All born-again Christians will face wilderness times. It is not a matter of if, but a matter of how long and how often.
There are many reasons God leads us into the wilderness and many times He is the only one who knows why, or what it is, that each particular wilderness experience is aimed to bring to fruition within us.
Let us have a look at eight biblical purposes for our wilderness times.
1 To help us deal with our own sin:
Leviticus 23:17 asked the Israelites to add leaven to their offering bread for Pentecost: “You shall bring out of your homes two wave loaves of two-tenth parts. They shall be of fine flour. They shall be baked with leaven, firstfruits to Jehovah.”
Leaven (the yeast which makes the bread rise) represents sin. This representation is repeated in the New Testament when Jesus warns in Matthew 6:6 “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” and then repeats it in v11-12 “’How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” The teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees = the sin of the Pharisees and Sadducees, against whom Jesus was particularly vociferous, branding them as, hypocrites (Matthew 5:7, Luke 6:42, 13:15), a brood of vipers (Matthew 3:7, 12:34, 23:33), among other things.
What born again believers must recognise is that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit does not deal with all sin in our lives. We still need to work with the Holy Spirit and to repent and forgive those sins which He will reveal to us when we ask.
We can also see reflected in Leviticus 23:27 at the Day of Atonement, where God also dealt with the nature of sin – not the sin itself in this instance, but the nature of sin in our lives. What God did in the past is reasonable for us also to do, and coming to an understanding of our sinful nature, will help us deal with the sin in our lives, as well as fortify us in resisting all the temptations which the enemy lays before us. If we cannot recognise and understand our own sinful nature, we are less able to overcome our own proclivities to sin and we thus yielding more easily to temptation.
2 To help us be more fruitful:
For a Christian, one demonstration of our progress in our walk with God is the fruit we bear. This is borne out in the Galatians 5:16 where Paul says: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” In other words we will demonstrate the results of the Spirit, not the flesh. He then goes on to list the results of the desires of the flesh and in v22-23, the Fruit of the Spirit, saying “But the fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
Bearing this in mind, let us go back to the Old Testament and to the Song of Songs 3:6 where we read “Who is this coming up out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, from all the merchant’s powders?”
Here we have allusions to a couple of parts of the bible. First, “pillar of smoke,” here evokes the picture of Exodus 13:21 the way God led the Hebrews in the desert as He “went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the right away, and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light, to go by day and night.”
Second “myrrh and frankincense” recalls the birth of Jesus in Matthew 2:11 as the Wise Men came “into the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother. And they fell down and worshiped Him. And opening their treasures, they presented gifts to Him, gold and frankincense and myrrh.”
What do myrrh and frankincense represent? Looking at Song of Songs 13-15 we find a clue for interpretation: “Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; with henna and spikenard, spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices; a fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon.” Nine Plants which correspond with the nine Fruits of the Spirit:
From this, we see that Frankincense represents and symbolises Faith and Myrrh represents and symbolises Meekness. Thus in Song of Songs 3:6 we see the prophetic interpretation of God, Faith and Meekness which prefigured in the birth of Christ where God, Faith and Meekness are personified in one whole.
We are all called to be more like Christ, to be more Christ-like. Faith and Meekness are two characteristics which our desert times are intended to develop. When it does, the fruit will be recognisable in us and demonstrated for all to see.
3 To help our Spiritual Warfare capabilities:
As Song of Songs 3:8 says: “They all hold swords, instructed in war; each man has his sword on his thigh because of fear in the night.” Why is this important to us? For the Israelites in the desert, it was important that they learn the arts of war, so they could face and overcome he enemies which they must displace in the Promised Land. They also needed to fight to protect themselves in the desert before they got into the Promised Land. However, once they crossed the border the first thing God did with them was to bring them together as a unit and prepare them mentally and spiritually, for the battles which lay ahead. They had all been prepared physically for battle, but that we not what God now needed. They did not expect to simply walk into the Promised Land unopposed and take it over by default, for as the spies of Moses reported Numbers 13:33, “there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, of the giants. And we were in our own sight like grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.”
God does not send His soldiers, his own elect, out to fight an enemy untrained. The first training God gave His people after they crossed over the Jordan into the Promised Land, was obedience to Him; the second as dependence on Him. As we read in Joshua 5:2, immediately after the Israelites has crossed the Jordan into enemy territory, “Jehovah said to Joshua, Make sharp knives for yourselves and circumcise the sons of Israel again, the second time.” Thus all the adult men, all the fighting men of the Israelites were circumcised immediately upon entering the Promised Land. With their enemy before them and the Jordan River behind them, God had incapacitated His people, until they were healed. Next, they stopped to celebrate the Passover. Only then did God brought them to Jericho, where He required of them a spiritual strategy for victory, not a secular strategy. First obedience, then dependence.
As for the Israelites, so for us. Many Christians balk at this thought, that we are in a war, but this is what the Bible tells us. Second Corinthians 10:3-6 says “For though walking about in flesh, we do not war according to flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds, pulling down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought into the obedience of Christ; and having readiness to avenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.” These are the weapons, who are our enemy? Ephesians 6:12 tells us: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the world’s rulers, of the darkness of this age, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
What many Christians seem to fail to appreciate, is that when they are moving in the Spirit and in the ways of God, they become more and more a target for an enemy who wants them stopped, and will use any methods to achieve this. The more we do for God, the more we are effective for Him, the greater the resistance from evil becomes. The higher we move in the spiritual realm, the higher the levels of demons will be arrayed against us.
This is the meat of the Gospel and this is what our wilderness times will prepare us for.
4 To humble us and to prove us:
Deuteronomy 8:2 makes it very clear why the Israelites spent a protracted time in the desert as we read ”And you shall remember all the way which Jehovah your God led you these forty years in the wilderness in order to humble you, to prove you, to know what is in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.”
The word ’humble’ here means to be afflicted, to be oppressed, to be bowed down or humiliated or weakened with the intention of being more, or better totally, subservient to God. God wants to test us and see if we will be content with what He is going to give us, and that we will be happy to rely on Him and Him alone; or if we are still living in the flesh. Verse 19 adds to this saying He “fed you in the wilderness with manna which your fathers did not know, so that He might humble you and so that He might prove you, to do you good in your latter end.”
The word ’prove’ here means; to test; by implication to attempt: – adventure, to assay, to prove, to tempt, to try. The word assay, is used in testing of Gold and metals to prove their purity. It is not a case of us just being brought into a place of humility, but the Lord also wants clear indication on the quality of the work which He is producing in each of us. If we are not pure enough, there are limits as to how He can use us, for God does not want that we fail, but that we flourish and have bountiful results for Him.
5 To receive the treasures of the darkness:
Isaiah 45:3 says “I will give you the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that you may know that I am Jehovah, who calls you by your name, the God of Israel.” As deserts can be barren and dry, they can also be dark; yet in darkness, great treasures can be found.
Some treasures are found simply be turning on a light. Others require a different type of light to be seen. In the geology section of a museum one typically finds a darkened room lit only with ultraviolet light. Under this light, all the gems which look like nondescript rock fragments glow in bright iridescent colours. Just as ultraviolet light reveals the hidden things of the dark which our eyes can never see or recognise, so too does time spent with God, in darkness. There, He is able to reveal the secret things which are hidden from us, things to which we are otherwise blinded. Deuteronomy 29:29 also tells us that “the secret things belong to Jehovah our God, but the revealed things belong to us and to our sons forever, so that we may do all the words of this Law.” Such things, God will reveal as they are necessary for us to know, and when they are necessary for us to know. The Lord’s darkness ensures that the cares and worries of normal life are no longer a distraction for us, allowing us to concentrate on His truths, which otherwise, remain invisible and hidden.
Are such things really available to us? In Ezekiel 28:3 God tells Ezekiel “Behold, you are wiser than Daniel; all secret things are not hidden from you!” Daniel, in Daniel 22:2 prayed in thanks to God after he received the interpretation to King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream saying “He reveals the deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with Him.”
God has revealed in the past, He can and will reveal again, as we seek Him. We need to remember that the Bible is the true and living word of God and He will reveal its secrets to us, bit by bit, as we are able to deal with them. It is not just a case of asking for revelation, we need to go, or be taken, to a place where we are capable of seeing as we have never seen before, but we need to read and devour the Word. The reason for this is given by Jesus himself in Matthew 13:34 where it is written: “Jesus spoke all these things to the crowds in parables, and He did not speak to them without a parable, so that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.’” Jesus confirms here He is revealing these secrets, but under certain conditions, so that only certain hearers will understand.
6 To discover if we are indeed chosen:
Spiritually or in the flesh, a desert is a place for our testing and for our refining. As Jeremiah 2:6 says “Nor did they say, Where is Jehovah who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, who led us through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and of pits, through a land of dry places, and of the shadow of death, through a land that no man passed through, and where no man lived?” Isaiah 48:10 expands on this: “Behold, I have refined you, but not with silver; I have chosen you in the furnace of affliction.”
If we are not chosen, there is no need for testing or refining. If we are chosen, we need to be continually tested and refined, to be useful for God’s kingdom uses. The higher our calling, the higher will be the testing and proving levels we will encounter. The purposes of our testings and refining are not always clear to us. Take for example the appointment of a Pastor to a Church. There are three possible reasons for each appointment: a) for the primary benefit of the Pastor, b) for the primary benefit of the Church or c) for the benefit of both the Pastor and the Church. God has His purposes.
Finally, in conclusion to the topic of testing and proving let us look at First Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has taken you but what is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but with the temptation also will make a way to escape, so that you may be able to bear it.” Notice here that God says he “will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able” to bear. This does not mean and should not be construed to mean, that Christians will not suffer beyond that which they can bear. This view is untrue and is not supported either by the Bible or empirical data. When it comes to suffering, Christians can indeed suffer just as much as non-Christians.
The difference is, we know Jesus is there with us in our suffering. Amen and Amen.
The above is based around teachings from Dr. Brian J. Bailey’s book “The Journey – a quest for Christian Maturity