When You Are On The Backside Of The Desert!

By Dr. Ken Matto

(Exo 3:1 KJV) Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.

In the above verse we read about Moses, the once mighty Prince of Egypt, who was now tending sheep on the backside of the desert for his father-in-law. Moses, who would have been trained in all the ways of Egyptian plutocracy, had now become something which was loathed by the very people he lived among. Moses was a shepherd. But I guess being a shepherd on the backside of the desert was probably a better condition than being a slave. Moses was destined to lead the nation of Israel out of captivity but the timing was not his, it was in God’s hands. Moses was banished from Egypt and he became a simple shepherd in the land of Midian. From royalty to proletariat almost over night. However, Moses did not know what was happening because he had to wait forty years for his call to service. It is those forty years that he spent as a shepherd in the land of Midian, is where many of us find ourselves today.

When we look at the life of Moses, we can basically see it was divided into three major sections. His first forty years was spent in Egypt in the Pharaoh’s court. The next forty years he was a shepherd in the land of Midian. His final forty years he was leading the people of Israel from Egypt into the Promised Land, although he was disallowed by God from entering in because of disobedience. What I want to look at in this article is the place that many seem to be at the present, and that is, “on the back side of the desert.” Many times we Christians go through a time of testing or time of tribulation, which does not end in a short time. Someone may have lost a job and can’t find employment for over a year or someone might contract an illness which keeps them isolated or unable to function for a long period of time.

It is at these times that we can have a lapse in faith, not that we castigate God for our circumstances, but that we may begin to see our lives as futile and that each day is the same as the previous one. It is when we begin to walk around in a spiritual depression is when we need encouragement and a reminder that God has not forgotten us. We don’t need mind altering drugs from some psychobabbler, but what we need is the reassurance that God has not forgotten us and there is a reason we are in the situation we are in. There are quite a number of people in the Bible that God gives us as examples who have weathered long periods of ordeal in which when in the middle of the circumstance, their life almost seemed like it was at its end in that their usefulness in the Kingdom of God was over. In long trials sometimes we can feel abandoned or even that God has turned against us. We look up to Heaven and ask, “Why Lord?”

On top of our situation, it even seems like our prayers hit the ceiling and bounce back. A Christian that feels cut off from God or even abandoned by God is able, to a very small degree, feel the pain of the Lord Jesus when His Father forsook Him for those few hours when He became sin for His Elect. We will never experience rejection and forsaking to the extent the Lord Jesus did, but when we experience them in our realm and it seems it saps all our strength, it will affect our life and the decisions that we must make. We can also be thankful that even though we may feel abandoned or we attempt to assess our lives as being forsaken, there is nothing written in the Bible which teaches that God ever forsakes His children. He will strongly test them and allow them to endure trials of difficulty and length, but He will never forsake His blood, redeemed children.

One of the hardest things that we Christians have trouble with is “waiting.” Almost every Christian will face a long time of tribulation. Look at Christians in countries where Christianity is outlawed and they literally live in times of trial for their entire lives. In this monograph, I want to look at some principles found in Scripture which can help us endure those long times of testing that we must go through. Believe me, I am writing this piece not only to help others, but for myself also as I too am presently facing one of those seemingly endless times of adversity where Heaven seems to be silent concerning my life. I think you know what I am speaking about. Sometimes we just need a spiritual boost to get us back on line. I am sure Moses had many questions when his ten years turned into twenty which turned in to thirty which turned into forty and finally he was given his commission. Let us turn to the Scriptures to see if we can glean a little insight into the relationship between God and His children who are in the midst of a long period of adversity.

God plans all your adversity
(Prov 17:3 KJV) The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the LORD trieth the hearts.

If there is one thing we Christians must stop doing and that is blaming Satan every time a little bit of adversity comes into our life. Normally, when we face a long time of tribulation, the results is that our life is better off because of the lessons we learn. Satan would never do anything that would better the lives of the believers. God engineers every circumstance in our life and He knows how to tailor them to each individual He tests. Satan’s part in all this is to get you to lose faith. He wants to get you to the point of accusing God of toying with you, forsaking you, forgetting you, and to try and get you to make decisions which are contrary to the Scriptures. If we listen to Satan, then the status of our testing may then be transformed into a time of hard times to bring us back to God, and then the plans that God has for you will continue. What am I saying? If we listen to Satan, then the time of testing will include time in the woodshed, which means we will be in our situation a lot longer. It is never to our advantage to believe anything that denigrates the character of God in any way. If you are beginning to have any aberrant beliefs about God in your hard times, then hurry up and check them out in Scripture. You will, not might, encounter a satanic attack, in fact, if you are in a situation of adversity for some length of time, you can expect many attacks. He will also time his attacks, not at the beginning of your ordeal but as you get into it for a long time and it starts wearing you down. He will then attack with all his false allegations against God concerning you. One thing that he does, is, he will bring to mind another Christian that you personally know who never seems to go through any adversity. He will then try to make you envious of that Christian. If he can combine jealousy with false accusations, he will intensify his attack on you ten-fold. Our sovereign God plans every phase of our life and once we grasp that fact, we will be able to endure long trials, knowing God is in control.

God guides in all your adversity
(Psa 25:9 KJV) The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way.

While we are on the backside of the desert, God is not abandoning us but He is working out circumstances in our life. As we read in the above verse, if we respond correctly to our situation, then God has promised to guide us in all the judgments we make. In other words, our daily living will be guided by the Lord and the second half of that verse teaches that He will also teach us His way. One of the things He will definitely teach us is that our circumstances are tailor made for us and if we do not espouse an attitude of anger, then God will be able to teach us His ways. We may never know why He is doing something but we will learn something about the promises of God. I want you to try and picture two locations which would be about ten miles apart. We are at location number 1 which is us. Location number 2 is where God is now doing something which will eventually concern us. It is like the situation of Moses. Moses was tending sheep in Midian, while God was working out the circumstances for the greatest defeat of the most powerful nation on earth at that time, Egypt, but for those forty years that God was working in Egypt, Moses had no idea what was happening. This is the same situation with us. God is working out a situation somewhere else, where we might never even imagine that we will be a part of.

God will meet our needs while on the backside of the desert
(Mat 6:8 KJV) Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

Whenever we are on the backside of the desert, we may tend to go into panic mode. The most trusting Christian in good times may be the most chaotic Christian in hard times. I am not talking about going out and doing evil things, I am speaking of just trusting God for their needs. If we lose a job, we may tend to start playing the lottery, fall for every “get rich quick scheme,” or maybe run out and take the first job we find, which may not be the one the Lord has designed for us and then we will miss His best. Our verse above teaches us that God knows what our needs are. You are in the situation you are in because God has allowed it and designed it for a specific reason in His wisdom. Look at Moses on the backside of the desert. God supplied him a wife who was part of a big family, so there was no chance for loneliness. He was given a task as a shepherd, although it looked menial on the surface, it was a training program for him. Small thought here, as Dr. Cook would say, Never let simplicity be overlooked as a training program for you. We like to do things that are difficult and complex so when we come across something in our life that is simple, we tend to classify it as a non-essential. Don’t tie your shoes tomorrow morning and see if you can go through the entire day. I can almost guarantee that almost everyone you meet will tell you your shoe laces are untied. You see tied shoe laces are a simple thing but it is a necessity. Sometimes our divine training program is like that, very simple but loaded with necessity. One thing you will definitely discover is that our needs are not really as substantial as we like to think. When you are on the backside of the desert, you will be surprised as how well you can live with less. Sometimes God may want us to just clean out our attic and have a garage sale and return to simplicity. Many times we have trouble distinguishing a need from a want, but God doesn’t have that problem.

God has a purpose for your situation
(Eccl 3:1 KJV) To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

If there is one thing that we can count on is that God does nothing in the believer’s life that does not have a purpose attached to it. Let us look at Moses again. Moses was to tend sheep for forty years until he was called to lead Israel out of Egypt. Now, Moses had to be thoroughly familiar with the characteristics of sheep. Why? Because humans tend to act like dumb sheep. We hate to admit it, but many times we don’t know what is good for ourselves. If we did, 100% of us would not be causing problems in our own life. By Moses tending, living with, and learning about sheep, he was being trained for the huge task which was to be placed on him just about the time in life when most men are already retired. Age has no factor in the Lord’s work, if He gives you the strength to perform what He has called you to do.

I wonder sometimes when Moses was approaching the 37th or 38th year of tending sheep, if he didn’t feel his life was wasted in such a menial task. Then one day it happened, THE CALL! I just received an e-mail from a senior saint who is ready to celebrate her 90th birthday. I had told her that I have been officially unemployed for over 15 months at that time. Here is what she told me, “Yes, I know God has something wonderful for you and it will be sprung on you without a moments notice but in His own time.” This is exactly what happened to Moses. God had finished the training program and Moses received his diploma and was now ready. Moses didn’t wake up one morning and say, “Honey, I think I am going to lead two million Israelites out of Egypt today.” No, he probably just woke up ready to engage in his daily routine and as he was working, he saw the burning bush and right there received his clarion call. Every bit of adversity we face is always a stepping stone in a training program.

God provides a way of escape
(1 Cor 10:13 KJV) There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

What is the greatest temptation that faces any Christian in a long period of hard times? It is not a single sin but our propensity to drift slowly from the Lord. It starts out innocently and then begins to mushroom if it isn’t checked. The world and its schemes starts to pull us toward them. It has a hard time at first but once we make the first compromise, the second one becomes a little easier and doesn’t require much conscience. When we begin to start gravitating toward the world, then our time of being on the back side will be lengthened, because God now has two situations to deal with. He must strip us of our waywardness and then once again re-start the training program. What then is the way that God gives His children for an escape route? It is “faith” in contrast to our works. If a Christian has faith in God and uses it, they will not go the way of the world. Trusting in the Lord is the strength of every Christian. This is why God gave us the Bible, so we can go to it in a time of crisis. The word “crisis” comes from the Greek word “krisis” which means “judgment or decision.” Every believer has a decision to make as to whether they will follow the Lord or if they will follow the world, which is detrimental to every Christian. Christians would not drift if they kept to the Word of God for every decision they had to make. Biblical constancy is a necessary factor in every proper decision for the Christian. If our Bibles collect dust, so will our testimony.

Promises of God, apparent contradictions, and contentment in the believer’s life
(Heb 11:17 KJV) By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son.

God made a promise to Abraham that He would confirm the eternal covenant through his son Isaac, but then God does something surprising in that He tells Abraham to sacrifice his only son. This faith test that Abraham faced was “the faith test of apparent contradiction.” God said the promises would be kept through Isaac but then almost immediately, God is commanding Abraham to sacrifice him. I wonder what went through Abraham’s mind. On one hand, the eternal covenant is going to come through the lineage of Isaac and this cannot happen if the line is broken through death. God knew exactly what He was doing but at that point Abraham did not. However, since God made the promise to Abraham that a great eternal lineage would come through Isaac, when he went to sacrifice Isaac in an act of obedience to God, he was convinced that Isaac would return with him to his servants.

(Gen 22:2 KJV) And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

(Gen 22:5 KJV) And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.

This was probably the strongest test that Abraham faced. It is easy to pack up and go into the unknown and even to wait, but when you are faced with the reality that you may have to sacrifice one of your family members, then the test becomes a very over-powering test. However, there is one principle in this scenario, which is really not emphasized in the Scripture but I believe is there. Why did Abraham believe that he would return with the lad? Was it because he had hope? Was it because he felt that God would not take his son? I believe it was because Abraham remembered the Words of God concerning Isaac and the eternal covenant. That remembrance of those words allowed Abraham to take whatever action God required of him, even if it seemed like a contradiction in God’s commands. This is a great lesson for us. When we holster the promises of God in our mind, we can easily go through those apparent contradictions in which God may be working out in our life. What type of apparent contradictions do we face in our life?

(Luke 6:38 KJV) Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.

You have a heart to fund God’s work and to give to missions and then you lose your job. Hey wait a minute, the Scripture says give and it shall be given to me, in excess measure too! Apparent Contradiction or Will of God?

(Mark 16:15 KJV) And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

You are accepted to go to the mission field, you have your support team in place, and are ready to leave. You go to your doctor for a final check up, he calls you two days later and tells you that you have Pancreatic Cancer and 6 months to live. Apparent Contradiction or Will of God?

(1 Tim 3:1 KJV) This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.

A young man goes to Bible College and then Seminary, gets married and then begins to send his resume out for a Pastorate. He is contacted by a church who has not had a Pastor in over a year, so he accepts the position and begins to drive a thousand miles to his destination. He arrives at the church and begins his duties, two weeks into his ministry he is cleaning the gutters on his house and falls off the ladder and is permanently paralyzed. Apparent Contradiction or Will of God?

These three examples teach us that not every promise is for every Christian. The Will of God determines where the promises of God fit into the life of a Christian. God’s Word is definite and final, so when we run into an apparent contradiction, it is the will of God being implemented in a person’s life. It was the will of God for Isaac to live because he had a different purpose in life than being an instrument of sacrifice for his obedient father. It was through his line that the Lord Jesus Christ would eventually come into the world. Now let us look at an overriding promise of God which would be apropos for the above three examples.

(Heb 13:5 KJV) Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

WOW! Content with paralysis? Pancreatic cancer? Job loss? No matter what situation the Lord places us in (notice I said “places us in” not “finds us in”) our contentment is to be in Him. We can never be content in our situations. Even when we have everything going our way, our contentment is always to be found in Christ because when those times come that we dread so much, He has promised to never leave or forsake us. A rough situation does not constitute an abandonment by God or the negating of His promises in Scripture. Just look to Him to be your contentment in whatever situation you find yourself in, whether permanent or temporary. After all, when you get down to it, it is all temporary.

(2 Cor 4:16-18 KJV) For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. {17} For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; {18} While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.

We looked at some examples and explored the reality, that when we are placed on the back side of the desert, God is right there with us. He is doing something in our life which He does not reveal during the time He is training us. This is so He can test our faith and reveal any faith breaches we may have so they can be repaired. God is fully training us for a task which He has prepared for us. We must have faith in Him and realize that we need to be content in Christ. If we find contentment in things, then we may find ourselves tending sheep for a long time until the contentment is refocused on the Lord. If you find yourself on the backside of the desert and it is not for sinful reasons, then you can rejoice because God is preparing something that only you are able to do because of His special preparation in your life. When God has His hand on you, it is an honor to be in the service of the King of Kings. Don’t let the world derail you and your joy!