David marched through arid deserts filled with enemies for years before Saul passed and David became king. The Israelites trekked as a nation across the desert for 40 years before arriving at the promised land. Joseph served years in prison before being promoted to Pharaoh’s right hand. Jesus fasted 40 days in the wilderness before he assumed His ministry. It seems throughout the Bible that before every great promotion by God, there is… a desert.
“He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand, and if only the will to walk is really there is He pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. [The demonic] cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do [God’s] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.” –The Screwtape Letters
This is by God’s design. A desert is a place of testing, of growth, and a building of trust between man and God. All of which must happen before any promotion by God.
Not every desert is the same for everyone, they may vary in duration, intensity, nature, or destination, but they all seem to exhibit like characteristics.
We know that the ancient Israelites ate manna every day during their exodus, a substance that met their basic needs and no more. Jesus didn’t eat at all. The Israelites had left their homes behind and barely had shelter, with constant labor day-in and day-out to function. Jesus was purposely devoid of commanding authority over Satan and was left to be tempted by him face to face every day. It’s also important to realize that the Israelites didn’t even know what they were looking for during their exodus. They had never seen a promised land before. They had no idea what to expect. All they had was God’s silent pillar of cloud leading them only to the next waypoint. While you’re in a desert, you can’t see the destination no matter how bad you want to.
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So a desert can usually be summarized by these characteristics: there is an apparent lack in a certain area, a seeming endlessness with no traction being made, no long-term direction or any vision of the finish line, a felt distance from God, needs to be met only at their most basic level, temptation to quit or go astray, and a deep desire for an end goal that is in a higher place of promotion in God’s realm in comparison to the state before the desert even appeared.
A desert need not be physical.
In God’s development and promotion of us, it’s usually something not seen. And, like the ancient Israelites, it’s how we perform in that desert that determines how long we stay in it.
Matt 11:23 “and does not doubt in their heart but believes what they say will happen, it will be done for them.”
Romans 5:3 “We also glory in our sufferings, because suffering produces perseverance.”
Romans 12:12 “Be patient in your affliction.”
1 Cor 10:10 “Do not grumble, as some of them did, and were killed by the destroying angel.”
James 1:2 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you meet trials.”
Hebrews 11:6 “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.”
James 1:12 “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation.”
James 1:20 “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
When we find ourselves in a desert, we can combine the above passages and develop some guidance on how to be successful in it.
#1. Be glad!
For a desert means God is testing and preparing you for promotion and an answer to your heart’s cry, or fulfillment of His word over you.
#2. Give thanks
for even the basic needs God is meeting and be consistently entering His courts with praise. Paul continued to praise God even as he stood in his own waste, shackled in prison. Don’t complain, for God hates complaining. The fact that he sent a specialist angel against complainers in the Exodus shows that the desert you’re in will become much harsher if you allow yourself to complain.
#3. Be passionately persevering.
Resist the temptation to “shortcut” your desert trek through your own manipulations or to make the result happen on your own. Also, resist the temptations to deviate from Holiness due to God’s apparent absence or because you “need a break” from the difficulties of the trial. Be firmly unmoved in your intention of Holiness before God and following His commands.
#4. Start emulating
the conditions of your promised land now, in faith. Praise the Lord as if you’ve already received it. Even though the blessing hasn’t arrived yet, start behaving as you would when it does. Even in the secular world, there is the phrase “Dress for the job you want, not the one you have.”
A desert is a harsh place that swallows up many.
Some fall because they take the experience lightly and go astray. Others are not mentally prepared. Some because they decide it’s too difficult and doesn’t want to believe God’s in control. Some are lost because they don’t even realize they’ve entered a desert. They never come to terms with the fact.
But the desert is also a place where leaders are forged. Men and women who persevere as the sand slowly erodes impurities and false motives that keep them from the higher places of authority and influence in God’s Kingdom. The desert is a refining arena. It measures the true depth of your desire for promotion. It separates those who lack the spiritual drive from those who have come to the place of steadfast intentionality in their focus and expectation on God’s final destination.