‘A voice of one calling:
“In the desert prepare the way for the Lord;
Make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
Every mountain and hill made low;
The rough ground shall become level,
The ragged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
And all mankind together will see it.”’
Isaiah 40: 3-5
Almost a year ago I wrote about our Perspective in “Wilderness Moments” (Wonder in the Wilderness). This morning the Holy Spirit spoke about the Purpose of Wilderness Moments…
The Wilderness or Desert – in a spiritual sense – is a Place of Preparation. We see this most clearly in Jesus’ going willingly into the desert to be tested before he began his ministry (Matthew 4). What’s interesting is that it is the Holy Spirit who leads Jesus into the desert to be tested by the devil. God uses these moments to test our hearts. Jesus had to be tested and found Pure before he could be fully released into his earthly mission. Having passed the test, he was immediately released. We should probably take note of that: discern the test, pass it in the strength and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and know release is on its way! That seems pretty simple, but I think too often we take the approach of the Israelites leaving Egypt and wander about for what seems like 40 years, going around in circles… because they hardened their hearts (Hebrews 3:15-19) and clung to “stuff” – even creating idols – they could not enter God’s Rest and were forced to wander about in the desert. I sometimes wonder if they had just submitted, softened their hearts and turned to God, would they have made the trip in the 3 days it should have taken. But they didn’t; they were so focussed on the hardships of the desert and moving their “stuff”, that they lost sight of God’s Promise – that this journey was a momentary Preparation for the Promised Land.
We do that. We lose sight of God and his Promises of Rest. We become focussed on all the “stuff” cluttering our lives, creating idols in many forms that distract us from God’s Purposes. Looking at the two examples of deserts being a Place of Preparation, I have noticed these differences: Jesus did not take anything with him into the desert, besides the Holy Spirit who was doing the leading. The Israelites took everything they could carry. Jesus chose to submit and spend the time fasting. The Israelites hardened their hearts and constantly complained about the lack or quality of the food. Jesus passed the test and was released. The Israelites mainly died (Moses included), never seeing the Promised Land.
Lesson #1: The desert is a tough place, carry as little as possible with you – it will only weigh you down. Even the smallest thing becomes heavy, the longer you carry it around… let it go before it becomes an idol.
What we carry around with us is often a reflection of our heart; that which we cling to and cannot give over to God, is more than likely that which may become an idol in our life. Rather submit it, than have God put it to death on your behalf. God is a Holy God; He does not suffer rivals.
Lesson #2: The desert is a place with few obvious landmarks; it’s easy to get lost. We have such a limited perspective and without a map, it’s fairly likely we will make a wrong turn and end up lost. God’s perspective on the desert is vastly superior to ours; he knows the Plan and the Purpose. It is better to turn our hearts to him in submission, seeking his guidance and wisdom, than thinking we can do this on our own. We can’t. It’s that simple. Jesus’ example is perfect: he obeys the Holy Spirit’s leading and submits himself to God, seeking him through prayer and fasting. He knew that whatever testing was coming, he had to be fully dependant on God and not rely on his own flesh. Laying aside earthly concerns, he focussed on God and seeking only Him. His heart was softened towards the Father, and consequently faced the devil submitted fully to the Father – walking in the Father’s Authority and not his own. In the desert, we need to seek and trust the Father.
Having understood the Purposes of the Wilderness-Desert; we can then begin to understand it as a Place of Preparation (and not a Place of Punishment!). It is while we are in the desert, that we are called to make a way for the Lord; while in the wilderness that a highway is made straight. The Lord uses the desert as a Place of Preparation for his glorious coming. During this time of Preparation, we are meant to see mountains (obstacles, challenges, insurmountable oppositions) be flattened before us, valleys (heartaches, hurts and disappointments) raised up through healing. All of this is dependent on our hearts; do we receive this Place of Preparation with eagerness and a willingness to see God do something extraordinary in our hearts, whether healing, pruning, renewing… or do we harden our hearts to the Will of God and refuse to seek Him in this Place?
The Wilderness is not a Place of Punishment or a season of God hiding himself; He is very Present in that Place of Preparation – preparing you to be ready for the glorious wonder that is his Presence in the Promised Land, filled with his Rest. If you find yourself wandering around in the desert, my prayer for you is that you stop right where you are and seek God’s face. Soften your heart to him, submit yourself to what he is doing and allow him to prepare you … I have learnt the hard way: when God is doing open heart surgery on you, it’s far less painful if you just lie really still and let him do his thing! And above all, know the certainty of his promise: He will never leave you nor forsake you…