In Part I of this teaching, we learned that the Spirit of God purposely led Christ into the wilderness, where He spent forty days and forty nights praying, fasting, and preparing for His public ministry. We also learned that all of us who belong to Christ have also been appointed by God to spend certain seasons of our lives in that same wilderness.
‘Desert experiences’ are dry, seemingly lifeless, uneventful times, in the life of a believer. No one is exempt. We all go through them, some more than others. During these difficult seasons, we aren’t able to sense God’s presence or nearness in our lives, nor do we see any manifestations that He is actively at work in our lives. Life becomes dreadfully mundane, and we cannot see the purpose of our days. The things that usually bring us joy and comfort, i.e., prayer, Bible study, attendance at Mass, etc., no longer do so, and we feel like we’re simply going through the religious motions of Christianity. In short, we have what I call the ‘spiritual blahs.’ Everything is quiet; everything is still. Nothing seems to be happening. It almost feels as if the Lord has temporarily placed us on a shelf and completely forgotten about us, and we wonder when He will remember us and return to our lives once more.
Of course, we all know that the Lord neither shelves His children, nor does He forget them. But when we find ourselves in the burning crucible of the desert, it certainly does feel that way, doesn’t it?
Today, we’re going to take a look at a man whose life was seemingly put on the shelf for 40 years while he moldered in the backside of a desert. Imagine going through a desert experience that lasted 40 years! We’re going to take a look at Moses, who was used mightily by God to deliver the Israelite people out of Egyptian bondage.
In Part I, we looked at Hagar’s experience in the wilderness, and we learned that sometimes the Lord brings us there to counsel and instruct us in the way He has chosen for us. Because it’s so easy to become distracted and focused on the events taking place in our daily lives, sometimes it is necessary for God to bring us into the wilderness so that we’ll give Him our full attention. Remember what we learned in Part I: it is usually in the wilderness that an undivided heart is cultivated.
But in the story of Moses, we see that there are other reasons why the Lord brings His children into the wilderness, and it is this reason which will be the principle subject of this teaching.
By the time Moses was born, the children of Israel had grown into a population of over several million people in Egypt. The king of Egypt became afraid at this large number of Israelites. He was concerned that if war broke out against Egypt, the Hebrews would side with Egypt’s enemies, fight against them, and eventually leave the country. Eventually, Pharaoh put slave masters over the Hebrews in order to oppress them with forced labor, but the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied. To greatly reduce the number of Hebrew children being born, Pharaoh then ordered that all male babies born to the Israelites be killed.
After this law had been given, Moses came into the world, but the boys parents refused to see their son killed. Moses’ mother placed her son in a basket and sent him down the Nile River, while his older sister Miriam secretly watched nearby. Pharaoh’s daughter eventually found the basket, took pity on the child, and decided to adopt him as her own. When Miriam suggested that she knew a woman who could serve as a nurse to Moses, Pharaoh’s daughter agreed to this. As a result, Moses’ own mother had the privilege of caring for him in his early years.
When Moses was grown, the Bible teaches that he went out one day to where the Hebrews were being forced into hard labor. When he saw an Egyptian beating a fellow Hebrew, he killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand. He didn’t realize that someone had been watching him. The next day, when he saw two Hebrews fighting, he tried to stop them. But one of them said to him, "Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?" [Ex 2:14].
Moses knew he was in trouble; his crime had been witnessed! In great fear, he fled for his life, for when Pharaoh learned of his crime, he tried to have him killed. Moses fled to Midian, where for 40 long years, He worked for his father-in-law Jethro as a shepherd.
Before we continue on with the story of Moses, we need to stop and ask ourselves why he killed the Egyptian. Also, why did he feel the need to intervene between the two Hebrew men? What was Moses’ motive? In order to answer this question, we must go to the book of Acts, where Stephen is standing before the Sanhedrin and giving a speech which will eventually have him martyred for Christ.
When reading the Bible, we must pay attention to details, for Stephen is about to provide us with a very important clue concerning Moses and his motives back in Egypt. If we miss out on this detail, we will fail to see the reason why God had to send Moses into the wilderness for 40 years.
In the 1956 Hollywood version of The Ten Commandments, Moses doesn’t learn of his Hebrew heritage until he is a full-grown man. But we know from Stephen’s comments before the Sanhedrin that this simply is not true. When testifying before the Sanhedrin, Stephen made the following comment: "When Moses was 40 years old, he decided to visit his fellow Israelites. He saw one of them being mistreated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian. Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not." [Ac 7:23-25].
Note Stephen’s words. Moses considers himself a ‘fellow Israelite.’ He knows that the Israelites are ‘his own people.’ Not only this, but Moses appears to have some sort of inkling in his heart that he has some sort of Divine destiny to fulfill, although he isn’t sure exactly what it is. The Bible doesn’t provide details, but Moses knew something. He knew that God wanted to use him in a special way to rescue the people of Israel. We know these things because of the statements Stephen uttered when standing before the Sanhedrin, and we are fully assured that when Stephen spoke, he spoke by the Spirit of God.
In Moses’ eyes, he was ready to serve God in the holy capacity of ‘deliverer.’ He was ready to be Israel’s shepherd, leading the flocks of God out of terrible bondage. He was young and in the prime of his life. He was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action. He was skilled. He enjoyed power and prestige, and because he enjoyed these things, Moses knew how to make things happen. Because of his wealth and princely position, every resource of Egypt was available to him in rescuing the children of Israel. God could relax. Moses was here.
From a human standpoint, Moses had what leadership took, and now, it was time (in his mind) to act. It was time for him to reveal himself to the Israelites. Their savior had come. In his first act of deliverance, Moses decided to kill an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew.
As we learned in the story, Moses’ plan completely blew up in his face, didn’t it? He went from the columned halls of a beautiful Egyptian palace, where he lived as a son of Pharaoh, to being an outcast, an exile, and a lowly shepherd in the backside of a desert. Not only this, but he spent the next 40 years of his life in this desert. Forty years! Why?
Simply put, Moses had to be changed. He had to be broken. God needed to take Moses from a position of self-reliance to a position of total reliance upon Him, and so, into the blistering desert he went. God knew the plans He had in mind for Israel’s deliverance, and He knew that Moses was His chosen instrument. But God alone would be glorified, and God alone would receive the credit for this deliverance, not Moses.
Moses was brought into the wilderness in order to be broken by God. In His wisdom and understanding, the Lord stripped this man of everything he had known and enjoyed as a citizen of Egypt. Not only was he driven into the desert, in the process, he lost his family, his home, his privileges, his power, and his pride. Moses was stripped of everything save his next breath. Talk about being humbled! This man, who once walked with kings, now walked with sheep. This man, who once adorned himself in Egyptian finery, was now clothed in shepherd’s apparel. Instead of sleeping in a palace with servants to tend his every need, Moses dwelled in a tent.
To the naked eye, it looked very much like ‘Prince Moses’ had been put on a shelf and forgotten for the next 40 years in the desert. But he wasn’t forgotten, was he? God was very much at work in Moses’ life, breaking, shattering, molding, sanding, sifting, refining, and polishing until the metal was finally made ready for the Master’s use. That Moses was a broken man at the end of this forty-year period in the desert is evident in his reaction when God appeared to him in the burning bush and commissioned him to return to Egypt to deliver the people of Israel out of bondage. Note Moses’ response: "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" [Ex 4:10]. "I am slow of speech and tongue." [Ex 4:10]. And finally, he cried out before the Lord as follows: "O Lord, please send someone else to do it!" [Ex 4:13].
Where was Moses’ confidence now? Where was his reliance now? It certainly was no longer in himself or his own ability, was it? Forty years in the burning crucible of the desert had burned every trace of it out of this man. In the sight of God, the Master Craftsman, Moses was now ready for holy service.
What goes for Moses goes for us, beloved, and it is for this reason why we will find ourselves being led into the desert time and time again all throughout our lives until the day we leave this world. In wisdom, understanding, and complete faithfulness, the Lord brings us into the wilderness in order to break each one of us for His use and purpose. Those who preach that God’s purpose is to prosper us and make us rich, cozy, and comfortable, do not know the God of the Bible. God isn’t concerned with our comfort; He’s concerned with our character. His goal is to bring us to a place of absolute nothingness so that we will recognize that all we have of value in this life is God and God alone.
God wants to be in total control of our lives. This is what it means to be a Christian, beloved. Being a Christian is not just a matter of going to church and obeying the rules. It’s about being involved in a relationship in which Christ and Christ alone is in complete control of our lives. The Lord is calling each of us to take up our cross - to sacrificially die to ourselves and give of ourselves completely to His cause - in order that we might live for Him and only Him.
We are brought into the desert to die. God wants us to die to our dreams, plans, goals, and ambitions so that the Lord Jesus Christ is free to have His way in our lives. We are brought into the desert so that self and love of self might die. We are brought into the desert so that our natural tendency to control our own lives and depend on our own strength might be ground into the dust of the desert floor.
Christ wants to be in control of our lives, our wills, and our destinies. To be a Christian means to give back to Christ the Title Deed to our lives so that He may live in and through us and accomplish His will for our lives. Life is about pursuing His cause, His plans, His purpose, and His will, not our own. Because we have such a struggle when it comes to relinquishing this control to the Lord, we are brought into the desert to be broken. Until we are willing to die to self, we will never understand what it means to live.
We can never understand the joy of walking in the power of Christ’s resurrection until we have learned how to die with Him on Calvary. Who can experience resurrection apart from death?
When a man dies, we say of him, "He is at peace. His soul is at rest." We do not say these things while he is suffering on his death bed. While he is still in the throes of death, he suffers. But once he has died, he is at peace. Brothers and sisters, we must apply this same principle to our everyday lives. To live in a state in which we are suspended between life and death is the most miserable form of suffering imaginable. And yet, so many of us live in this miserable state. We aren’t willing to die to self. We aren’t willing to die to our own desires, dreams, goals, and ambitions. We want to enter into Christ’s joy, rest, and peace, but these things continue to elude us because we refuse to surrender. We refuse to experience death. Death to self. Death to our own dreams, desires, goals, and plans. Death to self-control and self-reliance. Death to own will. Only when we experience the sweet release of death, can we know the joy of walking in the power of Christ’s resurrection.
When writing to the Galatian church, St. Paul spoke of this death. In this letter, he wrote as follows: "I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me." [Gal 2:20]. St. Paul knew what it was to die on the cross, but he also knew what it was to walk in the power of Christ’s resurrection. This we clearly see in his second letter to the Corinthian believers in which he wrote to them as follows: "Dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything." [2 Co 6:9-10].
In that same letter to the Corinthian church, St. Paul wrote to them as follows: "I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." [2 Co 12:10]. In every weakness, insult, hardship, persecution, or difficulty, St. Paul saw an opportunity to die so that Christ’s power could live through him.
Our beloved brother knew how to live beyond his earthly circumstances by a power that is not of this world. He knew how to live by the power of Christ’s resurrection because he knew how to die on the cross of Christ. And because he was willing to die, he experienced life at its fullest, the way God intended.
Many of us are afraid to die completely to self in order to live for God because Satan has deceived us into believing that God’s plan for our lives is an inferior plan. We’re afraid that if we completely surrender the Title Deed to our lives over to Christ, we’re going to be gypped of joy, pleasure, peace, and happiness. Life won’t be fun anymore. And so, we hold back, refusing to relinquish our will over to Christ, Whom we call our Lord and Master.
If we want to understand Christ, His Kingdom, and how that Kingdom operates, then we must be willing to take the principles that apply to this world and turn them completely upside down. In the Kingdom of God, it is more blessed to give than it is to receive. The first are last, and the last are first. The least are the greatest, and the greatest are the least. To decrease is to increase, and to increase is to decrease. In the Kingdom of God to die is to live and to live is to die. Satan holds out death to the world, convincing them that what he offers is life. Christ, on the other hand, calls us to die in order that we might truly live. He calls us to die to self, to sin, to this world, and to everything this world has to offer, and to yield to that call, He has given us the power of His Holy Spirit.
Why does Christ bring us into the wilderness? He brings us there to die, brothers and sisters, that we might learn how to live. He brings us there to break us of our love of self and our refusal to relinquish over to Him control of our own lives and destinies. He brings us there to purge us of our self-reliance, our confidence, and our self-assurance. He brings us there to purge us from every tendency to take glory and credit for all that is accomplished in our lives, that we might lay these things at His feet, where they truly belong. He brings us there to purge us of those things which cannot remain in our lives if His character is to be displayed in us.
When speaking to His disciples, the Lord Jesus instructed them as follows: "The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." [Jn 12:25]. Who is the man who ‘loves his life,’ only to lose it in the end? He is the man who refuses to relinquish the Title Deed to his life over to God because he would rather live life his way, rather than God’s way. In his mind, life is short, and he plans to get all he can out of it before he leaves this world. He has no time for God and the things which matter to God. He’s going to live for himself and pursue his own ideas of happiness, wealth, and success. He’s going to control his own destiny and pursue his own will in life. He’s going to do these things because he does not want to ‘die;’ he wants to live. According to the Lord Jesus Christ, in the end, it is this man who will be robbed of eternal life because, while he lived on the earth, he was not willing to ‘die.’
Who is the man who ‘hates his life,’ only to find it in the end? He is the man who is not afraid to relinquish the Title Deed to his life over to Christ. He is the man who is willing to live life God’s way, instead of his own way. His life is completely centered on Christ and His Kingdom. The treasures which he pursues are spiritual treasures, not earthly ones. Daily, he yields his life to the Spirit of God, and allows that same Spirit to change him, that he might reflect Christ. He does not use his gifts, talents, skills, and abilities to make himself rich; rather, he uses them to make others rich in their walk with Christ. He is the man who has completely died to everything this world has to offer in order to walk with Christ and be found in Him. When he leaves this world, he will be blessed with the gift of eternal life because on earth, he was willing to ‘die.’ He was willing to die to self and all that it entails.
Moses was brought into the wilderness to die, that he might learn what it meant to truly live, and it is no different with us, brothers and sisters. We, too, are called to die.
Whether we want to accept this truth or not, it simply is not possible to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ apart from death on a cross. Jesus wanted His followers to know up front that the price of discipleship is high. In speaking to His disciples, Christ warned them as follows: "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters - yes, even his own life - he cannot be My disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple." [Luke 14:26-27].
Is the Son of God, Who came preaching love, now teaching that men should hate? No. In saying these things, Jesus was teaching that no one was to come before Him, not even family. Nothing is to come before Christ and His specific will for our lives, and this includes our career, dreams, goals, plans, ambitions, desires, and priorities.
We are not to love anything or anyone more than we love Him. We are not to live for anything or anyone other than Christ. Our allegiance is to be to Him and Him alone. If we put the desires, plans, goals, ambitions, wishes, and will of self and others before those of Christ, then it is because we do not love Him more than all others.
Death to self is not a popular message today, for it goes against the grain of the American culture, does it not? And yet, apart from that death, we cannot become a disciple of Christ. Jesus did not say, "Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Me will receive an inferior place in Heaven." He said, "Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple." It isn’t enough that we walk in the shadow of Christ’s cross; the Lord is calling us to carry our own cross and to be willing, like St. Paul, to be crucified on it, dying, that Christ might live through us.
Because the Lord knows that our flesh is weak when it comes to death and relinquishment of our own will, in love, He leads us into the wilderness, that we might learn how to take up our cross and die. We are brought there to die to everything that stands in the way of Jesus Christ truly becoming the Lord of our individual lives.
Like Moses of long ago, it might seem like God has thoughtlessly placed you on a shelf and has completely forgotten about you. When you look at your life, to the naked eye it may very well look like nothing of any significance is going on. But you must look within, brothers and sisters, for God is very much at work. He never stops. Jesus said, "My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I, too, am working." [Jn 5:17]. The Lord is always at work in us, but it is up to us to be sensitive to that work and to yield to it, rather than resist it.
If you are in a wilderness at this season in your life, I encourage you to keep doing the things you need to do in order to keep yourself spiritually strong. Don’t allow the devil to break your spiritual stride. Keep praying. Keep reading God’s Word. Keep going to Mass, and keep serving others in love. Keep cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, allowing Him to change you.
We cannot allow our feelings to get in the way of our walk, which is to be one of faith. We walk by faith, not by our feelings. We are to keep doing these things until God brings us to the other side of ‘through.’
One of my favorite verses in the Bible can be found in Song of Songs 8:5, in which we see God’s ultimate purpose in bringing those whom He loves into the desert. In this particular book, we read as follows: "Who is this coming up from the desert, leaning upon her lover?" Moses entered the burning crucible of the desert confident, self-reliant, and wholly self-assured. He entered that desert full of self with his will intact, and his dependence completely on himself. By the time Heaven was through with him in that desert, he came out trusting in his God, living for his God, and leaning on his God.
May we too yield our lives to Christ in that same desert. May God’s grace be upon us in our appointed seasons in the desert, that we might yield and be completely transformed by the power of His Holy Spirit. May we emerge from the wilderness so completely transformed by Heaven that men, even our closest friends and relatives, will scarcely recognize us, and will say to one another, "Who is this? Who is this coming up from the desert...
.... leaning on her Lover?"
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