Monday, April 27, 2015

In the Desert Part 1: The Desert of Bad Choices

Yesterday we talked about spiritual deserts, about how sometimes our faith begins to look a little like the Sahara.  (If you missed it, start here: Deserts.)

A spiritual desert is a pretty difficult place to be, and one that we'd rather pass through as quickly as possible.  It's certainly not a place we'd like to linger.

Let me give you fair warning: the way out of the desert is not often an easy road to tread. 

But it is a road that you will be glad you traveled once you're back in the mountains.

So let's put on our walking shoes and get moving.

When we find ourselves lost in a spiritual desert, I believe there's one place that we have to start or we will never find our way out.  We have to start with ourselves.

Sometimes we find ourselves in a spiritual desert because of our own bad choices.  Our own sin.  While it is true that nothing in all of creation can come between us and God, I do believe that our sin can.  Sin stands as a barrier between our hearts and God, preventing fellowship and communion with Him.  Until we remove that barrier, nothing we do or say will ever move us out of the desert.  Sin will instead sentence us to wander in the desert, unable to experience the live-giving presence of God and the blessings He has planned for us.

We see this most clearly demonstrated in the book of Numbers.  After rescuing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and proving His power by defeating the Egyptian army, God asked that one man from each tribe of Israel spy out the land He promised to give them.  He promised that He would enable and equip His people to conquer Canaan and it's ungodly inhabitants, and yet ten of the spies came back and convinced the people that what God had promised them they could do, could not in fact be done.

The people even went so far as to cry out that they wished they could return to Egypt.  After God rescued them there!

And so, because of their sin, God made His chosen people wander in the desert for forty years.  Numbers 14:34 record these words spoken by God to the people of Israel: "For forty will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you."  In Numbers 32 we read that the entire generation of people had to die before any of God's people were allowed out of the desert.

The good news is that we aren't sentenced to die in the wilderness like the Israelites.  Acts 3:19 tells us that when we repent of our sins, when we confess them before God, they will be wiped away.  Literally, they will be erased.  Gone.  No trace of them left.

And once we have repented of our sins and they have been wiped away, the Scripture says the Lord will bring us a time of refreshment.  The Greek word for refreshment (anapsyxis) carries with it the idea of relief of cooling.

Like sitting down in your air-conditioned living room with a glass of iced tea or lemonade after spending a hot July afternoon in your garden.

Ahhh...  Can you feel it?  How good it feels to get out of the sun and to feel that cool air on your face?

Not only does God erase the sin that stands between us and Him, but He also provides relief from the heat of the desert sun.  He soothes our parched souls with the water of His presence.

Pretty amazing, don't you think?

So the first thing we need to do when we find ourselves in this figurative desert is to ask God if there is any unconfessed sin in our life that is standing between us and Him, and then listen to what He says in response.  He might show us in the form of a picture or a memory, or He might speak words that seem nearly audible.  Maybe He'll speak directly to our heart.  However He tells us, once He reveals any sin in our life, we must confess it to Him.  We need to confess our desire to have that sin removed from us and ask Him to receive it.

Don't wander in the desert because you don't want to own up to your own bad choices. Don't let guilt or pride or stubbornness convince you to hold on to your sins.  Confess them before the Lord!  I believe you will never fully experience God's healing waters until you do this.

See, I warned you that this might not be an easy road to walk.  But hang with me, my friend, because it will be worth every step.  In the end, when you can sink into the coolness of God's presence and rest your weary soul, you will be ever so glad you took this journey.

Tomorrow: The Desert of Adversity

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