Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Handling Hardships

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss says when God is doing great things through you, expect difficulty to follow.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I find that in my own life—following times of pouring out on behalf of others, following times of ministry, following some great spiritual victories—those are the times when I often face my greatest battle with temptation.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. It's Thursday, September 15.

Hikers who trek through the desert spend months preparing. That’s kind of like what Nancy’s helping us do. All of us will go through dry times spiritually, and Nancy’s helping us prepare for those with a series called, Walking through Life’s Deserts.

Nancy: I was at a funeral not too long ago and ran into a woman who began sharing with me. She told me about having been through some “desert experiences” recently in her life, and I knew about some of this, but I’d not actually had a chance to talk with her about it.

Over the past few years, she has lost seven family members, including her mother and her 28-year-old son in a tragic accident. Her son was in the ministry. Then more recently, she lost her mother-in-law, who she had a good relationship with. She was just about what it had been like these last few years, and it’s been a desert. It has been really, really hard.

Here’s a woman who was serving the Lord full-time. She loves the Lord. She is committed to Him. She’s being used of the Lord, and it has been a really hard season of her life. She said, “There’s nothing that can make it easy, no matter how godly you are; no matter how spiritual you are. There’s nothing that can make a desert time easy.” She also said, “Just in the last few weeks that the cloud—the oppression—has been starting to lift.”

She hasn’t been able to find God. She hasn’t abandoned God, and she knows by faith that He hasn’t abandoned her, but she couldn’t feel it. She couldn’t sense it. She couldn’t experience it, and many people find themselves there. We all have, at times, found ourselves there for one reason or another.

But it’s interesting. She said, “Through it all, I’ve learned more than ever to trust and to obey.” She said, “It’s been long. It’s been hard, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.” I want to assure you that you can come out of your desert experience saying, “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Some people come out of the desert and they’re just hardened because they didn’t receive it as God’s plan for their lives. But you can come out of that desert experience soft and tender and more deeply in love with the Lord Jesus and with a greater sense of His presence in your life than you’ve ever experienced before.

We’ve been reading about some desert experiences in the Scripture, both in the life of Jesus and in the lives of the Jews in the Old Testament. We saw in Mark 1 how Jesus had this great baptism experience, where God validated Jesus as His beloved Son.

Through that, God launched Him into His public ministry, but the very next step was into a desert. “Immediately the Spirit drove Him out into the wilderness,” Mark 1 says, “and He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts” (verse 12).

What a way to start your ministry! You are going to have a public ministry, and you’ve got to be thinking humanly, “Lord, I didn’t expect it to be like this!”

I remember some of the days, when we started Revive Our Hearts radio several years ago. I knew that God wanted me to do this and God had confirmed it so many times through His Word and through godly counsel. The peace of God’s Spirit was in my own heart.

But, I did not envision how hard it would be—what the challenges would be getting started with this whole new type of ministry, and there were many days when I thought, “Lord, I never expected this. I did not know it would be this challenging.”

Jesus, of course, was God, but as a man, did He expect that this is what ministry would look like? Forty days in the wilderness, being tempted by Satan, and with wild animals? It doesn’t seem like much of a public ministry, does it? But it’s God’s plan in preparing even His own Son for the ministry that was to come.

We’ve been looking at some characteristics of the desert, and we’ve seen that it can happen to anyone. The fact that you’re a child of God doesn’t make you immune, and the fact that you’re in the desert doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love you. In fact, it may be an expression of His love. Then, we saw through the last couple of sessions, that desert experiences often follow times of unusual blessing or victory in your life.

Today, as we look again at this account in the life of Jesus, we see another characteristic of the desert. It’s not that profound. It’s pretty obvious, but I think we need to notice it.

The desert is a hard place. It’s a place of hardship—a place of deprivation. Jesus went for forty days without food. He was hungry. He was alone. He had no human support. There were wild animals in that desert. It was hard. If it’s not hard, it’s probably not a desert.

The Israelites—we read about them in an earlier session in this series—came to the desert after going through the Red Sea, and there was no water. Then they came to another place where there was water, but it was bitter. You couldn’t drink it. It would make you sick. Then they came to a place where there was no food. It’s hard when you’ve got two million people who need to eat and get thirsty.

The desert is hard. I think one of the things that makes it even harder is that we have this kind of false theology that says once we’ve been redeemed; once we belong to the Lord, we should never feel pain anymore. Come to Jesus, give your heart to Him, and your life will be great! Nobody says that—well, most people don’t say that—but isn’t that the kind of underlying expectation we have? If you get right with God; if you surrender to God, your life will go well?

Now, your eternal life will go well. I can assure you of that, but between here and there, God has some “conforming” of your life to do: some sanctifying, some pruning, some purging, some transformation—and the transformation doesn’t usually happen on the mountaintop. It happens in the desert.

Sometimes I look around at the lives my friends have right now, and I think, “My life is so easy.” Watch out when you say that! I have some friends, right now, who are going through some really, really tough times.

I’ve walked recently through a process with a dear friend who’s lost her husband to cancer. Not only is she now a widow, but the last year has been excruciatingly painful, as she watched her husband die this horrible death. He was a young man. It’s been horrible.

It’s been a desert, and she now not only has those horrible memories—this is a godly woman, a woman who loves the Lord and wants to be who God wants her to be, and she’s committed to facing it with the Lord—but life is hard right now for that woman.

I think of another friend, a single woman, who’s just turned 50. She’s a godly intercessor, she’s a prayer warrior, and she’s got cerebral palsy that has been very debilitating to her for many years. She’s got huge physical health issues—one after another.

She’s got huge financial issues, and she’s facing a season of life where she’s needing to be dependent, but who does she depend on? She has no family, and it’s been tough for her to stay connected to church and friends because she is not really easily mobile. Life is hard for Fran right now. It’s hard. She loves the Lord, but life is hard.

I think of another friend who had a baby born recently with Turner’s Syndrome. It has been nine months of knowing that the child had this syndrome and they are waiting to see what the results will be—the effects on this baby’s life. Within ten days of the baby being born, the baby had to have open-heart surgery. Heart issues—and those parents have been walking through some tough experiences. They love God. They’re not mad at God, but life is hard. They’re in a desert. The desert is a hard place.

Here’s something else about the desert, another characteristic. You will often find in the desert, intense temptation—intense temptation. Matthew 4 tells us, in his account of Jesus’ wilderness experience, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (v. 1). The Spirit led Him to the place where He would be tempted by the devil.

After fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry, and the tempter came and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (v. 3 paraphrase).

Do you think, if you had not eaten for forty days, you would be hungry? Of course, you would be! And if you had a chance to have any kind of food, no matter what it took to get it, do you think that would be a temptation? Of course! Again, there’s nothing wrong with food, unless it’s not God’s time or place for you to eat.

Here is Jesus. He is tempted. I don’t think He was just tempted at the end. As you put these passages together, it appears that throughout the forty days, the tempter was relentlessly assaulting Jesus. I don’t know if Jesus could see Satan or if it was just all going on in His mind—that Satan was planting thoughts there. We’re not given a whole lot of specific descriptions.

I have been at points in my life, never for this long, but for periods of time, where I felt relentlessly bombarded by temptations, sometimes in ways that I would not normally be tempted to sin. Sometimes just this fierce, intense temptation will come upon me. That’s part of being in the desert.

Aren’t you glad Jesus went through this? He knows how to get us through it. He went through this intense temptation and He never once sinned, and that’s why it’s such a great thing that we have a merciful High Priest who knows how to help us when we are tempted.

But the tempter relentlessly was bombarding Jesus for these forty days. Satan knew that Jesus was alone. Satan knew that He was physically weak, and Satan saw that, “This is an opportunity to defeat the plan of God. If I can get Jesus to obey me instead of His Father, there will be no more plan of redemption.”

Satan—he was after more than Jesus. He was after us. He knew if he got Jesus that we would never have eternal life. We need to remember that when we’re in a weakened condition, physically or emotionally, that we’re more vulnerable to temptation.

Somebody has said, and I’ve shared this before on Revive Our Hearts, “If you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, HALT.” H-A-L-T. Stop. That’s when you’re going to be more vulnerable to temptation. Hungry—Angry—Lonely—or Tired, and isn’t it true as you think back in your life?

If you’re in a situation where maybe you’ve been hurt—your boyfriend just broke-up with you. You’re more tempted to sin. You haven’t eaten; you’re lonely; you’re tired; you’ve been through a long hard day or week or month or whatever—that’s when you may be more vulnerable to temptation.

When I asked some friends of mine recently to share with me some of the desert experiences they had had and what God had taught them, the first two people to email back with responses shared that their desert has been a prolonged, intense, relentless battle with sexual temptation—years!

Not all the time, but over a period of years. These are committed believers who are committed to obeying God; to walking with God; to doing the battle. But they were exposed to things as children, they gave into certain areas of temptation when they were younger.

Now, as adults, wanting to love and serve the Lord, they are in a battle for their lives—facing intense temptation in the area of morals. That’s a desert. Jesus knows. Jesus experienced that kind of temptation.

I find that in my own life, following times of pouring out on behalf of others; following times of ministry; following some great spiritual victories—those are the times when I often face my greatest battle with temptation. When I’m tired; when I’m spent; when I’ve been pouring out, I get unguarded, and I become more vulnerable to selfishness, to impatience, to sinning with my tongue, to self-indulgence and letting down self-control in my life.

Be careful when you find yourself in those times. That’s when you need to be more girded up. That’s why I have people who pray for me, not only when we’re having recording sessions or Revive Our Hearts conferences, but afterwards. They know that I’m concerned about the battle after the battle, and that’s when they pray that God will protect me. The desert often includes intense temptation.

Then here’s another characteristic: There’s danger in the desert—danger. It says that Jesus, in Mark 1, was with the wild animals (v. 13). I don’t know what kind of animals those were, but I know they were wild, and I don’t know if God just stopped their mouths, as He did the lions in the lion’s den for Daniel, or if Jesus really had to be around just wild, yapping, howling animals through the night hours. When he was alone, do you think He was tempted to fear? There was danger.

There was danger for the Old Testament Jews as they went through their desert experiences. Deuteronomy 8 says, “[The Lord Your God] led you through the great and terrible wilderness, in which were fiery serpents and scorpions” (v. 15). Sounds dangerous to me! But God took them into that desert. God knows those wild animals. God made those wild animals, and God is able to protect you even in the danger of that desert experience.

There can be literal danger in our deserts, but I think the greatest danger is the attack from the evil one who is after our souls. He wants to get us to obey him rather than God, and it can be easy to be afraid in the desert. What’s going to happen?

Maybe you’re going through a desert with a child or a parent who’s terminally ill, and you’re afraid. How am I going to live without them? What’s going to happen, if this happens? There’s fear in the face of danger—that’s natural, but that’s when we need to be reminded of the presence of God in the desert.

Then, the desert can be prolonged. That is another characteristic. It can be prolonged. How long was Jesus in His desert? Forty days. How long were the Israelites in their desert? Forty years!

A friend wrote me recently and she said, “The past 10 years, I’ve been walking through the desert of life. I’ve lost three good friends to breast cancer; I’ve lost my son; I’ve lost the innocence of two other children; I’ve lost the physical presence of my children and grandchildren. I’ve lost my health; we’ve changed homes; we’ve had to trust God for finances each month. I’ve been disowned by my parents and sister, and I’ve been lonely, grief-stricken, tired, and weary.”

Ten years God has had her in a desert. Most of those circumstances were circumstances over which she had no control. God has had her in a prolonged desert.

I remember getting a call sometime ago from a woman. She and her husband are both friends of mine, but he’s a selfish, angry man. This woman said to me, “You can’t imagine what it has been like to be married to this man for 12 years.” Some of you can imagine. It’s prolonged. It’s long. The desert can go on and on and on.

A friend said to me recently, “It’s hard to persevere when you don’t know how long you have to persevere.” You don’t know how long you have to go on. You can’t see light at the end of the tunnel, and if you can, you’re afraid it might be an oncoming train! There’s darkness. You don’t know how long it’s going to be that you’ll have to persevere, and that’s another characteristic of the desert.

I don’t know what your desert is. You may have had past deserts; you may be in one now. If you’re not in one now, you have one coming, I can assure you of that. I don’t know how soon.

It’s just a matter of when not if, but that desert may be a desert experience in your workplace: maybe a boss who’s impossible to please. It may be the desert of loneliness: loss of friends, loss of loved ones, perhaps you’ve had to make a difficult move and you feel isolated or alone in the desert. It may be a desert of grief: loss of a mate, loss of close friends, loss of a child, or maybe the desert we’ve talked about of intense temptation: just some temptation that you are really battling. It’s hard.

Maybe it’s spiritual dryness. You don’t know why, but you’re not experiencing the presence of God in the way that you once did. You’re not conscious of any sin. You’re not conscious that you’ve turned your back on the Lord, but you open the Word and it’s kind of like cardboard, and it doesn’t seem to be speaking to you.

Your desert may be loving a difficult child or loving difficult parents. Maybe a dad who’s not there or who is not a communicator, who doesn’t express love—that may be a desert. Maybe it’s having a special needs child. Maybe you’re at some new stage of life. You have a first born or a lot of little children or a single mom—that can be a desert experience.

Maybe you’re just facing an empty nest. I have some friends that are going through that right now, a number of them. For some of those women, that’s a desert experience. They’ve poured their lives into their children, and now, what are they supposed to be doing? They’re trying to figure all that out.

You may have been widowed recently or perhaps carrying for elderly parents with health issues. Maybe your own health—a chronic physical problem. Maybe for you, the desert is an unfulfilled longing for a mate, or you have a mate, but you have an unfulfilled longing for a child and God hasn’t been pleased to answer that.

Maybe it’s unbelieving family members who don’t understand your faith, and they ridicule you. That’s a desert for you living with that. Or a difficult marriage or the rejection of abandonment by a husband, or old age, and you’re feeling useless. “Lord, just take me home!”

You see, at all seasons of life, there can be deserts. All this sounds pretty bleak because we’ve spent two or three sessions now talking about the characteristics of the desert, but I want to just remind you that there is beauty in the desert. The darker the night, the more remote the area—the more brightly the stars shine.

Now, it’s not that the stars are shining any more brightly—to be technical. It’s that there aren’t competing lights, so you can see better the stars that are shining. When you get into a large city with all kinds of lights, you can’t see the stars at night. But you get out into the desert, on a clear night, you can see just billions and millions of stars. There is beauty in the desert if you lift up your eyes to see it.

I want to just remind you that in the midst of the hardships, in the midst of the difficulties, in the midst of the danger, in the midst of the prolonged testing, there are some blessings that you will never experience apart from going through the desert.

God wants to reveal Himself to you. He wants to reveal His glory to you. He wants to reveal His heart to you. He wants to reveal His ways and His grace to you, and often times, He will do that in the midst of your desert.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss will be right back to pray. If you relate to some of the struggles you heard about today, I hope Nancy’s message will help you keep going and not give up.

Imagine trying to find your way through a desert. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone along with you? Someone who’s been there already who can describe what you’re seeing and help you know what to expect?

Well, when you order this week’s series on CD, it’s kind of like inviting Nancy with you on your journey. All of us go through dry times, and when that happens, it would be so nice to pull out these CDs and get some perspective on what you’re going through.

The series is called Walking through Life’s Deserts. When you order the four CD set, you’ll hear additional minutes of teaching from Nancy that we didn’t have time to air.

When you order the series Walking through Life’s Deserts, we’ll include Nancy’s encouraging booklet called, "Promises to Live By." Order the CDs and booklet by calling 1-800-569-5959, or order online at ReviveOurHearts.com.

So many people walk around acting like everything’s okay and life’s fine, but so many times life isn’t fine. We will hear from some women who will honestly describe what it’s like in the desert. That’s tomorrow, and I hope you can join us. Now, here’s Nancy to close our time in prayer.

Nancy: Lord, my heart goes out to those who are listening to this program today who are in a desert right now. I can’t imagine what their circumstances are or what they’re facing or what they must be enduring—what they’re feeling. But thank You that You know.

Thank You that You understand, and thank You that You are there. I pray by Your grace that You will cause Your light to shine into the dark night of their soul; that You will show Your glory and Your grace. I also pray that You will bring comfort and peace and assurance, and when they cannot feel Your presence, may they know that You are there whether they feel it or not.

Thank You, Lord, that You never abandon us in our desert with the wild animals, the temptation, the hunger, or the loneliness. With all of that, You are still there. You are still God, and You are still good. Thank You, Lord. Continue to teach us Your ways. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

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

All Scripture is from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.

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