Yesterday I wrapped up a three part series on the Spiritual Wilderness, or the Spiritual Desert, and how it tempts us in three areas: the appetites, the anxieties, and the ambitions.
I taught about it as it applies to each of us personally. But it applies to us as a congregation too.
I pointed out in my teachings that it wasn't the devil who led Jesus into the wilderness. He was actually "led by the Spirit." And I believe that's not just because it was Jesus. I believe it is true for us too. Personally, and communally.
Nothing comes our way without God's permission. We accept that easily enough when it means living with the consequences of our own actions. (At least after our initial objection.) But it's a hard pill to swallow when it's the consequences of other people's actions. Nevertheless, we have no other confidence that this, that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)
If we love him, we know that whatever we are experiencing has a redemptive outcome, whether we caused the hardship or not.
And we don't have to like it. We just have to trust God in it. And we have to continue to love him through it. And we have to continue to be called according to his purpose.
This invites us to submit to him in all things.
The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness because of their disobedience. But they didn't enter the wilderness because of disobedience. In fact, they were led by the Spirit into the wilderness as escape from captivity! By God's mighty hand they were miraculously delivered from Egypt, and marched straight out into the wilderness! And there, in the desert, they were given an opportunity to prove that they would trust God when God was all they had.
But they failed the test.
Not only did they grumble about not having enough to eat and drink, they feared the people of the Promised Land and refused to go in.
Don't miss that.
We read in Numbers 13 that God walked them through the wilderness right up to the Promised Land, and said, "Go in and take it!" But they cowered in fear. They refused. They were disobedient to the Lord's command. And so they were assigned a nomadic life in the wilderness for 40 years, so that the unfaithful could receive the inheritance of their disbelief -- the consequences of their inaction.
I believe God's deliverance usually leads us from captivity into some sort of Spiritual Desert.
We initially experience a miraculous deliverance of feeling forgiven and to some degree being filled with his Holy Spirit. But this deliverance always comes by way of repentance where we walk out of captivity, leaving familiar things behind -- things we used to enjoy in abundance.
We lose friends. We lose coping mechanisms. We experience the brokenness of other people who suffered because of our sins, and we feel remorse. We wish we could take it back, but we just have to live with it. And sometimes even the sin habits that miraculously disappeared can start to grow back as our initial zeal begins to fade.
Know this: The desert is part of God's deliverance!
There in the wilderness, where our only abundance is day-to-day provisions, God is testing us to see whether we will trust him! Every detail of this desert experience may not be directly caused by our disobedience, but every detail of it is there to teach us obedience!
The wilderness is a strategic part of God's redemption process whereby he is causing "all things to work together for good."
It is a grace. And grace teaches us. (Titus 2:12)
When we submit to God and to learning from grace, we find provision, even if day to day. But when we fail the test by giving in to doubt, and refusing to trust God, we find ourselves in the desert for an extended period of time.
I don't believe this is God being petty or vindictive. I believe it's God being gracious! His desire is to give us his best, and his best is holiness and righteousness. And it is in the desert experience where we are tested and purified, where we learn holiness and righteousness.
Again, this should be applied personally, but I want us to consider what it means for us as a congregation too.
Yes, 2020 is a spiritual desert for each of us, but it is for all of us too: God's Church! As I have called us to prayer and invited us to labor for what will be, please consider what this spiritual desert experience means for us as a congregation. We are being tested.
If we are together in this spiritual desert, how will we respond?
You heard me say it over and over again: "Every temptation is a test of your trust."
This desert experience called 2020 is testing our trust by giving temptation an opportunity to magnify our appetites, anxieties, and ambitions. Will God provide for us? Will God protect us? Will God fulfill his promises for us? Or will he let us starve? Will he let us die? Will he let us fail?
Thanks to all of you who continue to support the church financially. Because of you, this is not an appeal for provision, it's an appeal for participation in prayer to discern God's leading for the next season of our life together.
Next Monday night, October 26, we will have our second prayer night of this season of prayer. (Every 2nd and 4th Monday of the month for October, November, and December.) As you prepare yourself for that, please spend time reflecting prayerfully on these questions:
Those are complex questions, I know. Take a few minutes right now; grab a notebook or prayer journal, or even just the closest piece of paper you can find, and jot down a few thoughts about that. Whatever comes to mind. And then devote time in the coming days to pray about it.
The reason I ask is because these are the things the pastoral team and overseers are working through and they absolutely affect our life together as a church. We do not want to miss God's leading in this season. We do not want to fail the test. And we do not want to only discern these things ourselves. So we are asking you to pray with us about these things.
I'll have more to say next week I'm sure. For this week, pray.
With faith, hope, and love,
Pastor of Sarasota Community Church since 2009.