d. Desert Experience (not a hindrance per se)


Key Verse: Rom 8:28 "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

When all seems to be falling apart around us, when we seem to have lost our purpose in life and when we can't seem to even hear God answering our prayers, we wonder "Why oh Lord, why does it seem that you have abandoned me?" We may feel like Job who had lost all his possessions and all his children, wondering out loud:

Job 3:11, 20, 25-26 "Job 3:11 "Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb?... Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul… What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil."

When everything does not make sense and when feeling that God isn't close, know that that desert experience will eventually come to an end. Even Jesus faced several desert experiences during his life time on earth.

Matt 4:1 "Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil."

Luke 22:41- 42, 44 "He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."... And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground."

Matt 27:46 "About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"-which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

This is why He can identify with what we are going through. He has experienced it first hand Himself.

Heb 2:18 "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."

Heb 4:14-16 "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."

Although we may feel all alone out there, abandoned by God, Jesus is closer to us than we think! When we read the book of Job, we discover that although Job felt completely abandoned by His Maker, God was closer to him than ever before.

Desert experiences like these can be caused by a variety of reasons. A child rebels, a relationship shatters to pieces, a long-sought dream evaporates to nothingness, a financial disaster hits us like a hurricane…

In times like these nothing makes sense. Our emotions and circumstances seem to control us. We feel abandoned by God.

Just like the children of Israel who were miraculously freed by God from the hands of oppression in Egypt, we have a decision to make:

a. Continue to trust in God

b. Go back to the land of oppression that looks so attractive to us, for some unknown reason (the grass is always greener elsewhere!)

Imagine being among those miraculously freed slaves. God is right with you, guiding you us in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. What more could you ask for? You have nothing to fear. You are right in the middle of God's will.

Ex 13:21-22 "By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people."

All of a sudden you realize that you are going in the wrong direction. The Promised Land is in the northeast, but you are heading south. What is going on?

"Lord, Lord, I think you took a wrong turn somewhere. We are not heading in the right direction. Shouldn't we be going northeast?"

God however did not want the Israelites to go northeast, although it would have taken them just a few weeks to reach their destination. Why? They would have had to go through the land of Philistines. They were not ready to face these kinds of challenges.

Ex 13:17 "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."

The Israelites had a choice to make. Notice that God is never in a hurry. He wants us to learn from Him and to experience Him personally. He wants us to have a personal relationship with Him, trusting Him even in the middle of our desert experiences.

It would eventually take 40 years for the Israelites to reach their destination. 40 years! Most of them were never really eager to trust in the Lord. They turned their desert experience into an opportunity to complaint and be bitter with God, never really trying to getting to know Him. Instead of worshippers they had turned into grumblers, even desiring to go back to the land of oppression.

Ex 15:24 "So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, "What are we to drink?"

Ex 16:2-3 "In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, "If only we had died by the LORD's hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death."

Ex 17:3 "But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?"

Num 14:2 "All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, "If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert!"

It is hard when we are in the middle of a desert experience. We are not just in a desert; the desert seems to be in us! Former temptations that were overcome may seem attractive to us once again. Faith may seem hard and prayers may seem unanswered. "Where is God in all this?" We may wonder, not realizing like the Israelites who were following a pillar of clouds by day and a pillar of fire by night, that God is right with us in our desert experience! He will use our desert experience to develop and strengthen our relationship with Him, if we let Him. God is in the desert with us! He does not want any harm to befall on us! Wow!

In the desert we will face the question of perseverance. It is easy to serve the Lord when everything is working out right for us. However desert experiences will help us build strength. Only the patient will go on. Only those, who decide like Job to trust in God and not in their circumstances, will come through victoriously and reach the Promised Land.

Job 2:9-10 "His wife said to him, "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!"

He replied, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?"

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said."

We need to remember on those occasions that Jesus is holding us in his arms, loving us although we feel unlovable, encouraging us to continue to trust in Him. He promised:

Matt 28:20 "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Heb 2:18 "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."

We don't have to let the desert control us. We have the choice to control the desert by trusting solely in God. He loves us and has the best intentions for us. We may not understand where He is leading us, but we can be sure of one thing, wherever He leads us is far better than where we came from. I want to be where God is, no matter the circumstances. What about yourself?

Rom 8:28 "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

Question 1: What choice do we face when we are going through desert like experiences?

Answer:

Question 2: Where is God when we feel abandoned by Him?

Answer:

Question 3: How did Jesus face His desert experiences?

Answer:


I feel great comfort when I read the gospels and notice that Jesus faced the same dilemma as us when prayers seemed to be left unanswered. He spent all night praying before he chose the twelve disciples, and even so, one of them turned out to be a traitor. In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed Matt 26:39a "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me." Was the cup of suffering taken away from Jesus? Of course not. Jesus' prayers sometimes seemed unanswered, just like our prayers seem sometimes to go unanswered.

However, look at Jesus' prayer again in Matthew 26:39, but this time look at the second part of His prayer "Yet not as I will, but as you will." Wow! This is real trust! Jesus did not want His will to be done, but that God's will be done. In other words, prayer was for Jesus a way to converse with His Heavenly Father, a way where He could openly commune with His Father and where His Father would share with Him His will. Shouldn't our prayers be like His? "Yet not as I will, but as you will." Wouldn't all our prayers always be answered that way?

God's prayers does not always get answered either! How is that possible? Read Matt 23:37 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing."

Just like a man longs for his wife to return to Him, or just like parents who wait to see their wayward children return to them, God longed, really longed for His people to gather together under His care. Was God's prayer fulfilled? Sadly no. Why not? Isn't He the omnipotent one? Isn't He all-powerful? He sure is, but He will never impose Himself on anyone, even less on His own children. This is real love, my friend. God loves us so much that although He wished for us to come back to Him-although He knows that we are going straight to a disaster if we don't listen to Him-He still respects our decision. God loves us, my friend!

Now, if Jesus' prayers and God's prayers are not always answered, why should we, being sinful and not knowing how to pray as we should, expect all of our prayers to be fulfilled? Think about it: Can God grant us the desire to marry someone we love, when He knows that the end result will be an unhappy, broken home, where our own children would become derelict? Or, how could God grant us fame and fortune if He knows this would only puff out egos and make us turn our backs on Him? No, God won't stop us from making wrong decisions. What He DOES do is everything, short of interfering with our power of choice, to protect us from harm.

The message found in John 11: 1-45 means so much to me. John writes that a dear friend of Jesus, named Lazarus, was on the brink of death. His sisters send for Jesus and pleaded for Him to come immediately to the rescue of their brother. Jesus delayed going to Bethany and Lazarus died. Mary's and Martha's prayers seemed unanswered! Why did Jesus not come, especially since He could have healed their brother? Why was Jesus silent to their request?

They buried their brother and went through the whole funeral process. Lazarus was embalmed and put into a grave, which was covered by a heavy stone. All were mourning and in despair. Where was Jesus? Why didn't He answer their request? Then Jesus told His disciple John 11:7 "Let us go back to Judea."

When Jesus got to Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Martha reproached Jesus and said: John 11:21 "If you had been here, my brother would not have died."

Martha was completely right, if Jesus had come immediately Jesus would have healed Him and her prayers would have been answered. However, would she have missed something if He had done that? Would her relationship with Jesus have had the same depth as when she saw with her own eyes Jesus ordering death to flee from her brother and seeing him standing up alive and well? Wouldn't she and all of us who read God's Word have missed that Jesus could boldly and truly say:

John 11:25-26 "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

Would we have had the same assurance whenever a loved one died that Jesus one day would resurrect our loved ones? Wouldn't we have missed that if Martha's prayer were answered immediately?

When God does not seem to answer my prayers, is it that God's silence is going to bring into my life a greater revelation of my Heavenly Father than I have ever known? Doesn't it mean that He is going to reveal Himself to me?

I always pray through my sin checklist, as sin will silence God's voice in my life. If there is an unconfessed sin, God reveals it to me through His Holy Spirit and I repent from it, knowing full well that: 1 John 1:9-10 "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." I confess it and make it right. If there is still silence from God, I begin to watch with great anticipation for what God is going to teach me about Himself. I wait, and sooner or later God reveals Himself. It is guaranteed! Mic 7:7 "But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me".

If it seems that your prayers are unanswered my friend, why don't you prayerfully go over your sin checklist? Ask God to come into your life and reveal any unconfessed sins and if some are found, repent, and make them right. If still God's voice seems to be silent, why don't you wait for Him patiently and wait for Him to reveal Himself to you? You will be flabbergasted and astonished of the kind of relationship you can have with your Heavenly Father. God is so awesome. You will discover that. Why don't you try it?

Waiting on the Lord is encouraged throughout the Scriptures. Why? Is it possible that if we rush in our decisions and try to solve things our own way, we may miss the opportunity of a greater blessing and of getting to know our Forever Friend even more deeply?

Question 4: Read the following texts and write down the reasons why we should wait on the Lord.

Ps 5:3 "In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation."

Ps 33:20 "We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield."

Ps 37:34 "Wait for the LORD and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, you will see it."

Ps 38:15 "I wait for you, O LORD; you will answer, O Lord my God."

Isa 40:31 "But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint." NKJV

Answer:


You know what set me free and what will set you free, my friend? Truth! Truth is not a set of doctrines. Truth is not a certain denomination. Truth is a person who is actively involved in your life. Jesus could confidently declare: John 14:6-7 "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well." No need to feel depressed when your prayers are unanswered, instead start to be excited and anticipate for God's Truth to reveal Himself to you. Will you reach out and accept Jesus' stretched out hand to you?

As a conclusion, let me share you a little story illustrating what I tried to share with you.

The young man had lost his job and didn't know which way to turn. So he went to see the old preacher. Pacing about the preacher's study, the young man ranted about his problem. Finally he clenched his fist and shouted, "I've begged God to say something to help me. Tell me, Preacher, why doesn't God answer?"

The old preacher, who sat across the room, spoke something in reply -- something so hushed it was indistinguishable.

The young man stepped across the room. "What did you say?" He asked.

The preacher repeated himself, but again in a tone as soft as a whisper.

So the young man moved closer until he was leaning on the preacher's chair. "Sorry," he said. "I still didn't hear you."

With their heads bent together, the old preacher spoke once more. "God sometimes whispers," he said, "so we will move closer to hear Him." This time the young man heard and he understood.

Author unknown. If anyone has a proprietary interest in this story please authenticate and I will be happy to credit, or remove, as the circumstances dictate.

Question 5: Why do we feel our prayers are sometimes left unanswered?

Answer:


Matt 6:33-34 "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

The Cocoon A man found a cocoon of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared, he sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and could go no farther.

Then the man decided to help the butterfly, so he took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily, but it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time.

Neither happened! In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of his life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It was never able to fly!!!

What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening, were God's way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.

Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our life. If God allowed us to go through our life without obstacles, it would cripple us. We would not be as strong or beautiful as what we could have been, and we would never learn to fly as God has intended.

Author unknown.

If anyone has a proprietary interest in this story please authenticate and I will be happy to credit, or remove, as the circumstances dictate. Tidbits DAILY Devotional, tidbits-request@mlists.net

Assignment:

a. If you are going through a desert experience right now do the following assignment:

Meditate over the following texts:

Isa 40:31 "But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint." NKJV

Rom 8:28 "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

"This week, try taking this simple prayer with you through your wilderness: Lord, I will wait on you.

Also consider these steps:

-Ask a few trusted friends for sustained prayer.

-Don't try to force feelings of spiritual vitality. (But don't go "back to Egypt" and its destructive patterns either!)

-Allow for some change. Modify your pace, your daily routines, even your usual spiritual disciplines to allow for some freshness.

-Consider getting more rest and recreation. Deliberately seek out some "green pastures" and "still waters" (Ps. 23:2).

-Find things -even small things- to give thanks for. Notice tokens of God's grace to you even though you're not out of the hard place yet.

-Finally, don't panic. Even if you don't feel him, God is still with you and working for your good.

If You're Not in the Desert Right Now ...

One of the reasons that times in the wilderness seem so foreign and difficult is that few of us today have much capacity for deprivation or trials. In our culture, we are accustomed to direct routes. We like efficiency. We value ease. We prize convenience. This is what we consider normal. Anything else feels abnormal. It's no wonder that God's roundabout ways seem so uncomfortable and that the desert becomes something to flee from instead of to learn from. But there is a way to train for times in the desert. Small trials can be used to prepare us. Consider using the following day-to-day hassles to train yourself in qualities like patience, endurance, trust, and waiting.

-Experiencing interruptions

-Encountering annoying people

-Not getting your desires met

-Being unfairly criticized or misunderstood

-Needing to set aside your preferences for someone else

-Experiencing frustrating delays

-Feeling unappreciated

How did the Spirit speak to you through these experiences? What did your responses tell you about what was in your heart --just below the surface-- as the experiences occurred? What practices and attitudes made these experiences more tolerable, or even positive? Of what training benefit were they?"

Ortberg, John; Laurie Pederson and Judson Poling. Growth. Training Vs. Trying. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000, p. 94-95.

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