How God Works Through Desert Experiences

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Moses, David, and Jesus spent time in the desert. God is able to use these difficult times to help us grow.

God leads every believer into the desert at one time or another.

Well, maybe not every believer.  I can’t give you a Bible verse that says that.  But in over 30 years of pastoring, I’d say God leads most believers into the desert at one time or another.

Moses spent 40 years in the desert before God raised him up to lead Israel out of Egypt.  As soon as God delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt, he took them into the desert.  David did a lot of desert time hiding out from Saul before God made him king.  And the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert after his baptism for 40 days.

Lots of circumstances can be “deserts.”

A prolonged sickness can be a desert.  Moving to a new place or joining a new church where you don’t know anyone can be one.  Being stuck in a miserable or boring job instead of the fulfilling career you had hoped for can be a desert.  A rebellious child or an unbelieving spouse can be a desert.

When we’re in the desert, it can feel like God’s not doing anything.  Or he’s set us aside.  But God is always at work.  He uses desert experiences in many ways, as we see in Dt. 8:2-6:

Deserts humble us

And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you (v 2)

Deserts reveal what is in our hearts

Testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.  (v 2)

Mark Altrogge Mark Altrogge is the original triple threat: singer, songwriter, pastor. He has been the senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, PA for over 25 years, and is the author of many well known worship songs such as “I Stand In Awe”, and “In The Presence”. When not pastoring or writing songs, Mark can be found consuming vast quantities of coffee. Unfortunately, Mark is not particularly gifted in the area of athletics.

More from Mark Altrogge or visit Mark at

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  • David Bolton

    Great thoughts here, and a much needed word for the Body of Christ. “Wilderness” does not get a lot of airplay in the Church because it appears to be such a negative thing, but it is a major part of the ways of God for His people, and in reality, a very positive thing. The wilderness is divinely designed to remove from us every external support, and also every internal support, that we’ve trusted in that isn’t God Himself. As HE becomes all that is left, we discover the all-sufficiency of God Himself.

    One aspect of the wilderness that I’ve learned from experience is that, generally speaking, the “rains” dry up, the external manifestations and blessings of God’s Spirit. In a natural wilderness the water to live by comes from deep within the earth, not from the skies. If we are looking for external manifestations alone, or even primarily, we will not survive in the wilderness. We must learn to draw from the well of living water that is within us, and live off of the indwelling life of Christ. This is a constant, ever-available, accessible source of life that we can draw on simply by turning to the Lord in our spirit and communing with Him there. We can go a long way without the external manifestations if we learn to live by His indwelling life.

    As leaders we also need to teach this reality of the indwelling life of Christ so that people learn to live in constant fellowship with God, and become equipped for whatever wildernesses they may face. There is a huge emphasis on the outward manifestations of the Holy Spirit and the manifest Presence of God in the Church today but not much on the indwelling life of the Spirit and the hidden Presence of God. We need both, but the primary, constant source of life is the indwelling of Christ. Rains come and go, but the well never runs dry. Winds come and go, but the breath sustains life. If we primarily focus on the outward, we will need to run from one experience to another, and have little sustaining power in-between. Our walk will increasingly be measured by our present spiritual feelings and experiences.

    This will be true for us not only as individuals, but also as corporate expressions of the Church. There is a dangerous imbalance developing in the Church today that is primarily focused on the outward experience of God as the supreme thing. Much of this is driven by a consumer-oriented Church culture that is ever seeking to provide an increasingly attractive church “product” and experience. The outward manifestations of God by the Spirit are hugely significant and not to be taken away from, but if there is no corresponding emphasis on the indwelling of God by the Spirit as our primary source of life it is a recipe for disaster when the Lord brings both individuals and corporate bodies into the wilderness. (The wilderness is both individual and corporate in Scripture.) We must prepare the church for both by teaching them to draw continually from the Well, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. This will bring a fullness and a balance to our lives both individually and corporately no matter what season we may be in or soon be facing.

    • Mabell5455

      The article was wonderful, and the wilderness can come suddenly. And to David Bolton, thank you. Your reply of the inner water of life and breath of Christ is exactly what I need today.

    • Christ Centered Teaching

      Thanks for reminding us of this most precious and vital truth.
      Christ in us! He is indeed that well of the water springing up to eternal life. David, wonderfully encouraged by your comments in addition to Mark’s great article.
      Thank you!
      God bless,

  • bawi

    a very good message. Praise the LORD!

  • Okey O.

    It’s nice and help us to properly assess ourselves and our relationship with God in times of our wilderness journey

  • samwel

    this is a wonderful massage,it has inspired me so much. may God bless you as you are looking towards inspiring many .

  • Ariel

    I just preached on this a week ago. I believe that every believer has to experience the wilderness or desert as its the only way to the promised land or destiny. And there are so many good thngs in this place if we will realize that it is for our good at the end of it.v16 Everyone I know is experiencing a desert or wilderness and its preparation for the battles we will face in the promised land – y’know, the ‘ites’? So praise God for His mercy to preapre you for battle and remember, we already know who wins!!!

  • Dionne Rooney

    But mostly, having lived literally in a desert in the Middle East, they teach you to appreciate the water you once had abundantly… “Come to me all who thirst… x”

  • Shane Wyatt

    I just want you to know mark that this really helped me a lot, i needed this. I have been in a Desert for awhile and its felt like im alone. your incite helped me i thank God for giving you the words to say. God Bless and keep you.