The very nature of the desert forces us to rely solely and completely on God. There is no lying to yourself that you somehow have provided for your own needs by your own power. There is no water, no food, no shade, no distraction. There is no hope, except for whatever you truly believe about who God is and the story He's telling in the world.
I want to share in the next couple posts about my own time in the desert. I got to spend about six days in the wilderness of the Negev, Zin, and Paran deserts. The mental images that I acquired in the desert are seared (pun intended) into my memory. The unbearable heat, the stifling air, the rugged terrain taught me more about who God is and who I am than any other exercise I have done. It will certainly not be my goal to make light of the deserts we go through. They are hard and brutally tough.
But I remember the day that our teacher looked at us after one week and said, “Tomorrow, we leave the desert.”
And I remember tearing up.
I didn't want to leave the desert. I had seen God in a new way. I had experienced His closeness. His voice thundered in my soul with so much more intensity when I sat in my uncomfortable uneasiness. I felt as if I was sitting in His lap and now I was being asked to get up because it was time to go. And I think in that moment I got a taste of what God experiences in the desert with us.
In the prophet Jeremiah, God had said:
“I remember the devotion of your youth,
how as a bride you loved me
and followed me through the wilderness,
through a land not sown.”
In that week I learned that I would rather weep and struggle in the lap of my God than I would walk triumphantly without Him. I would rather stumble in confusion and be embraced by the groom than I would walk with confidence in a land He had not given me.
And I can imagine that God probably likes that about deserts.
Of course, God has not created us for deserts.
And He has not called us to sit in His lap forever.
God is putting the world back together and when He finds partners, He often shapes them in the desert. But the reason He's shaping our lives is so that we can go “bless all nations.” The reason He's teaching us to be fed by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God is because we'll need to be able to trust in His shalom as we walk into a world of chaos.
The desert is never the destination. But it sure shapes us for the mission.
And before we move on to the plot of the story, we may want to consider the lessons that are taught in the desert. Before we march around Jericho, we may need some time in the sun, plodding on in thirst. Before we acquire houses we did not build and vineyards we did not plant, we may need to be taught where every good gift comes from.
And so, before the promised land, I invite you to follow me out to the desert…