Into the Desert
J. R. Miller, 1905
"Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip—Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza!" Acts 8:26
Philip, the Deacon, was engaged in a great work in the city of Samaria, when suddenly an angel came to him and commanded him go to the south, into a desert region. It seemed a strange command—but Philip instantly obeyed. "He arose and went." This is a fine example of the kind of obedience the Master wants in all His followers. There must be no asking "Why?" or "How?" —no postponing of obedience.
Philip was popular and successful in Samaria. People thronged to hear him preach. He was doing a great work and was absorbed in it. We can imagine him, when he heard the angel's bidding, that he should leave the city and go away into a desolate place, where nobody lived—we can imagine him looking into the messenger's face and asking, "Why?" But not thus did he answer. It was the Master's work he was doing, and the Master knew where He wanted him.
Any of us may be called any day to go out from our ease and comfort—into some way which is a desert wilderness. No reason will be given. We shall not be told what the work is—which needs us and awaits us there. It will be a self-denial and a sacrifice for us to obey. But we have nothing whatever to do with the reasons for the call, or with its ease or comfort. We may think that the work we are doing now—still needs us, that it would be destructive to it for us to lay it down or pass it to other and untrained hands. But we are not to raise any question. All is the Master's work, BOTH in Samaria where now our hands are so full, and where God is blessing us so abundantly, and that out on the desert road which needs us and is awaiting our coming. If the Master says, "To the desert!" He knows why He wants us there! Somebody is waiting there in the desert for our coming.
We have nothing to do with the question of comparative need here—or there. Sometimes men are heard asking about the relative importance of certain fields. We do not know what fields are most important. No one would have said that the desert way toward Gaza was a more important place for Philip just then—than the crowded city of Samaria. Yet in the Master's eye—that was the right place. Jesus needed His faithful servant and co-worker to explain a passage of Scripture to a perplexed man who was journeying that way. We do not know where He may need us tomorrow. We must be ready to go wherever He would have us go.
The Master may not always call us away from activity—to other activities. Sometimes He calls His servants out of the work altogether, to rest awhile. Activity is not the only kind of service which fulfils God's will. "They also serve—who only stand and wait," wrote blind Milton. Not always, however, do we accept the Master's guidance with submission and joy—when He calls us away from the productive fields—to the desert! We think we cannot be spared from the place of service.
A Christian woman was lamenting her illness, which had kept her away for a long season from her beloved work. There were shut-ins she had been visiting every month—she could not visit these any more. There was her class in the Sunday-school, in which she was deeply interested. She had hoped to lead some of them to Christ this winter. There were sorrowing neighbors and friends to whom she wanted to go with sympathy and comfort. She had many interests of Christ's kingdom on her heart to which she wished to devote these days. But instead of her doing all this needed and blessed work for her Master, these services of love which her heart prompted—the angel met her and said, "Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza!" So she found herself called away from useful toil and loving service—to what seemed idleness, wasted time, in a sick-room!
The experience is not unusual. But when thus called apart, do we obey as cheerfully as Philip did? "He arose and went." Rest is not always idleness. Inactivity is not always uselessness. The sick-room or the invalid's chair—is not always wilderness. Philip found work, blessed, far-reaching work, in the desolate place where he was sent. Our place of retirement may be a very garden of God to us. We may find a table spread with heaven's food for us in the wilderness. We are in this world not only to do all the good we can—to comfort others, to help people over hard places, to plant churches, to do mission work—we are here to grow into the beauty of Christ, we are here to do the will of God. The desert may be to us a holier, more fruitful, place—than Samaria! We know at least, that wherever the Master sends us any day—is the best place in the world for us that day, the nearest heaven of all places on the earth. We are Christ's, to be used by Him—when, where, and how He will use us; or to be laid aside—if that is His will for us.
It is interesting to follow Philip, as he leaves Samaria and journeys along toward Gaza. It is not unlikely that he wondered as he went on—what the important errand was on which he had been sent. He did not know what duty was waiting for him. He knew he had been sent into the desert for some purpose, and so he went on, cheerful, watching and ready. At length he saw a chariot driving along the highway. "Go near, and join yourself to this chariot," said the Spirit. So Philip had found his work. The rich man in the chariot was in need of his help. He was reading the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, and he could not understand who the person was—of whom such strange things were said. Philip understood, and showed the traveler, Jesus pictured in the words.
We do not know any morning as we go out, what the Master's errand for us that day will be. We go with sealed orders. But have you ever thought that you are entrusted with a message from God for someone, or for many—each day? Tomorrow you will meet some fellow-pilgrim who has a question he cannot answer, one that is sorely troubling him. God made your paths to cross—yours and his—just that you might answer his question for him.
There is no chance in this world. Jesus said that God numbers the very hairs of our heads. This means that the smallest things in our lives, the least important incidents—are included in our Father's plan, in His care of us.
The meeting of Philip and the nobleman that day in the desert was chance, as men say—but we know that Eternal God, that chance did truly guide. We see it in the story. God sent Philip to that desolate region—that he might meet the Queen's treasurer and carry a blessing to him. We see the secret working of God in this one case. May we not believe that the same divine love and wisdom—work continually in what seem the chance meetings of ourselves and others? It is always true, that all the ten thousand crossings and touchings of human paths each day—have a divine purpose in them.
You have an errand to every person you meet! You are sent to him with comfort, cheer, encouragement, sympathy, help—and you will fail your Master, if you do not deliver your message, or impart your comfort, or minister your good.
We should look upon everyone we meet in any of the tangled paths of our fellowship and association with men—as a brother to whom God has sent to us, with great needs. If we realized this, our heart would go out to him in love and interest, eager to be a friend to him, to feed his heart-hunger, to make him braver, stronger, happier, a better man. We owe something to him—this man we meet. We owe him our love. He needs us. We have something which God gave to us—to take to him.
The errand of Philip to this man in the desert—was of the highest kind. It is a good thing to give a hungry man bread, or a thirsty man a cup of water. The Good Samaritan did a noble service to the wounded man bleeding to death by the wayside, in providing for his care. It is a great thing when we are faithful in giving physical and temporal help. But there is a higher way of blessing others. When God sends you to those who are poor, in need, or suffering, do not put them off with money alone—if you do, they will starve. Give them something of yourself; give them human interest, sympathy, love, kindness; something that will feed their hearts as well as put coal on their fire, or bread on their table. Give them also the bread of life!