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FROM THE WILDERNESS TO THE PROMISED LAND - Rev. Funke Ewuosho
'Wilderness', literally means a desert and it implies a place of solitude, lonesomeness, waste and desolation. Spiritually speaking, I will like to define 'wilderness' as the place between the land of bondage and the Promised Land. It is the passage to the Promised Land from the land of bondage. The wilderness is the place between being called and being empowered.
Contrary to the belief or mentality of many Christians, the wilderness is not a curse. It is part and parcel of God's plan for His children. The wilderness is not as a result of disobedience. God took the Israelites out of Egypt to take them into a land flowing with milk and honey, but they had to go through the wilderness to get in there.
'Then it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near, for God said 'lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt'. So God led the people around by way of the wilderness of the Red Sea...' Ex.13:17-18. (Deut.8:14-15)
It was God himself who led them by way of the wilderness; and he had a purpose for doing that. What of Jesus Christ our Lord? Luke 4:1 says, 'Then Jesus being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness'. Jesus was in the perfect will of God. He never disobeyed God; the Bible says he was tempted in every way, yet without sin. Like the Israelites, he too was led into the wilderness by God! What of Apostle Paul? He said, '...I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were Apostles before me, but I went to Arabia...' Gal.1:1. Arabia was a desert (Gal.4:24; Num.1:1) The children of Israel could not enter the Promised Land until after they had passed through the wilderness. In Luke 4 : 1, He went into the wilderness 'filled' with the Holy Spirit; in verse 14,He returned in the 'power' of the spirit to Galilee. It was after the wilderness experience that Jesus stood up in the synagogue to declare, 'The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because he has anointed me...' (Luke 4:18-19). Paul said he did not rush into ministry even after he was called until he had been through the wilderness. Out of the mouth of these three witnesses it has been established that the wilderness is God's pattern for us to come into the fullness of His Promises, Plans and Purposes for our lives.
The purpose of the wilderness is, therefore, to
prepare us for the things God has prepared for us (1 Cor.2:9).
Let's look at the characteristics of the wilderness. Our key scripture for this is Deuteronomy 8.
1. God them for forty years in the wilderness. The wilderness experience is not supposed to be forever. In actual fact, the journey through the wilderness was supposed to have been just for forty days! Israel spent forty years because they were always moaning, murmuring, and complaining. One of the things that keep people in the wilderness longer than they should is disobedience. You always repeat a class when you fail your tests. Jesus did not stay a minute or a day longer in the wilderness. He was there for forty days; He passed his tests and came out. Is your wilderness lasting forever? Check these things - your attitude, your response, your obedience, your confession.
2. It is a place of humbling. You will go through experiences that will humble you. The Bible says, ' humble yourself under the mighty hand of God and He will exalt you in due time'. The problem with us is that we don't wait for him to exalt us, we try to exalt ourselves. And guess what happens when we do that? We are abased! God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. To be humble means to 'come under'.
3. It is a place of testing. God tested Abraham to see if he would hold his son back from God. Jesus was tested by the devil; he faced the pride test, the appetite test and the attitude test; praise God he passed!
The Israelites were tested in the wilderness to know what was in their hearts, whether they would obey God or not. (Deut. 8:2). Jeremiah 17:9 says 'the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (incurably sick) who can know it. I the Lord search the heart, I test the mind...'
If you don't pass your tests, be sure you will remain in the wilderness longer than necessary or planned by God.
4. It is a place where God himself feeds you; a place of 'dependence'. The process of growth is from dependence to independence and interdependence. The Israelites just coming out of Egypt were like new babies who had to depend on their mothers for everything. In the wilderness, unlike in the Promised Land; they didn't harvest because they didn't sow. They didn't take initiatives. They only had to come out to gather manna, and there would be food on their tables. They only had to look up and the pillar of cloud was there by day to lead them. They didn't need to go labour to find out God's leading; it was just there over them and around them. Many Christians would testify that things were just happening 'cheaply' for them when they just got born again; this is one of the reasons for that! When you come into maturity, you come into a place of interdependence. God depends on you as much as you depend on Him. He needs you to go win souls, He needs you to pray.
5. It is a place of 'Just Enough'. They were to gather just enough manna for each day; if they gathered extra, it went bad by the next morning! The promised land was a land 'flowing' with milk and honey, a land of multiplication (Deut. 8:12,13). If you pass your tests in the wilderness, you move from 'just enough' to 'more than enough', but if you fail, you go back to 'not enough'.
6. It is a place of discipline. 'Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you' Deut.8:5 NIV. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of self control. The Bible says God has not given us the spirit of timidity (fear), but of power, of love, and of self discipline. 2Tim. 1:7 (NIV). In the wilderness you are trained or disciplined to live on just enough, so that when you come into the land of abundance you will know how to manage wealth. The purpose of the wilderness is to prepare us for the Promised Land.
Esther was prepared for twelve months before she became the queen. Deut. 8: 7-9 says, 'For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land...a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing...'. Some people cannot handle wealth, either because they never went through the wilderness or if they did; they did not learn their lessons and pass their tests.
In verse 11 they were warned, 'Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God...' It is very easy to forget when you get into the Promised Land, it is very easy to disobey God then and live carelessly. It is easier to pay tithe or give when you don't have much than when you have much. It is easier to fast when there is no food than to fast in the midst of abundance. Freedom is more difficult to handle than bondage. When I was in the boarding school in High school; our lives were regulated externally. The bell was rung to wake us up; the attendance register was taken in the classes, roll calls were made at the assembly: so it was difficult not to keep in line. It was a different story in the University campus; we were regulated from within and the result of your tests was the only check you had.
God did not lead the Israelites by a shorter route, he chose to lead them through the wilderness, 'Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt' Ex. 13:17. People who don't go through the wilderness don't last in anything they do. God wants you not only to run, but to finish your race! People who don't go through the wilderness never get trained or disciplined for what lies ahead of them; they return to Egypt when they face opposition.
I thank God for the wilderness. I thank God I went through it. I thank God I learnt to pass my tests. The wilderness is what prepared us for what we are doing today. By way of concluding this message, I want to emphasise the fact that it is not enough to go through the wilderness; you must let the purpose of the wilderness be fulfilled in your life. You must come out humble, you must pass your tests, you must be trained and disciplined, you must learn to absolutely depend on God. Don't stay in your wilderness longer than necessary. And a word of advice, now that you know you must go through wilderness; don't wait for it to be thrust upon you. Decide to go into the wilderness yourself! Don't wait to be humbled; humble yourself under God's mighty hand. Discipline yourself; train your senses to discern between good and evil.
Rev. Funke Ewuosho