Thursday, April 22, 2010

Desert Places

The material world will tell you that only two things are certain in life – death and taxes. However, when Christ is in his rightful place as Lord and Savior of your life, there are many inevitable things we can all count on like grace and forgiveness, miracles, hope, Christ’s return, struggles and desert places. It is the desert places that have been on my mind this week. By desert places I mean those dry, dull times in your life when God seems distant and you can’t remember the last God moment in your life. When we’re in the desert places, worship, prayer, reading scripture and even acts of service can feel empty – like we’re just going through the motions. What’s a person to do when she finds herself lost in the middle of the Sahara Dessert of her faith journey?

I asked some friends to tell me what they do when they are in their desert places and was blessed with a long list of practical ideas to share:

• I wait. Not a “sitting around” sort of waiting, but a “go about daily tasks” sort of waiting. I remind myself that God can be found in the ordinary and everyday things of home. So I make cookies. Drink a cup of tea. Go outside. And here is perhaps the most important thing: I remind myself that God’s existence and actions do not depend on my feelings, or on my knowing that God is near. God is there whether I can feel God or not. Sooner or later I notice God showing up.

• I pray. A lot!

• This is going to sound ironic, but I go to the wilderness to clear my head and listen to God's guidance. Nature is the place where I seem to be able to expedite the process of removing the distractions I have placed between God and me. The calmness and serenity that nature instills in my soul is like a hug from Jesus.

• I read and re-read Psalm 13 and Psalm 139. Psalm 13, because it is David's lament over feeling that God is ignoring him and gone off somewhere and ends with his determination to trust in God's goodness anyway. Psalm 139, because it reminds me that God has been with me from my conception, whether I knew it or not. This means (to me, at least) that he is with me even when I feel alone and separate from Him.

• I listen to worship music. That takes me back to the throne.

• I go to Luke 8:40-48. Sometimes I need to touch just the hem of His cloak, that is all I am worthy of or able to do. That is where I go when I feel like I am in the wilderness.

• I pray. Go to the Word. Talk to a friend. And hang on for dear life because I know God is hanging onto me.

A pastor friend of mine compared it to the Israelites’ forty years of wandering in the desert after God brought them out of Egypt: Time in the desert is both good news and bad news. The bad news - no one likes the desert. God does not take you into the desert for a good time. God leads you into the desert to teach you to once again turn back to him as your only source of hope. The challenge of the desert is to keep praying - to keep reading - to keep believing even when everything in your soul tells you to turn away. The good news? Even Israel was led out of the desert into the Promised Land. God doesn't leave anyone in the desert forever. The desert is about re-establishing your foundation.

The Gospels tell us that after Jesus was baptized, he was led by the Spirit into the desert. Even Jesus had a desert place in his journey. It occurred to me that there are some truths that we can take from his time in the desert.

1. Our desert time is finite. God has already planned our journey out.

2. While we may not know or understand why we are here, how we got here, or where we are going - there is a Godly purpose for our desert isolation. It is not a curse or reprimand from God, but a blessing.

3. We are not alone. The Spirit guides us into the desert, stays with us every step of the way, and guides us back out in his own timing. His attention never wavers from us. He stands ready to protect us. He will encourage us to accomplish what we can and help when we need it. (Read Psalm 139:7-12 if you doubt the Spirit is with you every moment.)

Here is the most important thing you can take away from today’s blog: You are not alone. Your heart might not feel God’s presence, your senses may fool you into believing you are empty and isolated, but the Spirit is in you and with you. He cares for you and protects you. He guides and teaches you even when you think you cannot hear his voice. God has a wonderful way of breaking through the silence without making a sound. You are not unreachable to him. He sees and hears you. He has not abandoned you and you will not slip through his fingers.

About the pictures:
North Park (2004)

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