The Desert Awaits

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 “Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness leaning upon her beloved?” (Song 8:5). In this passage of Holy Scripture we have an allegory of the woman who is a type of the Christian and the king is a type of Christ. We see her in a posture of holding on to and leaning upon her beloved coming up out of the wilderness or desert.  The desert or wilderness seems to be a recurring theme in the Bible and in history with men and women who serve God. I understand that this is a strange idea in this day and age.

What is God’s purpose in drawing us to the backside of the desert (Ex. 3:1)? A desert is a very hot, dry place with no vegetation, water and the rainfall is unpredictable. It is an abandoned place, deprived of resources and lifeless. The picture of a desert is used often as a theme for men of God to separate themselves to hear the voice of God. Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist and our Lord Jesus Christ all spent time from days to years in the desert.  There they would see his glory and guidance in a place where all was barren (Ex 16:10) and be sustained by God’s care (Ex 16:32; 17:1). God brings you and I to this place in order that you and he will be on close terms in hearing his directions and voice in the scriptures. “And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, ‘Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.” (Acts 8:26).  It is a perfect description of when God calls a man or a woman to a place of surrender and abandonment.  It is a place where it is just you and God. There is nothing to do but depend on but God. No other resource will lead you out of this wilderness until you learn to depend on his strength alone, until you hold on to him for your life.

The desert transcends relationships, denomination, time and profession. It may have been a different job, home and even country. But it does not depend on location. It was not a monastic lifestyle; it was just a place far from their previous life, routine and schedule. It is a spiritual season and it is not based on outward circumstances although it may be reflected in trial. The desert has nothing to do with institutions such as Bible College and seminary. It is a place where God himself instructs you on his purpose and ways from his Word and that instruction can be conveyed to others. You can be married or single and be in the desert. You can be in pulpit ministry or a secular position and be in the wilderness. It does not matter your income or where you live. Time is not a problem because it could be months or years in the dunes of God.  It is a place where God works on his own to fashion his people as “vessels of honor” (2 Tim. 2:21) and he will complete his human project every time (Phil 1:5).

Here the Sovereignty of God is seen and understood. Here you are completely at God’s mercy. Hemmed in and shut up you cannot move unless he enlarges the room of your existence. You are face to face with the only one who can defeat your rebellion, sinful tendencies and liberate you from besetting weights that slow down spiritual progress. You will feel you must go to the sand and without question obey God. You cannot manipulate your way out. You cannot tell God by word-faith formulas to do anything. He will not relent. God asks, “Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD, or being his counselor hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding?” (Isaiah 40:13, 14). Your will is swallowed up in God’s will, your heart is his throne. We must be ready at all times to be at his disposal to learn his ways.

What he saves he will purify. The dross-like oxidation will come off the silver vessel to make a refined vessel and that which is worthless will be removed from our lives by his work in the desert (Prov. 25:4).  God sovereignly calls people away to pray and seek his face in total surrender all of their thoughts, emotions, words and abilities in order to grow and be trained for ministry. This is not when we attend a conference, retreat or even devote ourselves to extended times of prayer although it may happen parallel to those things. It is an act of Sovereign grace when he calls out, in his effectual call, “Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.” (Ex. 7:16).  It is an unpredictable time when God calls us away with him in the desert or the wilderness of abandon. For those whom he will test and temper he will use in his service for his glory!

I have heard so many times that God’s people could have made it a shorter trip to the Promised Land, but that is just conjecture. I am not saying that they are incorrect in the distance from Egypt to Canaan but I question why people teach that we can shorten the time when God always has a set time for everything to perfect his work in our lives (Eccl. 3:1-14). We know that no one has ever made it to their promised land unless spending an extended time in the wilderness learning to serve God without the help of man. The journey in the desert was where those people must learn to serve God not in conflict with culture around them (Egypt) but the inner enemies of the heart, namely the flesh. It is not the outward world that is our problem but the inner world. In a day when we are appealing to the culture of the world in order to be more relevant we are neglecting what E.M. Bounds called the culture of the heart, “Our great lack is not in head culture but in heart culture, not lack of knowledge but lack of holiness is our sad and telling defect-not that we know too much but that we do not meditate on God and his word and watch and fast and pray enough. The heart is the great hindrance to our preaching. Words pregnant with divine truth find in our hearts nonconductors; arrested they fall shorn and powerless.” (Power Through Prayer, E.M. Bounds, Chapter 12 Heart Preparation Necessary, pg. 472 (c) Baker Book House Co.). The world will pass away and even Christ prayed that we would not be expatriated from the world but protected from the evil one because that salvation has made us aliens and even alienated from the evil world system (John 17:15-17).  Although the sinful nature has been defeated on Calvary by Christ’s sacrifice, it has a way of masquerading itself in religious activity.  It makes people appear to be something they are not, even like people who seem to serve God but do not (Isaiah 58:1-2). 

Sometimes it is hard to hear the voice of God in the scriptures with people coming and going. Religion is known for its noise and commotion. God is known for a stillness that reveals himself to listening hearts (Psalm 46: 10). Either Christ must still the noise by overturning tables and rattling cages, or he must call us away to learn with him. The noise and activity returns the very next day for those people were only stirred for a moment but their hearts were unchanged. Such is ego centered, religion fueled by the flesh. But Christ will say to his own, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while.” (Mk. 6:31) and he who was led of the Spirit into the wilderness and returned in the power of the Spirit will by his Spirit subdue all things he desires unto himself in our lives.

Remember when you first trusted Christ and were converted the way the Bible teaches. Matthew Henry says that, “a soul convinced of sin and truly humbled for it, is in a wilderness, quite at a loss and there is no coming out of this wilderness but leaning on Christ as our beloved by faith and not leaning to our own understanding nor trusting to any righteousness or strength of our OWN as sufficient but going forth and going on in the strength of the Lord God and making mention of his righteousness, even his only who is the Lord our righteousness!” You threw the weight of your whole soul on him and were saved! That is how you must live out the Christian life, “As you have received Christ as Lord so walk ye in him.” (Col. 2:6) and lean on him! Real faith lays all burdens and all the problems on Christ!  This is the place where we know our weaknesses but instead of excusing them or letting them cripple us we use them to rest on Christ by faith!  

helpingThe woman of the Song of Songs appears weak and unable to travel so she rests on her Beloved in this difficult walk and is able to come up and out of the wilderness in his strength. This woman does not just want the association with Christ or to have the name Christian and that is where it ends, she makes use of the strong arm of Jesus Christ takes hold of him and leans on Him!  Like John the Beloved she leans on Christ’s bosom for her security (John 13:23).  Jesus can bear the weight of your life; he is strong, so very strong to help you progress in your walk with him. We will never make it on our own. When we neglect him we experience problems that begin to crush us under their weight!

If you are hemmed in and have become the Lord’s guest or prisoner in order to learn his ways. He will take care of you and preserve you. “He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.” (Deut 32:10).  You will be overlooked, you will be unnoticed and humbled in the eyes of God and men and people will look upon you narrowly and with cynicism at times. It is a time that is so personal that no one will understand it but you, although you wish they cold. But they cannot. It is too intimate, it is to secret, it is too much for anyone to understand.

I think of Martin Luther in Wartburg Castle or at the Wartburg (1521-1522). He was an outlaw in where he lived incognito and in exile as Junker Jorge or Knight George for a year. He even grew his hair and a beard. He no longer looked like a monk, but he became if you will a knight as he translated the New Testament. The desert may seem like a prison sentence. “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.” (Gal 3:23).  The law imprisoned people and revealed that unless they are set free by Christ and Sovereign grace they are slaves to sin and under God’s wrath. The desert makes this clear also to the regenerated person. God’s law is written on our hearts but we must time and again over and over be shown our weakness and utter dependence on God and that only trusting, childlike faith get cause us to grow and accomplish the task to which he calls us.

“The Lord GOD hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned.” (Isaiah 50:4). It is a place where the disciple’s ear and tongue are trained. You must hear and then you must speak as he would bid you! This only happens by the discipline and training of God.  This time does not belong so much as to you but to God who desires to be with you in sweet communion before he takes you out to minister. After these times you can minister anywhere and at anytime because your soul has been tempered by the desert heat and the flesh has been baked dry by the desert sun until it has been weakened in order for you to be able to minister in the power of the Spirit. It was there it was said of John the Baptizer, “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.” (Luke 1:80). God is calling you out of the fruitful, industrious places of man, the fruits of flesh and the byproducts of mans power to a place where you can only hear his voice.

It is time for you to realize that others are not the problem. You are. Don’t fight it, humble yourself under the mighty hand of God that he may exalt you in due time. Encourage yourself in the lord and wait on him and he will strengthen your heart. The Lords servants are the blindest at times they cannot see God working around them. But their eyes will be open even as the hobble to the pool of Siloam and wash their faces and see him who is the Son of man questioning them if they want to know him better. Oh it is the most precious time, embrace it. Let God take you to from dust to glory.

It is the wilderness that God shows his power and glory.  “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose…for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water…” (see Isaiah 35:1-7). God says his direction is found in the wilderness. “I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.  (Isaiah 43:18-21). The way to the wilderness is the way out of the wilderness. The trial is the trail. The wilderness of weakness may not change but you will flourish in power. The desert heart of anxiety cannot wither you because in your heart peace blossoms. Sandstorms of fear may scrape your mind and heart but fear will be sandblasted away. The loneliness and the wilderness may howl around you but the presence of your beloved comforts you as you hear his breath and his chest rises up and down in sacred breath!  How does this happen? You have learned to lean upon Christ and his strength.

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