Life is a journey that moves from one crisis to another.

Within the lifetime of many people in this assembly, Poland has experienced four completely different governments, and each government radically altered the lives of its people.

Two world wars have been fought on European soil causing massive destruction.

Two atomic weapons have exploded over major population areas in Japan.

The Soviet Union no longer exists. Russia has experienced complete failure in ideology, total confusion in government, and is close to economic collapse as a nation.

India has been overpopulated and starving for decades.

Africa has gone from colonialism to chaotic nationalist that is often brutal and bloody.

The greater majority of the world's population lives under repressive governments. At least seventy-five percent of today's population lives with three unthinkable realities every day. Everyday, they never have enough to eat. Everyday, they never have a healthy water supply. Everyday, they never have access to adequate medical help. For most of the world's population, survival of the day is the rule of life.

"I am glad we don't live from crisis to crisis." Oh, but we do. Our crises are different, but they are just as devastating. Plenty of good food, pure water, and available medical help do not eliminate crises.

All of us move from crisis to crisis. Within the boundaries of just four things, ninety percent of us move from crisis to crisis. Within our marriages relationships, within our parent-child relationships, within our jobs or occupations, and within our financial challenges, ninety percent of us move from crisis to crisis. Add health problems, and ninety-nine percent of us move from crisis to crisis.

Our crisis are wilderness experiences.

  1. God's most useful servants had wilderness experiences.
    1. Joseph had a wilderness experience (Genesis 37-40).
      1. He was the favorite son, the second to the youngest son.
      2. He was an arrogant teenager who loved to provoke his grown older brothers.
      3. He had a horrible wilderness experience that began when his brothers captured him and sold him into slavery.
      4. But the experience matured him, fixed his focus on God, and created the faith of dependence.
      5. Years later, he could look back and see God working in everything that happened.
      6. At that time he told his brothers, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive" (Genesis 50:20).
    2. Moses had a wilderness experience (Exodus 2-4).
      1. His parents were Israelite slaves, but Moses grew up in the King's palace as the son of the King's daughter.
      2. Moses knew that he was an Israelite and had slaves for parents, and he planned to use his privileged position to help his people.
      3. His enslaved people rejected his first attempt to help them, and they rejected him in a way that would cause the King to kill Moses.
      4. So Moses fled to the wilderness to live as a shepherd for forty years with no intention of ever helping his people again.
      5. But God took Moses from the wilderness and used him to lead Israel to freedom.
    3. The Israelite David had a wilderness experience (1 Samuel 20-31).
      1. His experience was produced by the injustices of a jealous man who left God.
      2. His wilderness experience included many near death experiences, a harsh existence, and a miserable life often lived in enemy nations.
      3. In this period David wrote many of his greatest psalms, psalms that we still read for inspiration, strength, and hope.
      4. The wilderness experience helped David become Israel's greatest king.
    4. The prophet Elijah had a wilderness experience (1 Kings 19).
      1. Elijah lived as God's spokesman in northern Israel among people who never worshipped God, but worshipped and served the god Baal.
      2. After years of being God's spokesman, Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest.
      3. He proved God was real and powerful, and that Baal had no power.
      4. He thought that his great victory would turn the country around.
      5. When the queen promised him that he would be dead within 24 hours, Elijah fled to the wilderness and begged God to let him die.
      6. God refocused Elijah and sent him back to get on with God's work.

  2. Even Jesus, God's own Son, had a wilderness experience (Matthew 4:1-11).
    1. Jesus went to the wilderness to focus on his ministry.
      1. He totally devoted himself to focusing by fasting forty days and nights.
      2. When the fasting ended, Satan immediately tried to destroy Jesus' focus and divert him from his mission.
    2. Satan made three attempts to distract Jesus, to lead Jesus away from God.
      1. Satan's first attempt dealt with a real physical need and a practical solution.
        1. "Your are weak and hungry--you have not eaten for forty days."
        2. "You will never serve God's purposes if you die in this wilderness."
        3. "If you are the son of God, make bread out of these stones and eliminate the problem."
        4. This failed to distract Jesus.
      2. Satan's second attempt asked Jesus to prove his faith by deliberately, intentionally putting God on trial.
        1. "God promised to protect the Messiah."
        2. "You believe that you are the Messiah."
        3. "Since you believe that you are the Messiah, jump off this high place and let God catch you."
        4. "If you are the Messiah, God will not let you bruise your foot."
        5. This also failed to distract Jesus.
      3. Satan's third attempt is the infamous short cut.
        1. "You came to this world to become king."
        2. "Your planning to become king the hard way."
        3. "Bow down to me, and I will make you king of the entire earth."
        4. "I will make you what you came to be without all the trouble and pain."
        5. This, again, failed to distract Jesus.
    3. Jesus resisted Satan.
      1. When Satan asked him to make bread from stones, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3: He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. God said we must understand that food does not give a person life.
        2. A person has life because he lives by God's teachings and instructions.
      2. When Satan asked him to jump, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:16: You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. Faith depends; faith does not test.
        2. Creating tests prove that you doubt, not that you trust.
      3. When Satan asked Jesus to worship him, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:13: You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. Evil never achieves God's purposes.
        2. Worshipping Satan achieves evil's purposes, not God's purposes.
        3. Only God is worthy of worship.

  3. Making a trip to the wilderness is never pleasant, but being in the wilderness can serve a powerful, godly purpose.
    1. No wilderness experience is ever fun or pleasant.
      1. Joseph found no pleasure in being a slave--he experienced injustice stacked on top of injustice.
      2. Moses found no joy in the wilderness--it was just a feeble attempt to escape.
      3. David found nothing but suffering, isolation, and intense loneliness in the wilderness--it seemed that his faithful service produced nothing but hardship.
      4. Elijah never expected to find pleasure in the wilderness--all he wanted to do was die.
      5. The wilderness brought Jesus no joy--it brought him into person to person conflict with Satan himself.
    2. In each one of these men's lives, the wilderness was a powerful tool in the hand of God.
      1. It brought each man to a higher level of spiritual maturity.
      2. It caused each man's trust in God to grow to new heights.
      3. It reinforced the godly focus of each man.
      4. It forced an essential decision--make the choice to depend on God, or choose to be angry at the world while you resent the injustice.
      5. Because of the wilderness experience, their godliness grew.
      6. Because their godliness grew, God could use them for greater purposes.

  4. My personal world and your personal world are dominated by evil.
    1. Regardless of how godly we are or how deeply we trust God, each of us will visit the wilderness, and more than once!
      1. We can always tell when we are in the wilderness.
      2. Every time we are overwhelmed, we are in the wilderness.
        1. It may be the sense of helplessness.
        2. It may be the distress of failure.
        3. It may be uncontrollable circumstances.
        4. It may be injustice.
        5. Anything that depresses us, distresses us, or causes us to feel defeated takes us to the wilderness.
      3. When life seems out of control, we are in the wilderness.
      4. When life does not make sense, we are in the wilderness.
    2. When we visit the wilderness, one of two things will inevitably happen.
      1. We will grow closer to God.
        1. We will trust God as we have never trusted Him.
        2. Our focus on God's will and purposes in our lives will become clearer.
      2. Or we will turn away from God and decide to live life on our own.
        1. We will blame God for everything that happens.
        2. We will decide that God is weak and useless.

Satan harasses you; God prepares you. Satan wants your relationship with God to fail; God wants to use you for greater things. If your wilderness experience causes you to be angry, bitter, and focused on yourself, Satan wins. You do not have enough faith for God to use you for greater purposes.

But if your trust in God deepens, God wins. And God will use you and your life in ways that exceed your imagination.

When you are in the wilderness, do you stand alone, or do you hold God's hand?

A person who is truly converted to Jesus Christ, who understands that life only exists in God, declares war on Satan. The war never ends. Satan will never stop. He will lead us to the wilderness again and again. The strength is not in us. You will never be a match for the evil of Satan. We succeed only because we have the grace and mercy of God. Don't foolishly say, "I can take care of this by myself." Reach out and hold on to God. Only God is strong enough to defeat Satan. Survival in the wilderness depends on holding the hand of God. Survival in the wilderness requires surrending to Jesus Christ.

Are you taking the world on alone, or are you holding God's hand?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 6 September 1998

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