Cries in the Desert

Cries in the Desert

Joshua J. Masters |

The oldest of the Psalms was not written by David, but Moses. In his poetic cry from the desert, we learn how to approach God when we’ve wandered away from His safety, reviving our relationship with Him and renewing our purpose.

Summer In The Psalms
Cries in the Desert – Message 1
Joshua J. Masters
July 16, 2023


Good morning! I’m so grateful to be back at Brookwood with you and I want to thank Pastor Bryan for inviting me.

I also want to thank all of YOU.

Because I have received so many offers of prayer and encouragement as I’ve moved into my new full-time calling as a missionary with Bridge Builders International, which is a Brookwood Partner.

I was in Poland last month, speaking at the European Leadership Forum and our team will return to Latvia in two weeks.

Of course, the weeks I’m NOT overseas, you can find me sitting up there in the cheap seats, but if you want to follow where I’m going or what BBI is doing from week to week, you can visit:

But today, we are here together and I’m so excited to help Bryan launch our new series, Summer in the Psalms.

As you may know, the Psalms are not arranged in chronological order.

Nor are they organized by the type of Psalm or by the author.

So, today we’re going to look at Psalm 90—because, while it’s not the first Psalm in the Book, it is most certainly the earliest Psalm written.

So, if you want to follow along, you can go ahead and turn or swipe in your Bibles to Psalm 90. 

As you do that, let me set the scene.

The oldest of the Psalms was not written by David, but Moses.

Moses writes the first Psalm as a poetic prayer, crying out to God in one of the Israelites’ darkest moments.

God had brought His children out of slavery in Egypt and delivered them to the Promised Land… but they refused to enter.

They did not trust God or His promises.

So, only their children would inherit the Promised Land and they had condemned themselves to wander in the desert for 40 years.

When Moses writes this Psalm, he is surrounded by death. Every time they break camp, they leave behind another Israelite burial ground.

Body after body, marching toward the moment when the bodies of all those who rejected God’s promise were left forever in the wilderness.

But in this sorrow and grief, Moses calls out to God.

And through this poetic cry from the desert, we see how to approach God in the moments that WE realize we’ve wandered away from His purpose for us and rejected promises.

Now, maybe you’re here for the first time today and you know you haven’t been walking with God—maybe you’re not even sure there is a God. That’s okay. You are welcome here and your questions are welcome here. I hope this message will encourage you.

But this message is especially for those of us who are here every week and have tried to convince ourselves we’re okay. We come to church, and maybe we give or volunteer—but God still feels distant.

Because deep down inside, you know there’s a calling or promise from God on your life that you’ve walked away from because of sin and shame.

You’ve exiled yourself to a spiritual desert because of fear—just like the Israelites.

I know what some of you are thinking: “Who invited this guy back?”

But I think some of us are holding on to the edge of a cliff—I think some of us have a wounded soul that’s desperate to reconnect with God, but we don’t know how.

I think that’s how many of the Israelites felt.

The first line in our text says this:

A Prayer of Moses, The Man of God.
Psalm 90

That’s part of the Hebrew text. It wasn’t added by Tyndale.

So, this is not only a poem, but Moses is crying out to God in a prayer of despair and regret.

And the first thing He does is acknowledge God’s authority.

When wandering in the wilderness, we must:
1. RECOGNIZE God’s sovereignty.

That includes:
--His Lordship

--His Power

--His Glory and

--His Holiness

Let’s look at verse 1:

Lord, through all the generations You have been our home!
Psalm 90:1 (NLT)

Other translations say You have been our “Dwelling Place” or even “Refuge.”

The Hebrew word is māʿôn (mah-own).

And the sense of the word isn’t just a home but a place where you live in safety—a shelter from danger.

So, even surrounded by the harshness of the desert—and the judgment of God, Moses recognizes that the Lord is the only one who protects Israel… but more than that, God is their only true home.

And I think Moses is homesick.

There’s a reason we feel so unsettled when we’re wandering away from God—we’re homesick.

Verse 2:

Before the mountains were born, before You gave birth to the earth and the world, from beginning to end, You are God.
Psalm 90:2 (NLT)

Do you see the power and authority of God?

It’s so easy for us to say, “Oh, of course God is all powerful. Of course, He’s in charge.”

But listen carefully—if you can flippantly say those words without a hint of fear in your spirit for God’s power and holiness, you don’t actually believe it or understand it.

When God is your dwelling place, He’s not a cottage you come back to after a day of frolicking in the woods—He’s a fortress!

And that fortress is surrounded by every demon of fire and wolf waiting to devour you when you step outside.

Moses said, “…from beginning to end, You are God.”

That sounds very similar to what Jesus proclaims in the book of Revelation, doesn’t it?

Jesus says:

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”
Revelation 22:13 (NLT)

And when does Jesus say that?

That’s what He says after describing how He will destroy the entire earth…. And the Heavens to wipe out all the evil He sees and then rebuild them from scratch—out of nothing but His own power.

That is a power that’s difficult to comprehend, and yet without acknowledging and submitting to it, we can’t move back into the purpose and dwelling place of Christ.

We can only truly recognize the power, and sovereignty, and glory of God when we compare it to our own frailty and failure.

Verse 3 in our text:

You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals!” For You, a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours. You sweep people away like dreams that disappear. They are like grass that springs up in the morning. In the morning it blooms and flourishes, but by evening it is dry and withered.
Psalm 90:3–6 (NLT)

That’s sobering, isn’t it?

“There are 150 Psalms. Why did you have to pick this one, Josh?”

Because the most difficult truths of the Bible are what lead to the greatest freedom in Christ.

This passage says your entire life is dust... Your existence is less than a blink in the eternity of God’s power.

And until you grasp that truth, you will never truly understand how precious it is that He welcomes you into the safety of His arms.  

Until you come face-to-face with the fact that your life should be an inconsequential flicker in God’s eternity.
You will never appreciate the grace of His love for every detail of your life.

He uses this universal, eternal power to pursue you with love. He cares about every moment you experience.

And once we see that our response will be repentance.

So, as we begin to see God’s sovereignty and glory, we’ll be compelled to repent in humility.

When wandering in the wilderness, we must:
2. REPENT in humility.

Understanding our state of brokenness in comparison to God’s holiness will always lead to repentance.

When Job pushed back against God, telling God he didn’t deserve all this suffering, the Lord responds with an incredibly powerful explanation of exactly who He is and who Job is. It’s in Job 41.

Then Job replied to the Lord… “You asked, ‘Who is this that questions My wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me… I had only heard about You before, but now I have seen You with my own eyes. I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.”
Job 42:1, 3, 5–6 (NLT)

Moses’ Psalm said God turns people back to dust.

And after experiencing who God is, Job sits among the dust and repents.

Not just confession, but repentance.

What’s the difference?

Confession is an admittance of guilt.

That begins the healing process.

But repentance refers to a complete heart change and a complete change of perspective—the revelation of who God truly is and who we truly are by comparison.

That’s what Moses has experienced as well.

Verse 7 of our text:

We wither beneath Your anger; we are overwhelmed by Your fury. You spread out our sins before You— our secret sins—and You see them all. We live our lives beneath Your wrath, ending our years with a groan.
Psalm 90:7–9 (NLT)

Now, some of us like to read this and say, “Well, that’s the Old Testament God. He was angry. Now He’s a soft Grandpa.”

No, God hasn’t changed at all. His wrath and anger toward sin is exactly the same as it’s always been.

The difference we experience is not a change in God’s character but the mercy that comes from Jesus enduring that wrath on our behalf.

The Father and Christ willingly chose to let Jesus endure the judgment of sin so we wouldn’t have to.

So, Jesus not only shields us from God’s just wrath against sin—but He suffered it.

Have we become so used to hearing that truth that we’ve grown complacent in responding to it with humility and repentance?

Moses continues:

Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away. Who can comprehend the power of Your anger? Your wrath is as awesome as the fear you deserve.
Psalm 90:10–11 (NLT)

This is a very difficult truth, but Moses is exactly right.

Without God, your 70 or 80 years on this planet is a tiny whisper that means nothing.

As Moses repents—just as when Job repented, He realizes that man should fear God’s wrath not because God is mean but because He is holy, and we don’t deserve His grace.

That all feels pretty hopeless… until you see how Moses responds to this realization.

He doesn’t fall into further despair or hopelessness.

No, instead He leans into the mercy of God.

When wandering in the wilderness, we must:
3. RELY on God’s mercy.

For the rest of the Psalm, Moses appeals to and leans into the mercy of God.

The understanding of God’s holiness and our sinfulness is impossible to overcome if we do not embrace and cherish God’s mercy. [REPEAT]

--After we reflect on His sovereignty and power,

--After we repent in humility,

--Then we have to allow His mercy to wash over us.

Notice I didn’t say grace. Grace and mercy are not the same thing.

--Grace is a blessing… something positive God gives us that we don’t deserve.

--Mercy is a pardon from the death sentence we do deserve.

And, yes, we do live in the freedom of His grace.

And His blessings are abundant.

I don’t want to take away from that.

But too many of us (who have spent years in church) have come to EXPECT His grace and blessings—and we forget the mercy we’ve been shown.

Many of you know the parable Jesus told in the book of Luke about the Pharisee and the tax collector.

The pharisee thanked God for the grace that prevented him from being like the wicked tax collector…

But Jesus said it was the tax collector who was justified because he knew he didn’t deserve God’s grace…

It says:

“[He] dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’”

Luke 18:13b (NLT)

See the difference?

A.W. Tozer wrote about a Puritan he had researched named Brother Hooker. This was a true man of God who sought to serve God his whole life—but understood the depth of his own sin and the holiness of God.

And as he lay on his death bed, he was surrounded by family and other believers… and one of the men said,

“Brother Hooker, you go to receive your reward.”

And the man looked up from his bed and said, “No, I go to receive mercy.”

The church is always more effective—the Christian is always more effective for the Kingdom when we operate from an understanding of God’s mercy rather than an expectation of His grace. [REPEAT UNDERLINE]

How do we do that?

Last week, Perry shared four ways we can receive God’s guidance—And in the rest of Moses’ prayer here, we see three ways to lean into that mercy.

These are the practical ways we step out of the desert and into God as our safe dwelling place—our māʿôn (mah-own).


B. We rely on God’s mercy, asking Him to:
1. REVEAL His wisdom.

We need to see things through God’s eyes instead of through our own.

We must allow God to change our perspective.

We must learn to see our circumstances, and other people, and the world the way HE sees them.

What’s the first thing Moses asks for?

Verse 12:

Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.
Psalm 90:12 (NLT)

Sit with that for a moment.

Why does understanding how short and insignificant our lives are, lead to wisdom?

Because it requires us to lean on His wisdom.

We are incapable of developing wisdom on our own. God and His wisdom are omnipotent—without error.

But our understanding only comes from limited, broken experiences.

So, we walk according to His wisdom. And how do we get it?

James wrote this:

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.
James 1:5 (NLT)

If you ask God for wisdom, He will give it to you.

But James goes on to say, when you ask… don’t have divided loyalties.

Most of the time we ask God for wisdom and don’t clearly hear an answer, it’s because we’re only listening for the answer we want to hear.

Realizing the brevity of life so we may grow in wisdom (or more literally, have a heart of wisdom), means leaning on God’s understanding, instead of our own.

Most of us know that from Proverbs 3:5-6, right?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.
Proverbs 3:5–6 (NLT)

But what’s the next verse?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
Proverbs 3:5-7 (NLT – Emphasis Added)

Our wisdom is ONLY faulty.

So, we ask God to change our perspectives—to allow us to move into our dwelling place with His wisdom rather than our own.

And that begins to happen when we ask God to revive our relationship with Him.

We rely on God’s mercy, asking Him to:
2. REVIVE our relationship.

The further we’ve walked away from God’s purpose for our lives, the more distant our relationship with Him feels.

Not because He’s pulled away from us, but because our shame prevents us from seeking closeness with Him.

But look what James wrote:

Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.
James 4:8 (NLT)

It feels like God is distant when we walk out of His will, doesn’t it?

But God wants to revive your relationship.

He wants to pull you close into the safety of His arms—but when we’re being rebellious, we pull away like a teenager who’ll only side-hug his mom.

So, we cry out to God for revival in our own hearts, so we can see His work in our lives.

This is what Moses prayed:

O Lord, come back to us! How long will You delay? Take pity on Your servants! Satisfy us each morning with Your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives. Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery! Replace the evil years with good.
Psalm 90:13–15 (NLT)

Moses recognizes that their lack of joy and their hopelessness was not based on their circumstances but their distance from God.

I love that line, “Replace the evil years with Good.”

When I was running away from God’s purpose in my life, I resisted every urge to pray—I resisted everything that would put me in God’s path because I was ashamed.

But when I stopped running and returned to my true dwelling place, God not only took me back, but restored all the time I had wasted.

He used everything I’d done to reject Him and turned them into experiences to serve His Kingdom.

Look at this beautiful promise in Zechariah’s prophesy of Christ:

Come back to the place of safety, all you prisoners who still have hope! I promise this very day that I will repay two blessings for each of your troubles.
Zechariah 9:12 (NLT)

And as we pursue Him in true relationship, letting Him restore the broken parts of our lives with His unfailing love, He not only draws us close, but He renews the meaning and purpose in our lives.

We rely on God’s mercy, asking Him to:
3. RENEW His purpose in us.

When the Israelites refused to enter the Promised Land, they not only rejected God’s promises, but they rejected His purpose for their lives.

So, Moses cries out, asking God to renew Israel’s purpose.

Verse 16:

Let us, Your servants, see You work again; let our children see Your glory. And may the Lord our God show us His approval and make our efforts successful. Yes, make our efforts successful!
Psalm 90:16–17 (NLT)

Yes, it says “make OUR efforts successful, but in what context?

God’s work.

God’s approval.

God’s glory.

It’s His work IN us.

Moses was willing to invest in that, even knowing it would be their children who would see God’s glory in the Promised Land.

He knew there were consequences for rejecting God’s promises.

He wasn’t asking God to pardon his generation.

He was asking for a return to fellowship...

…And for the future of the nation to experience His love and glory.

Too many of us stay in the dust of our shame instead of leaning into God’s mercy and grace.

And because we’re sitting in the ashes, overwhelmed with despair, we don’t see meaning or value in our lives.

But God designed you for a purpose greater than yourself.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.
Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)


--You don’t need to stay in the ashes.

--You don’t need to stay in the desert.

This Psalm begins and ends with an acknowledgment of God’s eternal power and sovereignty.

At the beginning of the Psalm, it compares God’s power with our frailty and failures.

But the end of the prayer compares His eternal power to the frailty of our struggles—our time in the wilderness.

Some of us need a perspective change.

Of course, you’re nothing compared to God.

But if God is so holy and powerful that I’m nothing before Him… Then maybe my pain, and suffering, and circumstances are nothing compared to His power either!

When our lives are falling apart—when it seems like we’re surrounded by death and disappointments, we ask the same questions Moses did:

How can I hide from God’s anger?

How can I escape the desert?

How can my life have meaning?

Moses looked forward with hope that God would fulfill His promises.

He leaned into that to answer those questions.

We have something better.

We don’t have to lean into COMING promises, we have His fulfilled promises.

We have a God that came out of the heavenly realm to pull us out of the wilderness.

You think you can’t be rescued from where you’ve wandered?
--God’s mercy and dwelling place are greater than your desert.

You think you can’t be used by God?

--His grace and power are greater than your failures.

When we ask how we can be restored and how our lives can have any meaning, we have Jesus to say:

--I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

--I am the good Shepherd protecting you from wolves,

--I am the resurrection and the life

--I am the living water.

So, where are you?
What’s your desert?

Do you need to acknowledge His power in your life?

Do you need to repent?

Do you need to lean into His mercy?

We will have Care Volunteers and pastors who will be down front or in the Care Connection Room to pray with you.

They will not judge you; they will rejoice with you.

When you are in the desert, you can focus on death or a safe dwelling place—Life in Christ.

Let’s march toward life.

Read More