3 Desert stories…


There is always the danger that we will interpret our experiences incorrectly, so that any experiences that are accompanied by pleasurable feelings we may call ‘positive’ while other experiences that involve pain and loss, we will be tempted to call ‘negative’, and we will be inclined, in the future, to avoid the one and pursue the other, to our eventual cost. In every aspect of our life in Christ, scripture provides the best measure of our experiences. This final brief post on the theme of our desert experiences also comes from J. I. Packer….

Dr. Packer wrote… “Three Bible stories of desert experiences highlight these very lessons. Story one is of the original desert journey – a forty year journey, as it turned out to be – that began with Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea to escape from Egypt and ended with Israel’s crossing of Jordan to enter the promised land. The events during those years of wandering in the wilderness by which God tested His unruly people, revealed His holy character to them, drilled them in worship and discipleship, and taught them dependence on His wisdom and power (are summed up by Moses in one of his final speeches- Deuteronomy 8: 2-3, 5, 15, 18 NAB).

“Story two is in 1 Kings 19. It tells how, following triumph over the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, Elijah panicked at Jezebel’s threats, fled into the desert in depression and despair, wanting only to die, and was given a fresh, energizing realization of God’s love and care and wisdom and power, plus a renewed commission, with new instructions, for his continuing prophetic ministry.

“Story three, found in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13, tells how, immediately after His baptism, and full of the Holy Spirit, Jesus ‘was led about by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.’ It shows (Jesus) tempted in three different ways to be false to His calling as Son of God – that is, as the divine messiah, God in the flesh, who came to minister to sinners in the Spirit’s power, and to save them by taking their place on the cross. We see Jesus triumphing over Satan’s three attempts to deflect Him from the Father’s will, as once he deflected Adam and Eve.

“These three stories show us what essentially happens in ‘desert experiences.’ Systematic theology tells us what they mean in terms of God’s gracious purposes, but only as we brood on the stories themselves, opening our hearts to their impact, using our God-given powers of empathy and imagination to identify with the characters, and begging light from the Holy Spirit – the author and interpreter of Scripture – as we go along, shall we appreciate the blend of revelation and realization, humbling and exalting, conflict and comfort, that ‘desert experiences’ bring.”

From J. I. Packer in The Desert Experience


Desert highlights?


As a city kid with limited experience of the desert (one brief, quite comfortable sojourn in the ‘wilderness’ of modern Israel, and it rained the day we visited Jericho) I admit that I need help to understand it as a metaphor for the isolated, arid, testing times in our experience as Christians. This second brief post on the theme of our desert experiences also comes from J. I. Packer…

J. I. Packer shares five values that God highlighted for him during years of ‘desert’ experience…

  1. Goodwill. I should not get bitter or lapse into self-pity or spend any time complaining and angling for sympathy. God was using my ministry, and I was forbidden to get fixated on my frustrations.
  2. Hope. I was not to become cynical or apathetic about the vision I had been given or to abandon it because there was no immediate way of advancing it. God is never in a hurry, and waiting in hope is a biblical discipline.
  3. Faithfulness. As a husband, father, teacher, honorary assistant clergyman, and occasional author, I had plenty each day to get on with, and I could not honor God by slackness and negligence, whatever discontents I was carrying around inside me.
  4. Compassion. Clearly I was being taught to empathize more deeply with the many Christians, lay and ordained, male and female, who live with various kinds of disappointments, and thus were in the same boat as myself.
  5. Humility. I must never forget that God is supreme and important and I am neither, and he can manage very well without me whenever He chooses to do so.

From J. I. Packer in The Desert Experience



David, God’s chosen (and deeply loved) King in Israel, wrote, ‘O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.’ (Psalm 63:1ESV) and, like David, generations of Christians since, have at times at least, felt that we have come to a dry and weary place in our life as Jesus’ chosen (and deeply loved) disciples. This first of three brief posts on the theme of our desert experiences comes from J.I.Packer…

J.I.Packer writes…The desert, or wilderness, appears in scripture not just as a place where certain things happened, but as a symbol of isolation in some form – isolation, however, into which God Himself leads us for purposes of discipline and discovery within His love relation to us. In the desert God will discipline us for the maturing of our faith and character as disciples, and we accept the discipline because we know that spiritual advance is what it will lead to.

“In the desert, too, God will uncover and show us, what we are made of spiritually, for it is a place of testing; we shall learn more than we previously knew about our present shortcomings (lovelessness, thoughtlessness, instability, indiscipline, self-absorption, malice, pride, unbelief, disordered desires, and, as the travel brochures say, much, much more)

“… also, through God’s revelatory action, we shall learn, or relearn, much about Him that calls for trust and love and praise (the greatness of His grace, His all-sufficiency, His wisdom and beauty, His faithfulness, His purpose and priorities, and so forth).

“The desert experience may thus have great significance in our personal pilgrimage.”

From J. I. Packer in The Desert Experience

Surprised by Grace?


‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child;
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to Thee.’

For many of us who were introduced to Jesus as infants, this verse from Charles Wesley’s hymn found a place among our first prayers, and I am quite content to believe that our simple, trustful, request was heard; that the same Jesus, who insisted his disciples let little ones, like us, come to Him, received us then, and that all our subsequent experience of grace has been the fruit of the gracious welcome we experienced then. If this manner of conversion has any down side perhaps it is that it takes us longer to discover that we are no less sinners and no less sinful than the likes of John Newton, and that the Grace we have found with Jesus is no less amazing. This third brief post on the theme of Grace also comes from Charles Spurgeon….

 “But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus….”
Acts 15:11 ESV

Charles Spurgeon said…. “I think it is very clear, again, from the text that the apostles did not believe in salvation by the natural force of free will. I fail to detect a trace of the glorification of free will here. Peter puts it, ‘We believe that we shall be saved;’ through what? Through our own unbiased will? Through the volitions of our own well-balanced nature? Not at all, sir; but, ‘we believe that through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved.’ He takes the crown from off the head of man in all respects, and gives all glory to the grace of God; he extols God, the gracious sovereign, who will have mercy upon whom He will have mercy, and who will have compassion upon whom He will have compassion. I wish I had a voice of thunder to proclaim in every street of London this glorious doctrine, ‘By grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.’ This is the old reformation doctrine. This is the doctrine which will shake the very gates of hell, if it is but faithfully preached. O for an army of witnesses to publish abroad the gospel of grace in its sovereignty, omnipotence, and fullness. If you are ever to get comfort, believe me, dear hearer, you must receive the doctrine of salvation by free grace into your soul as the delight and solace of your heart, for it is the living truth of the living God. Not by ritualism, not by good works, not by our own unaided free will are we saved, but by the grace of God alone.”

From Charles Spurgeon in his sermon “Grace – the One Way of Salvation.”

Indignant about Grace?

I overheard a woman complaining, about the idea of salvation ‘by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone’, that she wanted nothing that she could not earn for herself. Whether the lady believed that she could earn salvation, for herself alone, by her good works alone, or whether she simply did not believe that she needed saving, I don’t know. But her indignation impressed me as evidence of the pride that once alienated us all from the love of God, and lying at the root of all the ‘other gospels’ offered, hopelessly, in the world today. This second brief post on the theme of Grace also comes from Charles Spurgeon… 

“But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus….”
Acts 15:11 ESV

Charles Spurgeon wrote…. “We believe that if we are ever saved at all, we must be saved gratis – saved as the gratuitous act of a bountiful God – saved by a gift, not by wages – saved by God’s love, not by our own doings or merits. This is the apostle’s creed; salvation is all of divine grace from first to last, and the channel of that grace is the Lord Jesus Christ, who loved, and lived, and died, and rose again for our salvation. Those who preach mere mortality, or set up any way except that of trusting in the grace of God through Christ Jesus, preach another gospel, and they shall be accursed, even though they preach it with an angel’s eloquence. In the day when the Lord shall come to discern between the righteous and the wicked, their work, as wood, hay, and stubble, shall be burnt up; but those who preach salvation by grace through Jesus Christ, shall find that their work, like gold, and silver, and precious stones, shall survive the fire, and great shall be their reward.”

From Charles Spurgeon in, “Grace – the One Way of Salvation.” – a sermon.