They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

The Desert is God’s Teacher

Desert and Nile River

Desert and Nile River

When you stay in the desert for several days, as we did while on our recent trip to Egypt and the Sinai Desert, it leaves you with some distinct impressions. I want to write this little short faith lesson separately, because it applies to every desert lesson.

When you go to the desert, at least 2 things hit you quickly. As you step out of the green of the Nile and into the harshness of the desert, the contrast is overwhelming. You want to immediately turn back – the desert is not a place you really want to be. Also, as you get farther into it, you are overwhelmed by the fact that it is everywhere you look. It kind of smothers you, as it is everywhere you look and there is no relief in sight.

The faith lesson is this- we have left the impression, somehow, that when you join the Jesus movement, you get to stay in Egypt. Life is going to be okay, even better now that you are a Christ follower. In fact, if the biblical story is our example, just the opposite happens. We have to leave Egypt, and go to the desert!

We set people up for a faith crisis and a disaster, when we make following Christ like the Garden of Eden, instead of the desert. If we are supposed to be “looking good” and having it all together as Christians, then we have to fake it when the heat from the desert is killing you. We try to leave the impression that we never need help. We’re glad to give help, but we don’t want to ever show ourselves, where we’re actually in need ourselves. The desert puts you in the spot where you are forced to say, “I need help”.

Desert

Desert

When you think about the nation of Israel, its identity and character are formed from the wilderness. All the founding fathers were desert people, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, David, etc. They lived in and were shaped by their environment, the wilderness. God’s people understood the desert. So many biblical images come out of the desert. The desert becomes a picture of our walk through life. As we experientially walk out our life situations, we learn to trust God to take care of us. We have both big ” T” tests, and little “t” tests that are God’s teaching moments where he says “trust me.”. When the heat is intense and trying to consume us and we are wondering how much more we can take, these are the moments where we meet God. These teaching moments change us into people who know we can’t do it on our own strength, that we must have our daily sustenance from God.

You wish you could tell people that if they join the Christian movement that their problems would be less and less until we went to heaven, but that’s not going to happen. Until we go to heaven, the desert experiences are where God meets with us and gets to know us intimately. As we walk it out, we begin to know ourselves more intimately, also, and discover what’s in our heart.

“Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. 4 Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.”
Deuteronomy 8:2-5

Who gets the credit?

A rabbi once said the resume of a follower of God should be very short.

While we were in Egypt, we saw picture after picture that told the common people that Pharaoh was responsible for the good things that happened in life.  He made the Nile flood, he provided the good crops, he handed out justice to Egypt’s enemies; he alone was in charge.

When God led the Israelites in the desert, He was in charge.  They had to count on Him for direction, for food and water, and for protection against their enemies.  After He took care of them and led them through the wilderness and took them to the Promised Land, He had trouble with them trying to do it on their own again.  Read Deuteronomy 8:17 and 18:

You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.”  But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.

When you go to the Promised Land do you still give God credit for what happens or is it by your strength and your power that good things happen.

“I got a job.”

“I was sick, but I got well.”

“I got straight A’s this semester.”

These are all typical statements we make without thinking of the source of all our blessings.  It is easy to count on God when you’re in the desert and you can’t begin to do it yourself, but when things go smoothly it doesn’t take us long to try to handle it ourselves and take the credit.

How Strong is the Culture’s Hold on You (Me?)

As we studied the Exodus and applied the parallels to our life here in America, I have to ask myself – at what point am I willing to let go?  It took 10 plagues and miracles just to get them started on the journey, including seeing the firstborn of every Egyptian killed.  And it took them till the Red Sea incident to get them to trust completely.

Why would the Israelites need 40 years in the desert?  Because Egypt had such an incredible hold on them!  It took that long just to get Egypt (the world) out of them.

On a personal basis, each one of use has to renounce Egypt and embrace the wilderness.  Each one of us has to have an Exodus experience, where we leave Egypt behind and trust God to lead you through the wilderness, through the unknown.  Until you get to that place in life you are still in the land of bondage.  We live in Egypt, but we can’t let Egypt live in us!  The only reason God leaves us in Egypt is because He loves the Egyptians – like Moses, we are to be “like God” (Ex 7:1b) to them.  But, we are not to be like them.

The desert is a place of curse in one way because there are snakes, scorpions, heat, and no rain – it not necessarily a place we would choose to be on our own.  But the desert is also a place of blessing beyond all places because that’s where God is, and that is where he meets with us.  He has our attention in the desert.