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

Good foes?

Oswald Chambers wrote, in My Utmost for His Highest “God is justified in saving bad men only as he makes them good. Our Lord does not pretend we are all right when we are all wrong. The Atonement is a propitiation whereby God through the death of Jesus makes an unholy man holy.” But what then? This second of three brief posts on the theme of goodness comes from Charles Spurgeon…

“Michael and his angels fought against the dragon;
and the dragon fought and his angels.”

Revelation 12:7 KJV

Charles Spurgeon wrote, “War always will rage between the two great sovereignties until one or other be crushed. Peace between good and evil is an impossibility; the very pretence of it would, in fact, be the triumph of the powers of darkness. Michael will always fight; his holy soul is vexed with sin, and will not endure it. Jesus will always be the dragon’s foe, and that not in a quiet sense, but actively, vigorously, with full determination to exterminate evil. All his servants, whether angels in heaven or messengers on earth, will and must fight; they are born to be warriors. At the cross they enter into covenant never to make truce with evil; they are a warlike company, firm in defence and fierce in attack. The duty of every soldier in the army of the Lord is daily, with all his heart, and soul, and strength, to fight against the dragon….

Glory be to God, we know the end of the war. The great dragon shall be cast out and forever destroyed, while Jesus and they who are with him shall receive the crown. Let us sharpen our swords tonight, and pray the Holy Spirit to nerve our arms for the conflict. Never battle so important, never crown so glorious. Every man to his post, ye warriors of the cross, and may the Lord tread Satan under your feet shortly!”

C H Spurgeon in Morning and Evening

Patient tenaciously?

It’s the thing about a hero that they win in the end.
Having a trustworthy hero can change the way we
face the past, the present and the future if only we
are able to outwait the doubts about him that each
new peril we face creates in our minds and hearts.
This first of 3 brief posts on the theme of patience
comes from Oswald Chambers.

‘Be still and know that I am God.’ Psalm 46:10

‘Tenacity is more than endurance, it is endurance combined with the absolute certainty that what we are looking for is going to transpire. Tenacity is more than hanging on, which may be but the weakness of being too afraid to fall off. Tenacity is the supreme effort of a man refusing to believe that his hero is going to be conquered. The greatest fear a disciple has is not that he will be damned but that Jesus Christ will be worsted, that the things He stood for-love and justice and forgiveness and kindness among men-will not win out in the end; the things He stands for look like will-o’-the-wisps. Then comes the call to spiritual tenacity, not to hang on and do nothing, but to work deliberately on the certainty that God is not going to be worsted. If our hopes are being disappointed just now, it means that they are being purified. There is nothing noble the human mind has ever hoped for or dreamed of that will not be fulfilled. One of the greatest strains in life is the strain of waiting for God. Remain spiritually tenacious.’
‘Because you have kept my word about patient endurance…’ Revelation 3:10 ESV

From Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest

The Un-usual Suspects?

Screwtape coverIn a 1995 film The Usual Suspects, super-villain Keyser Soze, in his guise as Verbal Kint, a smalltime criminal faking cerebral palsy, claims, ‘The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.’ …or maybe that he is the comic-horror figure of popular culture, working his evil on stormy nights and obvious to all because of his demonic appearance, possessed of horns and hooves. In this second of three brief posts on the theme of evil, C.S.Lewis reminds us that the devil is more devious than that, and more dangerous; and that he works just fine through ordinary men.

“I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of “Admin.” The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern.”

From C.S.Lewis The Screwtape Letters

Tempting times?

Screwtape cover

This second of three short posts on temptation comes from C.S.Lewis’s book The Screwtape Letters; a series of letters from a senior demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a Junior Tempter. Here Screwtape advises Wormwood

on the benefits of using time to wear down a soul.



Screwtape advises: ‘The Enemy has guarded him from you through the first great wave of temptations. But, if only he can be kept alive, you have time itself for your ally. The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather. You see, it is so hard for these creatures to persevere. The routine of adversity, the gradual decay of youthful loves and youthful hopes, the quiet despair (hardly felt as pain) of ever overcoming the chronic temptations with which we have again and again defeated them, the drabness which we create in their lives and the inarticulate resentment with which we teach them to respond to it—all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition. If, on the other hand, the middle years prove prosperous, our position is even stronger. Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it’, while really it is finding its place in him. His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of being really at home in earth, which is just what we want. You will notice that the young are generally less unwilling to die than the middle- aged and the old.’

From The Screwtape Letters by C.S.Lewis

…but who are YOU?

question markRight ‘meaning’ for life is found first in knowing God, in loving and serving him, and only afterwards in whomever else we love and serve.

 In fact, it is only once our relationship with God has been made right that we are able to rightly love and serve him and/or others.

Seven sons
The importance of knowing God, of being rightly related to him, before we attempt to serve him is dramatically displayed in the nineteenth chapter of the book of Acts.




‘Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.’ Acts 19:13-16


The spectacular apart,
in every aspect of our lives,
in all our best attempts
at loving and serving,
the grandest of gestures
or the smallest of kindnesses,
we need to recall Jesus’ words…




I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. ….. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
John 15:5-8


It is only when we know him and remain in him that we bear fruit for him and it is that fruit of his in all its astonishing variety and flavor that is the evidence of the meaning we have found for our lives through knowing him; in him, the vine, we are his branches that bear his fruit, in our own lives, and in the world, ‘to his Father’s glory’. 

Our best attempts at love and service are, after all, no more than our reasonable worship of God in the light of his love and grace towards us in Christ and neither (love nor service) are, nor should we ever expect them to be, easy. Any estimate of ‘success’ is best left to those we try to love and serve; or better yet, to God.