The Purpose of the Desert

Biblically speaking, the desert represents wilderness, hardship, isolation, basic unmet needs, feeling lost, etc. Christ-followers typically use the analogy to describe difficult spiritual, emotional and physical times. None of us likes feeling that we’re in a desert, and a major goal becomes getting out. The longer our desert experience continues, the more likely we are to sink into desperation, despair, and/or hopelessness.

It is historically notable that every person who has served God in a powerful way has gone through a desert experience – some of them literally: Moses, Elijah, David, John the Baptist, and Jesus. Moses was hiding from Pharaoh, Elijah from Jezebel, and David from Saul; all under the threat of being killed. John the Baptist lived there by choice, and Jesus was led there by the Holy Spirit. All had profound meetings with God.

Keeping an appointment with God is probably not the first thing that occurs to us about our own desert experiences. Our circumstances are often so overwhelming, we’re more likely to believe God has abandoned us or is punishing us, which merely adds to our isolation and exacerbates the hardship. We reason that if the Lord would only make Himself known to us, we could navigate. After all, Moses saw Him in the burning bush, Elijah in hearing the still, small, voice, David in deliverance from his enemies, and John the Baptist in everyday companionship. Where is our dramatic encounter?

While all of these spent significant time in the desert (up to 40 years), no experience was more difficult than Jesus’ 40 days. He had no food or water for 40 days. Most of us can hardly do a day without food, wouldn’t consider going without water. In Jesus’ most depleted physical condition (which also adversely affects the human mind), Satan came to test Him. The biblical account is not specific about how Jesus spent His 40 days up to the testing, but I have to believe it was in conversation with the Father, where the Spiritual strength gained sustained Him through His period of physical weakness.

The isolation and barrenness of the desert deprives us of all our proven mechanisms of functioning and reduces us to a dependency on God that we would not choose unless we were completely out of options. Our self-sufficiency, once so highly esteemed, is now revealed as the likely path that led us into desolation. But, the extraordinary love, mercy, and grace of God meets us there, instead of abandoning us to the consequences of our willfulness.

Yet, meeting us is only the first part. After that comes the testing of what our time with Him accomplished. Jesus rejected every demonic temptation with authority. In humility, Moses accepted God’s call to lead the Israelites out of Egypt to freedom. John fearlessly preached the Kingdom of God. Their submission to the Father in complete reliance, resulted in obedience that led to supernatural equipping which enabled them to do what was humanly impossible. Passing the test ended the desert experience, and launched their purpose. What if our desert experienced was intended by the Lord to do the same?