"So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel." (Luke 1:80).
It was said of John the Baptist that “the child grew and became strong in spirit” …while he was in the desert. And notice that his growth was primarily spiritual. No growth is complete that leaves out spiritual development.
I often heard Bill McCartney tell his football team, “The spiritual is to the physical as four is to one.” By this he meant that a man with his spirit set right by God had far more going for him that a man with nothing but muscles. Take a guy who is physically fit and infuse him with the Holy Spirit ~ you have a formidable package! That’s what John the Baptist was like.
Notice the scripture goes on to say of John, “He was in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.” Hmmm. I wonder if the Lord sometimes puts us in the desert in order to have us grow and become strong in spirit. It certainly would seem so, looking at John as an example.
A gem is not polished without rubbing, nor are godly men and women made without trials. Think about it. Haven’t the greatest strides in your spiritual journey always come during times of significant difficulty and hardship? “Many men and women owe the grandeur of their lives to their tremendous difficulties.” (C.H. Spurgeon).
John was in the desert until his showing forth unto Israel. Might not the same be true of you? This pattern certainly holds true for many of God’s champions. Paul was himself in the desert for three years, and then sidelined in Antioch for fourteen years before the Lord brought him forth into his apostolic ministry.
Joseph endured the hostilities of false accusation and unjust imprisonment long before God exalted him in all of Egypt. Moses tended sheep for forty years before leading the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage and into history. David was faithful in the unseen and uncelebrated duties of ordinary labor, and there secretly slew a lion and a bear, long before God brought him out publicly to slay Goliath, and lead a Nation.
It seems clear enough that God uses the dry and desperate times in the desert to effect a spiritual maturity in our lives. Perhaps this short poem says it best for all of us,
Light after darkness, gain after loss;
Strength after weakness, crown after cross;
Sweet after bitter, hope after fears;
Home after wandering, praise after tears;
Sheaves after sowing, sun after rain;
Sight after mystery, peace after pain;
Joy after sorrow, calm after blast;
Rest after weariness, sweet rest at last;
Near after distant, gleam after gloom;
Love after loneliness, life after tomb;
After long agony, rapture of bliss;
Right was the pathway, leading to this.
~ Francis Havergal