A weekend in the Desert
We’ve been in the desert this weekend. The leaders of the different ministries that make up CMJ Israel were in Mizpe Ramon in the Negev Highlands for these few days to withdraw from the pressures of daily life, spend time together, and enjoy the presence of the Lord.
We had a great time!
David Pileggi, the rector of Christ Church Jerusalem, pointed out in a devotion that in scripture God draws, even forces his people into the desert. Using Jesus as the pattern, he noted that Mark’s Gospel says that Jesus was sent into the desert after his baptism to be tempted. There is an element of forcefulness there, and furthermore, it comes immediately after the high of his baptism and the Father’s affirmation of him (Mark 1: 10-13).
David drew attention to the scriptural pattern here. The ‘low’ of the desert follows the ‘high’ of victory, or blessing, or affirmation. The Israelites are thrust into the desert after the high of the first Passover, and the deliverance from Egypt; David is thrust into the desert to flee from Saul after he has been anointed by Samuel as the next king; and Elijah is thrust into the desert immediately after the great victory on Mount Carmel over the prophets of Baal.
God will sometimes thrust us, however unwillingly, into the desert, especially after a victory, or a great high moment. Why?
It seems to me that God always brings his people into the desert to speak to them, to get their attention, to minister to them. It’s part compassion, part discipline, and part revelation. Indeed, there is a clue in the name, for the Hebrew word for desert, מִדבָּר, has the same root as the word to speak, לְדַבֵּר, and word, דָבָר.
Take Elijah in 1 Kings 19. In the desert he realises that God is not in the box of his expectation; he’s not in the wind, or the earthquake or the fire, but in the silent sound of nothing.
The Israelites in Exodus have their inner duplicitousness revealed to them in the desert as they constantly whine about how good life was in Egypt; God reveals himself to them at Mt Sinai; and he makes them aware of their need of him.
And in his desert years of conflict with Saul, David learns to trust that God will fulfil his purposes for him, even though Saul continues to reign for years after David has been anointed king.
I suppose the great lesson of the desert, at least for me, is that it is never the destination. We were not destined to stay in the desert. No. Rather, it is an essential part of the journey. The Israelites had to go through the desert to reach the Promised Land. It was a necessary element in their passage from Egypt to the Land of Israel. But they got stuck there, they lost perspective there, because they thought that the desert was their destiny – and that generation never made it to the Promised Land.
The desert is about discipline. And the thing with discipline is always the same. Endure it, learn from it, and move on. Don’t dwell on it. Don’t wallow in it. It’s there for a purpose – to show how much the Father loves us, and to make us more like him, to ‘share in his holiness’ (Hebrews 12: 10). So learn from it as quickly as you can, and pass through the desert to enter into the Promised Land that he has for each one of us.