The Desert: A Place to Grow?

Wadi Rum Desert, Jordan ©2010-2012 David Sant, used by permission.

The sun beats down until the rocks are so hot you could literally fry an egg on them.  Finally the sun drops below the horizon and the temperature plummets to near freezing.  Winds whip across the parched landscape, blowing sand into your eyes, nose, and mouth.  There is little to no water and only the sturdiest, most efficient plants and animals survive here.

The desert is a wasteland.

Or is it?

Often Christians describe bad times in their spiritual lives as “desert times”: times of dryness, apathy, and seeming distance from God.  I believe there are actually two types of spiritual deserts: those God leads us into and those that we make for ourselves by losing fellowship with God.

Throughout the Bible, God led individuals into the desert and used that time to grow their faith.

Moses spent at least eighty years of his life in the desert.  During the first forty years, God was preparing him to lead the Israelites across a desert into the Promised Land.

John the Baptist grew up in the desert. (Lk. 1:80) Then God used him to prepare the way for Jesus.

Jesus fasted for forty days in a desert in preparation for His ministry.  The Bible tells us that He was led there by the Holy Spirit. (Lk. 4:1)

However my favorite Bible story about a desert concerns Philip.  Philip was a leader of the church in Jerusalem.  He had just participated in an amazing spiritual awakening in Samaria, preaching the Gospel and baptizing new believers.  He was seeing God work and getting to be a part of it.  It must have been like working at VOICE multiplied by about a thousand (and watching God work at VOICE is incredible!).

The next thing Philip knows, he’s sitting in Jerusalem and God is telling him to go to the Gaza desert.  There are no people in the desert.  If I had been in Philip’s shoes I would have been thinking, “Um, we are on a roll here, God.  Why on earth do you want me to go to this desert?  You aren’t making any sense!”

The next sentence simply says, “And he arose and went.”  Wow.  That’s faith.  That’s living like God is real and truly all-knowing.

Philip followed God to a seemingly barren place, but he was able to share the Gospel with a man from the court of the Queen of Ethiopia.  We can’t ever know how many Ethiopians believed on Christ just because Philip “arose and went” to the desert!  (Read Philip’s story for yourself in Acts 8:5-40 in Chinese or English.)

God can make good things happen even in the desert.  My question for all of us is, do we try to flee the spiritual desert too soon?  Of course it’s uncomfortable.  Of course it’s lonely.  However, maybe we seek escape when we should be seeking God.

Each of us will probably spend time in a spiritual desert.  Let’s be careful we are there because of God’s direction and not as a result of our own sin!  The Israelites disobeyed God and because of their sin they were forced to wander in a desert for 40 years.  If you take yourself into a desert by disobeying God and losing fellowship with Him – repent!  Don’t waste your life wandering in a spiritual desert of unbelief.

If God leads you into a desert, seek Him.  At the very least He wants to draw you closer and perhaps prepare you for something in the future.