The desert is God’s classroom.1
This phrase and concept was hammered into me during my trip to Israel. God placed His people in a desert not to punish them, but to test their faith and teach them dependance on Him. Geographically, to survive in the desert, the Israelites depended on God. God promised to send rain, food, and protection for obedience.2 Israelites weren’t given the luxury of being self-sufficient like we are today. If they were disobedient, there would be no rain. If there is no rain, their animals and crops die, if they have no harvest or animals, they die. No wonder why they would sow seeds with tears, praying for God to provide.3
Things aren’t all that different for us today. Even though we may not be in a physical desert where our human life depends on God sending rain, we often find ourselves in a spiritual desert that tests where we really put our faith. How we respond in the desert with either make our faith absolute or absent. Here are some things we need to remember about the desert.
1. The desert is part of the process, and processes take time.
God placed Israel in a desert for a reason, it was a testing ground of their faith. Israel wasn’t in the wilderness for 40 years because it was a 40 year journey, Israel was in the wilderness for 40 years because it took 40 years for them to be obedient.
In Jeremiah 29:11, God gives promises to His people: prosperity, peace, a future, and hope. These promises though had a process that would take time, so much time that they were instructed to build houses, plant gardens, get married, and have kids4. . . in short, God said to buckle up because this will take some time. God cares about who you are becoming more than the comfort of your present circumstances.
2. God is still present.
God is neither absent in the desert, nor has He forgotten about you. God’s promises all require a process.
In Jeremiah 1:11, the prophet has a vision of an almond branch to which God responds that He is watching over His word to complete it. This is some of the most powerful imagery in the Bible. Almond trees are the first tree to bloom, yet they are the last to bear fruit. God’s promises are like an almond tree – God has given His promises, but they take time to become reality. God isn’t absent in the time between a promise and its fruition. God is the watcher of the time between.
3. There is no self-made man in the desert. Community matters.
No one survives alone in the desert. When you find yourself in a spiritual desert, surround yourself with others. Life isn’t made to be done alone. Israel in Jeremiah 29 were instructed to build community and participate in life with each other.
1This is a phrase I adopted from Marc Turnage