Before you can be really good at something, you must be willing to be really bad at it. At each level of growth, there is an inevitable learning curve. For example, if you want to learn a new language, you won’t be able to hold a conversation in the beginning. If you want to begin painting, your work may look like a 1st grader’s art project when you get started. And if you want to build wealth, there will probably be a time when your income is low and your debt is high.
I like to refer to the space between where you are and where you want to be as a wilderness. When you are in a wilderness season, your reality looks completely different than your desired destination. So, making it out of the wilderness requires bold faith. This blog explores how God used the wilderness to build a foundation of faith in Israel.
A Promise of Abundance
The Israelites were headed to a lush, fruitful, and abundant Promised Land. Exodus 3:7-8 says,
“Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.”
However, before they could get there, they had to go through the wilderness—a hot desert with minimal resources and no food. The desert is characteristically a place of “just enough.” There’s just enough water, just enough shade, and just enough provision to sustain. A land of abundance was in Israel’s future, but their present wilderness was a picture of scarcity.
God used the wilderness as a training ground for trust. It was where Israel learned how to have faith, for “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
Even though God miraculously parted the Red Sea and saved the Israelites from Egypt, it took them a while to learn this lesson. When they got hungry, their faith went out the window.
In Exodus 16:3, they complained, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
Israel forgot they were slaves, oppressed in every imaginable way. The wilderness can mess with your perspective. Without faith, we romanticize the past.
Man Does Not Live By Bread Alone
God hears the Israelites complaining about their hunger pains. His response? Free bread.
“Then the LORD said to Moses, “Look, I’m going to rain down food from heaven for you. Each day the people can go out and pick up as much food as they need for that day. I will test them in this to see whether or not they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they will gather food, and when they prepare it, there will be twice as much as usual.” (Exodus 16:5)
The manna was a gift, but it was also a test. Would they trust God’s daily provision, or would they stockpile and hoard for the next day? The Israelites were told not to leave any manna left over for the next day, or it would breed worms and stink. At first, they didn’t listen. They still had a scarcity mindset. The Israelites had a lesson to learn, which Moses clearly articulates in Deuteronomy 8:3:
“He (the Lord) humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, to teach you that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
What does it mean to live from every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord?
First, it is recognizing an essential order of operations: spiritual provision enables and sustains material provision. We can’t do anything without God. He will take you through the wilderness time and time again to remind you that He is your faithful Provider.
Secondly, living by the Word of God means realizing that God’s presence is abundant, and it is with you. In the wilderness, your raw dependence on God teaches you how to listen to His voice in every circumstance. To build anything enduring, this foundation of faith is necessary.
40 Days, not 40 Years
Jesus also spent some time in the wilderness. The Bible says He was led there by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil (see Matthew 4:1). He linked his experience to the Israelites’ journey. When the enemy tempted Jesus to indulge in some bread, He referenced Deuteronomy 8:2-3:
“And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread. But he answered, “It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:3-4)
After Jesus resisted the devil in the wilderness, his ministry began. Matthew 4:17 says, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
The sooner we learn how to live from every word that comes from the mouth of God, the sooner our ministry will start. We must fully submit to God’s authority before our character can handle any authority on our own. It took the Israelites 40 years to learn how to live from every word that comes from the mouth of God. In contrast, Jesus immediately submitted to this truth and was only in the wilderness for 40 days.
Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. We get to partake in Jesus’ victory because of what He accomplished on the cross. So, I don’t know about you, but I only want to spend 40 days in the wilderness—not 40 years. I want to listen closely to the voice of the Lord, stand on a foundation of faith, and dive headfirst into the Kingdom ministry each of us is called to.
Don’t Get Stuck
Some Christians never learn the lessons of manna. Without a foundation of faith to stand on, their minds are in Egypt. They don’t realize that there is a God who provides and guides.
On the other hand, you have Christians whose faith has grown and stagnated. They believe in manna but have forgotten that the Promised Land is their destination. They are too fearful to take a risk, and they forget that supernatural provision has been sustaining them all along.
Remember, the Israelites were told not to stockpile manna out of fear. God used manna to strip their scarcity mindset. When it comes to wealth building, people with a foundation of faith don’t hoard. Instead, they listen to the voice of the Lord and take risks. They know God is abundant, so they are generous.
We can’t forget that the substance of the Israelite’s faith was the Promised Land. Don’t become satisfied in the wilderness. Instead, listen closely to God’s voice and promises. He has more for you. There is always a new horizon.