Lord, restore my soul and renew my hope.
Then remake my heart, to follow You.
Replenish my strength and peace.
Lord, You are what I need. I long for You, for You, in me.
While you are turning to Deuteronomy 8, let me say we had a lovely vacation this past week in Niceville, FL. We stayed with my sister and her family and had 3 beach afternoons, some go-kart fun, lots of Wii games, and food galore (Did you know you could make Cinnabon Popcorn drizzled with chocolate inside your own home?). We celebrated Christmas, did some shopping, saw some movies and had lots of downtime. I didn’t open my computer Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday which is completely unlike me. We were sitting on the beach on Thursday and I said to Thom, “I’d probably better get started on a sermon” to which he replied, “Could you just show pictures of our vacation and make them spiritual?” J The fact that I got some much-needed rest and we had a very stress-free week was very spiritual for me.
Never underestimate the power of renewal in your life. In fact, the chorus I just sang, I wrote while standing on the beach. It speaks to what I hope to communicate this morning. You and I can experience restoration, renewal, replenishing and a remaking no matter what we are going through. There is something to learn in the desert, the darkness, when we are dealing with drama and delays that will make us better and more like Christ. Every path you walk on is full of purpose if you belong to Jesus.
Desert times are no exception. In the desert, God wants to show you what is inside your heart. If you don’t look within, you won’t develop within and win without. Look at Deuteronomy 8:2-10 2 Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.
The desert was to PROVE them-There were many commandments God gave the Israelites on their journey which there would have been no occasion for it they had not been led through the desert. (One example was the commandments regarding the manna in Exodus 16:28.) God established commands in the desert in order for them to exercise a choice to obey Him. They could prove they belonged to Him.
3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
In the desert we are PROVIDED for. How many of you have been in a desert and have found out Who your true Supplier is? God took care of their food needs, their clothing needs and their health needs. God caused them to hunger so He could be the One to feed them with manna. Oh how God longs for us to be hungry for Him! Sometimes God leads us through the desert so that He can give us something we really need; something we couldn’t get any other way. Verses 3 and 16 tell us this manna thing was a new thing. God did a new thing for the Israelites in the desert. If you are in a desert, God wants to do something new in your life. He wants you to experience Him in a new way.
Listen to Matthew 4:1-2. “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” I would guess so! I am hungry after four hours. I can’t imagine 40 days!
God provided for Jesus in the desert as well. He provided some angels to come alongside and attend the weary Jesus in verse 11.
Israel learned to depend on God’s supply in the desert. If they had a need, they were to learn that God would meet it. 4Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years.
Do you know how much walking they did? Not one swollen foot was among them? God promises in I Samuel 2:9 to keep the feet of His saints!
We are PRESERVED in the desert. Their clothes didn’t wear out! Their feet didn’t wear out! Why? They were preserved in the desert and you are being preserved in your deserts because the desert is not where you are meant to stay! You are getting readied! You are being readied to experience a better place!
5 Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you. Verse 7, “For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land--a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; 8 a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; 9 a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills. 10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.
Thank God for the desert because it is the greatest time to consider your heart. It is the greatest time to receive instruction. If you open yourself up totally to the desert experience the benefits of the desert will far outweigh a first-class, easy, two-week walk into the Promised Land.
But what often happens to desert dwellers is they start complaining about how hot it is and how thirsty they are and how long it is taking and how tired they are. You know what we see from the Israelite’s example? Complaining in the desert only delays the journey. God was trying to tell the Israelites what they had to look forward to. He was pointing their minds ahead to pictures of Canaan land and all of its plush accommodations and amenities. God was trying to get them to see that what they were enduring in the desert would be worth it all! They would come out better for having been through what they went through! Look at someone and say, “It’s going to be worth it. Quit complaining!”
We can’t let God lead and complain at the same time. God needs to control the pace. He needs to lead the way. He needs to be in the driver’s seat without assistance from us. When we start assisting God in the desert we become complainers.
You have a DECISION to make in the desert. You can lie down and die or push forward knowing a better land, a promised land, awaits you. You can murmur and complain or be thankful for every drop of water, every piece of bread, for every moment of relief from the heat that you might experience knowing that God is in charge and has a purpose you may not be able to see.
Use the desert to your advantage. Look into your heart. Evaluate your obedience to God. Satan wants to destroy you in the desert just like he wanted to destroy Jesus in the desert. God wants to use it to reveal what is in your heart and wants you to choose Him to be your Source and Supply.
If you are going to follow Christ, you’ll have to go through the desert because that’s the way He went. It was there that He was tested and proved to be faithful to the purpose and plan of God. He humbled Himself to rely solely on the Father to sustain him. Are you passing the test in your desert?
Maybe you aren’t in a desert time, but you are in a time of darkness. Turn to Genesis 12. People who are in this season are walking through the unknown. Uncharted waters. Unexpected places. Someone once said, “When you come to the edge of all the light you know and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, one of 2 things will happen if you have faith in the Lord: There will be something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly.”
The truth is, though there are times when the Lord allows His people to walk in darkness, He knows exactly where they are at every moment along the way. He never abandons or loses track of His children! Let’s look at how Abraham experienced this reality.
Genesis 12:1 “Get out from your country, from your family and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.” Let’s let the “country” in this verse refer to the familiar. We sometimes have to leave where we are if we are going to be shown what God wants us to see. How many of you have crossed a border and gone to another country? You find out quickly that things are very different in other places. There are do’s and don’ts and you usually figure them out by trial and error.
When I accepted God’s call to move to the Middle East at the age of 22 and to teach 5th grade on the island of Cyprus, I had had no culture training and had no idea what I was in for. Have you ever witnessed two Greeks talking? They are so loud and animated and speak so quickly you are just sure they are arguing. I thought at first that everybody was mad at everybody. It was hot. Really hot. I had no car. I walked everywhere I went. I couldn’t “go home on the weekends.” It was away. Far away.
When you are disconnected from the familiar it can leave you disoriented and insecure. You see, when God takes you through a season of darkness, He wants you to learn that security is not built upon the information or things we can acquire, but on a Person we can know. If you are in a season of darkness it may be because the Lord wants to stretch you in the area in which you find your security. It is a total faith journey. Abraham had no idea where He was going, yet he went.
It is a more certain and secure experience to follow the Lord and not know where you are going than to think you know where you’re going and not be where God wants you to be.
Jesus is moving some of you out of the hometown of your security because He can teach you things in a new place that you can’t learn at “home”.
God said at least 3 things to Abraham.
- I will show you a land.
- I will make you a great nation.
- I bless you and make your name great.
God won’t ask you to step out into darkness without making a commitment to do something for you! But listen, when the Lord makes a commitment to you, He will also call for a commitment from you. God said to Abraham, “If you will make that journey of faith, I will make a nation out of you!”
Some of you need to relax. You don’t have to have all of the answers. You only need to know what God wants to reveal to you. Some things are just TMI for us humans. Plants grow best in the sunlight, but sometimes people grow best in the dark. Abraham stepped into the darkness when he headed toward a mysterious land he had never seen. Moses stepped into darkness when he changed professions and became a hostage negotiator and leader of a nation. Mary stepped into darkness when she agreed to be the mother of the Son of God.
When I lived in the Middle East on the island of Cyprus I lived on top of a high rise apartment building. I would often have breakfast on the veranda which was basically the roof. From there I had a spectacular view of the mountain range that was just a few miles away. One morning, however, it was really foggy, and as I stepped out to take a morning look, I was startled for a moment to see the mountains had disappeared. Now they didn’t disappear. They were simply shrouded in the heavy early morning fog. It was at that moment that the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, “Don’t forget in the darkness what you knew to be true in the light.” Don’t stay home from church when things get cloudy or dark. Don’t isolate yourself when things get dark. Don’t quit praying when things get dark. Don’t quit reading the Word when things get dark. You just be faithful to God. He will be faithful to you!
John 14:21 says, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and MANIFEST Myself to him.” Do you see it? God makes a commitment to us but asks for a commitment from us. What does it mean that Jesus will manifest Himself to us? It means He will appear, to come into our view, to reveal Himself, make Himself visible in a conspicuous way.” Imagine that. Jesus, the Light of the World, will become obvious in the darkness.
Remember how conspicuous God was with the Israelites in the OT? He led them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. That was pretty obvious.
Thank God if you are in a season of darkness because this season will allow your faith to grow and give you opportunities to go deeper in your obedience to God!
If you aren’t in a desert or dark time perhaps you are in a time of delay that is filled with some drama. Times of delay aren’t really delays in the economy of God, but they feel like delays for us because we are in want of something and are waiting for it. When we are in waiting or in want we have a great opportunity to learn patience and the power of prayer.
Our model for this season is Hannah in I Samuel 1 and 2. She had been unable to conceive a child. As if that wasn’t bad enough, her husband had another wife (I know, the OT is complicated, right?). Anyway, he had another wife who had no trouble having babies, and she rubbed it in Hannah’s face all of the time. The last thing you need when you are in want or in waiting is drama with other people, right? Satan wants to stir the pot. He wants to wound you so he can shake you and keep you from patience and prayer. He wants you offended. Drama with other people is a smokescreen for Satan’s schemes.
Hannah was smart. She didn’t fall for it. She could have taken to heart the things the mean things the other wife said and started to believe she was somehow less than or not good enough. Listen, when someone wants to add insult to injury in your life rebuke it in the name of Jesus because it is a work of Satan. Hannah could have become focused on comparing herself to the other wife. That’s what Satan wants. He wants to get us thinking about what other people have that we don’t. He wants us to think God doesn’t love us as much as He loves someone else. He wants us to get our eyes on what other people have because then he can get our focus on what we can’t do and what we don’t have.
This time of barrenness was taking a toll on Hannah. She was depressed. She couldn’t eat. You know it was impacting her quality of life in a negative way.
But rather than take her bitterness and disappointment out on the “sister wife” which would have made her daily life worse; Rather than take it out on her husband which would have ruined her marriage, she wisely took her bitterness and her disappointment to God. Look at 1 Samuel 1:10: “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD.” She did the “ugly cry!” She prayed like she had never prayed before. She held nothing back. She didn’t quit until she had said it all, and it brought a great release. Rather than focus on what Hannah couldn’t do and didn’t have, she chose to focus in faith on God as her Source and on what God could do!
Through tears and intense prayer, Hannah brought the bitterness of her soul to the Lord. She poured out her heart to Him. If you are experiencing a time of delay, that is the time to pray, pray, and pray. Scripture says after Hannah poured out her heart to the Lord she went away changed. She was no longer depressed. She was no longer unable to eat. (That has never been a side effect for me . . . being unable to eat.)
The beautiful thing about that is that the changes took place before God ever granted her request. That tells me our God is absolutely able, while we are waiting or while we “go without” something we desire, He is absolutely more than enough! “All of You is more than enough for all of me for every thirst and every need YOU satisfy me and all I have in YOU is MORE than enough!” Some of you here are thinking, “When I finish school, I will be happy.” “When I get married, I will be happy.” “When I get that job, I will be content.” “When my kids are raised and on their own, I will be satisfied.” Why wait to be happy and content for someday? Why not let God be more than enough while you wait?
Well, in time, Hannah did conceive and gave birth to a son. We love to celebrate that. We love to highlight how Hannah got her answer to prayer, but something we don’t celebrate much which is even more impressive is that the very child she agonized over, desired for years, and prayed to receive she then gave back to the Lord. As soon as he was “weaned,” she sent him to boarding school. This young child wouldn’t be coming home in the summer. He wouldn’t make it home for Spring Break. Soon after having her baby, Hannah experienced empty nest syndrome.
Hannah is a beautiful example of how loosely we must hold on to our desires. How many of you are willing to agonize in prayer, have your request granted and then give your miracle back to the Lord?
I want the heart of Hannah. I want to get to the place where if my hands being empty is what brings God glory, then empty hands are what I desire. Hannah had learned so much while she was waiting, while she was barren, about the sufficiency of Christ that she had learned He could sustain her if she willingly became childless again.
Psalm 37:7 says, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.” Notice it doesn’t say, “Wait patiently for your answer, but wait patiently for Him.” God wants to sustain you while you wait or while you want. He wants to change you while you wait. The verse goes on to say, “Be still and know that I am God.” Or as my grandma used to say, “Know that I am God, and be still.”
Seasons of waiting have many faces. Perhaps you are single and want to be married. Maybe you are a stay-at-home mom and you desire to work outside the home again. Maybe you long to be in ministry, and you can’t find your place. Maybe you are waiting on a healing. I have good news for you. Being empty puts you in a position where God can fill you.
As you wait on the Lord and delight yourself in Him, He will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4
Psalm 103:2-5 says, Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits– who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with GOOD THINGS so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
He satisfies your desires with GOOD THINGS. Maybe not the things you asked for, but with GOOD THINGS so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. God’s plan isn’t to satisfy your desires as much as it is to renew and revive you.
A word of caution if you are experiencing delay on something you desire. Don’t try to fill your needs yourself. God doesn’t need your help! I’ll never forget all the times I tried to put myself in the right place at the right time (like I even knew what those were) in order to try to meet a Christian man when I was single. (Shipping story) We need not to try to orchestrate the events of our lives to meet our own needs. What role would God be filling if we did that?
Are you walking in the desert? Check your heart. Is God proving you? Can you say He is your Provider? Are you complaining? Start praising Him for preserving you and taking you to the land of Promise. It is going to be better than you could imagine. Are you walking in darkness? Is every step a step of faith? Are you following with unquestioning obedience? Are you okay without having all the answers? Can you trust God to lead you step by step? Are you experiencing delay? Is there drama surrounding your desires? Is the enemy taunting you or tempting you to doubt that God will hear and answer your prayers? It isn’t time to quit, but it’s time to submit to God because He wants to teach you something, give you something or develop something within you. This morning, I want you to look past the pain and start looking to God to reveal the purpose for your path. He has you where you are for a reason. Before you seek a way out, seek Him. He knows what He’s doing.