This Small Group aims to create a community where women can share their victories and their struggles, within any stage of their lives. However, today we want to talk about the times when you may not feel like either event is happening — nothing to celebrate, nothing to mourn, just a whole lot of nothing. For many Christians, this sense of being without can be scary and frustrating; we’re often told to expect mountaintops or valleys, but we’re rarely warned about that empty middle ground — the deserts.
Desert seasons happen in life, typically far more often than we wish. Like the geographic deserts, these spiritual seasons seem barren, isolated, and ongoing. Nothing apparently grows there, including your own spirit, even while those around you seem to be improving and maturing. It may seem like you can’t even think of anything to pray for, because nothing seems to be happening. While going through this barren area, it can feel as if you’re totally alone; you know God is still moving, but it seems like He’s only working with other people, not you. One of the mirages of this desert is how lonely you feel, because nobody warned you it was coming and nobody else seems to be lost and wandering aimlessly. As if this barrenness and loneliness weren’t enough, the desert seems to go on for the entire foreseeable future; you can’t quite tell when it started, but it feels like there’s no end in sight. If you recognize any of this, I want you to know — you’re not a bad Christian. You’re not alone. And you won’t be stuck in the wilderness forever!
I often feel that I’ve seen more deserts than mountaintops or valleys combined, to the point that I forget what those other places were like. At times like these, I remind myself of others who endured a desert season — one that lasted 40 years! The Israelites provide an excellent example of what not to do when you find yourself wandering in a wilderness for longer than you expected.
The Israelites infamously spent forty years wandering in the desert as they escaped slavery and sought the Promised Land. For generations, the Israelites had been enslaved by the Egyptians, finally led to freedom by Moses. They walked through the Red Sea, guarded by pillars of fire and smoke. They camped under tents, sustained by manna and quail and water that flowed from rocks. They witnessed miracles regularly, heard from God through the words of Moses, and knew exactly what they needed to do to receive God’s promises. God had promised that they’d soon arrive in a chosen land, if they would only follow His commandments, maintain their armies, and continue to seek God in their journey.
The Israelites knew where they were going, they knew a home was destined for them, and they knew God’s expectations. Yet they grew impatient and afraid when they found themselves in the desert. You see, Moses never warned the Israelites about the struggles of the desert, despite the fact that he had lived in one before. So the Israelites were unprepared, and their faith faltered when they realized they might be living in the desert for a while. Instead of trusting God’s promises and continuing their worship, they grew distracted, sought salvation from their own abilities, tried to hurry God’s timing. They complained, begged to return to their enslavers, and worshiped idols to false gods. And in so doing, the Israelites also cursed themselves, spending more years wandering the desert and preventing an entire generation from entering that Promised Land that God had waiting for them.
The Israelites weren’t the only people in the Bible to endure a season in the desert. In the New Testament, we see Jesus went through a similar experience. Knowing that he would have to endure the suffering of the cross, Jesus had gone to the barren wilderness to seek God in privacy. While isolated in the desert for forty days and nights, Jesus was approached by the devil, who tempted Jesus with hunger, immortality, and power. To each of the devil’s temptations, Jesus called upon biblical scripture, which we can use as our own guides when we find ourselves in the middle of the desert.
- Know God’s word — Mark 4:4, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” The Israelites also knew God’s word. They knew what was expected, and as long as they followed His guidance, they prospered. It was only when the Israelites forgot God’s directions that they found themselves lost in the wilderness.
- Trust God — Mark 4:7, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” The Israelites entered the desert while following God’s lead. They were saved from the Egyptians, led by fire and guarded by smoke, fed and nourished by miraculous means. They knew God had something better for them than the slavery they had suffered, but they doubted His goodness as soon as the journey became difficult. When they stopped trusting that God would care for them, the Israelites lost their access to the Promised Land.
- Worship God — Mark 4:10, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.'” The Israelites were commanded to worship God above all others, and they had the opportunity to be in His presence like few had experienced before or since. For as long as the Israelites focused on what God had done for them, as long as they followed His commands and sought Him first, God continued to guide them toward the Promised Land — even when they seemed to be circling mountains and trekking nowhere. Yet as soon as God seemed just a little more distant, the Israelites turned from worshiping Him alone, and instead created idols that they bowed down before.