Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Surprised in the Desert

Leslie Basham: Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

 Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Expect that after times of great blessing and fruitfulness and victory and abundance, you may find yourself next in a desert. So don’t be surprised.

Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. It's Wednesday, September 14.

Life is a series of patterns. There are always going to be highs and lows. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. These patterns can help you grow stronger. Well, get ready to learn how to handle the lows along with the highs as Nancy continues in a series called Walking Through Life’s Deserts.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: We’ve been thinking about this whole matter of desert experiences and how they come into our lives as children of God: why God brings them; what they’re like; what we can expect; and not only how to survive, but how to thrive in those desert experiences of life.

We said in the last session that God brings desert experiences into the lives of all of His children—not just some, but all—and that when we find ourselves in a spiritually dry time or a time of adversity or difficulty or testing or temptation, we shouldn’t assume that God’s mad at us or that God doesn’t love us. This may be an expression of His love. He’s wanting to mold us and shape us, teach us to walk by faith.

We need desert experiences in our lives. If we always only ever lived on the mountain tops—you say, “That would be great.” No, it wouldn’t be great. There would be so many things about God’s heart and God’s ways that we would never experience if God didn’t take us into desert experiences.

Then we said in the last session that you can expect that desert experiences often follow times in your life when you’ve had unusual blessing or spiritual victory or a great spiritual experience or a time of abundance. It seems like often the deserts will follow those times.

We read the passage in Mark 1 where Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan, and it was a great spiritual experience. God spoke from heaven. God sent the Holy Spirit down like a dove. And the heavens were opened and God said, “This is my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). He had this great spiritual high, this public recognition of who He was.

And then, “Immediately,” the Scripture says, “the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals and the angels were ministering to him” (Mark 1:12–13).

So we see that Jesus had this time of great blessing, great abundance, great spiritual victory, and then the Spirit led Him or drove Him into the desert.

Now Jesus isn’t the only One who experienced this. You can see this pattern in the Old Testament. I’m going to ask you to open to the book of Exodus. And let me show you how the Israelites had a very similar experience, in fact not just once, but several times.

Turn to Exodus 15 and look at this pattern. It’s really an incredible thing. Exodus 15, let’s begin at verse 19. And we’re jumping into a scene here. The context is the Children of Israel had just been delivered out of 400 years of bondage in Egypt. God had done these incredible miracles and sent all those plagues against the Egyptians. God finally broke Pharaoh and got him to the place where he said, “Get out of here,” and the people went out.

Then they came to the Red Sea. It seemed so hopeless. How were they going to get across? Mountain ranges on the left, mountain ranges on the right, the Red Sea in front of them, and the Egyptian army breathing down their neck behind them—it looked hopeless. People were desperate. They cried out to God. God told Moses what to do. God sent the children of Israel across the Red Sea on dry land.

And we read in verse 19 of Exodus 15,

When the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his horsemen went into the sea, [following the Jews], the Lord brought back the waters of the sea upon them, but the people of Israel walked on dry ground in the midst of the sea.

This was one awesome experience! I mean, we’re not talking about a dozen people just kind of tiptoeing through this semi-wet little creek. We’re talking two million Jews with this wall of water before them. They couldn’t get through; and God moves the wall, separates it, parts it, and makes this huge pathway across, gets the Children of Israel across. The Egyptian army comes behind them. The waters come crashing in on the Egyptian army. It is high drama.

You think these people believed in God at that moment? “Yes Lord, go! You got the Egyptians! They’ve had us for 400 years. This is an incredible victory!” They’re like these brand new baby Christians who just can’t believe all God’s done for them. It’s so exciting, so wonderful, so victorious!

In verse 20 they’re praising the Lord.

Then Miriam the prophetess the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. And Miriam sang to them, "Sing to the Lord for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea” (vv. 20-21).

This is a great worship service. I mean, people are clapping and singing and dancing and excited. There’s joy and partying and celebration. It’s incredible!

Now look at verse 22. “Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea and they went”—where?—“into the wilderness”—into the desert—“of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found”—what does your Bible say?—“no water.”

Now they had just come from lots of water, the Red Sea, and God had shown that He can deal with water. There was water in a place where they didn’t want it. Now they come into the wilderness. They need water to survive.

Again, we’re not just talking about a few people. We’re talking about millions of people and moms and dads and grandmoms and little kids and babies. And there’s no water. They’re in the desert; they’re in the wilderness.

And all it took was three days—less than that. They leave the Red Sea, this place of great victory. And what’s the very next place God takes them? To the wilderness, to a desert. It’s not unusual.

Look at what happened in verse 27 of Exodus 15,

Then they came to Elim where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees. And they encamped there by the water.

God led them to an oasis. God supplied. God met their need. God demonstrated His greatness.

You say, “Wow. God we’re out of that desert. Glad we’re to this oasis.” How long does the oasis last? Look at the next verse.

Chapter 16, verse 1. “They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came”—where? to the desert—“to the wilderness of Sin.” Now that’s not “sin” as in disobedience. That’s just the name of a desert. “The wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt.”

So they hadn’t been out of Egypt for two months before they’re in their second desert experience. And what did it follow? It followed the time at that oasis. They had a great time. They had a great celebration of God’s faithfulness and God’s provision. And now here they are once again back in the wilderness.

Well chapter 17, we won’t read through that. But it’s a story of the Children of Israel being at Rephidim, which was a place where they experienced once again great blessing and great abundance. That’s the story you read in Exodus 17 where they got water from the rock, where Moses struck the rock and water came out. They saw the miraculous hand of God.

It was a place of great victory. That’s where they fought the Amalekites. Remember, that’s the story where Joshua fought against the Amalekites while Moses held up his arms, and Aaron and Hur stood and helped him hold up his arms. They saw the power of God. They saw the victory of God. Great victory. Great blessing. Water from the rock. Enemy destroyed. That’s chapter 17.

Now chapter 18 is a parenthesis, and then we come to chapter 19. Exodus 19:1, the very next thing after Rephidim. “On the third new moon,” that is the third month, “after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day”—where did they come?—“they came into the desert, the wilderness of Sinai.”

Third month; third desert. And what did the desert follow? It followed a place of unusual blessing and victory.

Are you seeing a pattern here? Red Sea deliverance. They go into a desert; no water. God provides this oasis. Next place, next stop is a desert. It’s a wilderness. God gives great victory at Rephidim. They get water from the rock. They’re overcoming the enemy. What’s the next stop? The desert, the wilderness.

This is part of the ways of God. God knows that if we just had the victories and the abundance and the plenty place of blessing that we would get fat and sassy; that we would get self-reliant; that we would feel like we didn’t need Him anymore. We would just settle in and rest on our laurels and we’d stop praying. We’d stop praising the Lord. We’d stop looking to Him to supply our needs.

And God wants to make us dependent on Him. He wants us to remember that we need Him, that we can’t live without Him. So He sends us into the desert where there’s no water. It’s hot and arid and barren and dry and isolated and uninhabited and all these things so that we can be in a place where we have to cry out to Him.

Others have experienced similar patterns in their lives. I’m thinking of the Old Testament prophet Elijah. Remember 1 Kings 18 where he had that incredible confrontation with the false prophets of Baal? It was tough.

There was this wicked Queen Jezebel on the throne at the time, and she’s killing the prophets of God. And the true prophets of God are having to hide in caves. And people are worshiping Baal. The Jews are worshiping false gods.

Elijah goes out, and he takes a stand for God like some of you maybe take a stand for God in your workplace or in your school. You go out, and it’s just you and God. And Elijah saw God send fire from heaven. I mean, Baal was supposed to be the god of fire. But God is the God of fire, Jehovah God. And God sends fire and overcomes and overpowers the false prophets and the people who follow Baal and demonstrates His great power.

And Elijah, he’s God’s man. He’s the man of the hour. He’s the prophet. He’s the one who prayed and this all happened. And you think he’s now the preacher that everyone wants to come preach their services, and he’s the one who everybody’s pursuing because he is the man.

But God doesn’t want him to get proud. God doesn’t want him to think he’s anything because Elijah is nothing; it’s God who did this.

So the very next chapter where do we find Elijah? First Kings 19—he’s in the desert. He’s exhausted. He’s despondent, depressed. He’s lost perspective. He’s afraid of Queen Jezebel. He just saw the incredible power of God, and now he’s afraid of this wicked woman Jezebel. He’s suicidal. He’s praying that God will take his life.

How does he go from being a hero to being a zero so quickly? The desert follows the time of blessing and victory.

I’ve seen this happen over and over again in other people’s lives as well as my own. I was in email with a friend this week, and we were dialoguing about a season in her life when she experienced this. I kind of knew about it at the time, but I hadn’t really followed the details. This has been a couple of years ago now.

Her name is Michele, and she’s one of the staff wives in our ministry. She had taken a group of our staff daughters through The Princess and the Kiss material. Some of you have heard of that. It’s something we’ve helped to develop here at Revive Our Hearts, teaching and lessons on moral purity for young girls.

My friend Michele didn’t have any daughters. She had two little boys at the time. But she was ministering to some of our staff children, some of the daughters. And she saw this Princess and the Kiss material and she said, “I would love to do this with our staff daughters.”

So she got this group together a few summers ago and took these seven- to eleven-year-old girls, about a dozen of them, through this material, and they had a great time. The moms were involved; the daughters were involved. And Michele was just doing this not because she had any daughters of her own, but because she had a heart for these young girls in our ministry.

It was a great study. The girls loved it. The moms loved it. We had this closing princess purity ceremony where the moms prayed for their daughters and blessed them. Everybody was crying and boo-hooing. It was so precious.

Then we recorded some programs for Revive Our Hearts to talk about it. And Michele was kind of the spearhead for all of this. People were thanking her and telling her how wonderful it was—and it was wonderful.

God really worked in these girls’ hearts and in their relationships with their moms. It was so sweet. It was a great time. It lasted for about eight weeks. God worked. Everyone was excited.

Well toward the end of the study, Michele found out that she was expecting for the third time. She wrote recently and shared with me the progression that God took her through right on the heels of this spiritual mountaintop experience that she had just had with these young girls.

She said, “I was so excited about what God was doing through this Princess and the Kiss study and the ceremony that we had.” Then she found out she was pregnant. She said, “I was overjoyed to think that someday God might bless me with a daughter that I could teach these things to and who could one day share in such a special time.” She already had two boys, and now she’s thinking, “Maybe God will give me a daughter,” which the Lord did.

But she said, “The problem is when I get pregnant, I stay extremely sick for the first four months.” Now when she says that, she means extremely sick. This gal gets very, very sick—not just like morning sickness. She was losing lots of weight. She’s a tiny girl already.

And she said, “Coming off such an exciting time in ministry, I got so sick that I didn’t think I could go on.” This is right after The Princess and the Kiss study. She’s pregnant. She’s sick. She’s losing weight. And then she said,

For a couple of months I got intensely depressed. I felt so alone, so sick, so depressed.

I tried to cry out to the Lord, and then I got almost mad at the Lord for making my body so sick while I was pregnant. This went on for weeks, and I found myself in despair.

Then she got real honest here, and I asked her if I could share this and she gave me her permission. She’s so thrilled for what God has done in her life through this that she’s willing now for others to hear about the experience. She said,

In my mind I was secretly saying to God, "Just take this child because I don’t want to go on like this. I want my life back.”

Now here’s a girl who two months earlier had been discipling all these young girls. She was loving being a wife, being a mom, ministering to these other gals. And now here this desert experience comes into her life. She’s physically sick. She’s in anguish. She’s having to be hospitalized, and doctors trying to sustain her physically during this time. She’s vulnerable. She’s exhausted. She’s depleted.

And she’s vulnerable because she’s just been through this time of great victory and fruitful ministry. And so not only is she physically down, she’s emotionally down. She’s spiritually down, depleted. And she gets so desperate.

Elijah prayed, “Lord, take my life.” Michele prayed, “Lord, take this baby.” She finds herself mad at God in the middle of this desert.

Now, thankfully God didn’t leave Michele in the desert. God didn’t leave His Son in the desert. God didn’t leave Elijah in the desert. And God will not leave you in the desert. God knows just how long you need to be in that desert. God knows what He wants to do in your life in that desert time. And God did a sweet work in Michele’s life. I’ll wrap that up in just a moment.

But I want you to notice the pattern here. Expect that after times of great blessing and fruitfulness and victory and abundance, you may find yourself next in a desert. So don’t be surprised. Don’t get caught off guard.

You know you go to camp in the summer. You make this great spiritual commitment. You throw your thing in the fire. You go forward at an altar call, whatever. You give a testimony. And it’s great, and you’re just like up in the clouds.

Then you get home and you face real life with real parents and real brothers and real sisters and real school and real work experiences. Or you come to a Revive Our Hearts recording session, and God does such a great work in your life. Or people come to a Revive Our Hearts conference, and then they go home and they find out things are a mess at home.

This is real life. We were on a mountaintop with Jesus. Now we’re just living with real people who are real pains. It’s the desert. And it often follows these times of great plenty.

The problem is, the reason it catches us off guard is because we think after a great spiritual experience or a time of great blessing, we just expect it’s going to stay that way. It doesn’t stay that way. It can’t stay that way until heaven. No deserts in heaven! But between here and then, there will be deserts. It’s one of the ways of God.

It’s not an accident. God has not abandoned you. He has not forsaken you. The desert is not avoidable; it’s necessary if you want to grow. Remember that God has a purpose, that God has a plan. God is the One who led Jesus into the wilderness. God is the One who led the Children of Israel into the wilderness. And God wants to meet with you in the desert.

We’ll see as we continue in this series, it’s in the desert that God will reveal to you aspects of His glory and His grace and His heart that you could not see any other way.

So the desert can actually become a blessing. And that’s why I say, don’t resent it. Don’t resist it. Don’t run from it, but embrace it. Welcome it, and remember that God will not abandon you in the desert.

I was emailing with my friend Michele about her whole experience in the last week or so. After she told me about what she’d been through, she described how God delivered her from her desert. I won’t go into that at this point.

But she said,

Now fast forward about one year, and I have that beautiful little girl that I had hoped for during those weeks of leading my girls in The Princess and the Kiss. I realized that He really was my King, my Abba Father, my great Physician. I loved Him, and I needed Him desperately, but I just lost sight of how big He is.

It’s easy to do that when you’re in the desert. It’s easy to forget that He’s even there. But remember there will be an end. God has plans and a purpose for you. And on the other side of the desert you will know something of God’s glory and grace that you might not have seen any other way.

So if you’re in a time of great blessing and victory and fruitfulness and abundance right now, that’s okay. But know there’s probably a desert coming. And that’s okay, too. And if you’re in the desert, you’re going to be reminded through this series it won’t last forever. God has a purpose for it. He has a plan for it. He has a plan for you in that desert. Let God fulfill His plan and know that this is all part of His plan to make you like Jesus. 

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss will be right back to pray. Whether you’re in the lows of life or in the highs, Nancy’s been offering great perspective.

While life circumstances take us on highs and lows, Scripture is always reliable. You can trust everything it says. When you’re in an emotional desert the promises of God’s Word are a lifeline. You can rest on solid, biblical promises, no matter what your emotions say.

We’d like to send you a booklet filled with hope, directly from Scripture. It’s called “Promises to Live By.” The pages list promises from the Bible. You can pull it out in tough circumstances when you need truth to steady you.

We’d like to send you “Promises to Live By” with our current series on CD. The series is called Walking Through Life’s Deserts. We’ll send them as a way to say thanks when you send a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts. To donate by phone, call 1-800-569-5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

The desert can be a place of great temptation. Nancy will talk about her own experiences with this tomorrow. Now she’s back to pray.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Lord, I am so thankful that You have given us these accounts of what Jesus went through and what the Israelites went through so we know that when we go through our deserts following these times of great blessing, there’s not something wrong. There’s something right.

You’ve shown us that this is a pattern, and it’s one that we need. It’s one that can bless us if we’ll let it. So thank You Lord for the times of oasis, the times of abundance. But I want to thank You, too, for the times when You take all that away, and You take us to where there’s no water, no voice speaking, no sense of Your presence, and we just have to trust.

Thank You for loving us through those times. Thank You that You never leave us in the desert. Teach us what You want to teach us through our deserts. And may we come out more like Jesus, in whose name we pray, amen.

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

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

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

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