Introduction – I had just started working and was looking forward to building a career in the secular world. I was 24 at that time. About a year into my job, I started developing a pain at the back of my left leg, which kept getting progressively worse. Pain killers helped to take the pain away, but once they were stopped, the pain came back with greater discomfort. Eventually, my parents had me examined by a Surgeon. After checking me out, he asked me to be warded in hospital immediately since I had a problem on my spine.
Thus began a very distressing period of my life.
As God’s children, sometimes He permits us to go through what I would like to call ‘Wilderness Experiences’. These are places where it seems that God is far away, our problems are overcoming us and where our prayers don’t seem to go further than the ceiling. In fact, it seems like they hit the ceiling and come back down again!
Proposition – God will always be with us in the wilderness experiences.
The question is how should we, as God’s children, respond, when we start to wander in the wilderness?
I would like to suggest 5 thoughts through this sermon, on the manner in which we should respond in these challenging periods of our life.
1. Accept that God is with you in the wilderness
In Numbers 10:11-13, it says that God led the people into the desert of Paran. Yes, God led them. The word ‘Paran’ means beauty and it is important to understand that God wants to do something beautiful in us, in the wilderness. He doesn’t permit us to go through the wilderness and leave us there by ourselves. Therefore, we should not back away from the desert.
An encouraging quote says, ‘If God brought us to it, He will take us through it’!
Everyone likes the mountain-top experiences like Peter, James and John in Luke 9: 28-36. Yet, just ahead of them was a serious demonic battle (Luke 9:37-43)! For godly character and faith to be built, we need the valley moments as well. Recently I asked the congregation whether God’s presence has been more intimate to them in the mountain-top or the wilderness experiences. They responded unanimously that it was in the latter! Why? Because it is in the wilderness that we find out that God knows us by name, that he takes our pain, and that He is faithful!
A preacher once said, how can we experience healing, if we don’t battle sickness? How can we find God’s provision, if we don’t have a need? Let us not forget that it was in the middle of a rough and bleak desert that God made the fantastic promise, “I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you” (Exodus 15:26)! Therefore, accept that God is with you in the midst of the pain or loneliness in the wilderness, and that He knows what He’s doing.
‘It is doubtful if God can bless a man greatly, unless he has been hurt deeply’. (Tozer)
Illustration – Coming back to my story, after being warded in the hospital, I was disturbed, angry and questioning God. I had bad pain and much discomfort too as they had tied sandbags to my legs. It was one of the darkest periods of my life. People warned me that I could have serious medical consequences unless I got the problem sorted out. I struggled to pray and trust God, but eventually, the Holy Spirit touched me deeply and I began to accept that God was with me in the trial. He is with you too!
2. Don’t complain in the wilderness
It’s amazing that Israel could see all the awesome miracles God performed in Egypt and still keep grumbling! It seemed like grumbling was their national pastime! (Refer Numbers 11:1 and Exodus 16:11) They grumbled through 40 years of wandering. They grumbled about bread, meat, water and so many other things. God provided bread from heaven, meat from the skies and water fountains from rocks (Nehemiah 9:15), but they still grumbled! Their clothes didn’t wear out, their feet didn’t swell (Nehemiah 9:21), yet they grumbled!
Like Jacob, could we see instead see God’s presence right where we are (Genesis 28:16)?
In my physical trial, God helped me to move from grumbling to praise. What a difference it made! All of a sudden, I was seeing more of Him, than of my ailment.
Illustration – I am always encouraged by the testimony of hymn writer Fanny Crosby. She never allowed her blindness, (due to a Doctor’s fault), to create a spirit of discontent in her. I once read that she apparently had said, ’to complain…, I cannot and I won’t’. Her songs spoke about ‘visions of rapture’, ‘echoes of mercy’ and ‘whispers of love’ (refer the hymn ‘Blessed Assurance”).
3. Depend on God’s grace through the wilderness
He never expected us to fight our battles alone. That’s why He says, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
When the Apostle Paul battled his ‘thorn in the flesh’ he prayed that God would remove it. God’s response to Paul is seen in 2 Corinthians 12:9 where He says, “My grace is sufficient for you”. That means that God’s grace will carry us through the hard paths. Circumstances around us may be painful, but He will walk the painful paths with us (Exodus 14:13, Isaiah 43:2). A quote says, ‘If God takes us on stony paths, He will fix us with strong shoes’
Are you in need of added grace today? Do you feel you can’t see Him clearly? Call upon the name of Jesus and experience the great strength He can give. His eye is always upon you.
My story – In the painful and anxious days I spent in the hospital, 25 in all, it was nothing but the grace of God that carried me through. Every day was a challenge because I couldn’t get off the bed even for a moment, but God proved that His grace was sufficient. That grace was sufficient even when the Doctors told me after 25 days that the only remedy available was spinal surgery. That was it!
4. Follow the cloud in the wilderness
The cloud signifies God’s guidance and His presence (Exodus 16:10).
Numbers 9:17 shows us that Israel set out when the cloud lifted and encamped where the cloud stopped. They were secure as long as they followed the cloud, which gave God’s guidance.
In the wilderness, it is vitally important that we lean upon God’s guidance above all else. We shouldn’t be looking for quick answers or unspiritual counsel. ‘If God bolts a door, don’t try to jump in through a window’! We should allow the voice of God to speak. Talking to Influential Pastors or Leadership Consultants is good, but God’s leading should be the ultimate voice we listen to.
Another valuable lesson I have learned is to never take important and life-changing decisions when in a state of confusion. Wait upon the Lord until He speaks (Isaiah48:17)!
My story – When I was informed that the only remedy for my problem was spinal surgery, God clearly showed me that I should leave the hospital and trust Him for healing. I am not at all against surgery in any way and have personally been through surgeries. But, in this instance, God’s voice was very clear and I obeyed, much to the annoyance of my parents. Some of the patients even laughed at my decision because they knew that I was trusting God for healing. It was definitely not an easy decision!
When God guides, we should move. For, ‘When He guides He provides’.
5. Look for blessing beyond the wilderness
If God has given you a vision, a promise or a prophetic word, never lose sight of what He has spoken. Look through the wilderness for the Promised Land. That was Israel’s final destination; not the wilderness! Joshua and Caleb saw the Promised Land and believed for it, while the others could only see the dangers and the giants (Numbers 13:26-33).
Are you ready to enter the Promised Land? Can we stop complaining and trust His grace and guidance in the wilderness?
Quote – ‘The heroes of history have not emerged from the brilliantly-lit hallways of luxury and self-indulgence, but from the darkened byways of suffering’.
My story – Following God’s direction, I left the hospital and received some treatment. Today, many, many years later, I still haven’t had surgery on my spine. I have lived a life blessed by the Lord, with no serious physical hindrances. God is so good!
Closing – I would like to close with some lyrics from a well- loved Gospel song.
By a pathway, in the wilderness He leads me,
Rivers in the desert will I see,
God will make a way, Where there seems to be no name,
He works in ways we cannot see, He will make a way for me.
God bless you in and through the wilderness!!