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Walking in the Desert, With God

Psalm 73:28 

 

"But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;"

There have been times in my walk with the Lord that I've felt so close to Him that I could feel his unseen hands around me. They were times when I felt pressed into His chest. But there are also times when my soul seems misaligned-when God seems distant, and my relationship with Him has grown cold. I remember the old preacher's story about the man and wife driving down the road together, he in the driver's seat, she right next to the passenger door. She complains that they've grown distant in their relationship, she says, "Remember when we were young how we always sat right next to one another when we're driving together?" "Yes, the husband responds, but I haven't moved." When I think about that old corny illustration, it doesn't resonate with my soul at all. It doesn't really help me when I'm in a spiritual desert to heap guilt on my head for being in the desert. Of course, I'm to blame for my spiritual condition-tell me something I don't already know, or better yet, tell me how to get out of it. 

If my relationship with God has grown cold because of sin in my life-or to stick to the driving illustration, because "I've moved." The scripture teaches me what to do. I need to confess my sin and begin to walk in fellowship with Him again. 1 John 1:6-9 says, "If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; [7] but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. [8] If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [9] If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (NASB)

Light and darkness cannot coexist; neither can a Holy God and sinful people. The only way we can have fellowship with Him, it to confess our sins and receive His forgiveness. I recently read a story in Reader's Digest that reminded me of the importance of confession. A Naval officer arrived with his family at their new duty station in Italy only to be greeted by a rank odor when the movers delivered their belongings to their new quarters. Finally, after opening several boxes they found the source of the odor. The movers had packed up their garbage into a box instead of throwing it out. (Reader's Digest, April 2002, p 52)

That is exactly what we do in our lives when we don't confess our sins. Instead of "throwing them out," we box them up and carry them around with us. And before you know it, our soul grows rank and begins to stink. Instead, we should confess our sins, so God can forgive us and cleanse our sins. 

I asked Susan the other day why she doesn't sit next to me when we drive down the road like she used to and she reminded me that I always buy cars with bucket seats. Yes, sometimes there is a distance because I've moved, but sometimes I feel isolated from God for other reasons-there's a console between us. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt distant from God, even after you've practiced the spiritual discipline of confession?

In her book, Dancing in the Desert, Marsha Crockett writes "I sit at my desk in the midst of the technology that literally wraps itself around me, and stare at the computer screen for I don=t know how long--long enough to sense a discontentment buried deep inside me. Without words, I ask God, 'What is it?' I shift my eyes to the slender statuette of a faceless woman standing tall and straight, draped in deep purple from head to toe, her head slightly bowed. In her hands she cradles a basket holding three white blossoms-- peace lilies.

This figurine symbolizes for me the act of prayer, not the kind of prayer that brings a basket full of concerns, requests and an agenda to God but rather the kind of prayer I pray on days like today when I simply come to God empty, thirsty for his touch, his voice, his presence."

(http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)

Marsha's words minister to me, because there are times I feel that way. And I know, we're not alone. The Psalmist cried out, "I will say to God my rock, "Why hast Thou forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?" (Psalm 42:9 NASB) and in another Psalm, He wrote, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning." (Psalm 22:1 NASB) Just the reaction of sinful men, right? Listen to the words of our Lord in Matthew 27:46 "And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?' that is, 'My God, My God, WHY HAST Thou FORSAKEN Me?' (NASB)

Whenever I feel like I'm spiritually desolate and alone, I draw strength from knowing that Jesus felt this way. It is not sinful to feel forsaken-just human.

My question is, how do I survive in the desert, or better yet, how do I get out of the desert? I want to share four things we can do when we find ourselves in the desert, one of them this morning and three more in the evening service. First, Pray until you can pray. We cannot microwave prayer. We cannot rush God, nor can we mechanically push the right buttons to have a spiritual breakthrough. Something Bill Baer knows first hand.

Bill and his wife were a cute couple-everybody thought so. They had a great start to their marriage and ministry; she was a schoolteacher and he was a Pastor. Really, all he knew was success, he'd done well as an Army officer and was doing well as a pastor when God called them to the mission field of Chile. Not exactly a friendly environment. Like most people, they had their personal problems, but unlike most people, they were isolated from their family, living in a hostile environment. Their phones were tapped, there were regular bombings in the streets-it got so bad they had to leave Chile. "It was a number of months, when I was in a very deep crisis," Baer said, "I was so heart broken, but I never had the sense that God wasn't there. Even in the quite times when all I could do was cry-even there, I always knew that God held my hand."

Some people are so angry that God doesn't keep them from crisis that they forget to thank Him for being with them in the crisis. Even when it feels like He is at a distance, God is there. The Psalmist wrote, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me." (Psalm 23:4 NIV) It isn't that God keeps us from crisis; it is that He walks with us through them.

Even in my darkest moments, I, like Bill Baer knew God's hand was upon me. Today, I join Solomon in praying, "May the Lord our God be with us, as He was with our fathers; may He not leave us or forsake us." (1 Kings 8:57 NASB) We may feel forsaken when we are in crisis, but we aren't. Jesus felt forsaken, but He wasn't The death blow he lamented wasn't the final word in His life. They placed his broken body in the borrowed tomb on Friday night, but on Sunday morning, an angel rolled the stone away and God raised Him from the dead. He was neither forsaken nor forgotten. And neither are you.

Today, the Baer's are successful missionaries, planting home churches throughout Chile. "It all began with prayer." Baer said. "What God did was to give me a tremendous love for prayer. I'm ashamed to say this, I had to be deeply, deeply humbled. I had prayed before, obviously, but I had never been desperate."

Baer learned to pray until he prayed from Jose Messena, a Paraguayan Pastor who told him, "You've got to pray to turn things around. You've got to pray." Following Messena's advice, Baer rose early in the morning and started walking. "At six o'clock I am out on the streets and I'm walking and I'm praying." Baer said. "Sometimes I would just cry my heart out to God, I would get on my knees on the sidewalk and just pray-just cry out to God."

Tonight, we'll talk about other things you can do to get out of the spiritual desert, but for now, I leave you with the advice Pastor Messena gave Bill Baer-turn things around-pray. Pray until you can pray.
 

Continued in the evening service:

How do I survive in the desert, or better yet, how do I get out of the desert?

First, Pray until you can pray

Second, keep doing the stuff even when you don't feel like it.

There is a dichotomy that exists inside of everyone between what they "feel" and what they "think." For some people, the see saw is tipped toward the feeling side, for others, toward the thinking side. It isn't that feelings are unimportant to the thinking person or thinking is unimportant to the feeling person, it is that God has made each of us the unique mixture that we are. Feelings are important, they motivate us, inform us and warn us, but they make good servants, but terrible masters.

Think for a moment what life would be like if you only did the things you "felt" like doing. How many times have you watched your little brother or sister, even when you didn't feel like doing it? How many times have you changed a diaper, even when you didn't feel like doing it? How many times have you studied for a test, even when you didn't feel like doing it? 

If we only did the things that we felt like doing, would we ever graduate from anything, or complete any worthwhile task? Of course we wouldn't. Maturity demands that we do things that we don't feel like doing. It is the only way we can survive the spiritual desert.

In the desert, I know you don't feel like reading your bible, going to church, praying, serving or giving. But these disciples are your only way out of the desert. Whenever you are living on the mountaintop and prayer, giving, studying comes easy, following the disciples of the faith are God's gift to you. But when you're in the desert and prayer, giving, studying comes hard, following the disciplines of the faith are your gift to God.

Third, Get out of denial before you drown in it. OK, let's get real here. We have the mistaken notion that being in the desert is a sign that there is something wrong with us spiritually. Right? We think it is punishment-like God really didn't forgive us all our sins when we asked and now He's making us pay for them. So our response is to pretend that everything is OK. Pretend is too soft of a word-our response is to lie about our spiritual condition and tell everybody that we're OK.

I don't want to come off sounding like Dr. Phil here, but snap out of it. You're no different than the rest of us. You have spiritual highs and spiritual lows-get out of your denial, you could drown in it. Stay disciplined, stay focused and keep moving, but don't pretend that you're walking through a green meadow when you're knee deep in sand.

Once you've resolved to remain disciplined, even when you don't feel like it, and you've stopped denying where you are-a spiritual desert, then you are ready to follow my last piece of advice: lament until you can praise.

Like Jonah Did

Jonah 2:1-9 

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish, [2] and he said,

"I called out of my distress to the Lord,

And He answered me.

I cried for help from the depth of Sheol;

Thou didst hear my voice. 

[3] "For Thou hadst cast me into the deep,

Into the heart of the seas,

And the current engulfed me.

All Thy breakers and billows passed over me. 

[4] "So I said, 'I have been expelled from Thy sight.

Nevertheless I will look again toward Thy holy temple.' 

[5] "Water encompassed me to the point of death.

The great deep engulfed me,

Weeds were wrapped around my head. 

[6] "I descended to the roots of the mountains.

The earth with its bars was around me forever,

But Thou hast brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God. 

[7] "While I was fainting away,

I remembered the Lord;

And my prayer came to Thee,

Into Thy holy temple. 

[8] "Those who regard vain idols 

Forsake their faithfulness, 

[9] But I will sacrifice to Thee 

With the voice of thanksgiving.

That which I have vowed I will pay.

Salvation is from the Lord."
 

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