Ian Rowe - The Desert Experiences - Williams Convention - 2006

I would like to read from Deuteronomy 8:1-8. As we read on in this chapter, we read where Moses told about the land of Egypt and where they had come from; he also told them about the desert and the good land—the Promised Land, which they were leading into. He gives three clear pictures of it: firstly, from where they had come from, concisely that Egypt was the house of bondage. Then he reminisces about the desert that was a great and terrible desert, and then he speaks about the Promised Land that was a good land, a land of brooks and fountains, etc.

Today, we would like to speak about the desert that Moses spoke of here. I have read that ‘desert’ is derived from the Hebrew word which means ‘to speak.’ That has been helpful to me in understanding why God leads us through this desert – He wants to speak to us. There’s no place on this earth that is so dreary, so harsh, or so absent of people and things, where we still can hear the voice of God. Many here today have known of some desert days and those are the days that God is speaking to us about. This chapter is when Moses was reflecting, “Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee, these 40 years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments, or no. And He humbled thee and suffered thee to hunger and fed thee with manna which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.”

There were three reasons why God was leading them through this terrible desert. First, it is to humble us. There’s nothing there, there is no audience, and no band playing. It’s in the desert days that God has been leading us through, where He has been proving and testing us, “to humble thee, to prove thee, and to know what was in thy heart.” There’s nothing like a desert—day after day for 40 years wandering in that great and terrible desert. That’s where God wants to speak to us. We can thank God today for the desert because if it wasn’t for the desert, we may never have heard the voice of God. It’s wonderful that in this great and terrible desert we are passing through, our God is leading us and telling us about His Son every day.

Exodus 3, after 40 years in that great and terrible desert Moses was on top of Mount Horeb. We can call this mount the Mount of conviction. It was there that he personally heard very clearly the call of God. The reason he was in the desert was for God to speak to Moses and after tending the sheep for 40 years God spoke to him. Isn’t this a comforting thought? We are back at convention again, and for many gathered in this place this is the mount of conviction. Many can relate back to a time like this when we were quiet and still—God  slowed us down to the point where He could say, "Be still and know that I am God," and God was able to speak to us. When God speaks, there is never any doubt as to who is speaking. When God spoke to Moses, He said, “Moses, Moses…” Moses knew who was speaking to him, and he answered and said, “Here am I.” I don’t think God ever wanted to hear anything else.

After 40 years of day by day wandering in a trackless desert, God showed Moses His miraculous plan to lead His people out of Egypt. Sometimes God waits many years to hear these words from us, but in His patience and mercy He has been kind and has led us to this mountain of conviction when we are quieted and stilled enough. We can thank Him today that He ever spoke to us. The desert was a very different place for Moses than the palace where pride, independence, and wealth were. Maybe that’s why he needed those 40 years in the desert to rid him of the pride when God chose to take him from Pharaoh. He wanted to speak to Moses and get him alone. It was perfect timing when God spoke to him, and I am sure those words would have re-echoed from that time onwards.

God said to him, “Draw not nigh hither for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” That is an important verse. There was Moses standing alone with God and God wanting to tell him something very important. There would never be a day after that Moses would forget. This place was a token of his respect and submission to the God of Heaven. “I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” If you remember back in Genesis 17 when God appeared to Abraham, he was 99 years old, and He said, “I am the Almighty God; walk before me and be thou perfect.” At that very important time of his life God assured Moses again that He was the Almighty God; He was still in charge, and He was leading them through that great and vast wilderness.

There were a number of things that Moses felt at that time—he felt his inability. Firstly, he said, “Who am I? What shall I say? How shall I say it? I am not eloquent,” and God said, “When you go unto the children of Israel you say, 'I AM THAT I AM: You tell them that so they will know that the One who has sent you is the Almighty God.'” We are so thankful today the Almighty God gives us that loud and clear conviction—the Almighty One is the One who is going to be with us in this desert. There won’t be one day or one hour or one moment when He’s going to be far away from us, no matter what our experience has been. He is reminding us again that He is the Almighty God; He is in control.

Experiences are for a reason—they are not for fun but to humble us and to know what is in our hearts. There’s nothing like a desert to teach us and help us to understand that there is just me and God, we are walking through this terrible desert together. That was particular for Moses at this time when he was in the wilderness. That was the one thing he proved, that there was no one but God and that’s one thing we must prove, too. In a sense, we walk together but we stand alone with God. The further on we go through life the lonelier life becomes, and at the end it’s as if we are individuals, one-to-one. That’s why God is leading us through to this land of Canaan, to humble us. It’s not without reason that we pass through these experiences of loss, separation, distress and tribulation. There’s a purpose and God tries to speak to us.

Your desert may be where you work. You may be the only one who works there. Your desert may be at school, and day-by-day you are walking. Your desert may be in the office where there’s no one else, just you and God. Your desert may be in your home, just you and God. Or those that aren’t here but in nursing homes and have been with us before but aren’t today, that may be your desert. Maybe they are the last days for them but God is still there, still saying, “I am the Almighty God. I am still with you and will never forsake you.” No matter what your experiences have been on this side of eternity, no matter how desperate or how dark or how unable we may feel, there’s no one day, this side of eternity, that we can’t feel the presence of God with us, reassuring us again that He is the Almighty God; He’s still leading us because He wants to lead us into the Promised Land.

Moses felt so unable.  He felt he couldn’t go down in this miracle plan and he said, “They won’t believe me when I tell these people I cannot speak, I am not eloquent.” God got angry with him and said, “Go Moses, don’t look back, I want you to go,” and He gave him Aaron to be his mouth-piece; He gave him that conviction. And then we read that Moses talked with Aaron of this miracle plan of salvation, and do you remember what happened when they spoke to the people? They believed! – those elders and the children of Israel. No words, or expression of thankfulness, could ever express what it meant to be given a fresh hope, a fresh conviction in life.

Now we will go to Exodus 16.  This is a very interesting chapter. We read of the bread of life here. Those people had travelled a certain distance and there was no bread and soon they began to look backwards to Egypt. Verse 4, “Then said the Lord unto Moses, 'Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in My law, or no.'” That manna wasn’t simply the only food to sustain them but it was to prove them, and the going out day-by-day to get that manna in the desert would prove their love and commitment to God. It was a vital part of their day, and a portion was to be kept laid up in the temple so that they would see that "this is the manna, the bread of life that God proved us with in that great and terrible desert." It would be a monument to them, pointing them to the bread of life. His life would be the life-giving substance that gave them eternal life and it was a symbol of the true and living way.

Verse 7, “And in the morning, then ye shall see the glory of the Lord; for that He heareth your murmurings against the Lord: and what are we that ye murmur against us?" When they first woke up in the morning, the first thing they saw was the cloud in the desert—God’s own presence there in the desert. God was still saying, “I am still here and there hasn’t been one second that I haven’t been here.” Just seeing that cloud every morning would be a visible reminder that “God is still with us, He hasn’t left us and He never will; He is still the ever-present God.” They had to go into the desert and look into the wilderness to see the glory of God and what a tremendous impact it would have on those people! It’s a wonderful thing at the start of every day when we are closer to eternity that the wonderful presence of God is still there. And then secondly is the glory of God in the desert when they saw the glory and their minds and thoughts were adjusted. They would never go through one day without thinking, “I have seen God; I have been fed on the bread of life and it has sustained me again.”

Some years ago one of my companions asked me, “What do you think is the stronger life—the human nature that we are born with or the new life that we have in Christ?” I went into some detail in explaining this new life that we have in Christ, and he listened to me, but at the end he said, “The stronger life is the life you feed. If you feed on the carnal things of this world, the fleshly things of this world, that life will be the stronger life.” As we go out every morning, God is trying to reassure us again by saying, “I am the bread of life.”

When Jesus was feeding the 5,000 in John, chapter 6, there was a multitude of people gathered and there was no bread. There was a lad there with five small barley loaves and two small fishes. Have you ever gone to a fellowship meeting and felt that the piece of bread you bring is so small, too small, and you haven’t got anything worthwhile to say? The devil speaks to you and says, “You haven’t got anything to say, again.” And you feel, “What’s that among so many?” But then you have courage to get up and share your bread and God blesses the offering and there’s bread and to spare. That’s the feast in the desert when God gives us the bread of life—that’s where we must be. If we are feeding on the right things, we will grow in the right way. If we are feeding on Jesus, there will be unity amongst us. If we are feeding on Jesus, it will be easier to love, to forgive, and to serve.

One verse that has been a help to me in recent weeks was when Jesus asked which was the greatest commandment. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, mind, and strength.” I have read that verse since childhood: God doesn’t want us to give a divided affection – but with all thy soul, mind, and strength. One of the outstanding victories that has helped me when I was trying to submit to this work was there could be no other place on this earth where a person could give themselves completely—no place where one is better able to serve God and no better place that would be more joy to God. He would only fill that place with the best things. There is no other place on this earth where our mind can be more centred on Jesus, the bread of life; no other place where a person can give more of their strength in this work of God and I’m thankful today that in my own personal desert God is still proving His promises: He will never leave you nor never forsake you. He is feeding us again today in this vast and terrible desert.

In Exodus 17 God is speaking to Moses, “Go before Me and I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb.” That is God Himself speaking to Moses. The rock is a type of Jesus, and God went before Him – that great rock foundation. Moses got to touch the rock with his rod and out came that water, and that multitude of famished people gathered around that rock. God was in the desert and feeding those people again with that life-giving water. Where the water is, the moments of blessing are, and we must be at the rock because that’s where we get the refreshing to go through the next step. Jesus is the fountain of life. Remember when Jesus came to that woman of Samaria at the well and she said that the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans? He could have fed that thought and ended up in an argument but He rather chose to tell her about the gift of God and, “Who it is that’s speaking to you? You should have asked and He would have given you that living water.” That was the spiritual rock in the desert: the rock Christ Jesus and it flowed that day and brought refreshing to that woman. Day-by-day and year-by-year, they had made sacrifices in the desert of that lamb that was indicative of Jesus giving His life. It all pointed to that time to come when Jesus Himself would come and give His life for a people like us. It’s wonderful today that we can remember that our God is the Almighty God and is still saying, “I am the Almighty God,” telling us again that Jesus is the fountain of life and the source of living water. He gave His life as a free-will offering that we could know it today.

Another verse I though of is when Philip went to the Ethiopian eunuch and joined on to the chariot where the eunuch was reading in Isaiah. It says, “In his humility, his judgment was taken away.” Jesus was going through the last days, His last hours of His spiritual death on earth and is still humbling Himself in that great and terrible desert, still proving that He loved God with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength. We will never know this side of eternity the humiliation that the cross of Calvary brought, but in His humiliation He maintained His spirit; that was commendable. May God help us in all the deserts we go through that we will know Jesus and God the Almighty rock.