Some years ago, my husband, Ken, and I almost lost everything we owned due to some unethical and dishonest business practices of a corporation he worked for at the time. Faced with the potential loss of our home and business, I wandered in a spiritual desert for a few months, where I learned much about myself and God and his Word.
During another challenging season, many years ago, God called Ken and I to step away from everything we knew and most things we allowed to define who we were at that time. We left our home of twelve years, (it was a parsonage), with no place to live and both stepped down from our ministry positions with no other jobs lined up. This desert season lasted a couple of years as it took me some time to understand that God wanted to teach and instruct me and draw him closer to himself.
The third dry season that comes to my mind occurred even before the other two when Ken took his first ministry position. Released from the rigors of seminary life and a job I tolerated but didn’t love, I eagerly looked forward to our new season. I felt certain God would now open doors for a teaching position for me, the job I dreamed of and prepared for my whole life up to that point. God opened no teaching doors and instead positioned me as a floral designer in a small shop in our town. I didn’t dislike the job at all, and I enjoyed my new role as a pastor’s wife, but the Desert of Disappointment haunted my soul for four long years, as I pined away, every day, for a teaching position. At that time, I lacked any understanding that God was up to something, and I needed to submit to it. I’m so glad I started to get a clue in the next two deserts.
When I read the end of Habakkuk 3, I am reminded of those seasons, and one of the main ideas God wanted me to grab hold of.
“Even though the fig trees have not blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!” Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NLT).
This. This is the type of attitude God wanted to develop in me. Even if my plans fail, I lose what I have and my dreams don’t come to pass, will I still take joy in God and my salvation? That’s one of the primary questions God will ask of any believer in the Desert of Disappointment. So, what’s your “even though…” situation?
The pastor may say, “Even though my church hasn’t grown the way I thought it would by now, and my salary isn’t what I hoped for.”
The single person might yearn, “Even though I’ve dreamed of being married for so long, but I’m not even dating anyone yet.”
The parent could say, “Even though my child is rebelling against God and walking with the world.”
The worker sighs, “Even though I can’t find a job and bills are piling up.”
The divorcee whispers, “Even though my spouse left me for another.”
How do you fill in this blank? Even though_______________________________________
yet will I rejoice in the Lord! There’s a lot that needs to happen in the average human heart between the front and back ends of that sentence.
Matthew Henry describes this purifying and revealing of the condition of our hearts in his commentary on this passage.
“Destroy the vines and the fig-trees, and you make all the mirth of a carnal heart to cease. But those who, when full, enjoyed God in all, when emptied and poor, can enjoy all in God. They can sit down upon the heap of the ruins of their creature-comforts, and even then, praise the Lord, as the God of their salvation, the salvation of the soul, and rejoice in him as such, in their greatest distresses. Joy in the Lord is especially seasonable when we meet with losses and crosses in the world. Even when provisions are cut off, to make it appear that man lives not by bread alone, we may be supplied by the graces and comforts of God’s Spirit. Then we shall be strong for spiritual warfare and work, and with enlargement of heart may run the way of his commandments and outrun our troubles. And we shall be successful in spiritual undertakings.”
My deserts always revealed the true condition of my heart. Oh, dear brothers and sisters, we will continue to experience “losses and crosses,” until Jesus takes us home or catches us up with him in the air. Will we choose to be strengthened and matured by these things, better equipped to fight on our Lord’s front lines or shall we wander around, as I did, sorrowful and hopeless in our wilderness?
Disappointment is a valid emotion that we should experience and move past not an address where we set up housekeeping. When I daily lay down my discouraging situations and ongoing trials at Jesus’ feet in his throne room, I must be so careful not to pick them back up lug them with me all day. They are too heavy, and I will walk bent over instead of leaping around with “hind’s feet on high places” (Habakkuk 3:19). Instead, I need to open my eyes to the doors that God opens, the blessings he’s providing and the new direction in which he’s leading.