Over the years, from time to time, I have found myself in spiritual deserts.  Some people call such a condition “being depressed.”  Regardless of the term, it can sap every bit of your strength physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

At least two times in my life I found myself in the desert of despair… or if your prefer… a state of depression.  One lasted 4 years and the other 14 months.  The 14 months was harder than the 4 years.  But both of them were some of the most difficult times of my life.  And both of them took place while I was a pastor.

I have had occasion this week to talk to several people who describe themselvs as being either depressed or in a spiritual desert.  As a result I became reflective about what I did during the times of my life where I struggled as they were describing.  What is linked below reflectes my meditations about desert experiences and what I did while I was in the midst of them.

“Streams In The Desert”

Ps 63:1 O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

There was a time of difficulty in my life when God placed me in an emotional & spiritual desert for my good.  Even though I did “Christian things” like pray, witness, study scripture, & worship… I felt like God was ignoring me.  I wanted to move to Montana & live in a hut!

When I look back now I realize I was under significant emotional strain.  It might not be too far off to say that I was close to breaking down.  Among the difficulties were: My Son’s illness… D.Min. work… Tumultuous times @ church… and others I will not name.

Emotionally I was STRUGGLING!  Anger boiled w/in me.  Tears were my diet.  I felt as though I was an utter & complete failure in every way… as a husband, father, friend, & pastor.

Then, & it grieves me to say this, I caused my family to teeter close to collapsing.  It will take me a while to repair the pain I caused my family.  I tried to change… BUT I COULDN’T!  And because I couldn’t change, guilt increased in my heart week by week.

I thought to myself: YOU ARE A PASTOR!  You study the Bible every day.  You have a decent handle on doctrine and theology… and look at where you are!”  There were times when I hoped God would spare me just one more Sunday as I longed for a change.

At the time I had no clue how serious my condition was!  I didn’t realize I was in a desert.  So I had no idea how to escape!  That thought still frightens me.  I was lost… I didn’t KNOW how lost I was… & therefore couldn’t find my way to back to God!

But then GOD intervened.  He began a process that is still taking place, to restore my fellowship with Him.  And so our topic for this morning is Escaping Spiritual Deserts.

There are times when God’s presence is difficult to discern.  You run dry emotionally, physically, AND spiritually.  I describe that as being in “The Desert of Despair.”  And are not uncommon to C’ians.

Here’s a quick list of the desert in Scripture.  Moses was in the desert for 40 years PRIOR to delivering the Children of Israel (Ac 7:30).  Moses got 10 C’s there (Ex 19-20).  Israel wandered in it for 40 years (Num 14:33).  The scapegoat is banished to the desert (Lev 16:10).

Elijah fled to the desert from Ahab (1 Ki 17) and Jezebel (1 Ki 19).  David wrote many of his Psalms while in the desert (Ps 63).  John the Baptist lived in the desert & began his ministry there (Mt 3:1-3; Lk 1:80).  Jesus was driven into the desert for 40 days after his baptism to be tempted (Mt 4:1).  And Paul spent 3 years in the deserts of Arabia prior to beginning his ministry (Gal 1:17:18).

Desert experiences are prominent in the lives of God’s people.  Some here today are in one!

Q:  How can you know if YOU are in the desert?  From my experience I can tell you some indicators because, had I known what to look for, I would have known I was in a desert of despair.

Little true joy.  Critical spirit.  Temper.  Defensiveness.  Few friends.  Tendency twrd legalism OR sinful license (Explain).  Worship is mechanical.  The things of God aren’t TRULY joyful.  Rationalize sin (For me it was anger).  Faith becomes intellectual versus heart felt!

Prayer is minimal; you feel anxious… helpless… and depressed; and last… When you feel like giving up on everything, including on God,… you are in a DESERT OF DESPAIR!

Trust me on this, the longer a person denies a desert condition… the worse it becomes… the more hardened they are… and the less likely they are to even desire escape from it!

!! Listen!  Being in the desert has NOTHING to do w/ material blessings!  PAUSE.  A person can be in the Promised Land w/out material abundance OR in a waste land WITH material abundance!  The desert I’m referring to is an emotional and spiritual state of being… it is NOT material!

You can read your Bible, Pray, Witness, Give, & do all the “Christian” things & STILL be in the desert!  I know because that was MY case.

Desert experiences can last for extended periods of time.  For Moses & Children of Israel it was 40 years, Paul for 3.  I was in one for about 8 years.   Some people spend their life in the desert… learn to cope… & never even try to leave.  THOSE are the people I’m after today!

Q: Why does the desert play such a prominent role in the lives of God’s people?  God (!) places us in the desert to draw us to Him.  In the desert it is quiet.  There is forced solitude.  We have to focus.  It is easier to hear God (If we listen).  And we learn compassion for others when THEY are in the desert.

Now let me throw you a curve regarding my desert experience.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything!  Given a choice, I would go again b/c I learned things there I wouldn’t have learned any other way.  Only by being IN the desert do I appreciate NOT being there!  Ps 119:71… It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn Thy statutes.”

MAJOR POINT!  God PLACES us in the desert to know Him better!

In the desert we learn great lessons of life & faith.  We become thankful for the Oasis’ in life, for the good times.  We learn to wait upon God.  To LISTEN for, & TO, God.  We learn to trust God’s love for us (Ro 8:28).

We also learn three lessons about God himself!  His Provision: Turn to 2 Cor 9:8! 

     And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. {INCLUDING THE DESERT!}

His Power: He IS in control!  His Personality: Faithfulness, mercy, & love.  (T’sition!)

ASIDE:  Most  people in the desert DON’T KNOW they are there.  They don’t REALIZE their situation.  They’ve become so accustomed to absence of joy, emptiness, & no spiritual power that they think it is NORMAL & called DENIAL.  Some of you here this morning are THOSE PEOPLE!

Do you LONG for a DYNAMIC, & JOYFUL relationship w/ God?  OR… are you content with your discontentedness?  THINK ABOUT THAT LAST PHRASE!

If you are in the desert, you have 2 choices.  First… you can stay there.  OR Second, you can ask God to deliver you.  I pray you will do the second!

Now here is THE question to be answered… How do you get out of the desert?  For the answer we examine THE desert experience in Scripture… the Children of Israel.  There are several points & lessons to be learned from them.

First… Only GOD can deliver you from the desert!  Cry to Him for deliverance!  Jer 29:11…

     For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope & a future. 12 Then you will call upon me & come & pray to me, & I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me & find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

GOD is found when we seek w/ all our heart.  That means we put aside everything else in life and focus Him.  HE becomes our chief reason for life.  HE is object of our desire and the sole provider of joy & happiness.  Is that your desire?

Second, Remember that The Promised Land is on the other side of the desert.  Some people would rather live in bondage than the promised land.  But to get to the Promised Land you MUST go through the desert!  There are no exceptions… there is no other path… there is no other way out.

Don’t become so comfortable in Egyptian bondage that you forego freedom in Christ!

Third, Lack of faith in God will keep you in the desert.  Giants.  They didn’t have faith God would conquer their enemies, so they wandered 40 years.  You must BELIEVE God will deliver you!

Now I’m going to present you a new way of Spirituality.  This is the ONLY way out of the desert.  It is a new way to read the Bible… pray… & worship.  But really it is the ONLY way to read Scripture, pray, & worship.  I know what I’m talking about because I’ve been there.

And so lets read THE most important passage there is for escaping the desert.  Phil 3:7-11…

     But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 & be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God & is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ & the power of his resurrection & the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead (We could say, “Escape from the desert.”).

THE goal of Paul’s life was to know Jesus intimately!  THAT’s why he studied Scripture. THAT’s why he worshipped!  THAT’s why he suffered & gave up everything!  To know Jesus…

Is your house, job, health, family, or anything else more important to you than knowing Jesus better?  Would you joyfully give up your house, job, health, or family if that was REQUIRED to know Christ in all his fullness… HONESTLY?

Our goal in life is to BE, not DO, as Christians!  Nothing is as important as knowing Jesus in THE most intimate way possible!  To BE like Christ is our call, not DOING C’ian stuff.  Don’t mistake the abundant life for reading Scripture, praying, & worship.  It all depends on your motivation…

What is your motivation for reading Scripture?  It is NOT mainly to learn how to live… raise our kids… manage our money… or have healthy marriages & relationships.  Reading Scripture is to get to know JESUS!  Until THAT is your goal, don’t expect great blessings!

What is your motivation for prayer?  Prayer is NOT just to tell God what we want, to ask for healing, or to know what decisions to make.  Prayer is to talk to & LISTEN to Jesus!  Until THAT is your motivation, don’t expect much of a dynamic prayer life!

What is your motivation for worship?  Worship is NOT to be entertained by a “good” sermon or choir special.  Worship is a time to encounter Jesus PERSONALLY!  Again, until THAT is your goal… don’t expect worship to be a real spiritual encounter w/ God!

I’m CONVINCED… because I’ve been there… God will NOT be used!  He is NOT a spiritual Santa Clause.  Prayer is NOT only a spiritual 911 call.  The Bible is NOT merely an instruction manual for life.  And Worship is NOT religious entertainment!

Listen!  If you read Scripture… pray… or worship for ANY reason other than a desire to know God better… they will not be profitable for you!  Instead it will be a chore, boring, empty and legalistic!  You will give up & possibly become cold to God… & then feel guilty for feeling that way!!

God is a person.  And as such calls us to have a RELATIONSHIP with Him!  The benefits that RESULT from the relationship are how to live, raise our kids, manage money, healthy r’ships, guidance.  BUT THEY MUST NOT BE THE PRIMARY MOTIVATIONS FOR GODLY ACTIVITIES!

Don’t you want to have a dynamic Christian life… to know Christ is all his fullness… to live the abundant life?  Then the first step is to cry out to God for deliverance!  Repent of all sin in your life.  Sit a the feet of Jesus like Mary did in Lk 10:41-42…

If you are tired of emptiness… lack of power… and desire a life full of peace & joy… come to Christ!  Focus your energy on knowing Him… becoming more like Him… & follow Him!