The Desert: A Place of PTSD

The desert, a dry scorched place with dunes of sand, bare ground, little water, and the wildest of plants and animals. Also known as a wilderness, the desert is a place rarely inhabited. But sometimes though, we need to pass through the desert to make it to our destination. ‘When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt’. So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea’ (Exodus 13:17). The Israelites had to pass through the desert and were in fact led there by God, just like Jesus ‘was led by the Spirit in the desert’ (Luke 4:1). When God leads us to a desert, we acquire P.T.S.D. No, not the medical, worldly kind, but the spiritual and most useful kind. For the desert is either a place of Preparation, Tempting, Strengthening, or Deliverance – P.T.S.D. Although the desert has the toughest of conditions, the resultant P.T.S.D actually proves useful and necessary.

Before John the Baptist was born, an angel of the Lord tells his father, Zechariah, that, ‘He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God’ (1:v14-16). But before John could manifest this greatness, he had to go through the desert. ‘And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel’ (v80). John the Baptist was in the desert, not because he enjoyed the oh so great heat or the stinging scorpions, but because it served as grounds for his preparation. ‘John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt round his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey’ (Matthew 3:4). John lived what most in this age would term as an impoverished, sorry life. But by removing all clutter that the world offers, John was only concerned with true spiritual food and received a spiritual awakening from God through the Holy Spirit that was in him from birth.

Just like John the Baptist, for any Christian to experience full revelation, they must go through the desert- a place of isolation with no luxuries and clutter drowning the voice of God. The desert is a conducive place that prepares us by giving us knowledge of who God is, who we are in Him, and how to activate and fellowship with His Spirit living in us. In fact, it is in the desert that we acquire ‘the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness’ (Titus 1:1). It is only in the desert that we can discover the gems hidden in the Word of God, and that is why sometimes God has to remove people, things, and luxuries from us in order to prepare us for the greatness ahead. For it is only in isolation and communion with God that we become prepared to face life for the Kingdom’s cause. Paul writes to Timothy about ‘the holy Scriptures which, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus’ (2 Timothy 3:15), because wisdom is an undebatable thing needed to face life. For, ‘If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer’ (Proverbs 9:12).

John the Baptist knew he would be facing a ‘generation of vipers’ (Luke 3:7), and so the desert was preparing him with the wisdom to face them. After his preparation time was over, ‘the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ (v2-3). Due to the preparation, his ministry was effective and powerful. John also knew that he would be preparing the way for the Messiah, and so the desert was a place to sharpen his spiritual acumen. ‘The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him’ (John 1:29-31), but the Spirit in John knew Jesus. Since John activated the Holy Spirit in him while in the desert, the Spirit helped him identify Jesus, the Messiah.

The desert is also a place for tempting. Jesus was ‘led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry’ (Luke 4:1-2). Jesus was led specifically to be tempted. He was ‘tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin’ (Hebrews 4:15). In fact, after He was tempted and overcame, ‘Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside’ (Luke 4:14). By overcoming temptation while in the desert, Jesus had power to begin His ministry without the devil having anything on Him. So, when we go through a desert of tempting, in that we are offered deals that seem good for us but go contrary to God’s Word, how we respond determines how we begin or end our greatness. When we respond by our insecurities, wants, fears, or feelings instead of God’s Word, we will miss the long-lasting greatness beyond. So, when we are in the desert of temptation, we are to remember that ‘No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it’ (1 Corinthians 10:13).

While the desert seems like a place where one’s strength and vitality is sapped, it is actually a place for strengthening. When Elijah’s life had been threatened by Jezebel, he ‘was afraid and ran for his life’ (1 Kings 19:3). Elijah ‘went on a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die’ (v4). When he had fallen asleep, ‘All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat’ (v5). Elijah eats the bread and drinks the water provided and then ‘lays down again’ (v6). Once more, the angel wakes him saying, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you’ (v7). Elijah gets up to eat and drink, and after he is ‘Strengthened by that food, he travelled for forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God’ (v8). Elijah had walked with God for a long time and it was at the close of his life that he almost fainted. But in the desert, he was strengthened to continue and finish his commission with strength. In the same way, even though we may have walked with God in our Christian journey for years, we might grow faint when we are almost close to finishing our race. It is in this desert that we should eat the bread (Word of God) and drink the water (Holy Spirt) to be revitalized and strengthened to continue our journey of salvation, until we reach the mountain of God. Paul advises, ‘Run in such a way as to get the prize’ (1 Corinthians 9:24). It is only by God’s Word and Spirit, and not by our own might, that we are strengthened to reach the finish in victory.

When the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years, they experienced deliverance from God. The desert was a strategic place for the Israelites to conquer the nations around and eventually inhabit the Promised Land. Moses recalling of their journey ‘in the desert’ (Deuteronomy 1:31) says, ‘There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place’ (v31). The Israelites, however, ended up staying in the desert longer than they should have because of their complaining, disobedience, and rebellion. Of the generation that rebelled, God decrees that ‘not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it’ (Numbers 14:23). Israel was a classic example of how one should not treat their desert phases. They provoked and treated God with contempt, instead of preparing and strengthening themselves while in the desert. They gave in to all temptations and so God declares, ‘They will meet their end in this desert; here they will die’ (v35). Instead of seeing deliverance in the desert, a generation of Israelites experienced destruction simply because of the way they responded as they passed through the desert. Paul notes, ‘God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did’ (1 Corinthians 10:5-6). We, therefore, ought to be careful how we respond during our desert seasons, and remind ourselves that they are only temporary. We should align with God’s leading to avoid spending more time in the desert than we ought to. Ultimately, we are to ensure that we use the desert seasons for preparation, overcoming temptations, strengthening ourselves, and waiting for God’s deliverance by staying on His Word and communing in His Holy Spirit.

‘. . . Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland’ ~ Isaiah 43:18-19

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