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Craig Groeschel - God With Us In the Wilderness



Hey, I wonder if there's anybody today a little bit excited to hear from God's Word at all of our churches. I hope that you guys are. We are in part two of a message series that's called God Is With Us, God With Us. And what we're doing is we're looking at the different ways that we can encounter the presence of God in different seasons in our lives. And, what we're doing is we're letting a text from the New Testament be an anchor for us. For those of you that are followers of Christ, this is one of the most important verses, that really solidify our faith and believing in the presence of God. And this is the verse, that during Christmas Eve services I'm going to teach on this one in particular, but I'm going to use it as a place to start our study today.

Matthew's Gospel chapter one verse 23, Matthew said, Look, the virgin will conceive a child. She'll give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which what does it mean, let's all say it aloud, which means God is with us. Our series is called God With Us. And we looked last week about how we experience the presence of God in the valley. If you were with us we talked about the truth that we often enjoy God on the mountaintops, but we experience him intimately in the valley. Today what I want to do is I want to talk about another metaphor from Scripture, and that is the wilderness. How do we experience God's presence in the wilderness. The wilderness is different from the valley, because time in the wilderness usually lasts a lot longer. The wilderness is a barren place, a dry place, a desolate place where you feel very alone.

One of the images often found in the wilderness is wandering through the wilderness. We're wondering when in the world is this going to be over. We're wondering when are we going to get out of the wilderness. Some of you right now, you might be in some type of a wilderness. You're stuck in this job, and you're wondering, should I stay in this job. Or, should I go back to school, and then I may have to go into student loan debt but I may have a better job. I'm kind of stuck in this place, should I stay or should I do something different. I'm renting a house and I wonder, should I buy a house, I'm not getting any equity. But if I do that I may get transferred, I just don't know.

And so you kind of feel stuck in this place. I'm dating some guy, and he just won't ask me to marry him. I dated him, I dated him, and I prayed and I prayed and I fasted and I fasted and fasted and he still didn't do it, he's just playing video games, should I stay with him? Or should I go out with somebody else, you know. And then give up all that time, it just kind of goes on and on and on and on. We often feel alone. We feel lost. We feel disoriented. We feel like nobody really understands what we're going through in the wilderness. What's so interesting to me is when you look at wilderness stories in the Bible, they often follow mountaintop experiences. Wilderness times often follow mountaintop times.

And that's exactly what happened with Jesus. He had a mountaintop moment with God right after he was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, and literally heaven opens up, and the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove. And his father verbally and publicly expresses his love and approval for his son, and God says, this is my son, whom I love. With him I'm well pleased. It's a father saying I'm proud of the son. It's a mountaintop experience, and then the next verse says, immediate Jesus was driven into the wilderness to be tempted for 40 days. Mountaintop, followed by wilderness. Some of you, it may have been like that. Things were going great, and then you found out that someone wasn't being honest with you.

Suddenly you're in a wilderness. You thought your spouse was being faithful and your spouse wasn't. Oh my gosh, now you're in the wilderness. You're in a financial wilderness. You're trying and trying and trying to get out of this time this debt, and you feel so desperate. Whatever you do it doesn't seem to work. You've tried to tell people how you feel, but they just don't seem to understand. You feel alone, you feel spiritually dry, you feel desperate in the wilderness. What I want to do today is show you one big thought that we'll come back to again and again that I pray would not just be true, but would be true to your spirit as you hear it and as you live it. The big thought is this: your deepest need, as much as it hurts, your deepest need becomes a gift, when it drives you to depend on God. Your deepest need becomes a gift, when it drives you to depend on God.

In fact, I'm going to show you a story from the Old Testament where this is lived out in a very real way, in 1 Kings 19. When we see Elijah the prophet, that God had used in massive ways. He, literally on the mountaintop, Mount Carmel, he experiences the power of God. And almost immediate after this, we see him go from the mountaintop to the wilderness, where he's desperate, where he's depressed, where he feels all alone and scared for his life. To give you a little context, there was an evil king named King Ahab. And King Ahab had an even more evil wife named Jezebel. And Jezebel heard about all the Elijah had done. She got so mad, essentially she said to her husband, look, if you can't do the job right, then let this woman do the job. And that's kind of what she did, she says, send word to Elijah that by this time tomorrow he will be dead. She threatened him.

King Ahab had been coming after him for years and years and years, but as soon as a woman got mad, Elijah got scared. And watch this, now I'm going to show you, right in God's word. She makes the threat, the king had been pursuing him for years, she makes the threat, and this is what the Bible says. Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there. Let me pause for a moment, because when you just read the text you may not understand just how far this bro ran. To run to Beersheba, listen, this is before Uber, I mean we're talking the guy is on foot. He runs about 100 miles to get away from this crazy, angry woman. We're talking the prophet turns into Forrest Gump, I was running. I mean he is out of dodge, he is scared, he runs 100 miles. Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.

When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day's journey. He was just on the mountaintop, but where did he end up. He ran into the wilderness, into the wilderness, where he's alone, where he's scared, where he's hurting, and where he's desperate. He came to a broom bush, and sat down under it and prayed that he might die. And then he said the words that so many of us have said or felt at some point in our lives. He said, I've had enough Lord. I just can't take it anymore. He had put up battle, ha had fought with bravery, he had faith, he had courage, and finally, he's just at the end of his rope. I've had enough, Lord. I'm certain in a group this size that there are some of you that in some point in your life, and many of you at this point in your life, have just said those very words. I'm done. I'm spent. I've had enough, I can't take it anymore. You're raising kids, you're raising teenagers. At some point you say it, I've had it up to here. I've had enough Lord. Then you say, don't make me come back there, because I will.

You know, you say that, things like that come out of your mouth. I've had enough Lord. I can't take it anymore. Some of you are in a work situation where finally just the straw breaks the camel's back, like I can't take it anymore here, I just can't take another day at this place. Financially, you're trying to get ahead, and you're making progress, and then, your car breaks, right. Your toilet overflows. Then, your two year old puts a Tic Tac up his nose, and you're going to the emergency room to get it removed, and you're like, what is this God, I can't take anymore at all. You feel overwhelmed. Sometimes it's the smallest things. You work hard, you serve faithfully, you make everybody the greatest meal ever, you put it out on the table, it's made with love. They eat it in 30 seconds, they leave all the dishes on the table, and so you turn into Jezebel. I'm going to kill somebody. By this time tomorrow, everyone who ate of my food will be dead if this house isn't cleaned up. It just throws you over, it's just something.

And this apparently is what happened to Elijah the prophet. Because let me tell you what, this guy had experienced the presence of God. This guy had fought with bravery, with boldness. In fact, if you don't know the back story, he stood down the evil king, and prophesied, and called for a drought as a punishment to this king's sins. And sure enough, God stopped the rain. Well the king is mad at Elijah, so he sends all of his forces after Elijah. He hides for three years, God is protecting him. God miraculously feeds him through ravens from heaven. Then God uses Elijah to raise the life of a dead boy. This prophet stands down 850 false prophets of Baal, he calls down fire from heaven, God shoots fire from heaven, consumes the altar, then God destroys the false prophets. Elijah eventually calls and asks God to make it rain. He sees in the distance a cloud the size of a man's hand, and has the faith to believe that God is bringing the provision of rain, and God does.

This prophet experienced the protection of God, this prophet experienced the provision of God, he knew very well the presence of God, he had experienced God's greatness, and then when one woman makes a threat, he runs for his life. All the men aren't even laughing, they're like looking forward, they're not even breathing. I don't know what you're talking about, Pastor Craig, I don't know what you're talking about. He runs for his life. Some of you feel this way right now. I've had enough. I can't take anymore. I'm just exhausted. I'm overwhelmed. I'm doing the best I can, and the best I can just isn't enough. I was privileged to be a part of a conversation, Dr. Henry Cloud was talking, and he's a fantastic Christian psychologist. And he was talking to a group of leaders that were all experiencing the same thing, what many of you may be experiencing right now. They were all talking about how, we're just tired. We're just all tired, we're tired, we're tired, we're tired.

Those of you at Life.Church Albany, you're tired. Life.Church southern Florida, you're tired. Where I'm from, we're not tired, we're tired. That's what we are. I'm in Oklahoma, man, we're just tired. Tired. How you doing? Tired. How do you spell that? T-A-R-D, tard. You know, we're just tired. And Dr. Cloud said, for most of you, your probably misdiagnosing your challenge. Let me say this to many of you. You may be misdiagnosing what your real need is. He said, most of you are not tired. Because if you were tired, you could take a nap, and that would solve your problem. You're not in need of physical rest, as much as you are in need of spiritual replenishment. He said, you're not just tired, but you're spiritually depleted.

This needs to speak to somebody. You're not just tired, you're not just overwhelmed. What you need is an encounter with the very real and very holy presence of God. What you need is an intimate moment where you experience the grace, the goodness, the loving kindness, the mercy of the presence of God. You're not just tired. Maybe you do need some rest. Maybe some physical rest would be good. But even more than just physical rest, you need to encounter the grace of God. You need spiritual replenishment. This is what David said in the twenty third Psalm, he said, the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He, the Lord, restores my soul. Not just tired, not just worn out. But I need the restoration grace of God to my soul. Not just physically exhausted, but spiritually depleted.

So, what does God do. What I love, is what God doesn't do. God doesn't preach him a sermon, going this is your fault, this is your fault. God doesn't give him 10 verses to memorize, or say where's your faith. What God does is God tells him to eat and to rest, that's what God says. Here's what Scripture says, verse five and six. All at once, an angel touched Elijah and said get up and eat. If you listen to God, he may tell you, get up and get a double cheeseburger with bacon on it. Get up and eat. He looked all around, and there by his head was some bread. Some gluten free bread from heaven, baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. And he ate and drank, and he lay down again. What did God say. Essentially, sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is to rest in the presence of God. Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is just take a breather, and let God restore your soul.

Verse seven. The angel of the Lord came back a second time. I love this. I don't know about you, but sometimes I don't get it the first time. And God comes back a second time, and a third time, because the presence of God continues to pursue you. There are those of you today, God is coming back for you again. And if you don't get it today, he'll come back again. The Lord comes back another time, and touched him and said, get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you. So he got up and he ate, and strengthened by the food he traveled and forty days and forty nights, until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into the cave and spent the night there, and the word of the Lord came to him and said, what are you doing here? Why are you running away from me? What are you doing here? What are you doing here?

Some of you, God may speak to you that way. What do you think you're doing? You know better than this. What are you doing right now, you've got access to me. Why are you running away from people and running away from God, what are you doing here? And then Elijah starts getting whiny voiced when he's talking to God. I don't know if you ever get whiny voice when you're talking to God, but I get whiny voice sometimes when I feel like God's not answering my prayers, and God's not doing what I want him to do, and I get whiny voice. He replied, I've been zealous for the Lord God Almighty. That's what I do. God, I've been working so hard. Why don't you hear my prayer? God, why don't you do this for me, whiny voice? Maybe I'm the only one that gets whiny voice, I don't know you're looking at me so strange. He's got whiny voice. He says, the Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword.

I am the only one left and now they're trying to kill me too. He's in a spiritual wilderness. He's hurting. His need is so great he cannot see beyond his own need. Nobody understands. Nobody's doing it like I'm doing it. I'm all alone, I'm desperate, and what does God do. God meets him in his deepest need. God ministers to him in his moment of vulnerability. God brings healing in the middle of the hurt. And that's why I hope you'll understand that your deepest need can become a gift, when it drives you to depend on God. And God comes to him again and again, and reaches out to him in his deepest need. I love verse 11, the Lord said, Go and stand on a mountain in the presence of the Lord. He's thinking this is what I need, I need God's presence, I'm scared for my life. I need God's presence, God is going to reveal himself to me.

For the Lord is about to pass by. Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart, and shattered the rocks before the Lord. He's thinking God is going to be in the wind, God's coming in the rushing and the mighty wind, but the Scripture says, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind was an earthquake. Surely God is in the shaking of the ground, surely he is in the earthquake. But the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake came a fire, certainly just as the burning bush was not consumed, in the presence of Moses, in the presence of God, my God is coming into the fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, came a gentle whisper. The ground shook, and God wasn't in the shaking of the ground. The wind raged, and God was not in the wind. The fire burned, and God was not in the fire. Earth, wind, and fire.

See what God did there, God did that. God did that, for you all born in the 70's. If you don't know why everybody else is giggling, just go ahead and be 18 and just enjoy it, you've got a lot of life ahead of you, we're all going to die sooner, you can get more jokes as you go. God was not in the remarkable, God was in the ordinary whisper. God was in the whisper. Why is it that when life is so difficult, God's voice is so quiet. Why is he gentle. Why his voice so still and so small. If God wants us to hear him, why does he whisper, why doesn't he shout. Why doesn't he speak loud and powerful, spectacular ways. If he wants us to know him and to hear him, why does he whisper. I'll tell you why. God whispers because he's close. Because he's right there with you. He whispers because he's near.

The devil shouts his lies, but God whispers his truth. God doesn't shout to get your attention, he whispers to draw you close. What does he say to you, I will never leave you. I will never forsake you. I've been with you every single moment, and I love you more than you can imagine. When you hurt, I hurt with you. I'm with you in the valley. I'm with you in the wilderness. I'm with you in the storm. Why does God whisper. He whispers because he's right there. He's close. Where do you want to be when you're afraid? Anybody ever afraid of a storm when you were growing up? Anybody afraid of a storm, anybody at all? Look, I've been preaching all weekend long, I'm not doing this without you. Was anybody afraid of a storm when you were a little kid, you were a three year old kid, thank you for your honesty, you're going to hell if you don't tell the truth. Sorry, I'm just working out my issues. Of course you were. If you weren't, you were a super two year old, whatever, I was scared to death.

Anytime there was a big storm, you know where I'd go? Straight into mom and dad's room. They would not let me sleep in their room, not in their bed. So you know what I'd do? I'd curl up like a little dog at the edge of their bed, I just wanted to be close. My kids, you're not allowed into my bed, there's six of them. After a storm, I'd wake up. There'd be four or five of them all around my bed, gotta step over them like cats at the edge of bed. They want to be close to the ones who make them feel safe. Listen to me, in the middle of the storm, you don't have to run to God's bed. He's already with you at yours. He is right there. He is close. If your heart is hurting right now, and you feel brokenhearted, where is God. Let me tell you where he is. Scripture tells us in Psalm 34:18, the Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Why does he whisper? Because he's close. Because he is near. Because he is with you.

David said this, he said, the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he restores my soul. Even though I walk through the valley, the valley is not my destination, I'm just passing through. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, why. Because he is with me, because he is with me. Because he never leave me, because he is always close. His rod and his staff, they comfort me. He anoints my head with oil. He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies. Surely his goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. Why does God whisper to his sheep? Because he's close. He knows his sheep by name, and his sheep know his soft and gentle voice. David said of God's presence, he said, where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up into the heavens, you are there. If I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even if your hand guides me, your right hand will hold me fast. Your right hand will hold me.

How close is the presence of God that he can hold your hand. Why does God whisper. Because he's close. Because he's close. And then one day you'll discover that your deepest need becomes a gift, when it drives you to depend on God. Right, Jess? This is my friend Jess. We met on my way in to Gold's Gym. I was trying to get into the gym, and Jess said, I didn't want to see you. And I smiled back and said, that's not a very nice greeting. And she said, I keep seeing you. And then she told me, I used to be a part of the church years ago, but I stopped believing in Christ. And I said to you, how many more times do you have to see me before it's a sign from God? And she said, that's enough. That's enough. And so I said, would you sit with me and my wife on the front row next Sunday. And she did, and she cried all the way through the message, just like she is today. And she signed up to serve.

Some of y'all been coming for years and you haven't served. She comes on her first day and she serves. And thank you for telling me your story, that at a very low point in your life, God reached down to where you were. And now every week there's tears of joy. There's tears of joy. And the reason is, listen to me. Because he's close. And what you need to hear is that God loves you, he is for you, he sent you to the gym at the right time. Because he's reaching out to you, bringing you to himself. He has plans for you, plans to bless you, to prosper you, not to harm you, give you a hope and a future. You are valuable to him, he cares for you so much that he sent his son Jesus. Now God's spirit dwells within you. God is working in your life, he has supernatural plans to use you and to bless you. He's always with you, even when you were away from him, he was with you. Because he's always close. He's always close. He's always close.

And so, last night, my whole family was here together. I've told you about Mandy, my daughter, who has been sick for awhile. And Mandy, as I told you, was not able to stand up through worship when she'd come to church, because she didn't have the energy. Last night, she stood up all the way through worship and worshiped God. And I had a conversation with her during the message series When the Devil Knocks. And, I'm just going to sit down. I told her, I said I think, I think that the devil is attacking your body because God's called you to do so much, and she said, daddy that may be true, but I actually think that God chose me fore this. I was a bit taken aback by it, I said what do you mean, God chose you for this. She said, no I believe God chose me for this.

I said, explain this to me. She said well look at what has happened through my sickness. I'm ministering to thousands of people now every week through the YouTube channel, and I never would have had a voice into their lives, but now I get to speak into their lives every single week. And she said, look how close I am to Jesus now. Look how blessed my marriage is. We're so dependent on God that we have to have his presence moment by moment, day by day. And then she looked at me and she said, God is going to heal me of this, and I will tell everybody about his goodness. I will tell everybody, and you know I will. God chose me for this. And then I started crying like a proud dad, and she started crying like my precious daughter, and she said, now don't get me wrong, I wouldn't want anybody else to go through this. And I'd never want to go through it again. But I wouldn't change anything, because of how close I am to God.

Here's what I hope you'll understand. We enjoy him on the mountaintops. But we get to know him intimately in the valleys. When we're wandering in the wilderness and we feel like nobody understands, he understands, and he cares. And he is always good. He wasn't in the booming earthquake, he wasn't in the rushing wind, he wasn't in the raging fire, where was he? He was in the whisper. He was in the whisper. And if you'll stop for a moment from the business from the rush of this world, and you'll dig a ditch, we talked about it last week, you'll make a well. You'll be ready for the presence of God. He will meet you there. Because who is he? The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel, which means God with us. Why does our God whisper? He whispers because he's close. At all of our churches, let's take a moment and pray together.

Father, we ask that in your presence, that you would minister grace to us, your peace, your goodness, and your grace. And as you're praying today at all of our different churches, with nobody looking around, I want you to just take a moment, and ask yourself, are you wandering now in a valley? All of our churches, those would say, yes Craig pray for me, I'm kind of in a desert, I'm in a wilderness right now. Would you lift up your hands, I'm in a wilderness. Let me ask you another question. Those of you who would say, I may not be in a wilderness right now, but no matter where I am, I want to be even more aware of the still small quiet voice of my God. If you're a Jesus follower, I hope you raised your hand, around the rooms, those who say yes, that's me.

Father, today I pray first for those who are in the wilderness, God. I ask that by the power of your Holy Spirit, you would reveal yourself in the whisper. God, show us that you are with us, that you care, that your grace is enough. Be our rock when our world is unstable, be our strength when we are weak. God, be our comfort when we are hurting. God, may your presence be enough. For those today that say I want to hear God's quiet voice, let me just encourage you to carve out some time, to put it aside and say God I want to meet with you, I need your presence. I need you moment by moment. When you draw near to God, he will draw near to you. You will find him, Scripture says, when you seek him with all of your heart. And if you'll be quiet and if you'll listen, you'll hear the gentle whisper of a good God, who is always with you, and he's always close.

As you continue praying today at all of our different churches there are those of you, you recognize, I don't know what that is. I'm not in a relationship with this God. Let me tell you about who God is, and the problem we have. Our problem is our sin nature. We sin, we do things wrong. Sin separates us from a holy God. But God loved us too much to leave us dead in our sins. This is the Good News, that God became one of us, in the person of Jesus. His name is Immanuel, it means God with us. It's God in the flesh, God in the flesh. Jesus, perfect in every way, who became the sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus died in our place, rose from the dead so that anyone, and this includes you, who calls on the name of Jesus would be saved, would be forgiven, would be transformed.

At all of our churches, there are those of you, you recognize your need for God. You don't work your way to him, you can't be religious enough for him, you receive the free gift of eternal life through the grace of Jesus Christ. You call on his name when you do, he'll hear your prayer, forgive every sin, and make you brand new. The old life is gone, the new life is come, and that's why you're here today, and you know it. All of our churches, those who say yes, I want his presence, I want his grace, I want his forgiveness, I commit my life to him. I turn from my sins, and I say Jesus, be first in my life. That's your prayer, you need his grace, call on his name now. Jesus, I give you my life.

Lift your hands high right now, all over the place, lift them up and say yes. Back here, all three of you up here, God bless you guys. Others of you right back over here, here in this middle section, all the way to the back, praise God for you. Over here on this side, way back here toward the back, both of you guys. Praise God! Life.Church, let's worship for a moment, let's tell God thank you. Others of you today, you're leaning into it, say yes Jesus, I surrender completely to you. Church online, you click right below me, everybody pray aloud together, nobody prays alone.

Heavenly father. Today I trust you. To save me And to forgive me. Of all of my sins. Jesus, make me new. Fill me with your Spirit. So I can follow you. So I can show your love. So I could live for you. In all that I do. My life is not mine. Today I give it to you. Thank you for forgiveness. Thank you for new life. Today I give you mine. In Jesus name I pray.

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