We Crave

Sing it with me: “All I Want is You, Jesus. All I want is You.” How many times I remember the band Isaiah Six leading us in worship with this song at B.A.S.I.C. College Ministry conferences. They were powerful mountaintop experiences in the presence of God!

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LIARS! LIARS! LIARS! Every one of us! At those moments in those times we mostly meant what we were singing, but deep in our hearts lurked a zillion other desires. If we took the time to write them out, the result would look like a selfish child’s Christmas list. “I want a happy marriage . . . and I want a nice house in the burbs with 2.1 kids and a white picket fence . . . and I want two new cars (one being an SUV for sure) . . . and I want to vacation at the beach every year . . . and I want a new fishing rod . . . and (at the top of the list) I want food  . . . and I want . . . ! I’m sure you get the picture and I’m sure you can relate.

A God-designed wilderness experience is intended not only to prove our faith, but also to purify our cravings. Again, we can see evidence of this in the lives of the Israelites as God delivered them from Egypt.

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To better understand their struggles we need to realize that Egypt was once one of the most successful civilizations ever known to man. For almost 3,000 years Egyptian nobles and priests lived in peace and luxury. At the time of the Exodus they were at one of the pinnacles of their supremacy. Almost all of the treasured goods of the known world made their way to and through Egypt. And the Israelites, mired in oppressive slavery, watched with envy the freedom, ease and extravagance of their captors. In short, Egypt was what Israel wanted to be.

But God had a new and different plan for His children. Israel couldn’t be Egypt if they were to truly be Israel. And so He lovingly led them into the wilderness in order to purify their desires. Unfortunately, that generation of Israelites didn’t respond so well. (Quail anyone?)

I don’t think that our current U.S. government will endure for 3,000 years, but we have certainly had an incredible taste of prosperity. And, truth be told, we always want more. We crave so, so many things. And in some twisted way, we’ve developed a mentality that expects, even demands, a loving God to fulfill at least most of our wants. For some odd reason, however, our King doesn’t appear willing to conform to our self-absorbed plans. Can you say, “wilderness”?

It helps for us to understand that God doesn’t want to remove all desires from our lives. Some must die, to be sure, but mostly He seeks to purify our longings. An aesthetic lifestyle doesn’t necessarily equate with a life of victory over sin. Attempt to put all of your desires to death and you will be left with a pretty miserable existence.

So how do we respond in a way that honors God and shortens the length of our desolate, wilderness experiences? We surrender and we delight.

A season of fasting is a great way to surrender our desires to God, to deliberately lift them before His throne and to lay them at the foot of the cross. Some of those desires God will keep. Others will be returned to us in sanctified form.

Another key is to learn to delight ourselves in Him. He will then write His desires upon our hearts. And we, we will finally be free to truly enjoy our land flowing with milk and honey!

“Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4 (NASB)


God, Why?

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Have you ever asked, “Why?” I often wonder why God does some of the things He does. Some people mistakenly think that God is the source of natural disasters and every type of human tragedy. News flash: God doesn’t have a cruel streak!

At the same time, however, our Heavenly Father does have this tendency to lead His children into difficult places. Consider the Israelites’ entrapment by the Red Sea. And then their journey into the desert without food or water. God initiated all of that!

And why did Jesus tell us to pray to the Father, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (ESV)? Surely there is a reason for this particular aspect of a prayer that so many lift before God week in and week out.

Make no mistake—our loving Father is trying to prove and establish us as a people of integrity—that is wholeness. Matthew 6:13 might make more sense put this way: “And please don’t lead us into difficult trials where our faith and devotion will be sorely tested and proven, but do deliver us from our own evil tendencies toward self-sufficiency.”

The last thing that God wants is for us to fall prey to sin. But the one thing He always seeks to accomplish is the firm establishment of our faith. Trust cannot exist without faith. And relational intimacy never happens apart from trust. And wholeness, most certainly, is impossible apart from relational intimacy with our loving Creator.

Have you ever thought that perhaps God leads us into desolate, impossible circumstances in order to teach us to look to Him? Resting the weight of our confidence on others apart from God is idolatry–simply put. Trusting in ourselves is nothing more than a return to the original sin (the desire to be like God apart from God). Both idolatry and self-sufficiency corrupt our lives with bitter, poisonous roots.

Stepping out in ministry I have been living by faith for 12+ years—especially the past 4 with the launch of Search for Me Ministries, Inc. I can’t count how many times I’ve said in a tight spot, “God, if you make me independently wealthy, I would do this for free and fund it all myself.” Ah! That’s exactly the problem! I would do it all myself—in my own strength and with my own ability—if I could.

The only thing that compels me to avoid self-trust is to find myself in situations and circumstances that are beyond my human ability (and therefore considered impossible). Herein lies the wisdom (and beauty) of the wilderness experience. Through the Lord’s Prayer Jesus is sending us a message: “Put no trust in yourselves and your ability to handle difficult circumstances. Turn from self-sufficiency and put the full weight of your trust in your heavenly Father and His covenant love.”

God’s promise is that He will never fail or forsake us. The desolate and impossible terrain of the wilderness sends the opposite message. Depending upon our response, the final products are fear, anxiety, hardness and bitterness, or a deep-rooted transformation into a Holy Spirit-watered life. The potential outcome almost makes me want to say, “Bring on the wilderness!” Having been around the block a few times, however, I’ll wisely stick with, “And lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil.”

Wanderings in the Wilderness – Part 1

Have you ever noticed that sometimes God leads us into places that we wouldn’t necessarily choose for ourselves? Think of Moses and the nation of Israel. Deliverance from bondage in Egypt: emotional high! Trapped by the Red Sea: frightening low. The parting of the waters: jubilation! Journey into the wilderness: discouraging, unending dryness.

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When I think of wilderness immediately trees come to mind. I picture something like a national park out west. The wilderness of the Scriptures, however, was more like a desert. Consider the following description from Harper’s Bible Dictionary:

“wilderness, a desolate or deserted area devoid of civilization. One Hebrew word above all others is used for ‘wilderness,’ or ‘desert,’ in the ot [Old Testament]: midbar, indicating both ‘that which is desolate and deserted’ and ‘that which is beyond,’ i.e., beyond the limits of settlement and therefore of government control, perceived by both city dwellers and villagers as being essentially disorderly and dangerous, the home of wild beasts and savage wandering tribes.”[1]

“Devoid of civilization.” “The home of wild beasts and savage wandering tribes.” Sounds like a great place, doesn’t it? Is there a tour bus? I’d prefer to just watch the movie thank you very much!

The truth is that God led the people of Israel into the wilderness, just as He led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted after His water baptism. This leads one to believe that God is in the habit of guiding His children into desolate places. Does He have a cruel streak? No, He simply sees wisdom in using the barren to produce the fruitful.

There are specific things that God seeks to accomplish in the wilderness. The length of our stay depends upon our willingness to learn and to yield. An entire generation of Israelites spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness because they refused to conform to God’s design. A people of promise embraced a paradigm of hopelessness. Two weeks became 40 years. A journey to a new life became a walk of death.

Today it is quite rare for God to lead His people into a physical wilderness. But from a spiritual perspective, dry, desolate places abound—and with no shortage of savage tribes and wild beasts.

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Over the next few weeks I’ll share some thoughts about the purpose of the wilderness and how to speed up one’s trip. But before we go there a critical truth must be established. God leads His children through dry, desolate places, but He never wants us to be dry in our hearts! His promise is that we will always be well-watered gardens. How deep is His love that He would take us through the wilderness in order to teach us to draw upon a never-ending flow of living water!

“On the last day of the feast, the greatest day, Jesus stood up and shouted out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, ‘From within him will flow rivers of living water.’” John 7:37-38 (NET)

[1]Achtemeier, Paul J. ; Harper & Row, Publishers ; Society of Biblical Literature: Harper’s Bible Dictionary. 1st ed. San Francisco : Harper & Row, 1985, S. 1133