Lessons from Wilderness wanderings
From a sermon delivered on 27th February 2022
Haven’t the last two years been tough? I know I have found it tough, and I know many others have as well. It is as if we wandering around in a wilderness or desert. Now Russia has invaded Ukraine! Lord, when will it all end?
The question most people have when they’re led into a desert experience is “Why?”. But take heart; God will use our experiences here to cause a desert season to blossom like a rose. For this to happen we have to use every ounce of God’s strength in us to push on through to the end of the wilderness.
I can say this with confidence because in the desert, God the Father speaks and awakens our hearts to hear. In fact, the word for “desert” in Hebrew means “the place of speaking.”
When God freed His people from slavery in Egypt, He didn’t bring them straight into the Promised Land. He took them on a journey first. And not just any journey – He took them into the wilderness for 40 years.
So today’s sermon is by way of an introduction to a series titled “Journey into Hope” which will be based on the wanderings of the Israelites in the wilderness. Wanderings that led them to their revival when they entered the Promised Land.
But before they got to the Promised Land they went through grief, fear, had the exhilaration of entering into the throne room of God, through the Tabernacle and finally rose on wings of eagles! Through all of this God spoke to them and revealed Himself to them more than ever before.
A Path through into the Wilderness
Too often we try to avoid the uncomfortable in life. Why? Because we think we have very legitimate reasons for doing so. When our life hits a “desert” time, it is very hard to recoup. Our heart and mind feel burnt out, everything seems lifeless and even taking a single step seems to require an extreme amount of effort. And yet, the desert is not presented as a hopeless place in the Bible. God has used the desert and the wilderness to speak with His people. If you are in the middle of a desert season, you’re actually not alone.
God spoke to Abraham while he was in the wilderness. God brought the Israelites into the wilderness, because He wanted to speak to them. In the wilderness Elijah met with God. God spoke to John the Baptist in the desert, where he spent most of his life in those rough conditions. He became known as “A voice of one calling in the wilderness” (Isaiah 40:3). Each of these stories are filled with miracles. In the wilderness God was present, and in the desert, He made Himself known.
Hebrew Meaning of the Word “Desert”
The Hebrew language, the main language of the Old Testament, carries so much depth. The problem this causes with translation is that we can sometimes lose the complex meaning of a word. Many seemingly different words can actually be connected in Hebrew, because they have a common root – three core letters.
The Hebrew word for the “desert” is MIDBAR. Because there are no vowels in Hebrew, the letters that spell it out are M-D-B-R. Coincidentally, this is also how you spell another Hebrew word, MEDABER – “to speak.”
The wilderness of the Judean hills is where the Holy Spirit sent Jesus before the start of His public ministry. Jesus came to the MIDBAR – the desert, so that God could MEDABER – speak to him! Jesus didn’t wander into the desert by accident. He went there on purpose, because He needed to hear from God. Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Elijah – none of them were in the wilderness by accident. God wanted to speak with them, and what better place for an important meeting than the one where there are no distractions.
There are a number of named wildernesses in the desert wanderings of the Israelites. Exodus 15:22 says this:
22Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they travelled in the desert without finding water.
Shur is a Hebrew word that means “a wall,” “hemmed in,” or “limited.” God led them along a wall! They could not escape that desert.
In the same way, none of us were able to escape the wilderness of the coronavirus. We were in a place of restriction and limitation that made it impossible to move forward without a miracle. During Covid we were up against a wall like the Hebrews were. They had followed the cloud to a place of limitation. This was not because of their rebellion or disobedience. It was because of God’s plan to trade their limitation for His limitless grace, mercy, love, and power. They needed to be in that place for their advance, and so do we. Limitations are God’s veiled opportunities for His miraculous provisions. There is a realm of plenty just beyond our limitations. The end of your strength is the beginning of His. You could say it this way: the wilderness is simply a place in life that you don’t want to be in.
But it’s the place where the God of glory meets with the barren soul, showing us the deepest lessons of our life. Here are a few lessons that we can learn from our wilderness experiences.
Great problems often follow great victories: After the parting of a sea, there’s usually a desert. The Israelites had just been delivered from their enemy at the Red Sea and were on their way to the promised land when, three days in, they experienced a shortage of water. After the dance of victory, we now see them bitter and complaining.
I think naively we assume that a continual experience of victory is the norm when in fact, victory is often sandwiched between the lessons we learn from our difficulties.
Testing comes before resting: When we turn our faces to Christ in the midst of pain and impossibility, Christlike character is formed within us. Miracles are meant to do more than fascinate our soul; they’re meant to convince us that God’s faithfulness will not fail when the dry desert days come. The Israelites knew that God was powerful, but they did not yet know that He was good.
Christians, throughout the ages, have discovered that God will turn everything into good if we will but love Him through the difficulties of life. In the midst of our difficulties, God designs tests that teach us His ways. The Israelites had made a three-day trek into the wilderness when they ran out of water. So when they saw the waters of Marah they must have been elated.
But they soon became upset when they found that it was bitter and undrinkable. And so they named it Marah, which means “bitter,” “grief,” or “calamity.” They were all dry, dusty, and upset. How could this happen?
The Hebrews cried out to Moses for water, but not to God. The same God that can handle the Red Sea can handle deserts and drought. He can take the bitter waters of Marah and make them sweet. In the same vein, we too can experience a great breakthrough and then three days later are griping about the way leadership has, in our opinion, led us wrong.
Instead we need to look at ourselves first and then take our problem to the Father who can right all wrongs. We can shorten the wilderness by allowing God’s purpose to be fulfilled in it. The sooner we learn the lesson of Shur, the sooner we can move out.
Although we often see the wilderness as the outside circumstances around us, it’s the wilderness within us that the Lord is really after. We must go heart and spirit deep. The beginning of your miracle is even now at work inside you.
So, I ask you this question: what is it that the Lord is doing in you right now? I believe the Lord has something personal He’s doing in every life. Are you anchored to hope? Hope in God is not a wishful fantasy. Rather, our hope is an anchor that has gone through the veil and into glory where He is seated on the throne. Christ himself is the anchor of our soul, both sure and steadfast.
When we run into His heart to hide ourselves in His faithfulness we find His strength and comfort, for He empowers us to seize what has already been established ahead of time—an unshakable hope!
We have this sure and certain hope like a strong, unbreakable anchor holding our souls to God Himself, (Hebrews 6:18–19). The wilderness is an unpleasant place, fleshly speaking. We naturally want prosperity, health, and easy going. But the same God who created the garden also created the wilderness.
There will be times of trial and pressure. Our faith will be tested. But the God of grace will meet us even in the wilderness, for God is always asking for us to believe that He’s our healer and our redeemer, and that He’s awakening our heart during this difficult season to trust His love for us. May our heart be awakened!
Digging into God’s Word
Please consider the following meditation and questions…
As you think about the wonderings of the Israelites in the wilderness, and how it prepared them for the revival of entering into the Promised Land, perhaps you can use these following words as a meditation to commit to God your willingness to let Him teach you at all times, all places and in all situations. Think of them as God speaking directly to you….
“So stand firm in Me until I have become your confidence. Set your eyes upon Me, and don’t be worried about your future and your calling, for I am the God who begins and completes, the Alpha and the Omega. Lean into Me and lean into My Word and find all that you need. The rest I bring will be sweet to your soul. Let Me arrange your priorities and remove your distractions. Your true life is discovered when you lean into Me. Weakness disappears and worries vanish when you lean into Me. And I will cause My strength to overshadow you, and it will give you the courage and discipline to move ahead. I have purposes for you that embrace eternity, and I have now begun to hasten those purposes to completion. For I have chosen you before time began to live in the fullness of My Spirit.
“Surrender to Me this day and do not hinder My Spirit’s work to make you into the image of My Son, and you will see that I will perform miracles for you and in you. Amen!”
Copyright Candice Simmons
Digging deeper into God’s Word
- What is it that the Lord is doing in you right now?
- Are you anchored to hope of God, or hope of the world?
- How does this statement speak to you
The wilderness is simply a place in life that you don’t want to be. But it’s the place where the God of glory meets with the barren soul, showing us the deepest lessons of our life.
Jesus, the hope of all who trust you; the power of all who serve you; the wisdom of all who follow you; the one who unites all who worship you. Grant us your light as we enter into Lent.
Fill us with strength and boldness according to your promises, that we might reach our needy nation with your love, as we start to prepare for Easter. We humbly acknowledge our weakness and failure, but our eyes are fixed on you. Fulfil your purposes and plans that your name may be honoured in our land. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Father, thank you that in a world of despair, you are our Hope. In a world of darkness, you are our Light. In a world of sorrow, you are our joy.
Help us to share the Hope of our hearts with one another. Enable us to give Hope to others through Your work amongst us. Use us to transform our nation and to spread Your Hope to everyone in this nation. May our land flourish by the preaching of Your word and the praising of Your name. In Jesus Name, Amen.
Holy God, our only hope is in You. We thank you for the past, trust you for today and believe for the future; that all Your promises will come to pass so we can rest forever in Your love, Amen.
Adapted from Jane Holloway, World Prayer Centre