The desert is a dry lifeless place. It is uncomfortable and fails to yield fruit. Not many would choose to live there and yet the LORD led the Israelites through the wilderness for forty years to humble and to test them concerning obedience to his commands. (Deut 8:2). They had proclaimed their right to his blessings when they applied the blood of the Passover lamb to the lintel of their doorposts in Egypt. They had made the proclamation that they belonged to Israel and that Yahweh was their God. Of the 600,000 men who had left Egypt all except for two were to die in the desert. Because of their disobedience and rebellion God had said, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times—not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.” (Num 14:20─23 NIV)
The Israelites began the journey with the intent of finding God’s “rest” but were unable to find the land of plenty. Those who call themselves “believers” should recognize that they, too, are on a very similar journey. They have left Egypt—this world—and have begun the journey to find rest from their labors. God’s rest can be entered today, (Heb 4:7), although few would acknowledge that they are living in a state of rest; their situation might more fully be depicted as a desert.
Many struggle with their faith. They know deep down in their hearts that God is there. They have heard many promises from his Word, yet the life promised them has escaped their experience. Disillusionment creeps in, followed by doubt. Is God real? Is the Bible truth? Does God care for me? Why am I not enjoying him? Yet they clutch to the assurance of their “saving faith” and dare not let go. Life continues to be a struggle. The realities of providing food, shelter, and clothing for family, and the pressure to meet wants causes stress, frustration, and conflict. Pressure is increased by requests to contribute in some way to the church. Their life has become busier and even less fulfilling. Not only is peace lacking but guilt has become their constant companion. They dutifully journey to church each week and seek some confidence in their belonging by taking on responsibilities as time and opportunity permit. The source of power and freedom, however, has yet to be learned and that power and freedom has yet to be appropriated. Their experience does not measure up to the “truths” promoted by those more informed in God’s Word.
On the outside, all looks in order, but on the inside they feel empty. Many “believers” live this life of dissatisfaction. Although they would dearly like it otherwise, they know the futility of their efforts and may even feel that they have been abandoned by God, the one they desire to please above all else. They know that God has promised peace and rest for the faithful. Why has such a life evaded them? They are living in the desert!
Like the Israelites, believers today are on the great journey to Canaan. The journey, if they are trusting and obedient, will take them from where they are to where God wants them to be. It demands the faith and trust of a child, faith that is beyond a person’s common understanding of faith. It demands faith that has been learned by experience to trust that God knows what is good for them. It demands contentment with provision that is often less than that which is the common experience in today’s affluent western culture. God was not happy about the complaints that the Israelites had made concerning lack of water and food and he is not happy about our complaints, voiced or otherwise, concerning lack of the things we feel are deserved or needed.
Completing the journey demands recognition that those who claim the name of Christ do not reside in this world and its interests have not hold on them. They do not have time for them or need of them. They are merely passing through this world as aliens. (1 Pet 2:11) The journey demands the willingness and trust to allow God to be on the throne of their lives to find enjoyment in him.
Those who are caught up in the desert will live a dry fruitless life. Like the Israelites they will yearn for the vegetables of Egypt and for what they see as their food–the wants of everyday life—being met through slavery to the world.
Faith demands that, for the most part, we depart from the known and the demands of the flesh, and live by promise in the unknown. It demands that the priorities of our lives change, and it sees wealth as being eternal rather than temporal. It requires a transformation of focus to obedience and contentment in the blessings granted through righteous living and an understanding and a recognition of the sovereignty of God. Decisions are no longer the believers to make; their path is no longer theirs to direct.
The Israelites grumbled and complained. Their minds went back to Egypt and all that was available in that evil country and they died with corrupted hearts and in discontentment. Believers today have been commanded to learn a lesson from them. There is only one way to escape the desert and that is to prove the faithfulness of Christ in their lives so that they might follow him and be lead to the place of rest. “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” (Hen 5:11 NIV)
The desert cannot be left without a heart that is obedient to Christ and is content with his determination of its needs, the situations which would shape and form the believer’s heart and soul for eternity. “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 Jn 2:15 NIV)
The desert is a place of testing. Those who left Egypt except for two failed the test. Their hearts were fixed on that place of slavery. Like them, many of this generation will never leave it but will find their end in that dry, fruitless place, discontented and disillusioned.
Further reading: Today’s graphic image comes from an article What To Do When I Am Spiritually Dry? at the blog, The Reluctant Skeptic.
Russell Young’s book is in stores and available now in print and eBook. The title is Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? It is available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo. 9781512757514 $17.99 US