After a person truly turns to Christ and receives the assurance of God’s forgiveness for their past sins, there is usually a short period of joy and blessing where everything seems so wonderful and new! During this period answers to prayer come easily, and God seems to give lots of favor. This may be compared to the joy that the Israelites had in leaving Egypt to head for the Promised Land. The Egyptians gave them all the gold and silver they asked for, they had been spared the judgments that came on those Egyptians such as the death of the firstborn, and they were finally free from their slavery! Hallelujah!
Yet experience and the Scriptures teach us that after this short period of joy and blessing we will eventually enter a dry wilderness. This is not to say that we will be dry spiritually. It is God’s will for us to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit from day one (Ephesians 5:18), and God does not withhold the Holy Spirit to those who obey Him. The Holy Spirit is the one who encourages us in good times as well as tough times. We need Him. Yet it is possible even to be full of the Holy Spirit, and go through a wilderness experience in which there is almost nothing in your circumstances to encourage you. You may be just surviving from day to day financially or materially. You may be waiting for your healing to manifest. It is all totally unpleasant for your flesh. Instead of prosperity there will be trials and pressure. Your peace will be assaulted by all kinds of negative emotions and thoughts, which you will need to resist. It’s a test, but God has promised that you will never be tempted beyond your ability to endure, with with each temptation He will also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
During the wilderness experience of the Israelites, there were periods where they got hungry, other times when they got thirsty. At times like this, instead of remembering God’s great and mighty works from the past, and trusting Him, the Israelites frequently complained against Moses and against God. At times they spoke of going back to Egypt. They remembered the food they enjoyed there, and seemed to have forgotten what it was like to be slaves under cruel taskmasters. They just wanted to go back to Egypt. Egypt in the Bible is a type or symbol of Satan’s world system. Their attitude mirrors the attitude of those Christians who, after a difficult season in the wilderness, despise God and his promises and want to return to the world and its pleasures.
During your wilderness experience, the familiar comforts of the world will not be there for you. You have to learn to depend on God for all you need materially, emotionally, physically as well as spiritually. The temptation will be to backslide in your heart and return to find your life in the world system, thereby rejecting Christ. Many do this in their hearts well before they forsake church fellowship and get involved again in open, wilful sin. God warns us against having an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God. If indeed we do believe God, we know He will come through for us if we keep thanking Him. We trust that the wilderness time is only temporary, however tough it may seem.
Our Lord Jesus Christ also went through a wilderness experience, and He showed us how to pass through it successfully. After his baptism, and His anointing with the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures say He was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tempted for forty days by the devil. And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry” (Luke 4:1,2). There was nothing in that wilderness naturally speaking to comfort the Lord. Jesus Himself had to pass through the wilderness experience before He could be used by God to bring salvation, healing and deliverance to anyone. In verse 14, just after this time in the wilderness, it says, “Jesus returned in the power of the Holy Spirit to Galilee.” Jesus is our model in these things. If we want the power of the Holy Spirit, not just the fullness, we have to pass the tests in the wilderness. Jesus did it by speaking the Word of God and ignoring the cravings of his body for food for a period of time. The same methods will work for any one of us. Christ now lives in us to make this approach a possibility for us. The Lord is the strength of our life! (Isaiah 12:2; Psalm 27:1)
Anyone who has gotten anywhere in God has gone through at least one wilderness experience. The Israelites leaving Egypt were no exception. It is normal to go through more than one such experience in your life. Wildernesses can be seasons aside with God to learn from God where there is no option to be very productive outwardly. There is almost always a period of waiting between the time you receive a promise of God in your heart, and the time of its fulfillment. Do not be surprised when this happens! There are many examples in the Bible to show us that this is the way God deals with His people. So take heart – if this is happening to you right now, it shows you are on track with God. He hasn’t given up on you. He is forming you to be the kind of person who can overcome giants through faith in God, and enjoy blessings far greater than you could otherwise ever know in the world. But before you get there, you will be tested, often severely. See each trial as an opportunity to be promoted to better things in God. Its more painful to fail God’s tests than it is to pass them. If you fail, He will lovingly bring you round again to face exactly the same test again and again until you learn to pass.
The length of time of a wilderness experience can vary from 40 days to 40 years. I believe our responses to God’s dealings will determine how quickly we get out of the wilderness phase of our lives and into the “abundant fruitfulness” phase. The Israelites could have been out of the wilderness in 2 years if they had believed God’s promises to them at the time the spies returned from Kadesh Barnea.
God will not forsake his principles in this matter for anybody. He does not play favorites, but rather, treats us according to what is in our hearts. The tests and trials are not necessary for God to know what is in our hearts, but rather for US to know. If there are problems in our attitudes, they will come out when we are squeezed or under pressure. If you want to find out what a container of toothpaste is full of, squeeze it and you will find out. When God squeezes us and puts us under pressure, we find out whether our hearts are full of faith or whether some negative attitude is lurking there.
This is why we would do well to really guard our hearts. What we allow and what we plant in our hearts determines to a large extent what God will arrange for us to deal with in life. This is an important fact from the Scripture in Proverbs quoted below.
Proverbs 4:23 “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”
Those who meditate on the Word are preparing themselves for God’s blessings. Those who tolerate sin are preparing themselves for painful dealings and possible disaster. Everything will go through God’s fire, but the results of the fire depend on the type of heart we have.
When you think about it, God owes us nothing. If we have anything good, we should give thanks to God. Even if all our bodily desires are not satisfied, we should thank God for what we have. The goal of life is not to pander to bodily desires. The goal of life is to be like God, like Jesus, and do things that please Him out of love because He first loved us. God talks about us being predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. Many years I decided to accept this plan rather than continually fighting it. The world needs more people like Jesus. It certainly does not need more people full of selfish ambition as I was before I turned to the Lord.
So make it your aim to please the Lord, even when you are sorely tempted to grumble and complain about things, and God will see your faith and patience and move you onto better things. The wilderness is only meant to be for a season, to make you a better perosn. But if you do grumble and complain, be prepared to take another lap around Mount Sinai. Be prepared to spend years in the wilderness. Its sad, but there are so many Christians who never come into a mature attitude of faith, trust and thanksgiving so that God can manifest in their lives so many of the outstanding promises found in His Word for those who believe.
One of the first things God did with the Israelites after their baptism in the Red Sea and the cloud (which symbolise baptism in water and the Holy Spirit), was to teach them the law and have a tabernacle set up for divine worship. If you don’t learn to thank, praise, worship and honor God in the wilderness, God knows you are not ready for prosperity, abundance and blessing. Its easy to think when life and business are going well that it was your own cleverness that brought you into these blessings, and become proud and arrogant, forgetting the Lord. But it wasn’t your cleverness or hard work ultimately that gave you good things – it was the Lord. He is the one who gives people power to get wealth. He gave us our brains, our bodies, our capacities. Who are we to boast as if we made ourselves, or gave ourselves the good things we have? There are people who have plenty of natural abilities but still don’t enjoy success. We should learn right attitudes so that God will be pleased to lift us up and empower us at the right time (when we can be trusted).
It only took one or two generations for the children of Israel to become unfaithful to God after they had entered the Promised Land. This is why every bit of training and formation we go through in the wilderness is more precious than gold. In our case, it is preparing us for eternal positions and blessings which we can hardly conceive of now. So the encouragement is “Don’t lose heart”. “Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9).
Its a law of life that anything worthwhile requires some patience and endurance.
Complaining in the Wilderness
Another thing the Israelites kept saying which angered God was, “Did God bring us out here into the wilderness to kill us?” In one sense God did want to kill them – he wanted to kill their old identity as slaves in Egypt. It was easier for God to get the people out of Egypt than it was for Him to get ‘Egypt’ out of the people. During the whole time there were undercurrents of unfaithfulness against God. The Scripture even says in Acts 7 that the Israelites had idol gods with them during their wilderness time. God wanted to purify their hearts, so He could be their God and they His people. But the people constantly suggested that God’s intentions towards them were basically evil, and that he brought them out into the wilderness to kill them.
They said this so often that in the end, after repeatedly testing the Lord and doubting His Word, God decreed that they WOULD die in the wilderness. Only their children who were under 20 at the time would make it into the Promised Land. The exceptions to this were Joshua and Caleb, who had a different attitude, and believed God. The whole company of Israel could have entered the Promised Land 2 years after leaving Egypt, or maybe sooner, had they believed God’s promise and not the evil report of the 10 spies who did not believe that God would give them victory against the giants in the land.
People often get what they say (Proverbs 6:2; Mark 11:23). If you confess that God wants to curse you, you will be cursed. If despite your trying circumstances, you continue to believe and confess the promises of the Word of God for your life you are sowing seeds for a great harvest of blessing. If you believe in God’s faithfulness and mercy, and desire to please Him, you WILL come into better things. There are so many examples in the Old Testament which illustrate this principle. Consider Abraham, who had to wait many years for the son of promise. God tested Abraham’s faith and obedience to the hilt, but Abraham came through, and the result was he founded a dynasty of faith. Through Abraham all the nations of the earth have now been blessed. In the same way, your own faith is a foundation upon which many blessings will flow to others. God is testing that foundation. Real faith will pass the test.
Our complaining is particularly obnoxious to God. When we complain we are saying that God is not doing us right, that God is not fair, or just. Complaining against God or God’s appointed leadership will bring judgment, not blessing. It is in our fallen nature to want to be greater than we are, or to arrive at our destination before we are ready but we must trust the Lord to put us in our right place at the right time.
Consider the words coming out of your mouth. Though you may praise the Lord during a worship service, following the words projected on the screen of your church building, are your words in everyday life reflecting an attitude of thanksgiving, trust and appreciation towards God? If not, there is something of impatience and unbelief still lurking in you, and God will be faithful to deal with it.
How To Get Out of the Wilderness Quicker
I believe that faith and patience will get us out of the wilderness as quickly as possible. Its better to endure pain if necessary now than to go on suffering frustration for a lifetime until you learn the lesson and pass the test that God is putting before you now. At the same time, learn the power of speaking out God’s Word. God’s Words formed the Universe. When you speak God’s Word out in the name of Jesus, you are releasing great spiritual power. Stick by your guns and the devil will be forced to flee. You will have a strong foundation in your life for future blessings. Your faith will grow, and it will stand the tests. Every revelation in the Word of God has value and potential to enhance your success. Give God the maximum opportunity to reap a huge return on His investment in you, and you too will be delighted with the results. God made us to worship Him. Your wilderness period is an opportunity to get to know God intimately, and experience his works in your life and your heart. Don’t waste these opportunities. When you get out of the wilderness you may be busier fighting giants than you want to be. You will appreciate the times you had getting to know God. And you will have a foundation of discipline and training so you won’t run into apostacy after idols as soon as God starts pouring out material blessing upon you. Rather you will seek to use those resources for God’s great end time harvest of souls which is being gathered in these last days. In that way, your life will have great eternal impact and you will shine like the stars in heaven for all eternity (Daniel 12:3). So don’t give up in the midst of trials. It is necessary that you pass through seasons of trials, but God is there for you to strengthen you and hold you up.
May God richly bless you.