Hi, Rob here.
One of the most interesting days on our USA trip was our drive through the Mojave desert on our way from Anaheim, just south of Los Angeles, to Williams, Arizona, just south of the Grand Canyon. What images form in your mind when you hear the word ‘desert’? It always speaks of barrenness to me. Yet barrenness is not my most vivid memory of that day. Rather, life in the midst of adversity is what stood out. In God’s world life simply can’t be contained. It springs up on the edge of mountains, in the middle of big polluted cities, in war zones and in big, hot American deserts even if they’re called Death Valley!
Sometimes we feel barren and empty too. I remember feeling like that for several weeks about 12 years ago. I’d suffered some job rejections and as I prayed about it all I just couldn’t feel God’s presence. I felt defeated and yet when I read back over my journal entries from that time there was life! God was showing me things but I didn’t have the ability at the time to see it as God’s doing. Now I see God’s rescue as he led me away from my plans towards his plans. Eventually I received eyes to see the life that was all around me and in me.
At that time I was spiritually parched. I was drinking from the wrong well, allowing other issues like jobs, finances and our future to define my well-being and identity. But in the midst of that God was there even if I couldn’t sense him. Life was there. I was learning a lot through courses at Bible College but also through the discipline of 6a.m starts in my kitchen job. I had friends and a wife who was (and is!) committed to me and us. For a time I could only see the barrenness but even in a desert life is abundant.
Israel endured 40 years in the Sinai desert as a consequence of failing to trust God. John the Baptist and Jesus spent time in the deserts east of the Jordan river in response to a call form God. Either way the desert is portrayed as a place of testing and preparation. This was true for me. It wasn’t a place to stay, but a place to journey through. While there’s life in the desert it’s only enough to get you through to a better, more fruitful place. My desert experience was part of my moving through into a deeper stage of faith. Journeying through the Mojave was great but I didn’t want to break down there!
Maybe you’re feeling like you’re in a desert right now. If so here are a few questions that may help you address the pain you’re feeling.
- Are you drinking from the wrong well? Are you looking to sources other than God to define who you are and what value you have?
- Are you isolating yourself? Please don’t. Keep being courageous and reaching out to others even if you feel desperate and needy.
- Are you struggling to pray? I did. I journalled a lot instead and offered my writing up to God as prayer. It helped.
- Are you struggling to read the Bible? A trap in the desert is that you start to read the Bible looking for answers to your troubled state and it never seems to give any. Instead read the Bible with an open mind and open heart, less desperately, more as you’d read any other book and you’ll be amazed at what it starts to give back.
- Do you have faith that this stage is just temporary? It is if you keep seeking the Father. A deeper stage of faith is waiting for you. Trust him. He is good.