“The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. . . . The sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:2-3, NLT).
We all need guidance for decisions in life. Yet, in a world as chaotic as ours, getting good guidance isn’t always simple or easy. Jesus says it is different for Christians. He makes it clear in the above passage that His followers—“His own sheep”—know His voice and “come to Him.” The picture is of a Good Shepherd providing His sheep with all the oversight and care they need.
Does that suffice for the hard decisions we all have to make? Each of us has serious matters to decide: “Whom do I marry? What vocation should I pursue? What is my purpose in life?” These decisions can be fraught with tension, especially if we regret poor decisions made in the past. My life has been immensely blessed by God, but I don’t want my children or grandchildren to make the mistakes I’ve made. Like any parent, I want to be able to give them the best guidance possible.
The good news is that we have a Shepherd who is a faithful guide to us in all things, no matter how faulty our decisions. He has the authority to guide us into an amazingly blessed life, regardless of our failures. Indeed, He says that is His purpose in guiding our lives: “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10, NLT).
We all know it is important to follow a quality guide. Think about the big life decisions you’ve made: Who was guiding you? What was their experience? What skill and knowledge did they use in getting you to where you wanted to go?
Some guides in life have the knowledge to get us through some troubling dilemmas. But do they also have the knowledge to carry us to the abundant life Jesus promises? As our Lord, Jesus is up to more than just guidance—He is forming a relationship. He wants us to know more than just when and where to go. He wants us to have the rich blessing of knowing Him personally in every area of life. So while we’re busy looking for an instruction manual, He’s saying very simply, “Follow Me.”
So many people think that my passion for Jesus comes from years of study and prayer and ministry, but they are wrong. It comes from seeing God come through for me during those times when life has left me completely exposed and alone. It comes from feeling God’s presence during moments of my greatest confusion and despair. It comes from seeing God’s hand before me, time and time again in the face of unimaginable danger.
Every time I stand face to face with a hardened, teenage gangbanger, I see David Wilkerson fearlessly preaching on the corner of my street. Every time I walk into the middle of a crime-ridden, drug-infested neighborhood, I feel the same strength that drove Wilkerson to the streets of New York so many years ago. Every time I hold a lost and hurting soul in my arms, I feel God’s power and presence.
I depend only on God. God has used the pain of my past to take me to a deeper level, to bring me closer to Him. What Satan intended for evil, God has used for His glory. Any joy I receive in life pales in comparison to the ecstasy of seeing God accomplish the impossible, watching how He reaches into a dark heart and brings light, how He spreads His mercy like butter across the sins of those who need forgiveness.
It’s so easy to intellectualize God, to acknowledge His power without ever experiencing it, to believe in His supremacy without ever calling on Him to do mighty things in our presence. We see Him with our minds but not our hearts. We never embrace the power that we preach to be true. We never call on God to move mightily in our presence—to take our ounce of faith and use it to lift a mountain off of its pedestal and hurl it to the bottom of the sea!
Naked faith demands that we somehow learn to marry the mind and the spirit. That we put away our pride and doubt and fear and stand before God, empty and broken, with nothing but a raw and unquenchable trust.
Nicky Cruz, internationally known evangelist and prolific author, turned to Jesus Christ from a life of violence and crime after meeting David Wilkerson in New York City in 1958. The story of his dramatic conversion was told first in The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson and then later in his own best-selling book Run, Baby, Run.
Kadesh-Barnea is a place of in-your-face impossibility. The name itself comes from a Hebrew root word meaning “fugitive, vagabond, wanderer.” In short, if you make the wrong choice here, you’ll end up wandering through a wilderness all your life.
Many Christians are in this very place right now. God has given them His covenant promises. He has given them a wonderful history with Him, providing miracle after miracle of deliverance. But the devil has come to them with lies, telling them they’re not going to make it. He has convinced them they’re not good enough, that God is still mad at them for their past sins, and that He will never forgive them.
Tell me: Have you begun to accept such lies? Do you think God is going to fail you in your crisis? If so, then at some point in your walk you stopped taking God at His Word. You didn’t act on His command and what was true for Israel is also true for you: The test you face at Kadesh-Barnea will determine the course of your remaining years.
Like Israel, you’ve been carried by God through an awful wilderness. As you look back, you can recall the terrible testings you faced, the painful failures you endured. You went through trials you never thought you’d come out of. But God was faithful to you in every one. Each time, He mercifully reached down and picked you up. And now you can say, “God has never failed me. I stand here today by His grace. It’s true, God bore me in His arms, the way a father carries his child.”
Moreover, God brought you out in order to bring you in. There is a promised land ahead for you, just as there was for Israel: “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9). The Lord saved you to bring you into a place of rest. What is this rest? It’s a place of unshakable faith and confidence in the Lord. It’s a place of trust in His promises, a trust that will see you through your most difficult times.
But to get to this place of rest, you must first pass through Kadesh-Barnea. When you’re there, you come face to face with a battle that is extremely intense, beyond anything you have experienced. There are enemies, giants, high walls, things that look utterly impossible. And you have to place your absolute trust in God to bring you through.
Moses described the tragic mistake Israel made at Kadesh-Barnea (see Numbers 13-14). It happened shortly after the Red Sea crossing. God had commanded Israel to go boldly into Canaan and He had given them this powerful word of assurance:
“The Lord thy God hath set the land before thee: go up and possess it, as the Lord God of thy fathers hath said unto thee; fear not, neither be discouraged. . . . Dread not, neither be afraid of them. The Lord our God which goeth before you, he shall fight for you, according to all that he did for you in Egypt before your eyes” (Deuteronomy 1:21, 29-30). What an incredible promise. None of their enemies would be able to stand up to them (see 7:24).
But Israel staggered at God’s promise. Instead of taking Him at His Word, they insisted on sending spies into Canaan. And those spies brought back an “evil report,” full of unbelief. They spoke of giant men and high, walled cities, and the people believed their report: “Ye would not go up, but rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 1:26). Now Moses is telling the younger generation, “They should have moved instantly on God’s Word to them. The Lord had said He would fight for them—but they rebelled.”
Can you see what happened to the older generation? Sending those spies into Canaan was an act of unbelief. And while the spies were there, they were influenced by Satan. They were subject to the enemy’s lies, because they had not believed God.
After hearing the evil report, the people shook their fists at God, accusing, “You’ve abandoned us, God. You brought us here to die.” Just months before, these same people had been set apart by God, made special in His eyes, and miraculously delivered. But now the whole camp was in confusion. They wondered aloud to each other, “Is God even with us anymore?” Soon they were weeping over their children, crying, “Our kids will starve to death in this wilderness. God hates us!”
Moses reminded the younger Israelites of their parents’ accusations: “Ye murmured in your tents, and said, Because the Lord hated us, he hath brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us” (1:27).
In the message of Moses to Israel in Deuteronomy, Moses showed us the danger of unbelief. And he warned that unless we take heed, we will suffer the same awful consequences as those who fell before us: “Lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief” (Hebrews 4:11). He is saying, in essence, “It doesn’t matter what impossibilities you face, or how hopeless things may appear. You are not to fall into the same sin of unbelief. Otherwise, you’ll end up in a terrible wilderness, as they did. And you’ll wander through it for the rest of your life.
“God is faithful to lead you as He led our fathers into their crises for a reason. He wanted to teach them to trust Him. He wanted a people who would be unshakable in their faith. They were to come out of the wilderness with a tried faith that was as pure as gold. He wanted them as a testimony to the world of His goodness toward His people.”
I believe our generation has taken the sin of unbelief too lightly and right now we are seeing the tragic results. I see many believers today who are full of depression and unrest. Of course, some suffer these things for physical reasons, but many others endure such sufferings because of their spiritual condition. In my opinion, their depression is the result of God’s displeasure with their continual unbelief.
The Lord always uses strong language when He refers to unbelief among His people, words such as wrath, anger, abhorrence, tempting Him. Moses made a point to remind the younger Israelites of this: “Thou hast seen how that the Lord thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that ye went. . . . And the Lord heard the voice of your words [of unbelief], and was wroth, and sware, saying, Surely there shall not one of these men of this evil generation see that good land, which I sware to give unto your fathers” (Deuteronomy 1:31, 34-35).