Summary: This sermon gives guidelines as to how we should respond to the wilderness experiences we go through at times.
Wandering in the Wilderness
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”).