Finding God in the Back Side of a Desert.
The Modern Pilgrim #22 Unexpectedly, the Good Shepherd leads the pilgrims into a barren wilderness where the pilgrims must work harder than ever to find food and water. Pilgrim is confused and worried. Why would their dear Shepherd invite them into such a bleak environment?
Does your life ever feel like a car with a stick shift transmission and a novice driver? Mine does. Stops. Lurching starts. Stalls. Grinding gears. Engine revving too high in a low gear and lagging in a high gear.
During the COVID crisis I struggled to figure out how to live productively and peacefully inside my much smaller world. Unprepared for the wilderness the virus restrictions created around me, I lurched and stalled out, at times. Within a few days many of us transitioned quickly from landscapes rich with human interaction, to a wilderness with very few or no other humans inside our space. Spaces that seemed to keep getting smaller as the weeks ticked by.
Eventually, I realized God purposefully led me into a desert once again. We have been in them together before but each one is unique just like the African Sahara differs from the American Southwest. I brushed off my stowed desert gear and started using it. After that, although my outer life remained somewhat static, my inner life became vibrant again.
Some of you may be languishing in a wilderness right now for many reasons including the ongoing social unrest in some of our nation or the after effects of COVID or some challenge or health issue unique to you. However you came to be in the desert, here you are and you’re missing all the lushness of the meadow lands you once enjoyed.
That life where new things spring up effortlessly.
Where there was abundant water, nourishment, and provisions.
Where other people were delighted to join you.
I understand and empathize. Sometimes the loneliness of a desert is one of the hardest things about it. May I share with you some desert strategies God’s developed in me over the years? Because, here’s the thing, God IS going to lead his children into deserts for many reasons. You can expect them to come to every God-follower’s life at some point. The questions are, how will you go through your desert and how will you be more like Jesus on the other side?
A desert in and of itself does not automatically improve your character. Some folks come out bitter and defeated. This is why a whole generation of Israelites never entered the promised land. They wasted their desert journey complaining. Compare them to David, who spent years running around in deserts to avoid Saul’s spear. God provided for and protected both the Israelites of the Exodus and David, but most of the Israelites died in their wilderness while David went on to enjoy his role as king.
Here’s some stuff I’ve learned from David and others which helped me to thrive in my deserts and then go on to the next good thing God prepared for me. I’ll share two this week and then a few more next week.
1. Don’t expect anyone other than God to fully understand the depth and breadth of your desert.
I used to talk too much about my deserts to people. Occasionally I still do, but not as often as I used to. We live in an overshare culture. Sometimes married folk even overload their spouses. (Guilty here myself, sometimes.) Jesus alone can handle all the thoughts and feelings in the wilderness. If you consistently take them to him first, you will discover that you don’t need to talk to so many other people about your sorrows. I Peter 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
2. Accept the fact that you will need to work harder to find spiritual food and water.
Just like a real desert takes some skills and knowledge to survive, so does a spiritual one. Some deserts keep you so busy that it’s easy to minimize Bible study and prayer. Please don’t do that. Others create a barrenness inside of you where you hear sermons and podcasts and try to study the Word but it all just bounces off. Just keep putting God’s Word in your heart and mind. I promise it makes a difference because you are giving the Holy Spirit material to work with. Allow God to make your devotional times rich and lush with his presence. He will set a table for you in the wilderness. Deuteronomy 8:2a and 3 “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness…And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna.”
I don’t know the nature of your desert, but I know the Lord of the desert. He has treasures for every child in a barren place. Today, if you find yourself on the dry plains, will you consider taking your eyes off the cactus, scorpions and sand and determine to fixate on Jesus? Instead of spending all your energy looking for the pathway back to the meadow lands, will you listen and look around to see what provisions God has made for you right where you are? Will you keep the gospel of peace on your feet no matter how dry and dusty your journey becomes? Will you allow praise and thanksgiving to rest on your parched lips? I’m praying you will.