Living 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.

God was going to use Moses to lead the children of Israel out of bondage but before he was qualified to do that task, God had to retrain him. Moses had just fled from the court of Pharaoh where it was found out that he had killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew. Moses was probably next in line to become Pharaoh but as the Scripture teaches >(Prov 16:9 KJV) A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.

Moses was positioned to lead the greatest country on earth at that time but little did he know that he was about to lead another large group of people, probably about 2 million. Man was about to make Moses the Pharaoh but now the Lord was directing his steps. Moses was still going to be a leader but now he was going to be a leader of a different kind. Moses was learned in all the ways of Egypt and was probably well suited to be Pharaoh but God was ready to call on Moses for one of the most difficult tasks and that was to lead Israel out of bondage from Egypt.

The life of Moses is broken down into three segments: His first 40 years was growing up in the court of Pharaoh and being groomed to be Pharaoh, his second 40 years was spent on the backside of the desert, and his final 40 years was spent leading the children of Israel to the Promised Land even though he did not enter in by divine decree. For this article, I want to focus in on the second segment of the life of Moses and that was being placed in the backside of the desert for a long stretch of time, sometimes even permanently.

I am sure that it was definitely culture shock for Moses to go from the court of Pharaoh living in total luxury to the tents of Midian herding sheep. He literally went from Master to servant in a very short time. It is a change like that which sends some Christians into depression or a feeling of total uselessness. God may be changing the direction of one of His children and that may include that person becoming disabled or sick. I know in my own life, I went from having an itinerant pulpit ministry along with a writing ministry and then becoming disabled on August 28, 2003 to a writing ministry alone. The last time that I attended church was August 24, 2003. Now I am basically semi-house bound although I am able to drive without a problem, so I can still get out in a limited way. Going from an active Christian ministry to a house bound situation was initially a shock because I could no longer do 90% of the things I did before.

So what was I to do now that I could no longer attend church or even go to any Bible Conferences or seminars. Is it frustrating at times? I will not lie, yes it is, especially with chronic pain and weakness in my legs. I was now on the backside of the desert and it looks like I will remain there till the Lord takes me home or He returns. You may be in a similar position where you were once active and maybe the Lord allowed you to become disabled or sick and now you cannot enjoy the things which you did in past time. I want us to look once again at the verse where Moses is on the backside of the desert.

(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.

When this passage is looked at, it seems that the only thing which is extracted from this passage is the fact that Moses was now on the backside of the desert. Let us look at the phrase which immediately follows that, “and came to the mountain of God...” if you notice, the mountain of God was not found in the plains of Midian or the places where it was well-watered but was found on the backside of the desert. In other words, God’s kingdom is also on the back side of the desert. It is not just in places flowing with green valleys and streams but the kingdom of God is right there in the midst of the hardest times any Christian will ever face. This gives a great comfort because many Christians may feel that because of their situation, that God may have abandoned them or is so angry with them that He has intentionally forsaken them. Nothing could be further from the truth.

(Rom 8:38-39 KJV) For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, {39} Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

As Christians, what we suffer here in this world, whether it be sickness, disability, or persecution is no indication of what we will experience in the New Heavens and New Earth. (Rev 21:4 KJV) And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. There will definitely be an end to the pain that we have on this earth but right now God is working His greater plan through the body of Christ and one day there will be an end and all we have suffered will have been for a greater reason than our own creature comfort. (Rev 10:6 KJV) And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer:

We must always keep in mind that God is the potter and we are the clay and that He reserves the right to redirect our lives according to His will and plan. His will and plan may include disability. When we look at Joni Erickson Tada, here we see a woman who is a quadriplegic that has been in a wheel chair since she was 17. As I write this she is 64 which means she has been disabled for 47 years. When she was 17, God had redirected her life from an active one into a wheelchair. Now look at the result of that one diving accident. Millions around the world who have disabilities have been encouraged by her and her ministry continues to have that effect. They have a sub-ministry called “Wheels for the World” which gives out wheelchairs to the disabled in foreign countries, who cannot afford one. To date that ministry has given out over 100,000 wheelchairs for free. Check out her ministry at Joni and Friends and see what the Lord has done through one person.

Another person whom the Lord has used mightily is a man named Nick Vujicic who was born without arms and legs. Recently he has gone all over this world on a preaching campaign to bring the Gospel to many who are downcast and who have disabilities. Nick says, “If God can use a man without arms and legs to be His hands and feet, then He will certainly use any willing heart!” That is the key to making your present life a full one.

If you choose to be recalcitrant, then your life will be miserable and you will cause greater emotional trauma to be present in your life. If you have become disabled or sick, anger or self-pity will not turn the clock back. God wants to do something in your life and your rebellion is hindering that connection. What greater partner could you have in this life than the one who said, “(Isa 41:10 KJV) Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”

Joni and Nick are severely disabled and yet through their ministries they have touched the hearts of millions and no telling how many have became saved through their ministries. I wonder how many suicides have been averted when these two begin to minister to their hearers? Both of them were once on the backside of the desert but because the Mountain of God was also on the backside of the desert, their lives have borne much fruit, more than we can carry in baskets. Isn’t it something that Moses had to travel to the backside of the desert to come to the mountain of God because he could not access it from the tents of Jethro or the court of Pharaoh. The reason for this is because the backside of the desert is barren and therefore the focus of your life will be the Kingdom of God. When God wants to redirect your life, He wants nothing else to distract you so He can work with you and get your ministry going. If you are going to make the balance of your life productive, then there are some principles which must be adopted.

What happened, happened for a reason
There is no such thing in the Kingdom of God as coincidence or bad luck. That is all the figment of man’s imagination. What happened to you, happened for a specific purpose which God has for you. God reserves the right to redirect our lives since it is He that gave us our lives. Once we realize that God is not out to destroy us but to use us for the glory of God and for work which has eternal results, then we will take on a different attitude. Now it may take some time to adjust to your new state of affairs but when you do, God will begin to work with you and start to show you aspects of your new ministry. For the future ministry you will have, you were trained for this moment in some fashion in the past, through some part of your ministry. I became disabled August 28, 2003 and I had been writing since about 1983 which was 2 years after I became saved. So the Lord was already training me for the time when my primary ministry would be that of a writing ministry.

Destroy all envy of those who still have good health
If we allow ourselves to be diverted from the ministry God will give us and turn our hearts toward jealousy and envy, we will destroy what the Lord is doing through us. We can fall into a trap when we see others having good health and doing what they want without even a second thought. Keep in mind that was us too when we didn’t even give walking or whatever gift God gave us a second thought, we just did it. We must never become envious of those who are still healthy and have a sound body. Some of those people will lend you a helping hand when needed. If we become bitter and jealous of others, we will completely destroy ourselves emotionally and God may have to place us on a mountain in the backside of the desert until we work through that problem and come back to the reality that all the anger and envy in the world is not going to change our situation. Remember Jonah? God told him to go to Nineveh and instead, he ran in the opposite direction. Did God free him from that obligation? The answer is no. Jonah went to Nineveh the hard way and completed the task that God gave him. Jonah hated the Assyrians and did not want to see any of them become saved. We must also avoid the Jonah Syndrome and rein in any hatred we may have toward anyone who has a good body. Envy can lead to hatred. It is a thin line between envy and hate. Once in a while people will talk to me and I will tell them “I just came in from a two mile run.” They will laugh as I do. Once you accept your new circumstances, your life will begin to be less stressful.

Focus on what you can do and not what you can’t
I once had a good itinerant preaching ministry which was performed in my home state of New Jersey, plus New York and Pennsylvania. I can no longer stand for long periods of time and I cannot walk to any pulpit. What I used to do without any physical hindrance, I can no longer do owing to physical hindrance. Since I can no longer do itinerant preaching but I can do a writing ministry, I have focused on that and not focused on verbal preaching. You must do the same thing. If you had some type of ministry where you went to different places and you can no longer do that, then focus your energy on what you can do at this time. 20 years ago I was an adjunct professor of Homiletics so preaching was a natural thing and I did feel at home preaching, whether to a small group of 25 or a large group of 300 or on the radio. Those days are gone and whatever fruit was borne, is now recorded in Heaven. Now I focus on my writing ministry and it has borne much fruit. I have received encouragement from many Christians and I have received much criticism from some Christians. Now here is the kicker. Every month I look at the statistics of my site and the site averages about 170 countries where the site has been viewed. There are 206 countries in this world which means I am reaching 83% of the world’s countries plus the site is in the top 3% of all websites on the internet. Could I have done that? No! The Lord allowed this to transpire because what was one of His final comments before His ascension? (Mat 24:14 KJV) And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. He did not say that everyone would believe but just that it would be preached. Since I can sit and not stand to preach, I have focused on the writing ministry which has yielded much wider distribution than I could ever imagine. My responsibility is just to get the material uploaded and then it is the Lord’s responsibility to bring people to the site. Sit down and make a list of what you can do at this time and you will be surprised how much ministry you can still accomplish.

Go one day at a time
Each day is going to hold its own challenges. If you do one thing for the Kingdom of God each day, then your day will have been a success. You are limited in what you can do, so therefore avoid all anxiety. If you have a big project to do, then you can accomplish that project one day at a time. Even a building goes up in a logical order. If you are building a ten story building, you don’t build the tenth story first and then the foundation. It is the foundation first and then you build till you hit the tenth floor. When I write an article, it is not all done on the same day but it is done a little bit each day until completion. No matter what you are doing, do not fall into the trap that you must rush and get things done. That is when you make mistakes and have to do it over again. Plan well and execute that plan in segments making sure everything is fine.

Take your life in steps
Building on the above principle, take your life in steps. Smaller steps will still yield great fruit. Back in 2003, I started to do verse by verses commentaries on the books of the New Testament. I would do a little bit each day and sometimes I would not do any because I did the commentaries between articles. Then finally on 8/22/13 I completed all the books of the New Testament plus Proverbs. I did a little bit each day and was able to complete this major task. Never discount the value of a penny because January 1 it is worth 1¢ but on January 31 when doubled each day, you will have $10,737,418.24. This is why God tells us in Zechariah 4:10: “For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the LORD, which run to and fro through the whole earth.” Never feel that what you are doing is small or insignificant because those days of doing something small will add up to a large sum.

What is past, is past
Your life has hit a dividing line. That dividing line was the day you became sick or disabled. What you did before that dividing line can no longer be done after the dividing line. You must not live in the past by trying to resurrect what your ministry was in the past. If there are parts of your past ministry which you can still do, then by all means do it but do not dote on the parts which you cannot do because you are now being re-tasked.

What is now, is now
Realizing that some, or maybe even all of your prior ministry is now impossible to perform, you must now bring your thinking up to the point you are right now realizing that there is no end to the possibilities of doing ministry in many different ways. Disability or sickness is not a hindrance to God when it comes to using a willful, obedient Christian to continue on in ministry. You may even find out you have hidden talents which may further enhance your new ministry. Joni Erickson Tada is able to paint with the brush in her mouth. I can almost guarantee that she never knew that until her life hit the dividing line. You also may find out strengths you never knew you had. If you begin to start focusing your life on this side of the dividing line, you can have a tremendously productive ministry. (John 15:8 KJV) Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. A God glorifying ministry does not necessarily require two good legs or a strong body! One such person who shows this is Johnny Farese who has been disabled since birth and has a ministry on line and is quite adept at many different technologies. He has been on line since September 10,1996.

No one is going to deny that losing our mobility or becoming sick is not going to affect us. It definitely will but the key to overcoming any negative results of it is to realize that God has not abandoned us, instead He has redirected us. Nothing happens to the believer outside of the sovereign will of God. God takes His children and strategically places them where He is going to empower them to accomplish His goals, even if that requires them losing some facet of their physical lives. Productive ministry can still be a possibility if we focus on the now and not the past. If we focus on our past abilities, we can become severely depressed but if we focus on the now we can become and remain joyful knowing that God has specifically touched our lives and has something planned for us. The key to living on the backside of the desert is to be willing and open for God to use us in the condition that we are presently in. He will not expect more from you than what your body can do but will empower you for ministry within the confines of what your body can do. I miss going to Bible conferences, church and other Christian events but reaching 170 countries with the Gospel each month, definitely makes up for it. Keep in mind that behind every computer is a person and that person has an eternal soul. Therefore, ministry is very important and no matter what condition you are in, seek to bring the Gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth. You will be surprised what you can accomplish when you seek to be used of the Lord instead of seeking to be used by your television.