Friday, December 3, 2010

What God Teaches in Wilderness, Part 2B

The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
[Isaiah 58:11 NIV]

Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”
[Matthew 4:4 MSG]

Note: Graham Cooke has said that what happens in spiritual “ebb” or seasons of “hiddenness” is just as important as what God does in the “flow” of evident blessings, answered prayer, etc. This is Part 2B of a series that includes postings on 11/12 & 11/26 (so far), where we’ve seen that “spiritual wilderness” is intended by God as a place of purpose and preparation to walk in His promises for our lives. This week, we look at the wilderness as a place of divine guidance.
Part 2B - Divine Guidance
In the wilderness, we learn to follow God. Although many of us “know” that we should always seek Him, it seems that when we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, without the normal roadmaps and landmarks of human civilization, we are more likely to look for and depend on God’s guidance and direction. This is part of the humbling / teaching process described in Deuteronomy 8:3, which Jesus quoted in Matthew 4:4 (above) when He faced His time of testing in the wilderness.

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. [Deuteronomy 8:3 NIV]

One of the most important ways we access God’s guidance is through His written Word. In the wilderness, Moses was inspired to write the first 5 books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). These books contain a multitude of rules for daily life and relationships - with God, and with one another – including the Ten Commandments, detailed instructions for the Tabernacle, sacred feasts, sacrifices, health and dietary laws, etc. In the desert, God gave specific instructions to be observed by His people, not only on their temporary journey, but for future generations who would go on to possess and dwell in the Promised Land.

Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path. [Psalm 119:105 NLT]

Yet God’s guidance is not limited to recorded rules and instructions – in the wilderness, His Presence led and accompanied His people at all times. The children of Israel learned to walk with God as He manifested His Presence in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.
[Exodus 13:21-22 NIV]
When the cloud lifted from over the sacred tent, the people of Israel followed it. And wherever the cloud settled, the people of Israel camped.
[Numbers 9:17 NLT]
“In the desert…the LORD your God…went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go.”
[Deuteronomy 1:31, 33 NIV]
It’s important to remember that following God is all about relationship with a living Person, not just written words on a page, intellectual ideas, or trying to follow a set of rules on our own.

“God…has made us competent ministers of the new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
[2 Corinthians 3:6 NIV]

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.
[John 6:63 NKJ, quoting Jesus]

Fellowship with the living God is the way of truth and life. Trying to know good from evil apart from that relationship has been humanity’s downfall since the Garden of Eden! Romans 8:6-9 tells us that the mind of the flesh – thoughts that are not led by or in harmony with the Spirit of Christ - is opposed to God. Even “good people” or believers whose minds are steeped in worldly or natural thinking may not recognize that what they think is “true” or “right” may be spiritually inaccurate.

For the natural man is not able to take in the things of the Spirit of God: for they seem foolish to him, and he is not able to have knowledge of them, because such knowledge comes only through the Spirit.
[1 Corinthians 2:14 BBE]
Bill Johnson points out that devoted Christians can be led astray by elevating “good things” like religious principles, or past spiritual experiences, above the guidance of God Himself. (Of course, Bill cautions that God will not contradict His written Word, and - in the absence of clear or specific guidance by the Holy Spirit – we often need to act or make decisions based on godly principles.) What we think we know, because of what God has said or done in other situations, may cause us to assume or presume incorrectly. For example, in Numbers chapter 14, the Israelites refused to act on God’s promise to lead them into the land of Canaan, so He withdrew His promise for that generation; later, they tried to go forward without God’s Presence, and were soundly defeated.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will direct your paths.
[Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT]
Pastor Bill suggests that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” [Romans 10:17 NKJ] means that knowing God’s written Word – the record of what He has said & done in the past – positions us to “hear His voice” in the present. (Note: “hearing God’s voice” doesn’t only refer to hearing the audible voice of God, which most would agree is a rare experience; for the purposes of this posting, “hearing God’s voice” refers to perceiving any of the various ways God “speaks” – including (but not limited to): the written Word, inward witness or “knowing” by the Spirit, circumstances, dreams, visions, godly counsel in conversation with another person, etc).
Learning to recognize God’s voice is part of a developing relationship – an ongoing process of getting to know Someone that involves many forms of communication, in a variety of situations, over time. This posting isn’t intended to be a “how to” recognize God’s voice, mainly a reminder that it’s an important part of what we learn in the wilderness.

If you listen obediently to the Voice of God, your God, and heartily obey all his commandments that I command you today, God, your God, will place you on high, high above all the nations of the world. All these blessings will come down on you and spread out beyond you because you have responded to the Voice of God, your God.
[Deuteronomy 28:1-2 MSG]

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it."
[Isaiah 30:21 NIV]

Morning by morning He wakens me and opens my understanding to His will. The Sovereign LORD has spoken to me, and I have listened. I do not rebel or turn away.
[Isaiah 50:4b-5 NLT]

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
[John 10:27 NIV]
As we follow God Himself, we learn to love His Presence more than principles and – as we’ll see in next week’s posting (12/10/10) – even more than His promises.

Next week: "What God Teaches in the Wilderness, Part 2C – Intimacy with God"

Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
[John 14:5-6 NIV]

Bill Johnson’s excellent 2 CD-teaching "Recognizing His Voice" is available at

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