Summary: The fourth message in our "Hearing God" series
Hearing God Session 4
Purpose in Pain - Hearing in the Wilderness
It's only natural, considering the geography of the Middle East, that many of the Old Testament Scriptures, especially when dealing with the Prophets, refer to the desert.
In Hosea, God (speaking of Israel) says, “I am going to allure her and bring her into the desert, and I will speak tenderly to her.” Hosea 2:14
Ezekiel goes back to the days of Egypt, remembering when God “brought them into the wilderness” Ezekiel 20:10
I believe you can make a very strong biblical case that the desert is significant, because we see God repeatedly drawing his people into desolate, barren, difficult places.
In fact, in the days immediately preceding His earthly ministry, even Jesus went into the wilderness. You might remember He was there for forty days, alone with His Father and He added, not only to His ability to hear God, but as part of that process, His own discomfort and dislocation by fasting.
This idea of hearing God in barren places, the desert, the wilderness, through sorrow, sickness and pain is a recurring theme throughout all of Scripture.
The American church isn't very fond of the idea that God shows up and shows out when we are most troubled, least outwardly blessed, financially challenged, sick or infirmed, but it's a theme that you cannot escape if you're trying to discern and be informed by the whole counsel of Scripture.
In fact, we very often make the same mistake the disciples made when they came across a man who was born blind. The story is recounted in John chapter 9.
1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
But large, and growing parts of the American church, and, to our shame it's a bad theology being exported by us around the world – believe, like the disciples apparently did, that this blind man, or his parents, . . somebody - must be doing something wrong.
After all, we're never supposed to suffer hardship, sickness, pain or, God forbid, lack. The ones who are the closest to God are believing Him for fleets of automobiles, at least a couple of jets, a summer home, tailor-made suits and all kinds of material, physical and natural things.
A strong metaphor for what God wants to accomplish in the desert is featured in the 35th chapter of Isaiah. The prophet is describing a time when “the desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.” Isaiah 35:1-2
I want to suggest to you this morning, that when you're in the desert, if your desert isn't blooming you may be wasting the purpose for which God brought you there.
See man, it's in the desert, when it really hits the fan and the rubber meets the road. In the desert your theories about God get tested and you get put to the test. You find out you can trust the one who brought you out of slavery.
But you also find out, that even though your critical needs are met – you've got manna in the morning, you've got quail, you have water running in a dry land – from a rock – but you're still in the desert. Yes, your critical needs are met, but you are very hot – burning up, you're tired, uncomfortable, sore, in pain, hurting – and it's difficult to ever feel physically refreshed and rested in the scorching heat, dry, broken ground and barren land of the desert.
But that's why it's one of God's favorite places to take us to. We find Him much more readily and much more seriously when we learn to stop depending on ourselves – our intellect, experience, acumen and wherewithal.
In the wonderful book of Hosea God says, “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I Who healed them.” Hosea 11:3
Now this Ephraim isn't talking about the second son of Joseph and Asenath, but rather the Tribe of his descendents that walked with Moses and Joshua through the wilderness.
Do you see what Hosea 11:3 is saying? It's a metaphor. It's a beautiful picture of a loving God using the wilderness to take us by the hand – teaching us how to walk – and healing us in the ways that are most important.
I spent a lot of my childhood, two summers and many more weeks of my adult life in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of New Mexico. The elevation (average of about 7500 feet) makes it much more bearable, but that is some dry, barren land and only certain types of plants and vegetation do well there.