Betrothed in the Desert
Have you ever felt that your life was out of control? Have you ever wondered where God was in the midst of the turmoil and confusion? There have been times in my life when I wondered just what was happening and if God still cared; if He was even involved in my world and circumstances. Through this time of stress, strife, and turmoil, I learned some valuable lessons, the most important of which is that God was not only there, He was in the midst of my journey and that He is SOVERIGN!
Let me take you through a short history to give you a perspective of my view of my world. My second child, a daughter, was born when I was 30. Little did I know that she would be my last. I contracted an infection in the hospital when she was born. This contributed to various health problems, including a thirty-five pound weight gain, which, no matter what I did would NOT come off!
Since I teach Biblical nutrition, carrying around extra weight was a big deal to me! Before becoming ill, I had kept my weight within a five-pound range. Even after my first daughter was born, I got the baby weight off and again, kept my weight within five pounds of my ideal weight. My husband would say, “Don’t worry about your weight! Just get healthy, then the weight will come off!” He was concerned for my general health, and so was I, but the thing constantly in front of my eyes was how I LOOKED! How would other people judge me - the one who speaks on Biblical nutrition and claims that God has all the answers?
One day, I was doing a Bible study and God greatly convicted me through this passage:
“…Our brethren have made our hearts to melt, saying, ‘The people are bigger and taller than we;…” (Deut. 1:28)
The Lord showed me that I had feared man vs. fearing God!
The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever leans on, trusts and puts his confidence in the Lord is safe and set on high. (Proverbs 29.25)
I had to repent before the Lord for this and to ask His forgiveness for putting what people thought ahead of what God thought and my husband’s counsel.
During the years of my illness, I felt I walked in a desert; feeling alone and as though I was getting no where. I sought God for answers, yet did not find the answers I sought. God could not give me the answers I sought with the sin of the fear of man in my heart! As a pastor once stated, “It wasn’t that God could not heal, it was that He couldn’t without denying His own holiness and giving us a leavened gospel that would say we could keep our sin and receive His blessings.”¹
Recently, the Lord reminded me of my favorite Christian book, Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. The main character, Much Afraid, is from a family named “Fearing” who live in the
Throughout the journey, Much Afraid comes to various places where the Shepherd shows her something about herself, or teaches her a truth. In each of these places, Much Afraid builds an altar and sacrifices something. She puts what she has on the altar and it is burned up! What have you to put on the altar? Your fears, your health, your marriage, your children, your walk with Christ? What is so before your eyes that you cannot see anything else? What have you magnified to be so large it makes the Lord seem insignificant? Instead, let’s magnify the Lord and put these other things in their proper, insignificant place when compared to God!
I will bless the Lord at ALL times; His praise shall continually be in my
My soul (mind, will and emotions) shall make its boast in the Lord;
The humble shall hear it and rejoice.
O magnify the Lord with me, And let us exalt His name together.
I sought the Lord, and He answered me,
And delivered me from ALL my fears. (Psalm 34: 1-4, emphasis mine)
When each of Much Afraid’s sacrifices are done, there is always a remnant on the altar, which she is to keep in her bag as a remembrance of each sacrifice. At the end of the book, when she has arrived on the high places, the Chief Shepherd asks her to give him her bag of stones of remembrance that she had gathered on her journey. She gives it to Him and He tells her to hold out her hands. Then, He empties the bag into her hands and she gasps when she sees that the common, ugly stones that she had gathered from the altars along her way were now transformed into “a heap of glorious, sparkling jewels, very precious and very beautiful.”²
He says to her,
“O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colors…” (Isaiah 54:11)
Then, He takes the stones, places them into a crown for her and sets it upon her head.
“Hold fast that thou hast, that no man take thy crown.”
We need to hold fast those things that we learn along the way, for one day, they will be transformed into the jewels of OUR crowns! Knowing this gives us the ability to not despise the trials of today, but to TREASURE them as we see that they come into our lives to transform us just as the rocks of Much Afraid’s life (her trials) were transformed into precious stones.
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, which is infinitely more precious than perishable gold which is tested and purified by fire. [This proving of your faith is intended] to redound to [your] praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, is revealed. (I Peter 1:6-7)
There is a truth in the walk of the believer which we don’t hear about and indeed, don’t really want to know, and that is that in order to get where God is taking us, to go to our “Promised Land”, we HAVE to go through the desert! Not only do we have to go through, but in many ways, we must go through ALONE! This is so hard for us! Since it is so hard, why is it necessary?
Because the only way we will get to REALLY know God for who He is, is to be ALONE with Him, totally dependent upon HIM for our “daily bread”, just as the Israelites were dependent upon Him for the manna which kept them alive in their desert. We’d like to be able to listen to a sermon, or hear a testimony or listen to Joyce Meyer (whom I really like!) or another Bible teacher and get what we need, but you know what? We can’t. Can you build a relationship with your husband or with your children through someone else? No, you can’t. And neither can you build a relationship with God this way. This was seen in the desert where each Israelite had to go out and gather his OWN manna!
This is what the Lord has commanded,
Gather of it every man as much as he should eat; (Exodus )
Just as the Israelites gathered their own physical food, we must each gather our own spiritual food; the sustenance we need to walk with God! I’m not saying that you will never get something from someone else, but you will never survive off of someone else’s leftovers!
There is an old expression, “God has no grandchildren”, meaning that each person has to accept Christ for himself, that he cannot appropriate the faith of his parents or grandparents. Each of us must also walk in our own relationship with the Lord.
If you look at the people in the word of God, you’ll see that the vast majority, if not all, walked through some type of desert experience in their life, and so will we. This is the Master’s choice for His children. He knows that during times of stress, when we are in the desert or in the fire which is necessary to refine us, we cry out to Him, we SEEK Him, and then He can expose things to us about ourselves which we might normally not be willing to see. Jeremiah says it this way:
The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly perverse
and corrupt and severely, mortally sick! Who can know it [perceive,
understand, be acquainted with his own heart and mind]? I, the Lord,
search the mind, I try the heart… (Jeremiah 17:9-10)
So, we see that ONLY God knows our hearts and minds and only He can reveal them to us. Many times, it takes either the desert or the fire to bring us to the desperate point of really seeking God and being willing to hear what He wishes to say to us!
I remember the time when I had been in the desert for (seemingly) forever! I would stand in worship and tell the Lord, “Lord, I don’t know where You are, I just know that the Bible promises me that You won’t leave me or forsake me. I don’t know why You aren’t talking to me, but I am still here, clinging to the hem of Your robe for all I’m worth and I won’t let go! DON’T YOU LET GO OF ME!!!” I could see myself in my mind’s eye jerking on Jesus’ robe; jerk, jerk, jerk; persistently trying to get the Lord to speak to me.
He had talked to me during the course of this desert experienced, but it was never for me. It was always for someone else. Within a day, I always knew for whom that word was; God was always faithful to bring them across my path and under my very nose! At times I despaired of Him ever speaking to me, personally, again. When God broke this silence, it was in a unique and powerful way; a way I could not and did not miss.
I was in a Bible study called Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby and Claude King. I had reached the end of a chapter and spun my wheels for three days with the questions there. No matter how long I looked, I had no answers for them. Then, on the fourth day, which was a Saturday, it occurred to me, “Just skip them!” This was a revelation to me, the “filler-inner” of all blank lines! I began the next chapter and had just begun a subsection when my youngest daughter called me for something and I never got back to the study that day. In church the next morning, one of the pastors was filling in for the senior pastor, who was out of town. He ONLY said this in my service! (I know, I checked) He said, “There are times when God is silent. You aren’t sure where He is, or what is going on. All I know is that when this happens, God is doing something VERY deep.” As he began this statement, I began crying on the front row. I KNEW God was talking to ME! I knew it was an answer to my years of clinging to His robe, but I still didn’t understand.
The next morning, when I opened the Experiencing God study, I found that the subsection I was beginning, (where my daughter called me and I never got back to it) was entitled, “The Silences of God”!! Had this sequence of events not happened in JUST this way, I would NOT have gotten the message God had specifically for me! In this section, Henry Blackaby begins,
I went through a lengthy time when God was silent. You probably
have had that experience, too. I had been praying over many days,
and there seemed to be total silence from God. I sensed that heaven
was shut up. I didn’t understand what was happening. Some folks told
me that if God does not hear my prayer, I have sin in my life…As
far as I could tell, I was okay. I could not understand the silence of
These were MY circumstances! I had prayed and prayed, I had confessed sin, I had done ALL I knew to do, yet nothing had changed the silence I received from God.
Then, Henry Blackaby goes on to say that, as he continued seeking God and doing his daily quiet time, he was convinced that God would help him understand what He was doing in his life. One morning, he was reading the story of the death of Lazarus. He states how we know that Jesus loved Lazarus, Mary and Martha, yet, upon receiving word that Lazarus was gravely ill, did not go to them, indeed, He didn’t even respond! Jesus was silent. There was no response from the One who said that He loved Lazarus!
Lazarus died!! The funeral was held; no Jesus. They fixed his body and put him in the tomb; no Jesus and no response. After all this happened, Jesus finally said to his disciples that it was time to go to
You are exactly right, if I had come, your brother would not have died. You know that I could have healed him, because you have seen me heal many, many times. If I had come when you asked me to, I would have healed him. But, you would have never known anymore about Me than you already know. I knew that you were ready for a greater revelation of Me than you have ever known in your life. I wanted you to come to know that I am the resurrection and the life. My refusal and My silence were not rejection. It was an opportunity for Me to disclose to you MORE of me than you have ever known.” (emphasis mine)
I saw in a very powerful way something I’d never have dreamed! That God was using the time of His silence to get my attention and to bring me into a deeper relationship with Him than I had ever walked in before! He wanted to reveal MORE of Himself to ME! I had missed this message for many of the years as I had fretted that it was my sin, or that there was something wrong with me. Sin CAN separate you from God and bring His silence, but if you have searched your heart and have nothing revealed to you, then I submit to you that God wants your attention to bring you into a deeper walk with Himself. The God of the Universe wants your attention so that He can build a deeper and BETTER relationship with you!
There are different types of desert experiences we may face in our lives. I can’t cover them all in this article, but here is another important reason not to despise the desert, another reason why God brings us to the wilderness. You may face some of these other journeys first, but ultimately, God will bring each of us to the desert for a very specific reason: to become betrothed to Him!
Therefore, behold, I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness, and I will speak tenderly to her heart…And it shall be in that day, says the Lord, that you will call Me Ishi or My Husband, and you shall call Me no more Baali or My Baal (my Master)…And I will betroth you to Me for ever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, and in steadfast love, and in mercies. I will even betroth you to Me in stability and in faithfulness, and you shall know –recognize, be acquainted with, appreciate, give heed to and cherish – the Lord…And I will sow her for Myself anew in the land, and I will have pity, mercy and love for her who had not obtained pity, mercy and love, and I will say to those who were not My people You are My people, and they shall say, You are my God! (Hosea 2:14, 16, 19, 23)
The book of Hosea is an eye-opening read on how God viewed
So, looking at the story of Hosea, we see that we are not to despise the desert or our experiences in it. This is where we are prepared to become the Lord’s bride, where our trials will become the jewels that adorn us for our wedding day, and ultimately, it will be our bridal bower; where we are married to the Lord. The desert should be a place we relish because the final desert is where we get betrothed! What person do you know who views an engagement or marriage as a time to mourn? NO! It is a time to look forward to and celebrate!
Are you looking forward to this day? If you are not, it is time to examine your heart as to why. I once heard a statement from a preacher I thought was very profound. He said, “If you fall in love with Jesus, you’ll never fall.” Jesus is the perfect husband! He doesn’t disappoint us, He doesn’t let us down. Fall in love with Jesus, bride! If you do, you’ll never fall and you’ll keep looking forward to the day when you join Jesus, forever!
Awaiting and looking for the [fulfillment, the realization of our] blessed hope, even the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Christ Jesus, the Messiah, the Anointed One, Who gave Himself on our behalf that He might redeem us (purchase our freedom) from all iniquity and purify for Himself a people – to be peculiarly His own – [people who are] eager and enthusiastic about [living a life that is good and filled with] beneficial deeds. (Titus 2:13-14)
The entire process of desert experiences I have described brings us to this point – the point in which GOD becomes our husband and we become His bride, forever! These hard places are necessary to help to purify and transform us for eternity with our Savior, Lord, and King. Yet, we SOOO fight being in a place of silence, a place of desperation, a place of emptiness, but throughout the scripture we see that God treasures these traits!
I heard Tommy Tenney speak not long ago. He made a statement that summed this principle up. He said that we like things full; full tummies, full bank accounts, full closets, etc. But GOD likes (and responds to) emptiness; empty lives, empty hearts, hearts desperate for answers. All of these bring a hunger to us and God responds to hunger!!
I think the person in the Bible who best displays this for us is Mary of Bethany. No matter where she shows up in scripture, she is always in the same place – at the feet of Jesus. She sits at His feet when Martha complains that Mary isn’t helping, we are told in John 11:2 that it was she who anointed his feet with ointment and dries them with her hair. Are you desperate enough to stay at His feet? Are you seeking Him with everything you are? Are you clinging to Him, waiting for whatever He has for you?
This desire, to know Him above all else, is something that moves the heart of God. I believe that we too often focus on our circumstances, which eclipse our view of God or even worse, warp our view of Him.
When we are in a difficult place, we get so caught up in the problem that we can lose sight of the bigger picture. Somehow we think our circumstances have rendered God powerless; that He is no longer in control, our circumstances are. Yet the word of God shows us over and over again that God IS in control, even when things look bad.
Even if we didn’t have this assurance, why do we fear? Are we not clearly told that He is the God who brings GOOD out of EVIL?? So, if our circumstances are evil, God can still use them for His greater purpose, because our evil circumstances cannot “out-power” God!
Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (I John 4:4, emphasis mine)
Can we, DO we trust God? Do we REALLY believe that He is trustworthy? Do we REALLY believe He will keep us safe in the midst of adversity? Do we REALLY believe that we can rely on what He has said in His word and bound Himself to provide for us?
The Lord is my shepherd [to feed, guide and shield me]; I shall not lack. He makes me lie down in (fresh, tender) green pastures; He leads me beside the still and restful waters. He refreshes and restores my life – my self; He leads me in the paths of righteousness [uprightness and right standing with Him – not for my earning it, but] for His name’s sake. Yes, though I walk through the [deep, sunless] valley of the shadow of death, I will fear or dread no evil; for You are with me; Your rod [to protect] and Your staff [to guide], they comfort me. (Psalm 23: 1-4)
If we REALLY believe this, won’ t it change the way we walk through our days? Won’t it change the way we live, interact - RE-act to those around us?
Another thought that can snag us is this: have you bought the lie that you have to DO something to get God’s blessing? Yes, there is an obedience factor in the Christian life; we bear His name and are to strive to be like Him in all our ways. Yet, it does not take what we DO to gain God’s approval. It took what Jesus DID to bring us into right relationship with God.
Not long ago, while doing a study on the book of Jude, I found something really interesting about this concept. Jude addresses his letter to “the called, the beloved, the kept” and he ends his letter telling these people that God can KEEP them from stumbling. When studying this passage, I found that the word “kept” here meant “an action in the past with results continuing into the present” AND that “the subject is acted UPON”. This means that what Jesus did in the past keeps me TODAY!! So, it’s NOT what I do, but what He DID! I was acted UPON! It is NOT up to me or you to DO what is necessary to gain God’s approval or to make ourselves righteous. All we have to do is RECEIVE what has been DONE! That’s ALL!!!
When things in our lives go awry, we have a few choices: to rail at the circumstances and wonder where God is, to think that we have to somehow manipulate or control the situation in order for it to be right, OR we can see that God is SOVERIGN and is right there in the midst of our circumstances, working His will in our lives!
Behold God, my salvation! I will trust and not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my song; yes, He has become my salvation. (Isaiah 12:2)
Let me ask you something. If we look at the life of Joseph, was he in sin? What was it that HE did to bring his brother’s jealousy and hatred? (Just who gave him those dreams?) What did HE do to be accused of rape by Potiphar’s wife? What did HE do (wrong) to be left in prison for two more years after correctly interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh’s baker and cup bearer? Joseph was innocent of many things, yet his life seemed out of control. Why?
What had he done to deserve such a “fate”? What have YOU done to deserve your “fate”.
If Joseph focused on his circumstances, where do you think he would he have ended up? Where have you? If he had complained to God, complained to all who would listen, if he had railed against the situation in which he found himself through no design or plan of his own, how do you think his life would have played out? I think we would have had a greatly different story!
What we DO see is that Joseph did NOT complain. Scripture says these things of him while in Potiphar’s house (Genesis 39)
And the Lord was with Joseph (v.2)
Now his master saw that the Lord was with him and how the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hand (v.3)
…the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house on account of Joseph; (v. 5)
When tempted to sin by Potiphar’s wife, Joseph responds:
How could I do this great evil, and sin against God? (v. 9)
Once he is in prison, scripture records:
But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. (v. 21)
Do you think that only good things come when we do the right thing? Do you think that there are never trying times in doing right? To make this clearer, let me ask you this, was Joseph delivered from slavery and given a ticket home by doing RIGHT in Potiphar’s house? Did his circumstances get better? Did he focus on his circumstances or did he focus on the GOD of his circumstances?
So, where are you? Have you been through hard times? Is your focus; on the circumstances, or on the GOD of your circumstances?
I’ve learned that it does no good to focus on, rail against or fight my circumstances. Indeed, it’s a waste of time. Nothing is accomplished, the enemy keeps me running in circles, I stay upset, I don’t make my way out of the circumstances, and my home is in an uproar, so what’s the point? Instead, I have found that it IS beneficial to get on my knees, focus on the Lord, magnify Him, knowing that no matter how out of control my life may seem, God is NOT out of control; to seek Him, and to get His perspective on my situation.
This restores the peace to my heart whether the situation changes immediately or not. AND change is much more likely to occur when I get with God, get His perspective on how I’m to proceed and move accordingly. Sometimes the change is just in me, but you know what? When that happens, the circumstances, or situation no longer derails me or makes me upset! I can move forward in that perfect, amazing peace of God!
And God’s peace [be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, at peace] which transcends all understanding, shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:7)
So, which would you prefer, to stay in a tough place and complain and be miserable, or to access the Lord of all situations, comply with Him even if it means facing and/or changing something about yourself which may or may not be difficult, and getting relief? If what you are facing looks like something difficult, God promises to be there to give us the grace, strength and ability to do His will!
…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to do His good pleasure. (Phil. 2:13)
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil. 1:6)
No matter what comes in life, God has NOT been dethroned, nor has He ceased to be God. But, He often has a different agenda than we do.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are my ways higher than your ways,
And my thoughts higher than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9)
Our choice is whether we will magnify the Lord by focusing on Him and believing that He is sovereign and in control, or whether we will magnify our circumstances, remove our eyes from Him, and believe we must take control because we don’t really trust God to take care of us. As Americans who value independence, we don’t like to call it this, but it is sin.
We don’t like difficult circumstances, we don’t like the refiner’s fire, we don’t like the desert. But, if we are to become holy, sanctified vessels, set apart for the Lord’s use, to become His betrothed bride, to have jewels in our crowns, then we must embrace these very things, so opposite to our human nature; emptiness for God to fill, desert walks of companionship and intimacy with God, fire to burn away our impurities, death in order to gain life eternal.
1. A More Excellent Way by Pastor Henry Wright
2. Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard