Wilderness Wanderings 2
"The Wilderness of Want"
"Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. 3 Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of The Lord" (Deuteronomy 8:2-3).
Matt 4:3-4 "Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, '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 by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'"
Now, in the first passage from Deuteronomy we find God explaining to the Children of Israel what exactly it was that He sought to forge into their character in the wilderness.
He says, "I humbled you by letting you go hungry. And when you were hungry and in want, I introduced you to a brand new food--manna."
So one of the things Israel faced in the wilderness was the wilderness of want.
Because we are human, we frequently find ourselves wanting.
There are things we desire and cannot or do not have.
There are things we wish were in our lives that we lack--and we perceive the lack keenly.
And we perceive the lack both in terms of things we need and things we want.
For we are all in need of certain things in life: food, shelter, love.
Jesus Himself was tempted with both things he needs (food) and things he wants like power, God’s presence, and so on.
And whenever we experience a lack in any of these things, we can feel that God has failed to provide for us the things we need or the things we want.
And that is when we find ourselves in a wilderness experience.
Even Jesus experienced "want" in His own wilderness experience.
"And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry" (Matt. 4:2).
Just like the Children of Israel experienced "want" in the wilderness, so did Jesus.
Now, most Christians have little understanding of the wilderness.
Yet from the book of Genesis all the way through Revelation there
are consistent references to the 'wilderness' as being something God
often uses in His dealings with His people.
The pattern is undeniable.
Pastor Andrew Strom writes of the wilderness, "When we look through the Scriptures we see that the wilderness is often a place of spiritual "crisis" and also preparation.
It's the place God sends us to before the "real action" begins--before we
enter into the full purpose of God in our lives.
Just as there must be a 'death' before there can be resurrection, there must be a desert place before the "Promised Land.'"
The wilderness is a place of trial and testing, of brokenness and full surrender to God.
The props and activities we're used to using to "make things happen" are stripped away.
Our self-reliance is shattered and replaced with a total reliance on God alone.
Every "idol" in our lives is brought under the piercing searchlight of God.
Our selfish motives and ambitions are shown for what they are.
Finally we emerge broken, chastened and purified.
We are now ready for the fulfillment of all that God originally called us to
But our heart-motives are vastly different from what they were before.
Now, part of a wilderness experience is that of WANT.
Israel experienced hunger and craving in the wilderness....and it says Jesus was "hungry" in the wilderness as He waited on God.
Catch this: In Deuteronomy 8, God informs Israel that it was He Himself that allowed them to experience WANT...
"So He humbled you, and allowed you to hunger..."
Now that might at first sound cruel....what loving Father would purposely allow His children to suffer want?
Yet when we see what God was doing it for, what His ultimate motive was, we see that it was in fact a HUGE act of love on His part...
God was after something in their character and in the development of their faith that was essential before they could enter the Promised Land.
He tells them that all His dealings with them were designed "to do you good in the end." (vs. 16)
Let's remember, the Promised Land was indeed a "land flowing with milk and honey," but it was also infested with giants they would encounter and must defeat...
The Promised Land was covered with cities filled with godless idol worshippers whose pagan religions would be great stumbling blocks to Israel if they were not deeply rooted and grounded in God's Word.
God foresaw the dangers and pitfalls of the Promised Land as well as the blessings....
He knew His people would need strong faith, deep roots in the Word, and steel-like resolve to be victorious.
And God knows what you too will encounter down the road and TODAY is building into your character and faith what you will need to remain victorious.
In fact, the wilderness was designed to prepare Israel for two great tests--the test of adversity and the test of success...
Concerning the SUCCESS test, God said that once they entered the Promised Land...
“....that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands... 12 For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, 13 and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! 14 Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt."
His message was, "Success can destroy you if you forget who gave it to you!"
And of course, this is exactly what they ended up doing.
The faith of the first generation had wilted in the face of the giants of the land, and the faith of the second generation faded away in the blessings of the land.
So....let's look at three things the wilderness of want is designed to build into our character and our faith...
Total dependence on God as Provider...
God told them, "I allowed you to hunger and fed you with manna to teach you that--even when your natural resources run dry--I can sustain you by my own miraculous power."
Think about it--for 40 years the Children of Israel got up on the morning and went out to gather off the ground the supernatural manna God had sent.
What was He teaching them?---To daily depend, not on natural resources, but on the faithfulness of God to provide.
God was training them to daily look to Him for their livelihood...He was teaching them to depend on Him--not on themselves or on natural, worldly sources, but on Him!
And Jesus taught us to do the same thing....
When the disciples requested that He "teach them to pray," He said to pray this way: "Give us this day our daily bread."
So the wilderness of want is designed of God to teach us to trust and depend on Him for daily provision..."to do us good in the end."
So that you don't say, "My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth..." (vs 17).
The second lesson from the "wilderness of want" is:
II. Don't run ahead of God
At one point in their wilderness of want, Israel decided they were sick of the manna and cried out for meat...
The Psalmist describes it like this:
"But they sinned even more against Him by rebelling against the Most High in the wilderness...and they tested God in their heart by asking for the food of their fancy." (Ps. 78:17-18).
They demanded food other that what God was giving them--which was manna.
They were in their "manna" season of life, yet wanted to run ahead of God before they learned what He was teaching them.
They demanded what they wanted rather than what He wanted for them.
The Bible tells us that on the day after they entered the Promised Land "the manna ceased" and they ate of the produce of the land.
Yet this wasn't the time for that--it was still the manna season.
We're told that God essentially said, "You want meat? Okay....meat you will have."
And He sent literally tens of thousands of quail that "fell in the midst of the camp." (Ps 78:28)
It says, "So they ate and were well filled, for He gave them their own desire...they were not deprived of their craving..."
But THEN "while their food was still in their mouths the wrath of God came upon them and the choice men of Israel were struck down" (vs. 31).
This is a good time to remember what Paul wrote, "These things became our examples" that we would not make the same mistakes (1 Cor. 10:6).
The cautionary tale here is that, in the wilderness of want, be wise about not demanding something you want outside of God's timing!
If its the manna season of life, embrace it, learn your lessons well, and trust God to take you to the next level when its time for the manna to cease!
And finally, a third lesson from the wilderness of want is:
III. Learning the invaluable lesson of contentment
When in the wilderness of want, our "wants" must finally be turned over to the timing and will of God.
In the wilderness, we learn to turn our wants over to God and say, "I trust you with the "want" itself, then I trust you to do with my want what you will.
In the meantime, I'm going to be content with what I have.
Paul achieved this and gave us a praise report:
"I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am" (Phil. 4:11-12 The Message).
His message is, "It's not getting all my wants fulfilled that makes me happy. It's my relationship with Jesus that makes me happy!"
So...in the wilderness of want we learn:
Dependence on God
Don't run ahead of God, and
Contentment with God
Next time: The Wilderness of Despair