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Desert Testing and God's presence

by Joanne Charles

The very difficult thing about knowing that God tests me to refine me, is that I feel an incredible pressure to respond well to said testing. Perhaps this is because I have a vision of the Lord standing far off, with his arms crossed, waiting to see how I respond. Will it be with steadfastness, that I may be perfect and complete, as James cheerfully exhorts? Will I see endurance, character and hope flourish as Paul reminds me in Romans 5? Whatever happens I really don’t want to disappoint God.

I am so quick to feel his disappointment. Oh, of course I know he loves me, but I’m sure he must be just a little bit frustrated by my repeated failure to trust his good plans for my life, a failure evidenced by my discontent and complaining. This pretty much happens every time my will and his don’t happily coincide. But even as I complain, I feel guilty - am I failing the test? Well, yes. I am.

Not long ago I was reading Deuteronomy, specifically chapter 8, the first few verses. Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. (Dt 8:2)

Yes, I thought, here we go. He’s testing you to find out if you are willing to happily submit to cancelled family visits because of the pandemic. I’m not feeling very happy. I guess we know what’s in my heart. But honestly, that feels so harsh. But that’s when I noticed the next verse.

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (8:3)

And it struck me that the Lord always knew what was in my heart. He doesn’t test me so that he can know what is in my heart. He tests me so that I can know what is in my heart. That is what humbles me. It awakens in me a hunger for what only he can give, and which he always provides. As my realisation that I need him grows, I see he was always there with the manna. He’s so close that he provides food. In this case, food for my soul. The realisation that despite my unfaithfulness, he is close, and faithful.

Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. (8:4)

He’s so close that he keeps an eye on my clothing, making sure I’m covered, and his preoccupation with my wellbeing includes care of my feet so that I can keep walking towards the promised land as I stumble along through the desert.

There was, of course, one who did not live by bread alone, who trusted perfectly in every word that came from his Father. There was one whose heart was perfectly aligned with God’s, who perfectly kept every commandment. Jesus trusted his Father perfectly in the desert, and because of his sure steps, mine are also sure.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Heb 4:15-16)

God is not far off, arms crossed, waiting to see if I fail. He came close in Jesus, and he’s standing close now. He knows I will fail, but he’s ready with the manna, with a covering of righteousness, and with care for my feet as he leads me into the good land.

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Joanne Charles is a CMS-Australia missionary currently serving in Chile where she teaches Biblical Counselling in the Centre for Pastoral Studies, an Anglican training college. She also provides counselling in the wider church community. She has a Master of Arts in Counselling from Westminster (Philadelphia). She is married to Michael and they have 4 adult children. 

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