We call them “desert” or “wilderness” experiences, and they are normal for most Christians. They start innocently enough – through illness, death, job loss, even the hormonal changes that come after a child’s birth can bring it on through postpartum depression. And somewhere along the way, we lose our feeling of closeness to God. We become disinterested in anything to do with the church or the Bible. We make excuses to avoid our Christian friends because we don’t feel “spiritual” enough. Before we know it, we are out wandering in the desert, wondering if we have lost our faith in God forever or if we were ever saved in the first place. But, by looking at Jesus’ desert experience, we can have victory over Satan’s attempts to lead us away from God. Today, if you are going through one of those times, it is my hope that you will be encouraged by what you find.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You’; and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him (Matthew 4:1-11, NASB).
It is clear from the verses above that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for one purpose - to be tempted by the devil. Why did Jesus need to be tempted? To show us how to avoid temptation. So let's look at the types of temptation we face and how to meet these temptations head on.
Types of Temptation:
Physical temptations include everything that the "flesh" lusts after. These can include everything from sexual addictions, to drug or alcohol addictions, and yes even food addictions. Jesus' first temptation was hunger and the promise of food. His response to this temptation was to quote Scripture that not only put Satan in his place, but at the same time reminded Jesus that His strength to resist temptation could only be found in God's Holy Word.
Satan next tried to tempt Jesus into killing himself, with the promise that in modern terms would be akin to saying, "Everything will be okay because God loves you and you won't go to hell if you do this because He would never want to see you hurt." Thoughts of suicide are very real when we are emotionally depleted. When we feel alone, when life becomes too hard, when we feel like there is no hope and no one who cares, or like God isn't there or doesn't love us. Our thoughts can easily slip into dark places that look like a way to escape our problems. But in reality, suicide is a selfish act that leaves those who love you left to pick up the pieces and forever be wondering what they had done wrong, or what they had missed. Jesus' response to this kind of temptation was to once again quote Scripture and then remind Satan that it is wrong to put God to the test. If you think things will be better if you kill yourself, you are basically counting on God to forgive you for taking the life He gave you. **Note - Depression is a serious illness that is not Satanic in nature, but is largely a biological or hormonal issue, that unfortunately if you are a Christian, can be exacerbated by well-meaning Christians who think it's from the devil. Satan DOES NOT cause depression, he only uses it for his advantage. If you are suicidal please talk to someone!**
The desire to "have it all" to be rich, to have power, money and fame are all too familiar in this day and age. Jesus' response to Satan when he promised him riches if he would just bow down and worship him, was to again quote Scripture and put Satan in his place by reminding him that we should worship the Lord and serve only Him. This world has a lot of temptations and most of them have to do with money. According to the world, when you have money, you have power and unfortunately this has turned the hearts of many well-meaning Christians. We see it in TV evangelists who use God as an excuse to buy a plane, an airport, or multi-million dollar homes for their children. We also see Christians tempted to disregard God's word in order to have the approval of the world on issues like homosexuality and same-sex marriage. When Christians toss out the Bible in favour of man's opinion, they are not honouring God or obeying Him anymore. They are simply giving in to the devil and his schemes.
How Do We Defeat Temptation?
Jesus’ desert experience lasted forty days and forty nights. He was alone, yet not entirely alone. He was God in the flesh and at any moment could have asserted His authority to rise above His flesh and blood body and return to His heavenly abode. But He didn't, because if He had His whole purpose for coming into the world would have been moot. Instead, He allowed Himself to experience what we experience everyday - temptation. He had to learn how to rely on God alone and so do we.
Jesus promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
We know we can trust the Lord and His promises. Yet we often feel alone and that God has left us in the lurch. More often than not, we are the ones who have strayed from God. During these times, we must remember how Satan tried to deceive Jesus when He was in the wilderness. All His temptations began with one word: if. Each temptation was meant to plant a seed of doubt in the Saviour’s head. In addition, each attack was aimed at something new. We must remember, Satan is always scheming to try and get us to stop believing in and trusting God.
“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
Does God allow wilderness experiences to happen to us on purpose? Yes, indeed He does. But why? He allows us to go through these spiritually dry times in order to strengthen our faith in Him and test our faithfulness in Him. This was the very reason Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert – to be tempted to sin.
When we look at Christ’s temptations in the wilderness, we begin to see a pattern in how Satan works. We can use this knowledge to our advantage to “fight against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11).
How Satan works to destroy your faith in God:
In Matthew 4:1-11, we learn Jesus was hungry. Immediately, Satan tempted Christ in two ways:
Satan then goes on to tempt Jesus further, each time using the word if. He was constantly questioning Christ’s divinity and authority. Jesus’ response to Satan’s attacks can teach us how to stand firm when we are going through our own wilderness experiences.
Five things we need to remember to defeat temptation:
Six things that will help you survive a wilderness experience are:
If you do not spend time in prayer and Bible study daily, you can easily be deceived by Satan. You might rehash your past and be filled with regret, distancing yourself from God’s healing forgiveness. You might fall prey to false teachers and be led away from the Lord. You may even doubt your salvation. Jesus knew the Father’s will because He spent time with Him daily. His faith was strengthened because of His wilderness experience which enabled Him to meet future trials, firm in the knowledge He was not alone.
If you are feeling lost in the wilderness right now and your faith seems dry and all seems hopeless - be encouraged! Only those God knows are faithful and will endure in their faith go through these experiences. Remember, Satan cannot attack us unless he first gets permission from God (Job 1:6-12). God must have a lot of faith in you. Now keep your eyes on Jesus' example and pick up your Bible, because it is the Sword of the Spirit and the Word of Truth and is your only way out of the wilderness. It will defeat any lie or scheme the devil is bringing against you.
I don’t know about you, but for many years after I found out about Jesus and believed in Him as my Saviour, I thought I needed to do things for God in order to merit His salvation. In other words, I tried very hard to be good so God would not be disappointed in me, change His mind, and revoke my salvation. Quite simply, I was terrified that if I made a mistake, it would be the end of my relationship with the Lord.
I believed that because I did not receive proper instruction in the Word after I was saved. And so for years I kept trying to earn my salvation. I believed my sin was so great, that I needed to make amends first and be a better person before God could really work in my life. So I tried to "improve" myself in order for Jesus to accept me. I tried everything from good deeds, to not swearing, drinking or doing anything that would make God angry. Unfortunately, I became so tightly wound by all my own self-imposed do’s and don’ts I started to resent my relationship with this angry God who demanded so much. What I didn’t see was that I was the one who was doing the demanding. I was the one imposing the rules and standards. I was the one trying to make myself good and perfect, instead of letting the Holy Spirit work within me. In addition to that I tried to live up to the rules and standards my church had in place. Before I realized what was happening I started sliding into a deep depression. For many years my faith was lifeless, fake, and dull because I didn’t let God do His work. Instead of allowing His Holy Spirit to work a change within me, I was trying to do it all. And because I didn’t allow Him to have full access to smooth out my rough spots, I would become incredibly nervous when talking to people about Him. Why? I didn’t want to say something that was wrong about Him or offend Him. Again, my own self-imposed rules.
Today I want to look at those rough spots in our lives that need smoothing out by looking at Isaiah 40:3-5.
The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low. The crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth. The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40:3-5, NKJV).
Have you ever noticed that when we read the above verses we tend to run the words together? For example, when reading the highlighted verse above, any pauses we make are in direct relation to the punctuation. And that is a shame because we miss the deeper meaning of this verse. This is how the verse is punctuated in the Jewish Publication Society's translation:
Hark! One calleth: "Clear ye in the wilderness the way of HaShem, make plain in the desert a highway for our G-d. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the rugged shall be made level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of HaShem shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of HaShem hath spoken it (Isaiah 40:3-5, JPS)."
Did you spot the difference? One reads as if a voice is crying in the wilderness. The other tells us what the voice is actually demanding. In other words it should read, "The voice of one crying, in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord. . ."
Quite a difference don't you think?
Granted, this verse was talking about the coming Messiah and John the Baptist himself quoted it in John 1:23, announcing that he was that voice preparing the way for the Lord Jesus Christ. John called for the people to repent and turn to the Lord. To signify that they were indeed repenting, he also called for them to be baptized as a sign of that repentance.
When Jesus came he preached the same message but baptized the people with water and the Holy Spirit. Those who repented received water baptism as a sign of their commitment to God and of their repentance, and at the moment of their conversion they are filled with God's Holy Spirit. In essence they prepare the wilderness of their souls (through repentance) in order to make a way for God to enter into relationship with them through His Holy Spirit.
And when God sees a lost soul laying down His life in order to follow Him, He takes over from there if we are willing to let His Holy Spirit work in our lives.
Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Raising valleys and lowering mountains is no easy task. Making a straight path to the Lord is not easy either, if we try to do it on our own. But according to Romans 5:8, God accepts us as we are in our sinful state and we don't have to make ourselves perfect in order to come before Him. Without God we are in the wilderness. Our lives are a barren desert full of valleys of despair and mountains of sin and God in His mercy offers us a way to make those rugged areas level. He has prepared a way out for all who are in the wilderness, through the gift of Jesus Christ and all we have to do is make ourselves available to receiving that gift.
It takes a bulldozer to level valleys, with mountains of dirt to fill in the empty spaces. And it takes dynamite to lower a mountain. Both very difficult and long processes to go through before the way is clear and flat. On our own there is no way we can cover up our sins or get rid of them to make ourselves "perfect enough" to invite God into our lives. It can't be done and He doesn't expect it to be done. He wants you as you are, right where you are now. The only thing you need to do is repent of your sin (don't do it anymore) and confess your need of salvation. Leave the rest up to God.
If you have been a Christian for a while and your faith feels dead, maybe you've been trying to fill those valleys and move those mountains in your own power, forgetting (like I did) that the Holy Spirit is sent to dwell within us at the moment of salvation, in order to begin a good work in us (Philippians 1:6). That "work" is God moving those mountains and filling those valleys so that on the day we stand before Him, we will be ready to enter into His kingdom. The only thing we need to do is trust God to complete His work within us. It may take years because let's face it, we were in the devil's camp for a long time and even though we've been saved by grace, we still live in a fallen world where Satan is actively trying to win us back into his camp (1 Peter 5:8). Sadly, with many Christians today, He has been succeeding by appealing to worldly desires. Satan knows our faults, weaknesses, doubts and desires and will use them to his advantage. He will make us think we aren't good enough to come to God, or that we have failed God so much that He couldn't possibly still love us (even if we've been Christians for years). He will make us doubt our faith and the Bible as the authoritative Word of God. That's Satan's job - to make us doubt God's Word and if he succeeds, those valleys get lower and those mountains get higher and we struggle to find our way again. When all along God has prepared the way for us through Jesus Christ, and all we really need to do is allow His Holy Spirit to work within us to make us into the people He wants us to be. People who are able to stand firm in the face of adversity, persecution and ridicule by the world at large.
Are you a Christian who has been wandering in the wilderness? Or someone who has never known the Lord? Then open your heart to Him. Admit your sins and confess your need of God's intervention in your life. Accept the gift of salvation He offers, then repent and trust Him to take your sinful life and make it whole, clean and new again through His Holy Spirit. He can do it if you let Him.