its pinions, the Lord alone guided him, no foreign god was with him. He made him ride on the high places of the land, and he ate the produce of the field and he suckled him with honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock” (vv. 11–13).

What a precious experience to be able to look back as the Children of Israel could in that howling wasteland of a wilderness and say God was like this mother eagle hovering over her eaglets caring for them, preparing them, protecting them, present when it seemed that He was not there. God was there lifting them up under His wings, guiding them, providing for them, giving them honey out of the rock, giving water and oil out of the rock.

You look back and you say, “God was there. God was good. God was faithful. There were aspects of God’s glory and His grace and His provision that I experienced in the desert that I couldn’t experience anywhere else.”

Then let me just share with you one other purpose of God for sending us into the desert at times. God sends us into the desert to get us to Jesus, to get us to Jesus.

As you look back in the Old Testament on God’s provision, think about what God provided: manna, bread from heaven, right on time, every day, just enough. He provided water where there was no water. Water out of a rock! You don’t get water out of rocks, but God sent water out of the rock.

God sent the rock, who the Scripture tells us is a picture of Christ: Jesus the Rock. God sent the cloud, the manifestation of His presence. All of those aspects of God’s provision for Israel in the desert were a picture of Christ. They were types of Christ—Christ who is the bread of life; He is manna from heaven. Christ who is the living water. Christ who is our Rock. Christ who appears to us in our darkness and in the cloud of His glory and His presence. They are types of Christ.

So God sends us into the desert so that we can get to Jesus, so that we can experience Him in a deeper and richer way than we experience apart from our deserts.

One of my friends writing to me about her desert, which has been a long, hard one, said, “In the desert I have found buried treasure. I have found the reward.” And you want to know what that reward is? She said, “It’s my Savior, my Lord, my Redeemer, and my hope.”

You want to really know Jesus? You want a taste of Him? You want to drink deeply of Him? You want to experience His covering, His protection, His provision, His presence, His peace, His power? You want to know Him—really know Him? Then when God sends you to the desert, don’t whine. Don’t resent. Don’t resist. Don’t run. But say, “Lord, I embrace this. Just get me to Jesus. Show me Jesus.”

Now there may be seasons of time when you don’t see Him, you don’t feel Him, you don’t sense Him. But I want to tell you, you’ll come out on the other side knowing Him in a more intimate and real and personal way than you ever dreamed possible.

Even when you can’t see Him and sense Him, He will be there. He will be the One providing for you. He will be the One meeting your needs. He will be there in your desert.

Leslie Basham: Will you pray with Nancy Leigh DeMoss in just a minute? And before your attention gets pulled a thousand different ways, would you respond to what we just heard? Let God fully and completely train you if you’re walking through a desert.

We want to help in that process, so we’ll send you two powerful resources. One is a booklet Nancy wrote called, “Promises to Live By.” It’s filled with promises God made in Scripture. When you’re walking through a desert, you can’t do anything better than fill your mind with God’s Word. This booklet will guide your reading and show you hope.

We’ll also send you the CDs of this series called, Walking Through Life’s Deserts. When you’re in a desert, listen to these CDs and get solid perspective—when you’re in your car or working around the house. The series includes more material than what you are hearing on the radio this week.

Again, you can get the booklet and CDs for a donation of any amount. Just ask for “Promises to Live By” and Walking Through Life’s Deserts when you call 1-800-569-5959, or look for this offer at ReviveOurHearts.com.

That website, ReviveOurHearts.com, is a powerful resource for women walking through a desert. A listener from North Carolina has been getting Revive Our Hearts content online. She emailed and said,

I’m so glad I found your ministry. I listen through your website at my work, and it has made a huge impact on me and my family. Through your ministry and by the grace of our dear Lord, I have restored my marriage. God has worked miraculously in our lives to bring peace and joy. Thank you so much for the ministry.

Have you seen all that is available to you at ReviveOurHearts.com?

Do you every find yourself putting demands on God? If He doesn't do things your way, do you throw a fit? People have been responding to God that way for a long time, even in the desert. Hear more about that tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Now to end today's program, let's pray with Nancy.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Lord, as I look back on my own life, I just want to thank You for what You have shown me in the desert, what You have taught me, how You’ve prepared me for ministry, how You’ve conditioned me and built endurance, how You’ve provided, and how You’ve met my needs. There have been some real lonely times, some real desperate times, but I can look back and say, “You were always there.”

And in the midst of my deserts, I have found a great hidden treasure, a great reward. I have found You. I want to thank You for that. I want to pray for some woman today who is in a desert and she’s not seeing Jesus, she’s not sensing that there’s going to be some great reward. I pray that You would strengthen and encourage her heart by faith. I pray that she would lean hard on You and that she would walk in the hope and the confidence that in Your way and that in Your time You will show Your glory and Your grace in the desert. 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.

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