There is something about the desert that draws God to place people there for a time. The Israelites were led out of Egypt and into the desert on their way to Canaan—the Promised Land. They ended up remaining there for 40 years because of their disobedience. Jesus was also led by the Holy Spirit into the desert just prior to beginning his public ministry.
In my life of following Jesus, I have spent several periods of time in the desert—discouraged, lonely, and depressed. They are difficult times. Perhaps you can recall similar experiences, or maybe you currently are in a desert place. Nothing is easy. Faith is fleeting. The Lord seems distant. Temptations are strong to escape or to find immediate relief from the aridness of life.
Jesus was tempted to do this when he was alone in the desert. He could have chosen the escape route of using his own power to try to improve his situation or sought worldly pleasures to ease his suffering. But he entrusted his life and situation to God instead. He knew God could bring life out of the desert.
The Israelites, on the other hand, did not trust God when they were in the desert. They griped about the conditions. They came to believe going back to slavery in Egypt was a better alternative than allowing God to lead them. And when they had the chance to leave the desert behind, they became frightened by what lay ahead. They were so frightened that they refused to go. As a result of their lack of faith, the Lord barred them from entering Canaan until the adult generation had died. Then they crossed over the Jordan and left the desert behind; this time departing with confidence in the Lord.
My wife and I had been in the desert for a while and we recently just crossed over our Jordan into a new land filled with the promises of God. It was a very difficult and discouraging experience. While away last week to seek the Lord, he was very clear that it was time to leave the desert and cross over into what he had next for us. As the prophet Isaiah wrote:
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV)
The Lord is always faithful to not only provide for us while we’re in the desert, but He also will provide us a clear path leading out of it into something better. The challenge always is to let go of our present and past circumstances and embrace where we are headed. This was the mistake the Israelites made. While the Lord was leading them out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land, they kept their eyes on the past and the present, rather than fixing their eyes on the Lord and where he was leading them. It cost them dearly.
I have known many people who find themselves in the desert and, like the Israelites, take their eyes off the Lord and remain there far longer than he intends. This is what Satan had in mind for Jesus. The “escape” he offered was intended to hold him prisoner in the desert. Like porn, the promise of a wonderful escape will lead only to a deeper captivity full of guilt and despair. But Jesus didn’t fall for it. Instead, he remained true and obedient to his Heavenly Father, enduring suffering while holding onto the promise of something far better.
This is indeed what he also wants for us. The desert serves as a proving ground, where our faith is tested, we are stripped of many of the comforts we have come to depend on, and we are given the opportunity to trust the Lord in the midst of very trying circumstances. The Lord’s desired result is that we trust him and, by doing so, allow our faith to be strengthened and our intimacy with him deepened. As the Apostle Paul writes:
. . .but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4 NIV)
This is what the desert can do if we are willing to endure it and not try to take a short-cut out of it. But then there comes a time to leave it, when the Lord commands us to cross over the Jordan and not look back. Better things are coming, and our focus should be steadfastly on what is ahead. It is not easy, as my wife and I are experiencing, but we keep reminding ourselves to fix our eyes on Jesus and follow him. What is ahead is better than what we left behind.
© Jim Musser 2019