“My life is so dry right now. I just feel like I’m wandering around in the desert.”
These words could have been uttered by Abraham. Isaac. Jacob. Joseph. Moses. The nation of Israel. Elijah. Nehemiah. John the Baptist. Jesus. Paul. And maybe you.
Friend, the path into (and out of) the desert is well-traveled—God seems to find it one of His most effective settings for transformation. Whether your dry season has lasted 40 days like Jesus or 40 years like the Israelites, the desert is meant to help you encounter God in a very real way.
As I was skimming back through a favorite book (Gordon MacDonald’s Ordering Your Private World), I ran across a few insights that might make your wilderness time more bearable.
The word of God came to John in the desert. Such a strange place for God to speak. What can a person learn in deserts? I am inclined to forsake deserts, to detour around them whenever possible. To me, deserts mean pain, isolation, and suffering. And no one cares for any of that. Deserts are hard places in which to live, physically or spiritually. But the fact is unavoidable: the greatest lessons are potentially learned in deserts if one, in the midst of struggle, listens for God’s call.
You can take this fact to the bank: in the long history of wilderness wandering, no one has ever, ever ended up in the desert by accident. God’s active planning power orchestrates each footstep, and His compassionate company means we’re never alone. Remember the old “Footprints in the Sand” poem?* It’s set along a beach, but the message is just as true in the desert.
So, clinging to the promises of God’s sovereignty and presence, along with His long history of faithfulness in arid places, we can push forward among the dunes, ears pricked for words on the wind. How beautiful it is to have a chance to stretch our souls in this world of effortless (and often pointless) living! Out here in the desert, we find depth, purpose, vigor—all in the shadow of the One who loves to call His beloved into the wilderness (Hosea 2:14).
Only a person who has suffered desert-like hardship knows what it is like to totally cast himself on God because there is nothing else left.
If every other place we run for rescue can only ever leave us unsatisfied, what a mercy it is to have the true Hero as our only option! No need to waste precious time and energy running to all of the broken, poisoned wells in creation when the river of living water is standing right there in front of us, arms open and eyes kind.
God gave us everything when He sacrificed His Boy on the cross to spare us. Why would He turn away when we call out to Him? Only one Person has ever experienced the removal of God’s face in response to agonizing cries, and it was done so that you and I would have unlimited access to His smile forever. Our Daddy is the only safe place in the desert.
Wilderness provides a place where one is free to think, to plan, to prepare. And then at an appointed time, like John, he comes charging out of the dry land with a message.
I’ve personally learned two desert rhythms that might help you out:
- You can’t force anything to happen. This process is about God’s timing, not yours. The sooner you can give up trying to control the situation and simply enjoy being along for the journey, the more pliable your heart will be for whatever it is the Lord wants to do in you.
- When it’s time, you’ll receive clarity. You can’t rush it, but you should be ready for it. Have a yes on your tongue all queued up. Also, note the word clarity—God doesn’t create confusion. When it’s really Him speaking, you won’t be able to miss it.
Don’t waste your wasteland. If you’re wandering around, wondering what’s going on, pull in close to the One who’s never left. He’s walking through the desert with you, and your soul will look different when you reenter the noisy, chaotic world than when you left it. For now, appreciate the landscape: it’s only intended for your good and His glory.
*No clue what I’m talking about? You can find a copy of it here.