Turn Your Barren Desert Into a Personal Spiritual Retreat
- Summary: From time to time, believers find themselves in what appears to be a spiritual desert, a wilderness place, a barren personal wasteland where God does not seem to be moving and their spiritual lives seem to be stagnant. A Christian friend of mine once cried out descriptively: "We're in the Sahara desert!" Surprisingly, it is just such “desert” times that become opportunities for us to experience a spiritual retreat — actually a spiritual advance! — that makes us stronger. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert before He began His public ministry. The result? — “Jesus ... was led by the Spirit in the desert ... for forty days ... [after which] Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:1-2, 14).
Exodus 2:15; 3:1-2, 10 When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian... (3:1) Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side [KJV: backside] of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush.... (10) “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
Acts 7:29-30 When Moses heard this, he fled to Midian, where he settled as a foreigner and had two sons. After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai.
- •• Moses spent 40 years in Egypt ... then 40 years in Midian, shepherding in the desert ... and finally, 40 years of delivering ministry.
•• Even the greatest saints of God have cycles in life. Look at the great prophet John the Baptist — he lived in the desert until age 30!
•• Like Moses or John the Baptist, the time we spend on the backside of the desert can be very important to our spiritual growth.
Exodus 2:15 When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian.
- •• Moses needed to get (1) out of Egypt and (2) to get "Egypt" out of Moses.
•• The backside of the desert can be a fruitful time of purging ourselves from former bondages and evil associations.
- • The seeming seclusion and solitude of your "desert" can be a place for quietly considering the good and bad in our lives, and making adjustments.
Exodus 2:21-22 Moses agreed to stay with the man, who gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage. Zipporah gave birth to a son, and Moses named him Gershom, saying, “I have become an alien in a foreign land.”
- •• God can use the backside of the desert as a time to get families established.
•• Use your spiritual desert fruitfully, to build your own spiritual life and that of your family.
Exodus 2:23 During that long period, the king of Egypt died.
- •• God can use the desert time to providentially work out necessary circumstances — for example, Joseph, Mary, and the child Jesus lived in Egypt until the murderous King Herod died.
•• Luke 5:5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” And they made a big haul!
- • Those fish had presumably been there, growing, perhaps for years. But right at this time, all the circumstances converged, at the Lord's direction, for that big haul of fish.
Exodus 3:1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro...
- •• The desert can be a place and time for the learning of ministry skills necessary for the future.
•• Moses learned how to shepherd a few sheep, so that he could eventually shepherd a few million Israelites!
- • In our deserts we are learning skills that will be needed if God moves mightily.
Exodus 3:1-2a Now Moses ... led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush.
- •• The desert can be a place of prayer and God-focused meditation, of quiet, increasingly close contact with the Lord in anticipation of the future.
- • Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, communing with God the Father, immediately preceded His remarkable public ministry.
• John the Baptist lived in the desert until age 30, then had a very brief time of nation-changing ministry.
Exodus 3:10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.
- •• The desert can be the place where we receive our “marching orders” for the next phase.
- • It was in the desert that Moses heard God’s call into the next phase of Moses’ life and ministry.
Genesis 15:13-14 Then the Lord said to [Abram], “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.”
- •• Timing! Four hundred years of Israel’s Egyptian captivity had to be fulfilled, as God had declared to Abraham. Only then (“afterward”) could Israel come out and begin their voyage to the Promised Land.
•• The desert time can be a time for God’s sovereign timing to come to pass.
Deuteronomy 8:1-3 Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers.  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.  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.
- •• Our desire is to “possess the land” God has promised.
•• To do so we need to remember five things these verses in Deuteronomy teach us about the desert years:
- • God has been humbling us. There is no room for pride.
• God has been testing us. Will we persevere?
• God has been seeing what is “in [our] hearts.”
• God has been watching to see whether or not we will be faithful to “keep his commands.”
• God has allowed the natural hunger to teach us that we do not prosper by natural means, but only by that which proceeds from the Lord.
Summary of how we can turn our desert years into a fruitful spiritual retreat:
- • Desert years allow us to see that God, in His divine wisdom, has determined certain cycles for our lives.
• What seems like a spiritual desert can actually be a time for purging ourselves of former bondages and evil associations.
• Our desert time can give us quiet pause to evaluate our lives, consider the good and bad we see in ourselves, and make the necessary adjustments.
• Seeming wilderness times can allow us to focus on getting our families established.
• God can use the desert time to work out circumstances necessary for us to go forward in His plan for our lives.
• As Moses learned shepherding in the desert, we can learn ministry skills that will be needed in the years ahead.
• The spiritual desert can give you time to devote to increasing your closeness to the Lord.
• In the desert, like Moses, you may receive your “marching orders” for the months and years ahead. Look for His guidance.
• Months or even years patiently enduring the sometimes hot, sometimes cold desert may be needed to allow God’s sovereign timing to be worked out.
• The “desert” can be a productive place for God to humble us, to test and teach us, and to discern if our hearts will remain faithful to Him.
Remember these lessons from the desert years ... and apply them ... “so that [we] may ... enter and possess the land that the LORD promised...”
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©1998, 2006, 2015, James H. Feeney.
Pentecostal Sermons and Bible Studies
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.