The Back Side of the Desert

By Ruth Johnson

Life loses its meaning if we don’t have a purpose beyond our every day responsibilities.

There has got to be more to being alive than getting up, going to work, coming home tired, watching a few hours of television and dashing around to catch up on a sometimes overwhelming pile of stuff that must be accomplished on the weekends.

No matter how successful we are or how much money we make, without a vision beyond the realities of day-to-day existence we wander aimlessly (Proverbs 29:18 NASB).

We have no fulfilling direction.

In His own words, God assures us He does have a plan for each of us so that we can have a meaningful purpose for our life:

“I know the plans I have for you,
for good and not disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
Jeremiah 29:11 NASB

Once we understand this plan, we most often enter into a season of waiting. How long that season will last is different for each person.

While we wait, the following promise is comforting to the soul and its message is clear. No matter how many years go by, there is an appointed time for each of us to enter into the fullness of what our life has been all about.

“The vision is yet for the appointed time.
It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries,
wait for it. For it will certainly come. It will not delay.”
Habakkuk 2:3 NASB

During the gap between God revealing to us His plan and it coming to pass, many of us end up in the “backside of the desert” (Exodus 3:1 KJV) just like Moses did.

I have often considered how much he must have struggled, especially when I discovered in this passage that he knew what he was destined to do:

“Moses saw an Egyptian mistreating a man of Israel. So he came to his defense and avenged him, killing the Egyptian. Moses assumed his brothers would realize that God had sent him to rescue them, but they didn’t” (Acts 7:25 NLT).

Throughout all those years when Moses tended the flocks in the desolate land of Midian, he surely must have wrestled with what God had shown him. It must have seemed so very far away and totally impossible.

In our own desert experience, we are confronted with the same struggle. And when the vision for our life seems so painfully distant, we can feel a gamut of drastically different emotions, such as:

Hopeful anticipation.

Disheartening discouragement.

Unspeakable joy at the thought of our destiny being fulfilled some day.

The temptation to just forget the whole thing and wish we had never embraced the God-inspired dream in the first place.

While we are hidden away and it seems that what we have to offer is invisible to people, God shapes us, changes us, humbles us and molds us into a “vessel for honor” (2 Timothy 2:21 NASB) until we are finally ready for Him to use. When we emerge from these years of waiting, we are not the same person who began that journey. Mistaken attitudes and personal agendas die in the desert where we come to the end of ourselves. If we have allowed the Father to reshape and change us, we finally are convinced that whatever we do for Him can never be about us again.

This transformation is dramatically evident in the life of Moses. I marvel at the difference between the confident Moses who grew up among royalty in Egypt and the shaken man who returned years later to lead the Israelites to freedom.

When he was young, “Moses was taught all the wisdom of the Egyptians and he became mighty in both speech and action” (Acts 7:22 NLT). Yet by the time God called him out of the wilderness and into his destiny, he felt totally inadequate. This once articulate man, who had a swaggering arrogance in his younger days, didn’t even have the confidence to speak.

He was a broken man when he told the Lord, “Please, I’ve never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant. For I’m slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Exodus 4:10 NASB).

The Moses who was once so self-assured was now “very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3 NASB).

When my years in the “back side of the desert” finally came to an end, I also wasn’t the same person who had begun my search for God’s ultimate purpose for my life. Just like Moses, I was a broken vessel.

For example, all of my life it was easy for me to sing and to sing quite well. I never had to lean on the Lord to use my voice. My own ability was all that I depended on or needed.

Then several years ago my voice began to break down. One morning I found myself weeping as I stood in the middle of my living room.

“Please don’t let the enemy devour my voice,” I pleaded with the Lord. “Please don’t let him take away from me my ability to sing to You. O God, forgive me for all the years I never once acknowledged that it is only by Your mercy and grace that I can even sing at all. Please give me another chance! Please give me back my voice and I will never again take for granted how desperately dependent I am on You for all that I am and for anything I can do.”

God did restore my voice, but it never was the same as when I was younger. Now there was a shaken confidence, just like happened to Moses.

Often I was moved to tears that the Lord gave me back something that I loved so dearly. And I felt profoundly humbled by an ever present awareness that only with my Abba Father’s help can I do anything of value at all.

Now after a long journey that has spanned a lifetime, I am living my dream both in the Pacific Northwest and in Africa.

I am also experiencing the reality of these encouraging words:

“When dreams come true there is life and joy.”
Proverbs 13:12 NLT

But the years took their toll on me. I would much rather have been used in the fullness of my destiny as a younger woman rather than waiting until I was in my late fifties.

Yet, I can testify that God did keep His Word to me. He honored His promises. These are the same assurances that He gives to everyone who is sincerely seeking His face and longingly waiting and trusting Him for the fullness of His purposes for them to unfold.

For each of us, all the days of our lives, He keeps His Word when He says to us:

“I will keep guiding you with My counsel,
leading you to a glorious destiny.”
Psalm 73:23-24 NLT

“I will be with you constantly until I have finished
giving you everything I have promised.”
Genesis 28:15 NLT