Don’t we all go through The Desert Experience in life? I believe every individual I encounter in counselling is going through this tough and trying time in their lives. They are stressed out and even probably dwelling in hopelessness. Most are pushed to their limits that they come to the point where they think that God has completely abandoned them. If this is you, you are going through an archetypal phenomenon identified in The Bible as The Desert Experience.
I will discuss what we can learn from God’s word on how to prepare for it and of course, how to conquer it. For our use today, we shall refer to the 2 primal events in Biblical history that literally defined the Desert Experience: Israel’s 40 years of wandering in the desert and Jesus Christ’s 40 days of temptation. Between the 2 references, one of them failed miserably, giving us clear pictures on what to avoid; the other, The Lord Jesus Christ, will teach us how to properly handle it.
Israel’s 40 year journey
It all began from the lack of faith and this lack of faith cost Israel the next 40 years of their lives. Mumbling grumbling people, who complained daily to Moses and to God, they rejected God’s word and promises telling them to claim their land of milk and honey. God then honoured their beliefs (that they cannot take the land) and made them wait for 40 years. These were tough times in the dessert and there were instances where the people of Israel actually believed that God brought them out there to die.
Besides their unbelief, there was a point documented where the people wanted to go back to Egypt’s slavery. This is one of the main dangers of the desert experience: It will really tempt you to go back where you come from. It is terrible news in counselling as our focus is in development towards healthy goals and not the regression to one’s old shell. Like the Israelite, people who were heavily stressed in the present will seek comfort from the past.
The last major effect of the Desert Experience and probably the worst is when we replace our hopes from God with others. Israel created a golden calf to make sense of their reality and to de-stress. In modern days, we turn to the common addictions: drugs, abuse of sex, etc.; the very tools use by the world to tear our relationship with God apart.
The more we try to cope with the desert, we find ourselves deeper into it. The more the Israelite attempted to “cope” in the desert using man’s way, the more they made God angry. So, how can the modern Christian go through The Desert and emerge victorious. Simple, we listen to The One who made it through masterfully.
The Temptation of Jesus Christ
So how did Jesus Christ end up in the Desert? As the Israelite fumbled repeatedly for 40 years, Jesus Christ, being our leader and high priest, had to go back to the same test and finish where man failed. Call it another form of Divine Exchange as Jesus Christ once again had to pay for man’s failures.
Lessons from Jesus Christ were straight forward as He presented 3 key Bible verses. All of them were designed to reverse what Israel (man) failed on in the first Desert Experience.
Lesson #1: Read God’s Word
‘Man shall not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’
-Matthew 4:4, Deuteronomy 8:3
When man forgot all about God’s love and mercy, they resorted to complaining and murmuring for 40 years. Jesus Christ instructed us to go back to God’s word. During our desert trials, the voice of the world will be louder and there is this danger that we may end up believing the world more than God. We may hear ideas telling us that everything we know about God’s love is a lie: that at this very moment God has actually abandoned us. Our main defense for this is to go back to God’s word and remind ourselves that God is in control and that He has not forgotten about us. God did not save us so that He can watch us suffer. It is just purely illogical, even for man, that God will give up His Son just so we can die.
Lesson #2: Believe God’s Word
‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’
-Matthew 4:7, Deuteronomy 6:16
During the Desert Experience our faith will waiver and like most of the time, we will be tempted to “go back to Egypt”. The Lord Jesus is telling us to simply believe in Him and not to test Him or His Word. He already said that He will save us and that He promised us the abundant life through Christ. Let us not challenge God’s righteousness by looking back or even going back to the unhealthy past. So, combining the 2 lessons presented: we are here to read God’s word and digest God’s promises. Hold on to it and do not waiver.
Lesson #3: Worship God
‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’
-Matthew 4:10, Deuteronomy 6:13
Besides putting our trust in worldly escapes, Jesus is telling us to simply raise our hands to God and worship Him. Sounds difficult during times of trial but this is exactly what king David did. During times of severe stress (impending doom from surrounding armies and enemies), David, like Joshua and king Jehoshaphat just knelt down and worshipped God. Much good that did to them as God crushed their enemies before their very eyes. Once we lift our hands and worship God, the devil leaves and the angels come to aid us (Matthew 4:11).
This will prepare you in conquering your Desert Experience. 3 simple lessons were designed to make man (who always fail) sit behind and use their faith to trust God do His work without interruption.
As far as our desert experience last, The Lord Jesus Christ showed that the battle is spiritual in nature. Desert Experiences started from our lack of faith and it is therefore the exercise of faith that will get us out of it. The main point is to keep our relationship with God guarded, to focus on His words, believe His words, and to worship Him. This worked for Jesus Christ, it has worked for me and my clients, and it will work for you.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.