Friday, March 4, 2011

The Myth of the Spiritual Desert

I do not doubt that most of you who are students of God’s Word have, at some point, heard a Teacher of the Bible talk about spiritual deserts, spiritual dry seasons, or times and places where they believed they were not hearing from God. Such events are described as:
  • I no longer feel God’s presence.
  • My peace is gone.
  • I don’t sense God’s work.
  • God’s blessing seems gone.
  • My inner voice does not seem divinely directed.
And you often will discover these narratives being related to occasions such as the record in Matthew 4:1-11 of our Lord being taken into the desert by God’s Spirit or Elijah’s wandering in the desert in his flight from Jezebel. Of course such imposition of one’s own experiences onto the narratives and contexts of these incidents is a liberty we are not granted in Scripture nor are they appropriate corollaries for understanding our lives. In other words we do not get to imagine that we, too, are in some desert like Jesus or Elijah simply because our experiences, our senses or our emotions do not find some kind of validation that God is present (BTW God is never seen in these biblical events as not present either!).

And this is exactly my point. The Christian cannot be and never is in a spiritual desert. The idea of a spiritual desert is a myth conjured up in the minds of Teachers for various reasons. Most often it is because they are experience oriented. That is, they rely on something not taught in the Scriptures for the church age believer upon which to rely for faith and practice. And what is that something? Experiences.

Such experiences might be defined by mysticism in the form of emotionalism. That is, if our emotions are discombobulated then there is something amiss spiritually. There are popular teachers today that promote this kind of spirituality. For example:
"We are transported (perhaps only for seconds) above the reasoning work of the mind and we experience feeling without reference to logical or practical implications. ” 
Or other experiences might come from the non-biblical expectation of hearing a voice inside because you were taught this is how God’s Spirit is suppose to work today. Additionally, those within Charismatism are instructed to expect certain kinds of supernatural occurrences, far beyond what I just described and likened to the events recorded in the book of Acts where one can immediately speak in a tongue never learned or spoken before so that others using that language understand (of course no one does that any more because this temporary gift is now not operative and because it is not genuinely operative today Charismatics are reduced to babbling and calling it “tongues of Angels” in order to claim such powers).

What all of these ultimately are, is a violation and rejection of the protocol of God for the church age believer. Today we have, in Christ, our completed revelation. And in Christ we have been left the canon of Scripture. In fact St. Peter made a declaration that is often ignored by all of us at time but particularly by those clamoring for experiences and accoutrements 2 Peter 1:2:

According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue
A Common Complaint

Many believers adhere to the boundary limit of experiences vs. God’s Word. They understand that their spiritual constancy is not to be found in emotions/mysticism or any experience but from faith in God’s Word. However, one will find a complaint expressed by some in the form of, "But I’m not getting anything personal from the Scriptures”. That is to say, they properly reject experiences as objective for their faith and indeed rest solely on God's Word but something is still, seemingly, incongruous. Let me address this particularly kind of concern.

My dear brother or sister in the Lord, it isn’t up to you to make the Scriptures personal, they are already are personal. It is your responsibility to live by faith and trust in them regardless of your experiences. In other words the Scriptures are personal; you are to receive them as such.

This reminds me of Lordship Salvation proponents. They teach that you must make Jesus “Lord” in order to be saved. Nonsense! He already is Lord just like he is already Jesus and the Christ. You are to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, not make him Lord, make him Jesus or make him the Christ, he already is all these. You, in receiving the gospel, receive the promise that the one who is Lord Jesus Christ lived and died for your sins that you may have imputed to you his righteousness and be saved from judgment.

I must admit that I have run across teachers of the Bible who communicate the idea that when the Scriptures are read, the believer should have this undefined but real experience that gives them the impression that somehow God means to personally communicate to them this verse or this passage for the day. You see what has crept in, even here in a context of faith alone in the Scriptures? The expectations for experience once again. No, no and no. Remember, God's Word is already personal. No matter what you read, God has already made it personal. Simply learn from what you have read. Even the mildest truth of the most seemingly benign passage (notice I said "seemingly benign") is God’s intention for you. Trust him. Rest in his way.

Do Not Be Fooled

Remember the complaint by the Hebrews about the manna from heaven? At first it was spectacular but after a while the Israelites grew tired and distrusted the plan of God and wanted something better. God gave them something else alright, and they threw it up.

Many Men (and women) make a living within the body of Christ being a Guru. Often they become entrapped by their imaginations and because they have so many followers they need only utter something for it to become an expectation within the body of Christ, even if it is a departure from God's protocol. The Word of God, on the other hand, has the lightest expectation and the greatest gift with eternal and immutable relief which is simply your faith in God’s Word. You might be in a desert emotionally, physically or mentally but you are never in a desert spiritually. God never leaves you. His Word remains true. Regardless of your emotional, mental or physical state they are not that on which you should ever rest your spiritual state, instead it should always be on God. He is always with you, he is always working in you, he is always pouring out his Spirit in you, he has given you, again as Peter says, “everything” we need for “godliness”.

No too long ago, at the end of my neighborhood as it exists onto the main road was handwritten placard on a wooden post about 3 feet high and about 2 feet wide. It read, “No matter what, trust God”. Tomorrow you could be in a nursing home, incapacitated and abandoned by all humans except for those paid to attend to you. Maybe worse, you could be in a third world country and lie dying of a dreaded disease with no one to care for you. Possibly you are headed to prison for a long time or going through a devastating failure in your life. Did God leave you? Of course not. Your surroundings and experiences are not God and do not let them become God for you or you will be in a spiritual desert. But for those who are God’s possessions, the myth of a spiritual desert is just that, a myth that is unsupported by Scripture. No matter what, trust God.

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