If you are now going through a spiritually dry desert, you are probably facing more temptation than usual. If God isn’t speaking to you either, then this can greatly amplify the challenge. If this is your situation, there is one thing more you need to do, besides reading the Bible and praying.
Examine your thoughts and behavior, to see if you might have a sin, or sins, that are affecting your spiritual status. You should pray about this specifically, by asking God to show you your sin. Don’t think that God will remain silent. He always responds to this prayer!
If you find that God’s silence is caused by sin in your life, then you need to change your mind to agree with God’s viewpoint concerning that sin, and acknowledge your responsibility in the matter, which is, by definition, a confession. (Please read “Confession vs. Profession”.)
If God is still silent after that, then you can release your anxieties, and get ready for a new experience with Him that you have never previously experienced.
Your Response to the Desert Experience Matters Greatly
Whenever you find yourself in the “desert”, you can respond to God’s silence in two ways.
- You can become frustrated, feel guilty, or be impatient.
- You can expect that God is about to bring you into a deeper knowledge of Himself.
These responses are as different as night and day. The first response will only lead to gloom and despair, and in fact, it will only prolong your sufferings. The second response leads to insight, growth, and a renewed life in Jesus.
Of course, it is not so easy in its experience. Most of the time, we are unaware of what God is really doing in our lives. We only know that we are faced with difficult choices and many kinds of temptations each day. Often, we might not even know where our lives are headed.
Two Types of Temptation
I believe it will help if we understand the workings of temptation, since it is what we are faced with most often. Knowing what temptation is and why we experience it, will certainly make it easier to deal with, when it comes upon us.
There are two kinds of temptation.
- One kind of temptation is to experience the desire to take an immediate action to fulfill a desired response, instead of waiting and trusting God for things to be done on their own, in the right way.
- Another kind of temptation is not about “classical sin” at all, but instead, abuses some aspect of the roles that humans play in their relationships to one another and to God, which misconstrues the larger purpose for which God is striving.
The first definition includes the classical idea of temptation that implies a situation that makes it difficult for one to resist emotional sins of passion. Most people can readily identify with this experience.
The second kind of temptation is not as familiar to most people as the first. So I will offer two examples from the Bible here.
The example of the Israelites journey through the desert
Another example in the Bible is when the Israelites were traveling through the desert, and they complained about eating manna and quail for forty years (Exodus 17:1-7; Deuteronomy 6:16; Psalm 78:41; Malachi 3:15). The Bible states that by complaining, they were “tempting God”.
Here, did the Israelites “sin” by wanting a change of menu? Furthermore, how can God be tempted?
The Israelites main fault was their desire to return to a state of bondage in Egypt, merely because the room and board was of higher quality than what they were getting from God in the desert. In essence, they desired a “clean roll in a cage”, instead of pursuing after God’s directive of forming the new nation of Israel.
So how did they “tempt God”?
To answer this question, we must ask, what were they tempting God to do?
The Israelites tempted God by continually nagging Him to change His directive and to allow them to return to their bondage in Egypt. They were pressing God’s patience, and thereby tempting Him to abandon those ungrateful Israelites in the desert, and to be free of any further responsibility to them.
Later, as a consequence of tempting God, they were bitten by snakes (Numbers 21:4-8), among other things. As you might recall from scripture, God was so “tempted” to agree to their requests, on account of their complaints, that He desired to destroy all those people and build a new nation from the descendants of Moses. Moses’ plea for God not to do so, was the only thing that assuaged God’s anger. (Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 106:23)
God became so exasperated by the Israelites short-sighted faithlessness and bitter attitudes, that he allowed them to wander in the desert for 40 years.
Was God “holding out” on the Israelites, in His anger? Not really, but it might appear this way. There are several reasons for letting them sojourn for an entire generation. Basically the idea was that some time was required to complete the metamorphosis of the Israelites from being a bunch of tattered slaves into becoming an independent nation.
- God resolved that none of those wussy, whining, Israelites would see the promised land. He felt they didn’t deserve it. Instead, he fulfilled that promise to their children.
- Another reason was to clear out the old blood, people who had known the idolatry of the Egyptians, so that there was no chance of allowing that idolatry to continue in the new nation.
- After the younger generation of Israelites grew up in the depravity of the desert, they would be truly thankful to have their own nation.
Even Moses himself was excluded from entering the new country because of his disobedience while in the desert.
The Example of Satan Tempting Jesus in the Wilderness
Satan tempted Jesus by asking Him to throw Himself down from the roof of the temple (Luke 4:1-13), mockingly claiming that angels would keep Him from “dashing His foot against a stone”.
Hey, wouldn’t it be rather fun to jump off the roof and be caught by angels? How is this a “temptation”?
This kind of temptation is not about the common idea of sin at all. This kind of temptation is pressure to doubt God and adopt a perspective that aligns with Satan’s viewpoint, which may, in fact, have its’ own set of virtues and benefits.
What was Satan’s viewpoint?
Satan was trivializing the Lordship of Jesus, by encouraging Him to make a vain display of His power. Satan was inviting Jesus to adopt a spoiled, carefree attitude, by virtue of His position as the Son of God. Satan was exalting himself and mocking Jesus with such a request, and of course, upon this basis, it would be wrong for Jesus to comply.
So how was Jesus tempted?
Jesus was “tempted” to comply with Satan’s request, because God has held Himself responsible to reveal His true identity to mankind through the person of Jesus. If Jesus validated Satan’s viewpoint in any way, then He would not be reflecting the true image of God the Father.
It is known from scripture that the Lord is very passionate about revealing His glory, so in fact, Satan’s request is quite deceptive and also very insulting. By comparison, a typical self-respecting man would respond out of anger, to clear his own name. But Jesus had the additional insight to know that by doing so, He would only be complying with Satan’s manipulative tactics.
During our desert experience with temptation, we must be continually cognizant of the Lord’s purposes and directives, or else, we may become confused about what is really “right” in the deeper sense.
Furthermore, even though we might be dwelling on the purposes of God, it is difficult for humans to continually resist temptation because of Satan’s persistence. Satan makes it his goal to tempt us frequently and intensely, so that we might grow bitter, resentful, cynical and angry about everything. The old-time Baptists called this experience, being “tempted sore”, which I feel is a casual understatement. Jesus told Peter that Satan desired to “sift him like flour” (Luke 22:31), which is a little more revealing description of the experience. (Peter’s experience is also worthy of a third study of temptation.)
Our challenge is this: If we give in to Satan’s assaults, even the slightest bit, by complaining or sympathizing with ourselves (e.g. self-pity), or in anyway aligning our mind with Satan’s falsely purported view that God is “treating us poorly”, then we are beginning to tempt God. By being restless and impatient about our spiritual desert situation, we only aggravate our discomfort and prolong our misery.
Instead, we should devote our time, energy and attention into praying that we might be tested fairly and found true, and to be delivered from the temptation without losing our spiritual inheritance.
The Takeaway: Don’t submit to the temptation to adopt habits of complaining and having a bad attitude, and thereby tempt God to abandon you in the desert.