Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Valley Reality

Leslie Basham: Do you know someone who always seems to be perfectly in touch with the Lord? Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I’ll just tell you this: There is no one who always lives on the mountaintop. Now, you may think that your pastor does, or some godly person you really respect, or some great Christian leader. You may think, “Well, they look like they always live on the mountaintop.” It’s not true. They don’t.

Leslie: It’s Tuesday, September 13, and you’re listening to Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

A hiker who spent some time on a mountain may have trouble adjusting back to normal life. The same might be true for someone who’s connected to God in a deeply emotional way. Get some insight this week on living faithfully for God when the emotion just isn’t there. Nancy’s series is called Walking through Life’s Deserts.

Nancy: I have now had the privilege of walking with the Lord for over 40 years, and it has been a great privilege. But as I look back over the course of my life, I see that there are different seasons. There are ups and downs. There have been some incredibly wonderful mountaintop experiences where I just knew God was there; I knew the reality of His presence, and He just felt so close you thought you could almost touch Him and times where it’s been real clear how He was working and what He was doing. And I thought, “Wow, this is wonderful!”

Then there have been other times where it seemed like God was so far away, and times that I would call not mountaintop experiences but desert experiences. I think one of the problems in the Christian life is that sometimes we expect it’s all supposed to be mountaintop experiences. When it isn’t, we find ourselves disappointed or frustrated or thinking, “What am I doing wrong?” or “What am I missing?” or “This Christian life thing just doesn’t work.” As you live through some desert experiences, you find that this is just part of the Christian life.

If you don’t expect it, you may get disillusioned and get disappointed. I’ll just tell you this: There is no one who always lives on the mountaintop. Now, you may think that your pastor does, or some godly person you really respect, or some great Christian leader. You may think, “Well, they look like they always live on the mountaintop.” It’s not true. They don’t.

I’m so glad that the Scripture tells us not only how to live on the mountaintop, but probably more importantly, how to live when we’re down in the valley, when we’re in the pits, when we’re in the desert experiences of our lives.

I want us to look over the next several days at two particular periods in the Scripture when God’s people walked through desert experiences. One of those was in the Old Testament, one in the New. We will see the people of God, the desert they experienced, what it was like, what they learned through it, and what God can teach us through that.

Today we want to start by looking at one of those passages. It’s found in the gospel of Mark, chapter one. It’s actually an incident that takes place in the life of none other than the Lord Jesus.

I am so glad that this passage is in the Scripture, because the fact that Jesus, the Son of God Himself, has gone through a desert experience, makes me realize that it is part of life. It’s okay. You can get through the deserts. You can make it in the deserts. Jesus did it. He endured it, and it’s possible for us to endure it as well.

So let me read, beginning in Mark chapter 1, verse 9. This first paragraph, verses 9-11, is the description of the baptism of Jesus as He’s getting ready to begin His earthly ministry.

Verse 9:

In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, [He had grown up of course in Nazareth], and he was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are My beloved Son . . . [some of your translations say, “You are my Son, whom I love"], with you I am well pleased” (vv. 9-11).

Now talk about a mountaintop experience! Jesus has just had one. He’s been baptized; He’s obeying God; He’s being launched into His earthly ministry. The heavens open; the Spirit comes down like a dove; this voice from heaven speaks. Of course, it’s His Father saying, “You are My Son. I love You, and I am well pleased with You.” I mean, this is the peak. It’s the pinnacle. This is exciting. This is wonderful stuff!

Then look at the very next verse. Verse 12: “The Spirit immediately [the very next thing] drove Him out into the wilderness.” If you’re using the NIV, it uses the word desert. It’s the same thing—the wilderness, the desert. The very next thing, He goes into the wilderness, and He was in the wilderness 40 days being tempted by Satan. "He was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to Him."

Now, when we talk about the wilderness or the desert, have any of you ever lived in the desert? Some of you have been in the desert, perhaps. When you think of a wilderness or a desert, what kind of words come to mind? How would you describe the desert or the wilderness, just in a physical sense? What’s it like?

Dry—that’s the first word a lot of us would think of. Not a lot of water. Barren—it’s tough for things to grow there because things need water to grow. Tarantulas—yuck! Okay, there were wild animals there. Maybe some of those were tarantulas. I don’t know what kind of animals there were in the desert Jesus was in, but whatever they were, I don’t think I would have been crazy about being around them.

Deserts—what do you think of?

Hot. You’ve seen those commercials: There’s a guy in the desert, and he’s just dying of thirst, and he doesn’t have any food. He doesn’t have anything to eat, and he’s crawling his way over the sand. And all of the sudden, he finds Taco Bell or something. And he races to find something to drink or something cool and refreshing. There’s this picture of being just desperately parched, desperately needy for some sort of sustenance.

I think of deserts being places where there’s a lot of sameness, a lot of routine, and not a lot of interesting sights. It’s uneventful. You can think of deserts as being uncultivated land, just kind of wild. Things just spring up, but not anything really pretty. It’s hard to make a living in the desert. Deuteronomy 32 describes the desert as “a howling wilderness; a wasteland” (v. 10 KJV). That’s pretty descriptive.

I think of deserts as lonely, just isolated. There aren’t a lot of people. You may live miles from the nearest neighbor, and who know how many miles from a Wal-Mart or some form of civilization. Places that are uninhabited—they’re deserted. The desert.

And then, sometimes, they just seem to go on and on and on and on, as far as you can see—no town, no trees, just barren. Some of you may remember when we were in Desert Storm, and the descriptions that came back about what these troops went through with sand and the heat and the winds. There were some pretty tough things they had to endure in the desert.

As we’ve said, the desert is a picture of certain seasons in our lives. We need to realize that if you’re a Christian any longer than a few weeks, chances are, you’re going to experience some sort of desert experience.

How many of you can think of a time in your life, spiritually or relationally or personally, where you would just describe it as a desert experience? Most of you have lived long enough to experience that. We’re going to talk during this series about what some of those are like and how we can deal with them. I’m so thankful that the Word of God addresses this issue of deserts—how we get there, why God allows those kinds of experiences, what we can learn, and how we can grow through those experiences.

In fact, before this series is over, I’m going to share with you how you can not only survive in the desert, but how you can thrive in the desert.

Let’s start by looking as it relates to our experiences with some characteristics of the desert. Spiritual deserts—what are they like? I want to give you today and in the next session several characteristics of the desert. We see them in this account from the life of Jesus and in a couple of other accounts we’ll look at as well.

The first thing that we need to realize is it can happen to anyone. Being a child of God does not make you immune to desert experiences. In fact, if you are a child of God, you can be sure that you will go through desert experiences. It happened to Jesus. It happens to the most godly people.

Charles Colson is a friend of our family and a great godly man. He loves the Lord and has had a wonderful ministry. God has used him in so many ways. But I remember reading an article that he wrote in Christianity Today that he called “My Soul’s Dark Night,” and the subtitle was “The Best of Evangelicalism Didn’t Prepare Me for this Struggle.” Here’s what Mr. Colson had to say in the beginning of that article:

I am a product of the best in evangelicalism: converted 32 years ago in a flood of tears after hearing the gospel, disciplined by a strong prayer group, taught by great theologians. I know the strength of evangelicalism in bringing people to an intimate relationship with Jesus.

But what happens when you have relied on [intimacy with God,] and the days comes when [He] seems distant? What happens in the dark night of the soul? [This is the term that was given to this by some of the ancient writers about the Christian life.] I found out what happens this past year.

He had just written a book called The Good Life. And he said,

Weeks after finishing The Good Life, my son Wendell was diagnosed with bone cancer. The operation to remove a malignant tumor took 10 hours—the longest day of my life. Wendell survived, but he’s still in chemo. I had barely caught my breath when my daughter, Emily, was diagnosed with melanoma.

Back in the hospital, I again prayed fervently. Soon after, my wife, Patty, underwent major knee surgery. Where was my good life?

Exhausted from hospitals, two years of writing The Good Life, and an ugly situation with a disgruntled former employee, I found myself wrestling with the Prince of Darkness, who attacks us when we are weakest. I walked around at night, asking God why He would allow this. Alone, shaken, fearful, I longed for the closeness with God I had experienced even in the darkest days of prison.1

So here he’s saying, “I went through this whole prison experience, and God seemed closer to me than years later when I was a mature Christian with a fruitful ministry, having just written a book telling other people how to have the good life. Where was God?”

Again, as you walk with the Lord for any length of time, you will find times when you say, “Where in the world is God? I don’t see Him. I can’t feel Him.” I want to start by saying that this kind of desert experience can happen to anyone.

  • It happened to the apostle Paul.
  • It happened to Jesus.
  • It happened to Moses.
  • It’s happened to the most mature and godly of believers.

In fact, if you want to be a godly and mature child of God, one of the ways God gets you there is by taking you through desert experiences. But first, it can happen to anyone.

Second, the fact that you’re in a desert doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love you. We can get into some of these experiences and someone in your family gets cancer. Somebody that you love dies. You go through this time of great depletion or loneliness or exhaustion or frustration or just issues in life, and you can start to think, “God’s mad at me. He doesn’t like me!” The fact that you’re in a desert doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love you. In fact, that fact that you’re in a desert may be an expression of God’s love.

We know from the passage we just read in Mark 1 that God loved Jesus deeply. God had just said, “This is My Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased.” And the very next thing, Jesus finds Himself being led by the Spirit of God into a desert. You couldn’t say God didn’t love Jesus. You couldn’t say that God was mad at Jesus. God loved Him, and in that love, God took Him into a desert.

Now, we may not be able to feel the love of God when we’re in the desert, and in fact, it’s in the deserts when we learn to exercise faith in that which we cannot see and we cannot feel. That’s one of the reasons we need deserts, because without faith, it’s impossible to please God.

It’s in the desert times when you can’t see what’s going on, you can’t understand what God’s purposes are. That is when you begin to exercise faith and say, “Lord, I know You are there. I know that You love me, and I know that You are accomplishing Your purposes in my life and in this world, regardless of what I’m going through, what it looks like, or what it feels like.”

Now here’s something else I want you to notice from this passage about deserts. Desert experiences often follow times of unusual blessing. Desert experiences often follow times of unusual blessing or unusual victory or plenty in the Christian life.

Some of you I know are younger. We have some teenage gals here with us today, and I’m so glad the women from Cross Gate Christian Academy are here with us. I just want to say to you younger women: This is one of the ways of God that you need to expect for the rest of your life. There will be times when God does a great work in your life or God uses you in a special way. Don’t be surprised when sometimes right after those periods of unusual blessing, God leads you into a desert experience.

Look what happened to Jesus. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. God spoke from Heaven. God sent the Holy Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. God affirmed, “This is My Son, whom I love. I am well pleased with You.” A great experience. Jesus was publicly recognized as the Son of God. He was launched into His earthly ministry, and right after His baptism, “Immediately,” Mark says, “the Spirit sent Him into the wilderness,” into the desert.

Someone has said it this way, “After benediction comes battle.” After the benediction, after the blessing, comes battle. Expect it. Don’t be surprise by it.

I was asking some friends recently about how they had experienced deserts and what it was like and what God had taught them. One friend wrote and said this, and I think it’s so characteristic. He said,

Two months after experiencing revival in our marriage and family, my wife and I surrendered to full-time ministry. We prayed, "Lord, do whatever it takes to make us more like You. We surrendered to go anywhere and do anything for Him.

Now you would think after you’ve just surrendered your life that way to the Lord, and you’ve said, “Lord, whatever it takes—make me more like Jesus,” God would say, “Way to go. Here’s some more blessing!” But in their case, blasting came right after that surrender. He said,

That Sunday after we made our decision public to go into full-time ministry, our pastor’s message had four points. He said, "If you surrender your life completely to the Lord, it will cost you." He specifically pointed out that it will cost you your reputation, your resources, your relationships, and your residence.

Over the next months, all four of these things in our lives were affected in a major way. Immediately after surrendering our lives to Him for full-time ministry, our world crumbled.

And he talks about how it happened in all four areas. First the area of resources:

Through no fault of our own, we lost 80% of our life savings. Our income decreased by 95%.

Now, you think you’d be wondering, “Lord, I said I was going to serve You. I thought You were going to bless me! We're going the wrong direction here.” He said, “Our world crumbled in our resources.” Reputation. He said,

I went from being a somebody to being a nobody among other business men and other subcontractors. The same bankers that used to greet me at the door now would hardly give me the time of day.

So resources, reputation, and then relationships. He said,

Because we lost our resources and our reputation, our family and friends became distant.

Like you know, what’s wrong with him? He’s got the plague! Maybe it’s contagious. They didn’t want to be around him. And then, residence was the fourth area this pastor had said will be challenged, and my friend said,

We moved 500 miles. We went from a 5,000 square foot house to 300 square feet. I had obeyed God, and now ninety percent of my world was gone.

Our world caved in around us. [And then here’s the important thing.] When the dust settled, all that remained was the foundation. As a builder, I know how important foundations are, and yet that is the part of the building process that most people care the least about. They are a lot more concerned with the cosmetics.

And what has happened with this man and his wife and his family? They felt like their whole world was crumbling. They made this great commitment to God, and then God led them immediately into the desert. What they discovered in the desert was that their foundation was solid, that it wasn’t just the outward things, the external things, that really mattered. They got down to basics. They got down to what really, really mattered, and they found that it would last.

But it happened—and that’s what I want you to note—right in the wake of a surrender of their lives to be used by the Lord. They had prayed, “Lord, do whatever it takes to make us more like You.” And you know what God said? “Do you mean that? You want to be like Jesus? Here’s what it takes. I sent My Son into the wilderness, into the desert, for forty days to be tempted, to be with the wild animals.”

You want to be like Jesus, and you think you can be like Jesus without going through deserts? It’s in the desert that we become like Jesus.

In many cases, I’ve found in my own life that sometimes after having a great devotional time or a time of great blessing or great joy or great spiritual victory, sometimes being used of God in ministry, I often find that very shortly after that, I am in the desert, a spiritual desert.

Expect it. Realize that it is part of God’s ways. Don’t resent it. Don’t resist. Don’t run from it. Realize that it can happen to anyone. The fact that you’re in the desert doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love you, and it’s not unusual for desert experiences to take place right after you’ve had a great blessing of God in your life.

Leslie: If you’re walking through a desert right now, I hope the words of Nancy Leigh DeMoss have encouraged you to not give up. She’ll be right back to pray with you.

When serious hikers trek through the desert, one way they keep going is to get supplies by air. A pilot will meet them on a certain day and drop off what they need. If you’re in the desert, we want to drop off some supplies to you. We won’t use a helicopter. We’ll just use the mail, but the effect will be the same when you order this week’s series. When you order for a donation of any amount, we’ll include a booklet by Nancy that will give you a lot of hope. It’s called, “Promises to Live By.” This booklet doesn't deliver empty promises. Each promise listed comes from Scripture.

Ask for the CD’s of the series Walking through Life’s Deserts and the booklet “Promises to Live By.” When you donate any amount when you call by phone. The number is 1-800-569-5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Nancy provides a warning to anyone going through a time of great blessing and fruitfulness. a desert season is likely to follow.

She'll talk about that tomorrow. And now she's back with hope for anyone who finds themselves in a desert right now.

Nancy: We’re going to pick up on that thought when we come back in the next session, but let’s just take a moment and bow our hearts before the Lord. I wonder if perhaps you’re in a desert right now, if you would just say, “Lord, I trust You—that You know what You’re doing, and I’m willing to endure this and trust that You have led me here, that you will meet my needs and my foundation will be solid, and that I will be cared for in this desert, even as You cared for Your Son.”

If you have found yourself angry at God or doubting Him or resisting Him, would you just say, “Lord, I know that You love me, and I want to receive this desert experience as part of Your loving and wise plan for my life.”

And Lord, though we can’t totally understand Your purposes in deserts, we do want to say we realize that we need them, and we thank You for how You work in our lives, even through the desert experiences. Give us understanding of Your ways as we continue to study this matter of the deserts and how You work through them. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

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

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

1Chuck Colson, Christianity Today, December 2005. 

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