a monthly devotional journal
Issue No. 49
In this issue:
Perspective 1 - The Desert of Preparation
Perspective 2 - The Desert of Testing
Perspective 3 - The Desert of Correction
"The Christian's hope is not that God will somehow rescue him from his personal desert; his hope is found in a God who is in his desert."
The year is 1928. The place, the Convention Hall in Houston, Texas. The occasion, the Democratic National Convention, at which Franklin Delano Roosevelt will deliver the speech nominating Al Smith as the Democratic candidate for President.
In 1921, at the age of 39 and well on his way to a successful political career, Roosevelt had contracted infantile paralysis--polio--and had spent the last seven years struggling to regain some strength in his withering legs. During those years of pain, and frustration over lost opportunities, he spent much of his time at his Georgia Warm Springs Foundation--a spa he founded for the treatment of polio victims--trying in vain to walk again unaided.
As they were for Winston Churchill in the Thirties, these were Roosevelt's "Wilderness Years"--days of withering disappointment, anger, questioning; days of wondering whether the struggle was worthwhile, or should be abandoned to live out the rest of his life (like his father before him) as a dignified country squire.
This--the convention of 1928--was his turning point. From here he would either be catapulted back into public life or would be sent back to the relative isolation of his private life. It all hinged on his legs.
F.D.R. wanted to be President, but he was convinced that the electorate would never settle for a crippled head of state. He must prove to everyone that his polio would not in any way limit his effectiveness in public office. He must walk to that rostrum, under his own strength, to deliver his speech.
He had painstakingly prepared. Roosevelt had developed and rehearsed a "walk" that outwardly depended only on a cane on one side and the support of one of his strapping sons on the other. Under his trousers, however, were heavy, painful braces that supplied the strength his legs no longer had. And what was to all appearances simply a considerate son guiding his father's arm, was really an essential support bearing all of Roosevelt's weight as he shifted it from side to side.
And he did it. Amidst the cheers and adulation of the crowd he made it to the rostrum and stood there--his famous chin jauntily outthrust and his face beaming.
A reporter in attendance that night penned his impression of the moment:
"Here on the stage is Franklin Roosevelt, a figure tall and proud even in suffering, pale with years of struggle against paralysis, a man softened and cleansed and illumined with pain. For the moment, we are lifted up ..."
Roosevelt had come through his desert a better man than the one who had gone in. In 1921 he had been a pampered aristocrat heading toward deserved success; now, after seven years of pain and struggle, he had emerged, like a phoenix out of the ashes, having learned patience and a compassion for those with less than he; to become, eventually, the specific leader that the depressed country so badly needed in 1933.
We all have our deserts. Some are brief, and relatively painless; some are excruciating, but of short duration; and some remain for a lifetime.
Everyone passes through the desert, and fame or wealth or lineage is not sufficient to keep one out: Roosevelt, Churchill, Gandhi, Moses, John the Baptist, the apostle Paul, Jesus ...
Like Paul's mysterious "thorn in the flesh," deserts can be defined anew for each person--the only commonality being that the desert is an experience that changes a life: for better or for worse. The desert is a crucible that burns away impurities, a knife that slices off excess, a scorching wind that blows off accumulated dust, a teacher that gives wisdom.
The unbeliever searches for a god who will rescue him from the desert, but the Christian knows a God who dwells there. The Christian's hope is not that God will somehow rescue him from his personal desert; his hope is found in a God who is in his desert.
Even with that hope, the desert can still be an unpleasant place--and the toughest deserts can be those out of which we never seem to find our way.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert,  where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. -Luke 4:1-2
But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased  to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man,  nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.  Then after three years ... -Gal 1:15-18a
The stories of Jesus and the apostle Paul are familiar to us. But from them it is too easy to think that God puts us through only a one-time wilderness experience, then declares us ready for the rest of our lives.
Peter reminds us that these times of trial and testing are a perfectly normal part of following Christ.
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. -1 Peter 4:12-13
The worst part, no doubt, of this desert of preparation is the waiting, and the wondering if God is still there.
"Second only to suffering, waiting may be the greatest teacher and trainer in godliness, maturity, and genuine spirituality most of us ever  encounter."
What do we gain by living through the trials? What is accomplished in our lives through the waiting?
James, the brother of Jesus and the first in the New Testament era to write of this, describes it as a process leading to maturity.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 NASB
Those who rebel against time spent in the desert are invariably those who think themselves perfect without God. It is the wise Christian that acknowledges his lack of wisdom; it is the understanding believer that confesses his lack of patience; it is the true child of God that recognizes the failings of the flesh, and cries out for the painful and comforting correction of a holy Father.
But the desert need not always be a place of discomfort. There is no better place for communion with the Father than the barren wilderness.
"For what purpose did Christ go up into the mountain? To teach us that loneliness and retirement is good when we are to pray to God ... For the wilderness is the mother of quiet; it is a calm and a harbor, delivering us from all turmoils."
In the desert God strips away the many encumbrances we've piled upon ourselves. There He happily removes our burdens of self-importance, ego and conceit. There He reduces us to our essential self, bereft of all our comforting insulation--until, finally, we are left with no artificial barrier to stand between us and the Father, and we can at last find utter peace, contentment and joy in His arms.
There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God,
A place where sin cannot molest, near to the heart of God.
There is a place of comfort sweet, near to the heart of God,
A place where we our Saviour meet, near to the heart of God.
There is a place of full release, near to the heart of God,
A place where all is joy and peace, near to the heart of God.
O Jesus, blest Redeemer, sent from the heart of God,
Hold us, who wait before Thee, near to the heart of God.
Into the Word
The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests the heart. -Prov 17:3Genesis 39:19-41:1 Exodus 2:11-3:10 Daniel 6:16-28 Matthew 4:1-11 Mark 1:12-13 Luke 4:1-13 Acts 9:1-25 Gal 1:15-18 Rev 1:9
Digging Deeper--Moving Higher
O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me. -Psalm 63:1-8
"The experiences of men who walked with God in olden times agree to teach that the Lord cannot fully bless a man until He has first conquered Him. The degree of blessing enjoyed by any man will correspond exactly with the completeness of God's victory over him.
"We might well pray for God to invade and conquer us, for until He does, we remain in peril from a thousand foes. We bear within us the seeds of our own disintegration. Our moral imprudence puts us always in danger of accidental or reckless self-destruction. The strength of our flesh is an ever present danger to our souls. Deliverance can come to us only by the defeat of our old life. Safety and peace come only after we have been forced to our knees. God rescues us by breaking us, by shattering our strength and wiping out our resistance. Then He invades our natures with that ancient and eternal life which is from the beginning. So He conquers us and by that benign conquest saves us for Himself."
Making It Personal
Has God put you through a "desert of preparation?"
What was it about the time that made it a wilderness experience?
What was God preparing you for?
What did you learn during your time in the desert of preparation?
Into the Word
Read the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50.
God put Joseph through several "deserts of preparation." What do you think Joseph learned from each of these trials?
How did Joseph apply what he had learned?
No matter what some evangelists will tell you, God the Father does not subscribe to the gospel of Success Through Easy Living. Quite to the contrary, His word is replete with stories of people He used mightily only after putting them through some very hard times.
Most Christians rebel against God's testing, considering it unnecessary--even an insult to their faith. Yet we have no complaints when others test us.
When the school teacher tests our knowledge of American history we grumble, but are not offended.
When the state tests our driving skills and knowledge of its laws, so as to obtain permission to drive its roads, we accept the requirements and dutifully mug for the camera.
When we apply for a new job we are interviewed by someone in the personnel department, to test our job skills and experience.
When we marry we submit to a blood test.
When we apply for a loan for a new house, the bank tests our ability to repay the funds.
Yet when the most holy God of eternity dares to test our faith and reliance on Him, we rear back and blow steam out our ears, horrified that He should so question our word.
Many years ago, as a child, I would accompany my dad--an electrician--on the job as he would wire houses. Over time, I learned to be more than a spectator; by observing what he did and the rhythm of his work, I could anticipate his needs and fetch the right tool from his toolbox. Meanwhile, I carefully observed his handiwork, noting how he drilled through the studs to run the heavy wire, how he quickly and efficiently stripped the insulation from the tips of each wire, how he masterfully bent and shaped the conduit that would house the wires.
Once in awhile, in the middle of his work, my dad would pause and hand me the tool. "You try it," he would say. With youthful bravado I would perform the task, sloppily, a bit slower than dad, but it would be accomplished. If he was feeling especially patient, he'd point out how I could have done the job better. But each time I completed the assigned task, he would entrust me with a little more until, eventually, he could trust me to do the job without his supervision. Each test was necessary for each greater responsibility.
"In the ancient times, a box on the ear given by a master to a slave meant liberty--little would the freedman care how hard he was struck, when the blow meant release. By a stroke from the sword the warrior was knighted by his monarch--it was a small matter to the new knight if the royal hand was heavy. When the Lord intends to lift His servants into a higher stage of spiritual life, He frequently sends them a severe trial; He makes His Jacobs to be prevailing princes, but He confers the honor after a night of wrestling, and accompanies it with a shrunken sinew in the thigh. So we should not wish to be deprived of trials if they are the necessary attendants of spiritual advancement."
God's testing and trials are more easily experienced--even invited--when we see them as coming from a loving Father wishing to draw us closer to Him. His ultimate purpose is not pain or discomfort, but a life brought more closely into the pattern of His Son.
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 2 Corinthians 4:8-10
Into the Word
He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness. Malachi 3:3Job 1:1-2:10 2 Cor. 4:1-12 Psalm 66:8-12 2 Cor. 12:1-10 Psalm 119:65-72 Philip. 1:27-2:18 Eccles. 7:13-14 2 Thes. 1:3-12 Isaiah 1:25-26 Hebrews 2:9-18 Malachi 3:3-4 Hebrews 5:8-10 John 9:1-38 1 Peter 1:6-7 John 11:1-4 Rev. 2:8-10 2 Cor. 1:3-7
Digging Deeper--Moving Higher
I know not what the future hath of marvel or surprise,
Assured alone that life and death God's mercy underlies.
And if my heart and flesh are weak to bear an untried pain,
The bruised reed He will not break, but strengthen and sustain.
And so beside the silent sea I wait the muffled oar:
No harm from Him can come to me on ocean or on shore.
I know not where His islands lift their fronded palms in air;
I only know I cannot drift beyond His love and care.
"God called Jesus Christ to what seemed absolute disaster. And Jesus Christ called His disciples to see Him put to death, leading every one of them to the place where their hearts were broken. His life was an absolute failure from every standpoint except God's. But what seemed to be a failure from man's standpoint was a triumph from God's standpoint, because God's purpose is never the same as man's purpose.
"The call of God can never be understood absolutely or explained externally; it is a call that can only be perceived and understood internally by our true inner-nature. What God calls us to cannot be definitely stated, because His call is simply to be His friend to accomplish His own purposes. Our real test is truly believing that God knows what He desires. The things that happen do not happen by chance--they happen entirely by the decree of God. God is sovereignly working out His own purposes.
"If we are in fellowship and oneness with God and recognize that He is taking us into His purposes, then we will no longer strive to find out what His purposes are. As we grow in the Christian life, it becomes simpler to us, because we are less inclined to say, "I wonder why God allowed this or that?" And we begin to see that the compelling purpose of God lies behind everything in life, and that God is divinely shaping us into oneness with that purpose.")
Making It Personal
Why do you think people so quickly, and so easily, rebel against God's testing?
Read James 1:1-8. James instructs those reading this letter that instead of feeling badly when trials and tests come, we should actually rejoice in the opportunity afforded us to continue down the path toward Spiritual completeness (v4). Interestingly, the word translated joy (CHARA) is the same Greek word used in Luke 2:10, when the angel is announcing the birth of Christ to the shepherds: But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." Luke 2:10
Have you ever experienced this joy after a time of the Lord's testing?
Have you ever experienced joy during a time of the Lord's testing?
Do you think such a thing is humanly possible?
Into the Word
Study the process outlined in James 1:1-8. Notice that it is a methodical sequence--the success of which depends on our fulfilling the first step.
James offers this instruction because he knows that finding joy in trials cuts against our nature. This process is not automatic; it does not progress unattended. It is not in our base nature to enjoy trials, so very often we will short-circuit the process at the outset. Our initial response to the testing is the only one that should concern us--after that, it is automatic. If we respond to testing in the negative, we stifle the process and it cannot proceed. If, however, we respond to testing or trials in a positive, receptive way, the subsequent endurance (or steadfastness) will come automatically. Having come this far (learning steadfastness through trials) we cannot help but gain maturity--which, of course, then prepares us for the next round of trials.
In an episode addressed in both 1 & 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul models for us the Father's discipline. From a third party, Paul has heard of gross immorality taking place--and being overlooked--in the Corinthian body of believers.
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife. And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? 1 Cor. 5:1-2
Paul instructs the congregation--even by way of a letter--to immediately put this fellow out of the church because of his sin.
Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord. 1 Cor. 5:3-5
Paul's injunction sounds harsh. But there are two reasons for his method. First there is the matter of corporate purity.
Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast--as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people--not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you." 1 Cor. 5:6-7,9-11,13
Second is the reason already stated, to
hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord. 1 Cor. 5:5
We may not know what it was, precisely, about being put out of the church that would save this man's spirit. Maybe the excommunication itself would suffice to bring the man to his senses. Maybe Paul's thinking was that the offender (like many contemporary alcoholics) would need to sink to his lowest before realizing the error of his ways. Whatever the means, the result was clearly stated: the punishment was intended to bring about repentance.
... [that] his spirit [may be] saved on the day of the Lord. 1 Cor. 5:5b
Later, in Paul's second Corinthian epistle, he follows up on this matter, expressing his concern that the people had not yet received the man back into the congregation.
If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent--not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. 2 Cor. 2:5-8
The loving parent disciplines the child for the child's good; even harsh, unflinching discipline is sometimes necessary. But the loving parent is also grieved over the corrective steps, and can't wait to draw the child back into his arms. Correction is never the goal; correction is only the means to the goal of repentance and change.
There is no more loving parent than our heavenly Father. He never does anything that is not for our own good. While earthly parents may expel their child out of anger or spite or contempt; while earthly parents may punish their child for the sheer delight it brings to their selfish little lives; while earthly parents may brutalize and pummel their child into whimpering submission, even death--while earthly parents may do all this and more, our heavenly parent never treats His child in this manner.
God the Father corrects us out of love--a love superior even to that which we have for ourselves. He disciplines us out of the high standard of His love for us.
"The most crooked tree will make timber for the temple, if God be pleased to hew it."
Into the Word
"My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." Hebrews 12:5b-61 Kings 8:33-48 2 Chron. 6:24-31 2 Chron. 7:13-14 Psalm 107:10-14 Psalm 107:17-21 Proverbs 3:11-12 Jeremiah 24:1-10 Lament. 1:5 Daniel 4:1-37 Romans 8:28-30 1 Cor. 11:32 Hebrews 12:5-11
Digging Deeper--Moving Higher
Lead, kindly Light, amid th' encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead Thou me on:
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene--one step enough for me.
I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on.
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.
So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on,
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.
"In preparing places for planting new trees, the diggers found it necessary in certain spots to lay aside the spade and use the pick-axe. In those positions there had been a well-graveled carriage road, and hence the ground was hard to deal with.
"How often, when we are under sanctifying influences, do we find certain hard points of our character which are not touched by ordinary influences. These are most probably sins in which we have become hardened, tracks worn by habitual transgression. We must not wonder if the severest processes of affliction should be tried upon us, if the pick-axe is used instead of the spade, that our stony places may yet yield soil for the plants of grace and holiness."
"I used to think it was a 'cruel' doctrine to say that troubles and sorrows were 'punishments'. But I find in practice that when you are in trouble, the moment you regard it as a 'punishment', it becomes easier to bear. If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable; think of it as a place of training and correction and it's not so bad."
Making It Personal
How have you responded to God's correction?
Have there been some "hard spots" in your life, where God was required to set aside his shovel and use a pick-axe? What were they?
Did His efforts pay off? What progress has been made with those "hard spots"?
Into the Word
Locate a story in Scripture where someone submitted to the discipline of the Lord and their life demonstrated a resulting change.
Who was the person? What was it in their life that God had to correct? How did He do it? What was the result?
Issue No. 49
[1.] Richard Hendrix, in Leadership Journal, Summer 1986, p59; cited in Waiting: Finding hope when God seems silent (InterVarsity Press, 1989) by Ben Patterson. (return to footnote 1)
[2.] John Chrysostom, from The Life of John Chrysostom by R.A. Krupp in Christian History magazine, Copyright c 1994 Christianity Today, Inc./CHRISTIAN HISTORY Magazine. Robert A. Krupp is the librarian at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He is author of Shepherding the Flock of God: The Pastoral Theology of John Chrysostom (Peter Lang, 1991). (return to footnote 2)
[3.] Cleland B. McAfee (1866-1944). (return to footnote 3)
[4.] A.W. Tozer, The Divine Conquest (Christian Publications, 1978), p53,57. (return to footnote 4)
[5.] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Quotable Spurgeon (Shaw, 1990), p292. (return to footnote 5)
[6.] John G. Whittier (1807-1892). (return to footnote 6)
[7.] Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest (Discovery House, 1992). (return to footnote 7)
[8.] Thomas Fuller, More Gathered Gold (Evangelical Press, 1988), p118. (return to footnote 8)
[9.] John H. Newman (1801-1890). (return to footnote 9)
[10.] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Quotable Spurgeon (Shaw, 1990), p254. (return to footnote 10)
[11.] C.S. Lewis, A Mind Awake: An Anthology of C.S. Lewis (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980), p175f. (return to footnote 11)
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