Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Desert Survival Skills

In my last post (read it first if you haven’t read it yet), I talked about ways that we find ourselves in the desert. In this post, I will discuss three things we can do that will help us survive in the desert.

- Prepare
- Pursue
- Persist

1. Prepare
In Exodus 3, Moses had to take his shoes off. Two things immediately come to mind:
Firstly, his shoes had the dust and dirt of his everyday endeavours on them and he had to leave that behind in order to come into God's presence. How are we coming to God?

Secondly, his shoes were a tangible barrier between God and himself. By removing them he came to God on God's terms and was directly in contact with holy ground. One year I was very upset with a class I was assigned. Just before school started I was looking over the list. There were 6 classes in my grade. In this grade there were 5 children with special needs/ behaviour issues severe enough to qualify for special education funding. Because I had “good routines” I had 4 of these children put into my class of 35 (along with two children with ADD). I was angry and upset. At this time there was a teacher shortage in New Zealand. I decided that I was going to sort out this situation by having the children redistributed fairly or leaving my job! The morning that I got up to do this I very clearly heard God ask me, “will you trust me? My response was, “I don’t want to trust you because if you are asking me to, that means I have to put up with this situation and I don’t want to. It’s unfair.” I felt like God’s response was, “I am going to rock your boat this year honey. In fact I don’t want you in the boat – it’s a barrier between you and me. So prepare to get wet!”

Moses prepared himself to meet with God. When we come to God … there can be NOTHING between him and us. We come to him on HIS terms.

Ex 19:10-11
God gave the Israelites advance notice that he was going to meet with the people. It required 3 days of preparation. He was serious about the preparation.

Again, we see in 1 Kings 19:11 that God gave Elijah advance notice so he had time to prepare to meet him.

In Matthew 17, Jesus didn't just wander on up the mountain. He took the disciples and LED them - he set off with purpose. He had to take the correct path to end up in the right place. What path are we taking to come into God's presence ... or are we waiting for God's presence to come to us?

I woke up one Sunday a few years ago and as soon as I awoke I clearly sensed God's voice say to me, "I want you to prepare for church". I thought , "I'd rather just rock up actually!" God's response to me was "no more." I was really challenged about this. I was going to our 8.30am service and this meant that I had to get up earlier to prepare. In that season, it also meant that I needed to forgo my Sunday afternoon snooze to seek God's face for the evening service. Here is the thing ... if we knew that we were going to meet God face to face, what preparations would we make? I'm sure we wouldn't come with the casual attitude we so often have when we seek God!

Part of preparing involves repentance. In Exodus 33 we see that Mt Horeb was a place of repentance. Acts 3:19 tells us, “Repent then, and turn to God, so that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.”

2. Pursue
We are exhorted to pursue God. The Oxford dictionary defines pursuit this way: "seek after, follow with intent to capture". It is an active verb. We have to do something. In Song of Songs 3:1 – 5, we see that the beloved sought after her lover. She got off her bed and actively went looking.

The desert is not the time to sit under a tree and wish to die. It is the time when you have to press in and determine to find God no matter what. We must dig our wells deeper and keep drinking!

In my first year of teaching, I taught a very bright student named Michael who was 5. We used to share news. One day, I asked who had something to share and Michael eagerly waved his hand. He started off, “Well, on the weekend we went to Hot Water Beach and dug to find the water table …” Now imagine a class of 5 year olds – this went right over their heads! I asked Michael to explain what the water table was and he responded with, “well ... its when you dig and dig and keep digging until you find where the water level is under the ground ..." Michael had caught something that we need to catch. When in the desert, dig and dig and don't stop digging until you find that water.

God is not playing Hide and Seek with us. In Jer 29:11 he says, “I will be found by you when you seek me with all your heart.”

Hosea 6:3 tells us, “Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that cover the earth.”

3. Persist
The Oxford dictionary defines persist as: "continue firmly or obstinately, especially in face of difficulty; survive."

Hebrews 10:23 says, "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess for He who promised is faithful"

We need to persist … when it’s hard … when God seems far away … persist in your pursuit.

Think about Ezekiel and the dry bones (Ez 37). He prophesied and the dry bones came together. They not only came together but flesh, tendons and muscles appeared on them. I don't know about you but I would probably be so in awe of this miracle that I would be tempted to stop there. The thing is that those bones were defying the Word of God. In vs 5 God said "I will put my breath in them and they will live." In vs 8 it says ..."but there was no breath in them...". What use is a pile of beautifully formed, attractive looking, LIFELESS bodies!!! Ezekiel had to push through until he saw the miracle and work of God in its completeness.

How often we are like that? God touches us and we are so overwhelmed and excited by it, that we stop there in the moment of encounter. God is always moving on and his challenge to us is to move with him and keep climbing higher. Don't back off and be content with a little taste. Get thirsty and pursue Him.

Isaiah 35:6 - 7 " ... Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool and thirsty ground, bubbling springs ..." So how do we survive in the desert? We prepare for it, we pursue Him and we persist until we find him. Not only will he refresh us, he will use us to refresh others. God's heart is that we are filled with Him and that he bubbles out of us and refreshes those around us. We can become part of his oasis in the desert ...

Lead Me To The Desert So I May Drink!

Do you ever feel as if you are in a desert? Do you feel dry? Parched? Perhaps you feel you will die if you are there any longer! Have you ever considered that the desert may not be a bad thing in your life but instead, it may be a place of refreshing … a place of encounter … a place where you will meet with God and come away changed?

As I reflect on the deserts I have travelled through in my life, I think there are 4 ways that we tend to end up there:
- Discouragement
- Distraction
- Disobedience
- Divine leading

1. Discouragement
1 Kings 19:2-3
In verse 3 we see Elijah was afraid and discouraged. He ran to the desert and wished to die. God met him there, strengthened him and then he went on to Horeb - a very significant place which we will come back to later.

2. Distraction
What is our focus? What are you looking at? Matthew 6 tells us to seek first the Kingdom of God. How often do we allow our eyes to become focused on other things - disappointments, hurts, injustices, our circumstances? When we do this it’s like getting lost in a maze. We wander around and around getting more and more off track. All we see are high walls around us. We need to be like the Psalmist in Psalm 121 who said, "I will lift my eyes to the hills - where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” God looks down on the maze and can see the way out. He will lead us out when we fix our eyes on Him instead of the circumstances. In fact, He doesn't just lead us out of it, He promises that in all things he works for the good of those who love him and work according to his ways.

3. Disobedience
Nothing takes us off the path quicker than disobedience. There are examples all through the Bible of this. If you feel like you are in a desert and disobedience has taken you there, come back to the last place you met God and be obedient!

The above three are pretty self-explanatory so I have not spent much time on them. The next one is the focus of this post. One I feel we do not give enough thought to.

4. Divine Leading
I don't know about you, but like the Israelites in Exodus, I often moan and groan in deserts and spend most of my energy trying to work out how I will get out of them! Have you ever considered the fact that God will lead you into the desert for a time of intimacy with you - a time where he can have your undivided attention?

In Hosea 2:14 he says, “I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her...” What does this word allure mean? It comes from the hebrew word "pathah" which means "to open" or "roomy". Isn't this amazing?! God will take us into the desert to open us, clean out our garbage and make us roomy so that we can contain more of him and have more to give away …

In 1 Kings 19 we see that Elijah ended up on Mount Horeb. This mountain is very significant and we will discuss it more later. Moses had his first encounter with God in the burning bush at Horeb. Later on he met again with God on this mountain (many Bible scholars think Horeb and Sinai are probably the same mountain). God met Elijah and spoke with him on Horeb. You might be wondering what a mountain and the desert have to do with each other? The name Horeb means barren, desert and desolate. Its location is also in the middle of the desert! It was a place of God encounter.

Deserts do not have to be places of death. They can become places of life. God provides in the desert. He provided Elijah with food, the Israelites with mannah, Jesus with ministering angels, Moses with his Presence ... If you are in the desert at the moment, what does God have to say about it?

Isaiah 44:2-3
" ... be not afraid o Jacob, for I will pour water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground ..."

Isaiah 35:6 - 7
" ...water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool and thirsty ground, bubbling springs ..."

So … what do we do when we find ourselves in the desert? Check out Desert Survival Skills!