A Laity Retreat Message*
by Sharon White, Christ Servant Minister,
of Grace Community UMC, Chester, PA
In order to come out of the wilderness we must first recognize that we are in the wilderness, acknowledge the one who can bring us out of the wilderness, follow God’s direction for getting out of the wilderness, and hold onto and believe in His promises.
The wilderness is a dry, rocky wasteland (Holman Bible Dictionary). It is a place of very little or no productivity, a dry place, a barren wasteland, uninhabited, and perhaps even uninhabitable. While wilderness is used to mean a desolate wasteland, it is also used to describe a very good place to pasture sheep, whether actual sheep, or God’s “sheep.”
In Hebrew, the word for wilderness is midbar. The root of midbar has the meaning of “speak” or “word.” God speaks to us in the wilderness. God also humbles and proves us in the wilderness (Deut. 8:2). God made the wilderness with a purpose in mind. We are reminded to appreciate trees and green pastures. God also knew that the wilderness is an ideal place to help us exercise faith and endurance. Our wilderness period can last days, or years, depending on how quickly we get what God is trying to tell us.
If we keep the faith and remember that God promised, “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God” (Isaiah35:1).
Simply put, trouble doesn’t last always, sadness will be replaced with joy, and God will fight our battles (if we let him and don’t try to fix it using our own way).
God promises that “he will strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance, with divine retribution he will come to save you.’” (Isaiah 35:3-4)
The wilderness is an experience of our faith. We are most likely to experience weariness in the wilderness and a readiness to give up when we are close to a spiritual breakthrough. But we serve a God who is strong when we are weak; and if we tap into God’s power, read and believe his word, he will build us up when we get weary.
Everyone has a different wilderness experience or a time in life when your faith is put to the test. Keep in mind that we have to work while in the wilderness, work our faith, patience, prayer life, and sow into God’s kingdom with your time, talents and treasure. We cannot ask God to do everything while we sit back and do nothing.
We have to hold onto God’s promises that we will come out of the wilderness and not fall into a solitary state. Being in a solitary state is defined as living or being by oneself; having no companion present; being without associates; single; alone; lonely. It means not inhabited or occupied; without signs of inhabitants or occupation; desolate; deserted; silent; still; hence, gloomy; dismal. (Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary).
The practice of solitude, like other religious practices, can be taken to an unhealthy extreme. Solitude is not a place to live. We are not to be hermits or isolate ourselves away from others. God wants us to depend on him. However he will put people in our lives to encourage us. When going through our wilderness experience, there are times when we just want to stay to ourselves, not talk to anyone but want God to hurry up and fix our situation. This is not the way it goes. Extreme solitude can take you out of God’s will.
Consistent focus on the problem and not the promise can cause discouragement, pull you away from God’s word and away from his people. It is a trick of the enemy to isolate and make us feel as if we are alone. Remaining in a solitary place can cause us to give up on God and on his people. This creates an opportunity for the enemy to do what he does best: kill, steal and destroy.
Knowing without a doubt and believing that God can and will bring us out of a solitary place will bring joy into any situation. Joy is a state of mind and an attitude of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope. It appears 88 times in the Old Testament in 22 books; 57 times in the New Testament in 18 books (Theopedia). It is to experience great pleasure or delight. Christians should always find reasons to be joyful. Joy isn’t just a smile or a laugh. Joy is given by God and something that He wants us to have, we need to be joyful!
Obtaining Christian joy results from our understanding, loving, and embracing God’s word. To know what the Bible says we have to read and listen to God’s word. We can use God’s word to strengthen ourselves.
Joy also results from confidence in our identity as God’s children. We can rejoice in the assurance that we are God’s children and adopted into his family. There is no mistaken identity in the body of Christ. Joy results from knowing without a shadow of a doubt who we are and who we belong to.
Witnessing God’s magnificent works brings great joy. Our God is so powerful that he can cast out demons, save sinners, “open the eyes of the blind, give the deaf ability to hear, make the lame leap like a deer, the mute tongue shout for joy, cause water to gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert”(Isaiah 35:5-6).
Joy results from seeing the fulfilment of God’s promises. When we take a look at our lives we know that God has kept every promise that he has made and we have joy in knowing that his promises are endless. God promises that he will bless and keep his children, give peace, will fight for us against our enemies to give us victory, and will be our GPS to guide and lead us in the right direction, there is no change in the route or recalculating.
There are times when we leave God, but he never leaves us. He will be a shield for all who take refuge in him. Joy is not something that we have only when life is going well. Joy is something that is deep within and doesn’t leave quickly. When we have the joy of the Lord, we know it and so will others and no one can take it away unless we allow it to happen.
To be glad is to be pleased; cheerful; joyous (KJV Bible Dictionary). One of Satan’s most successful lies is that God is a destroyer of joy who wants everyone to be miserable. Some people view God as one who gets delight in making His people miserable. The Bible confirms that this is far from the truth. So, rather than discouraging us from seeking joy and gladness, the Bible encourages us to seek it, but to seek it in the right place. God Himself is the source of all joy and gladness. If we seek joy in God, we will find eternal satisfaction. Jesus was full of God’s joy and gladness; if we are growing to be like Christ, we will be growing in God’s joy and gladness.
Gladness comes from knowing that God’s presence is always with us, even when we don’t feel it. Jesus is the greatest example of joy and gladness. In the garden, Jesus told the disciples that His soul was deeply grieved to the point of death but because of the joy set before Him, he endured the cross. The cross itself was not joyful, but there was great joy ahead. Though He went through times of great difficulty and sorrow, especially as He bore our sins on the cross, He also had times of great joy and gladness. Knowing this can sustain the believer through times of sorrow and grief.
Joy and gladness result from continually cultivating God’s presence in our lives. Then, even if we go through trials, we will not lose our joy, because God is with us. As we go through our day, we should see God’s hand in every situation. Every trial He brings shapes us into the image of Jesus Christ. Every blessing He graciously gives to show us His great love.
Three ways to cultivate gladness: Spend time often with God in His Word and in prayer. Give God the credit for everything even the small things. Everything is from His loving hand. Nothing happens by chance. Take time often to enjoy what God has created.
Joy and gladness come from being conformed to God’s holiness. Another lie that Satan wants us to believe is that real happiness is found in sin, and that living a life of holiness is dull, boring and full of frustration. But God’s Word teaches that holiness and happiness are linked together. Sin may give short-lived pleasures, but it always causes destruction and confusion.
And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there nor any ravenous beast. They will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away (Isaiah 35:8-10).
The way to know the joy and gladness that come from God’s presence is to know that even when we sin, we are forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ and in obedience to Him. However we have to be sincere, honest and open with God.
God desires for us be full of joy and gladness, He is the direct source. If you are struggling to find it, make it your goal to find it, and don’t rest until you enjoy a good measure of it!
As we grow in God’s joy and gladness, He will be glorified through our lives. Every day we must continue to hold on to God’s promise that he can and he will take us out of the wilderness and a solitary place to obtaining joy and gladness.
*Delivered to an appreciative audience at the 2017 Laity Retreat, September 9, 2017, at Grove UMC, West Chester, PA