Have you ever felt like life was more than you could handle? Have you ever wondered ‘Where is God in all of this?’ If you have, you’re not alone. The Bible is filled with examples of men and women who had what many call a ‘Wilderness Experience.’ What exactly is a wilderness experience?
A wilderness experience is a period in our life where there are many difficulties and trials. Associated with wilderness experiences are feelings of distress, doubt, and perhaps alienation from God. A wilderness experience may also cause feelings of discouragement, confusion, and even anger. Often during a wilderness experience people will ask questions like: ‘Why God?’ and ‘What am I supposed to do?’
Many of God’s people have had wilderness experiences. Joseph did. Perhaps you will remember how he was rejected by his brothers, sold into slavery, and spent time in prison. Worst of all, Joseph didn’t deserve any of this. Then there’s the story of Job who had an unbelievable wilderness experience. And Moses, who had to spent 2/3 of his life in the wilderness. Elijah was someone else who had a wilderness experience, and so did John the Baptist. In addition, scripture teaches us that the Apostle Paul began his Christian journey in the wilderness and some could even say that his entire ministry was a wilderness experience. He was beaten, thrown into prison, and suffered from a thorn in his flesh for most of his Christian life.
Perhaps most significant is our Lord. The Bible says, “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. Then the Devil came to tempt Him.” (see Matthew 4:1-3)
There are also many modern-day believers who have spent time in the wilderness. Most of you have heard of the great Charles Spurgeon, but did you know that very early in his ministry, he had a terrible wilderness experience?  When Spurgeon was only twenty-two years old, it is said that he drew a crowd of twelve thousand people to hear him preach, with another ten thousand standing outside on the street. One night, just as Spurgeon began to preach, someone in the crowd yelled, “Fire! The galleries are giving way! The place is falling!” As you might imagine, panic broke out and in a mad rush to get out of the building, seven people were trampled to death and another twenty-eight were severely injured. To make this tragedy even worse, there was no fire. It was all a senseless prank. The newspapers attacked Spurgeon and blamed it on him. As a result, Charles Spurgeon went into a period of deep depression where he came close to giving up on the ministry.
Beginning today and over the next three weeks, we’re going to take a look at David’s wilderness experience. David was probably less than twenty years old when he killed Goliath and scripture says that he was thirty when he became king. What went on in David’s life during those ten-plus years? David was in the wilderness.
Maybe you feel like you’re in a wilderness today. Maybe the bottom has dropped out of your life and you don’t know why it has happened or what to do. If you are in a wilderness, I want to encourage you. As we will see over the next three weeks, God has not abandoned you. If you keep your eyes on Him, He will sustain and strengthen you. God has a perfect reason for your wilderness experience and it is His desire to use this time to draw you closer, and to make you more like our Savior.
I. David’s Wilderness Experience
A. David’s Rise to Fame
A lot happens to David in a very short period of time. One day he’s tending his father’s sheep and the next day he’s anointed to be the next king. A few days later he’s called to play his harp for King Saul. And then he becomes a national hero when he slays Goliath and becomes a captain in Saul’s army. Much like Spurgeon, all by the time he’s in his early twenties.
B. Saul’s Jealousy
But things quickly turned sour for David. After the defeat of Goliath, the Bible says that the ladies came out with their tambourines and began to sing, “Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” (1 Samuel 18:7) This made Saul angry. “What’s this?” he said. “They credit David with ten thousands and me with only thousands. Next they’ll be making him their king!” (see 1 Samuel 18:8 NLT) From that point on, Saul wanted to kill David. On at least two occasions Saul tried to throw a spear through David, and once, when Jonathan was trying to defend David, Saul even tried to kill Jonathan.
1 Samuel 20:1 And David fled from Naioth in Ramah, and came and said before Jonathan, What have I done? what is mine iniquity? and what is my sin before thy father, that he seeketh my life? 2 And he said unto him, God forbid; thou shalt not die: behold, my father will do nothing either great or small, but that he will shew it me: and why should my father hide this thing from me? it is not so. 3 And David sware moreover, and said, Thy father certainly knoweth that I have found grace in thine eyes; and he saith, Let not Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved: but truly as the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, there is but a step between me and death.
David knew that if he stayed in Jerusalem, death was certain. Therefore, he left the palace and went to live in the wilderness. Scripture teaches us that David spent the next ten years of his life living in the wilderness.
C. David in the Wilderness
1 Samuel 22:1 David therefore departed thence, and escaped to the cave Adullam…
Adullam was a remote region in Israel that stood above the valley of Elah, the place where David killed Goliath. No doubt David chose this strategic place to hide because he could keep watch over the valley and see Saul and his army if they were coming. David chose Adullam also because there were caves there where he could hide.
During this difficult period in his life, he wrote several psalms. Consider this psalm.
Psalm 57 (For the choir director: A psalm of David, regarding the time he fled from Saul and went into the cave.)
Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy! I look to you for protection. I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings until the danger passes by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who will fulfill his purpose for me. He will send help from heaven to rescue me, disgracing those who hound me. My God will send forth his unfailing love and faithfulness.
I am surrounded by fierce lions who greedily devour human prey—whose teeth pierce like spears and arrows, and whose tongues cut like swords.
From his words we can see that David is fearful, lonely, and confused. No doubt he’s thinking: “Why has the Lord allowed this to happen to me?” “How could I go from being anointed to be king to living in the wilderness?”
Added to David’s trouble was the pressure of caring for others.
1. David’s Family
1 Samuel 22:1 …and when his brethren and all his father’s house heard it, they went down thither to him.
Why did David’s family go to him? You would like to think they went there to protect him, but probably they went there to be protected by him.
But there’s even more to David’s struggle.
2. All of the Dysfunctional People in Israel
1 Samuel 20:2 And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men.
Do you see what’s happening? Not only does David have the responsibility of caring for his family, he has to bear the burden of caring for all the upset and dysfunctional people in Israel. No doubt David was thinking, “I can’t take care of myself. How in the world am I going to take care of all of you?”
3. Why Does God Put Us in the Wilderness?
Why did the Lord put so much on David? What is God doing? He’s building a leader.
a. The Negative Side of the Wilderness
There is a negative side to the wilderness. The wilderness is a desolate place. It’s a dry place. It’s an isolated place. It’s a place where many want to throw up their hands and quit.
b. The Positive Side of the Wilderness
But the wilderness can also have a positive side to it as well. A wilderness is a quiet place where we can be alone with God and focus. Take Elijah for an example. Scripture says that Elijah was driven out into the wilderness so that he could learn to hear the God’s gentle whisper. It’s interesting to note that the root meaning of the Hebrew word for wilderness is ‘speak’ or ‘word.’
The wilderness is also a place where we can become stronger. Consider again John the Baptist. Scripture teaches us that John spent most of his adult life living in a wilderness. He never married and therefore he had no children. His parents were elderly when he was born, so by now they’re probably dead. John is all alone in the world and therefore the wilderness kind of seems like a proper place for him to live. What did the wilderness experience do for John? Consider what Jesus said about him.
“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” (see Matthew 11:7-11)
Very few people have ever possessed the inner strength John did. John was not some soft, lazy slob who spent his time lying on the couch and flipping through the channels. John was a man of great strength and no doubt he gained his strength while living alone with God in the wilderness.
II. David’s Cry for Mercy
What should we do when we find ourselves in a wilderness? What did David do? Consider another of David’s wilderness psalms.
Psalm 142 (A prayer of David. When he was in the cave.) I cry out to the LORD; I plead for the LORD’s mercy. I pour out my complaints before him and tell him all my troubles. When I am overwhelmed, you alone know the way I should turn. NLT
A. David’s Lesson on Prayer
What did David do when he found himself in the wilderness? He poured out his heart to God and pleaded for mercy. No doubt David learned a lot about prayer while living in the wilderness. Some of his most precious psalms are actually prayers that he prayed while living in the wilderness.
B. David’s Lesson on Faith and Trust
David also learned a lot about faith and trust. Again we read from Psalm 142:
Psalm 142:5 Then I pray to you, O LORD. I say, “You are my place of refuge. You are all I really want in life. NLT
What is a refuge? A refuge is a place of safety and protection. Consider yet another of David’s wilderness psalms.
Psalm 34:4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears… 6 This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. 7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. 8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Note: ‘Blessed is the man (woman) who takes refuge in Him.” Blessed is the person who learns how to pray during a time of trouble and who gains strength from their prayers.
As we are going to see over the next couple of weeks, this is much of the reason why God took David into the wilderness. Even as a boy, David had the potential to be king, but he lacked the ability. David had to be matured from a boy into a man and God did this in the wilderness.
III. David’s Praise for God’s Goodness
Did David’s cry to the Lord do him any good? David eventually becomes the king. God saw him through.
But not only did David’s crying out to God eventually do him good, there was an immediate benefit as well. Consider once again Psalm 57.
Psalm 57 My heart is confident in you, O God; my heart is confident.
The King James version uses the word ‘fixed.’ “My heart is fixed, O God. My heart is fixed.” What does it mean for our heart to be fixed?
The word ‘fixed’ means to be firm and established. It’s the opposite of being wishy-washy. Through the repeated process of pain, prayer, and praise, David became fixed and established in his relationship with God. David drove the stake down deep.
The word ‘fixed’ also means to be ready or prepared. Israel needed a king that was going to be solid and established in his relationship with God and David was formed into such a man while living in the wilderness.
No wonder I can sing your praises! Wake up, my heart! Wake up, O lyre and harp! I will wake the dawn with my song. I will thank you, Lord, among all the people. I will sing your praises among the nations. For your unfailing love is as high as the heavens. Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the highest heavens. May your glory shine over all the earth. NLT
David learned that even while living in the wilderness he could praise God!
Earlier I shared a story that occurred in the life of Charles Spurgeon. Close friends said that after the tragedy, young Spurgeon came dangerously close to quitting the ministry. Imagine the man, who was eventually called the ‘Prince of Preachers’, was about to throw in the towel at the young age of twenty-two.
But just like the Bible says about Joseph when he was in the prison, ‘the Lord was with him.’ Though we may feel like we’re alone in the wilderness, we’re not. God is with us. He has promised that He will never leave us, nor forsake us. God is with His children when they are in the fiery furnace. We can grow closer to God in the wilderness than we ever could have in the palace. I close with these words from Spurgeon that he spoke to his congregation on the Sunday he returned to the pulpit:
“I have gone to the very bottoms of the mountains, as some of you know, in a night that never can be erased from my memory…but, as far as my witness goes, I can say that the Lord is able to save unto the uttermost and in the last extremity, and he has been a good God to me.”