Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Finding God in the Desert, Part 3

Leslie Basham: It's September 10. Thanks for joining us for today's edition of Revive Our Hearts, with Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Most of us have plans and goals for the future, but sometimes we find ourselves in a place we never intended to be. We can feel like someone who set off on a dream vacation only to end up sidetracked in the desert.

Today, we'll join Nancy Leigh DeMoss as she speaks to a small group of women about the desert experiences we all go through. Here's Nancy Leigh DeMoss. 

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: We've seen that after God delivered the Israelites out of Egypt, God took them into a desert experience. Now, that was God's intent. That was not a matter of God's discipline in their lives. But while the Israelites were in that desert, they began to rebel against God and they refused to believe His promises. So, as a result of their unbelief and rebellion, God required them to spend an extra 38 years in the wilderness. It was not necessary but their rebellion and their unbelief caused them to experience the consequence of the desert. We read this in the book of Numbers, chapter 32, where the Scripture says, "the Lord's anger burned against Israel and He made them wander in the desert for 40 years."

Psalm chapter 68 has a verse that has often spoken to my own heart. There's a little phrase in that passage that says the rebellious dwell in a sun-scorched land. You see, if I'm going to rebel against God's ways, I'm asking for the desert. God loves me enough that if I'm His child, He's going to send me into that sun-scorched land.

Yesterday, I was talking on the phone with a woman who has experienced, in the past years, chronic depression and suicidal tendencies. She said to me yesterday, she said, "I know now that all those years stemmed from my own rebellion against the Lord when the storms of life were tossing."

Now, we're going to see that that's not always the reason we end up in the desert. That's not the only reason for depression or discouragement; but in her case, she said that there were storms that came into her life and she refused to receive the grace of God that He wanted to give her in the midst of those storms. She chose her own way out--which was the way of rebellion and she said all those years were wasted. They were the result of her own rebellion.

You see, Hebrews, chapter 12 tells us that God chastens His children and why does He do that? He does it so that He can make us like Jesus. The desert has a purifying effect in our lives. When we have rebelled against God or we have not believed His Word, God will allow us to go into the desert to discipline us.

I think of a season of my life, a desert season of my life that followed the death of a very close friend. In the wake of that loss there was a natural process of grieving; but in that process, I became resentful and angry against God for choosing to take this person. I didn't receive God's choices. I didn't receive the grace that God wanted to give me to walk through that grief. I found myself for eighteen months in a desert of my own making. I didn't need to go through that eighteen-month desert as I look back on it. Oh, yes, there would have been a time of normal human grief and loss but the resentment and the rebellion forced me into a period of time that was a desert of my own making.

Now, not everyone else would have known this. I went on doing the things that I normally did. I continued to teach the Word of God to others. But inside I was so dry and hard and resistant against God. Sometimes, we end up in the desert because God is disciplining us. We're just reaping the consequences of our own choices.

But let me say that we don't always end up in the desert for that reason. Sometimes we end up in the desert, not because of God's discipline but by God's design. We've talked about the Israelites and how they had a desert experience right after they had that wonderful victory of the Red Sea crossing.

The Scripture says that God led His people into the desert. We read about this in Exodus chapter 13, verse 17. The Scripture says, "When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country though that was shorter. For God said 'If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.'" So God led the people around by the desert--knowing what they would face. It wasn't the route they would have chosen. If you look at a map, it looks like it's way out of the way. It is way out of the way. But God knew if they took the most obvious route, that they would face some hurtles that they were not prepared to face. God wanted to prepare and equip His people for what lay ahead. And so, He knew that He needed some time with them in the desert. It was God's design. God led the children of Israel into the wilderness.

When Jesus went into the desert, as we read about in the gospel of Mark chapter one, it was by no means for any wrongdoing of His own that He was sent into the desert. We know that Jesus was sinless. He did not end up in the desert because of God's discipline. He had never sinned. The Scripture says in Mark chapter 1 verse 12 that the Spirit sent Him into the desert.

Some of your translations say the Spirit drove Him into the desert. Now, it's interesting that the other gospel accounts, Matthew and Luke, talk about Jesus being led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. So, you have a picture of the Spirit on one side leading Jesus and on the other side, pushing, sending, driving Jesus into the desert. What does that say? That when you're in the desert by God's design, God is before you and God is behind you. He's on both sides. He is surrounding you. And notice in Luke's gospel, the account says Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert.

Just because you're in the desert doesn't mean that you have necessarily sinned or that God is disciplining you or chastening you. Sometimes you can be full of the Spirit, as obedient to the Word of God and the truth of God as you know how to be but still find yourself in the desert.

Now, this whole mindset goes contrary to much modern-day theology and teaching. The teaching that suggests if you're walking with God, if you have faith and if you're obedient, you won't have any problems. You will have your health, you'll have money in the bank, your husband will be crazy about you, your children will adore you, you won't have any desert experiences in your life if you obey God. That is not a biblical teaching. Jesus was the obedient, pure Son of God and yet, the Spirit sent Him into the desert.

So, when you find yourself in the desert, ask yourself some questions. I've learned to ask myself these questions when I find myself in a desert experience. Ask first, am I here because of God's discipline? Am I reaping the consequences of my own wrong choices? And I think that's a good place to start--to assume that we may be there because there's something in our lives that God is wanting to purify--maybe something that we could not have seen any other way apart from the pressure of the desert. But if God does not reveal something in your heart that is an issue that He wants to purify or a reason that He is chastening you, then ask this second question.

Am I here by God's leading, by God's design? And let me say this, either way, whether you're there by God's discipline or by God's design, be assured that God is involved with you in your desert. Though He may seem a million miles away, God is there. He is present. You can trust Him in the midst of that desert. You are not there by accident. God has not made a mistake. He has purposes for your life that can only be fulfilled in the desert. So, accept His purpose. Embrace His plan and trust Him. Trust Him to fulfill His purposes for you in the midst of that desert. And once you trust Him, you'll find that you can thank Him--that you can thank Him in the midst of the pain because, you see, real joy is not the absence of problems. Real joy is the presence of Christ in the midst of the problems.

The Scripture says in the book of Psalms, "though I walk in the midst of trouble, Thou wilt revive me." You want to experience a fresh touch of God in your life? Then, when you're in the midst of your desert, trust God and thank Him.

I'm in a season of my life right now where there are a lot of changes going on. And I found myself, at moments, really tempted to worry, to fret, to chaff against all the changes; and I found myself singing a little chorus that I learned as a child. You may be familiar with it. It goes this way, 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. 

Leslie Basham: We're used to taking tests in school classrooms, but have you ever considered taking a test out in the desert? Nancy Leigh DeMoss will talk about tests we face in the desert tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts. We hope you can be with us.

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