Have you ever felt like you’ve been left alone? Not just by the people around you, but also left alone by God? Has He abandoned you? Have you ever felt that way? Have you felt like you were left in a desert… alone? I love the words of a Wayne Watson song, A Beautiful Place:
Mistakes and misfortunes will come and go
But to try and to fail is no disgrace
Sometimes a rough and a rocky road
Can take you to a beautiful place
There are four significant events, in my mind, concerning deserts in the Bible. Moses and the Israelites spent a lot of time in the desert. Moses first entered the desert when he fled from Egypt, leaving his princely life behind. 40 years after that he led the Israelites into the desert for 40 years more on their way to the Promised Land. God used the desert to prepare Moses for the job ahead of him. And God used the desert to purify and sift the Israelites as the journeyed for 40 years before reaching the Promised Land.
John the Baptist came walking out of the desert as he began his ministry of preaching repentance. Maybe God had used the desert to prepare John the Baptist for his very particular ministry. He would have to be hardened, and of a single-minded purpose. He did have the great privilege of Baptizing our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus entered the desert immediately after the Holy Spirit landed on His shoulder, having been baptized by John the Baptist.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days He was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
The devil said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.'”
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So, if you worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'” The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”
Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:1-13 (NIV))
Jesus’ time in the desert is of particular importance to us because of how he handled Satan. If you will notice Jesus responded to each of Satan’s temptations with Scripture. He didn’t do anything particularly Supernatural. He responded with the same weapons we have at our fingertips… Scripture. We could learn a lot from that, particularly, stay in God’s Word and be forearmed for that attacks of Satan. Believe me, they will come, and they are real.
And then there’s Paul.
Let us let Paul tell his own story beginning in his letter to the Galatians that I read to you last week, also:
For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.
Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. (Galatians 1:1-18 NIV)
The great British preacher and evangelist F.B. Meyer envisioned Paul’s time in the desert like this: Month after month he wandered to and fro, sharing the rough fare of some Essene community, or the lot of a family of Bedouins; now swept upwards in heavenly fellowship, and again plunged into profound meditation. Deeper than all was God’s work in his soul. Grain by grain his profound self-reliance and impetuosity were worn away. No longer confident in himself, he was henceforth more than content to be the slave of Jesus Christ. We all need to go to Arabia to learn lessons like these.
In that period of delay Saul learned about the real Saul, the Saul God had uniquely called and chosen for a ministry of Grace to the world. It was also there he saw the darker side of himself, the ugliness of his depravity. But against that bleak backdrop shined the greatness of God’s Mercy and Love. Arabia became a temple where he worshiped the Lord in a way he had never experienced in his life. Solitude helped. The scales of blindness not only fell his eyes, the scales of spiritual blindness fell from his heart as he gained a fresh glimpse into the marvelous mystery of God’s plan. As the desert winds howled across rocky crags, God revealed Himself to His servant. As the stars lit the sky Saul became enraptured by the Glory of his Master.
Now stop and think about this for a moment. Chances are good your life has grown more complicated than it was ten years ago, or for that matter, even five years ago. Especially now, with Covid-19 keeping us so isolated and even alone sometimes. Over time you have collected more and more stuff, engaged in more and more activities, taken on more and more debt, accepted more and more responsibilities. Now your well is dry. Bone dry. You’re not necessarily unhappy, or are you? But, one thing is certain… You are Empty! A deeper Spiritual life has eluded you. Deeper life with your family. Deeper life with your friends. Deeper life with your Lord. Like an illness that threatens your physical life if ignored, living life on Spiritual Empty eventually siphons your Spiritual Vitality and Desire. If we hope to grow deeper, we must find a solution to this maddening pace. The tyranny of things and the urgent cannot continue.
How many things are getting in your way as you try to clear out of your desert. Sometimes “things” are the problem. In his book, The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer refers to the “Tyranny of Things.” Letting so many things, extras, conveniences into your life that you do not have time or room for your friends, your family, or your God. Wayne Watson, in his song The Urgency speaks about “the urgency of the insignificant things.” Are you beginning to get the point?
The main point is… when you are in the desert you are not there alone. God is always there. With all the things you carry in there with you, Jesus is always there. He is always there to hear from you, and to speak to you.
Experts tell us that if you get lost in the woods, in a large forest, the best thing to do is sit down and wait for the rescuers. Sitting in one place keeps you from wondering around and avoiding the rescuers. In your Spiritual Desert, that’s the best advice. Psalm 46 tells us very clearly, Be still, and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10 (NIV))
Do we have enough stillness in our lives? Do we listen enough. Shortly after Psalm 46:10 comes one of those “Selahs” we see in the margin of our Bibles. It’s in our pew Bibles. I’m sure it’s in yours also. It means pause, wait a minute, let that soak in. As you read God’s Word are you letting it soak in? Are you giving God His due time and attention? Our altar is open, it always is. This might be a good moment to take a Selah. Maybe come to the altar with nothing in particular to say.
Just come, and pause, and let God soak in.
Bostwick UMC 9/20/2020
 Swindoll, Charles R.. Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit (Great Lives Series Book 6) . Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition, Location 1076