Why would God send anyone to a desert? Why would he send someone one who was in the midst of fruitful and strategic ministry away from that into a barren wasteland of nothingness? It doesn't quite make any sense. Moving from a place that is populated and responsive to the gospel message to a literal desert is in no church-growth methodology manual. It's not advised by anyone who wants to see the church grow and flourish. It seems completely crazy and insane that one would do that or even be called to go to that kind of place. Nothing grows and flourishes in the desert.
So, if I am trying to assess what God is doing in this transition the first though that comes to my mind is, "this must be punishment." I have sinned in some way that God has had to set me on the sidelines so that he can use someone else who is more faithful personally to the call in this place. Or, if it isn't sin, it has to be my lack of gifting and skill in that particular area. I don't have the charisma, the people skills, the management style, the leadership quality, the entrepreneurial abilities to take this thing to the next level and really reach the world. The desert is my "just desserts" for my lack in skill and gifting. I have to think that if I were more educated, more better placed, more intelligent about my career path, more wise about denominations and networks I wouldn't be forced to the desert. That's where losers and failures are sent, to the desert. Nobody but winners can play in the cities.
What is easily forgotten however, is the two most important aspect of God's character. One, that he rules and is sovereign as King over all things. He speaks, it happens. He ordains, it is done. He wills, it happens. He calls and unwilling rebellious prophets like Jonah still carry out his will. Second, he is love and does all things as love to his children. Not one thing is ordained or purposed in my life that doesn't have his love and care and goodness wrapped around it. He only gives the good and the best to his children, even if it seems like pain to them. So sending someone to the desert is his plan and it's for my good.
I shouldn't despise the desert. It's the often the most strategic place in the universe. It's often the most fruitful place in the world. Yes, deserts lack creature comforts, prominence, and our perceptions of effectiveness. Not one drip of culture streams down from a desert. And that's why God uses them.
It shouldn't surprise me that when the Holy Spirit spoke to Philip and sent him to "the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza" that Luke would then tell us "this is a desert place." It might have seemed like punishment to Philip. Maybe he questioned his qualification or skill set and wonder if he was placed on the shelf of ministry because of some lack. The reality was that the Lord was just placing Philip in a more strategic location for the advance of the gospel and to bless Philip with a prominence that will never be taken from him.
How many verses in Scripture do we get about mission in Philip's ministry in the populated and prominent region of Samaria? Maybe six. How many do we get about his ministry in the desert? Fourteen. And in that time the Holy Spirit trained and equipped and sent a new missionary to Ethiopia to extend the gospel to the nations. Africa now had a new pioneer Christian with the Scriptures in hand and an influential position in the government to be able to reach the sub-Saharan regions. Philip was sent to the desert so the nations could be reached.
So, maybe I should stop despising the desert and wilderness places. The more I look at these places in the Scriptures, the more I see God doing big things there. The Bible seems to show that God shows his grace and power and ability in more amazing ways in the desert. Maybe I shouldn't despise what God values and shouldn't value what the world despises. Maybe the desert is strategic in ways I could never imagine.