|Week 3| Deserts and Darkness
Have you ever experienced the drought of a weary soul?
The ache of parched purpose in light of painful places?
I am raising both hands over here and having recently walked through a dark and desert-like season of life, I want to share how my past discouragements and distractions have deepened my faith and forged a new and beautiful perspective of how my heavenly Father fights for me.
As we look back at the passage in Isaiah 43 we pick up in verse 19, where Isaiah shares God’s appeal to His people, He states,
“I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people,...” (v.19-20).
These verses are filled with claims of God’s character that are at times very difficult to perceive. First, He states, “ I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert”. This statement supports the truths we have been learning about God’s provision and protection in our current life-course.
It is important to note that God does not imply He will remove His people from the wilderness or have them avoid the desert, for these places hold unappreciated purpose in our lives. What God does state, is that He will provide and sustain us in our pursuit of His promise.
What I find also imperative in this passage is the reiteration of His provision to provide a way and water. As we know, water is a primary source of sustainment for living things. Likewise, in scripture, we see the beautiful parallel at the well when Jesus refers to himself as “Living Water” the source of eternal life.
But as vivid as this analogy may be to the hope-filled heart, I personally know that in times of spiritual drought, I quickly doubt God’s intent to bring me to safety and provide me with soul-satisfying water to sustain me through the process.
In my recent journey, the thirst for answers and desire for relief from my season of suffering distorted the truth of God’s goodness and grace. For the first time, I felt deserted by God as I desperately attempted to adjust to the new conditions of my circumstances.
You see, the deserts places of this life have the ability to blind us from the bigger picture. I was broken by the weight of lifeless dreams, stung by unexpected rejection, and thirsty for a place of peace. It was here in the wastelands of my wandering, I began to discover the reality of my disillusioned faith.
Here is what I know: The darkness of the desert has the ability to distort our direction, defy our decision, and deepen our discouragement; Yet, God uses these desolate places to develop our dependence, discover our deliverance, and discipline our devotion.
|Distort Direction vs. Develop Dependency|
As we know, navigating desert conditions is a difficult task. Many have lost their lives in dry-lands due to their inability to determine their intended direction. Similarly, when we approach places of pain, our suffering can steer our steps away from their intended purpose.
Look at how fear distorted the Israelites direction in Exodus 14. Here they were, having been delivered from years of slavery, following the presence of God in pillar form, yet in an instant, they begin to doubt God’s direction.
“When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” (v.10-12)
Oh, how often I question God's guidance when it seems like there is no road to walk forward. Much like the Israelites, I desire to turn back to the captivity of my comfort or decide to follow my own path to avoid potential pain.
Moses’ response to the Israelites distorted declaration is one that also invites us in times of fear to develop our dependence on God alone.
“ And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (v.13-14)
Friend, hold on to these words. For if we are to develop our dependence on God we must learn to simply stand and watch God work. When we attempt to walk forward and fight on our own strength, we will surely become weary.
I am learning to take courage, stand still, and surrender to God’s sovereignty. For this begins when I acknowledge my insufficiency to distinguish my direction amidst the mirage of my feelings.
|Defy Decisions vs. Discover Deliverance|
Be aware! For desert-like places of life often defy our decision to stand firm in our faith. Throughout my life, I never questioned God’s love for me. It was the one thing I was certain of, or so I thought. When my plans of promise were defied by the reality of rejection in my life, my decision to trust God's goodness was called into question.
How is pain God’s plan for me? Where was God guiding me? Was this God fighting for me?
These questions plagued my prayers and invaded my hope in the depth of God’s love for me. You see, what I could not understand then is what I see plainly now: God’s reckless protection and deliverance in my life.
We see this same interaction with the Israelites as they stood at the Red Sea, fearing death they refused to step out in faith. God’s response to their reservation is what He also asks of us, “Go forward”.
“The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground.” (v. 15-16)
As I read this story again, I see my own journey with Jesus. How I often deliberate in my decision to follow God into the deep waters of wanting or waiting. What I forget to remember in the presence of pain is that God seeks my greatest good. What Pharaoh intended for Israel's destruction, God uses as a tool for His deliverance. The Red Sea was transformed through God’s power and provision to be the climax of the Exodus story.
Looking back at my life, I see that the darkest parts of my journey are also the places of deepest spiritual discovery. I will never again attempt to define or confine the ways God will provide and protect me. I am convinced that He will use any and every method possible to bring me to Himself. For God’s love for His children is powerful and can be painful in its process. Whether God’s goodness is found in His "Go" or "No", we can trust in His protective purpose.
|Deepen Discouragement vs. Discipline Devotion|
Darkness often precedes discouragement. When we are feeling lost, misled, and weary of our wandering, we begin to lose hope in God’s willingness to provide and protect us. This mindset, although validated by our experience, does not have to define us.
We see in Exodus 17, how the Israelites also become discouraged in their wanting.
“ Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (v.2-3)
I cannot help but relate as I read this....Ever been here?
“BUT GOD,…I WANT"... My inner child comes out frequently in my conversations with the Lord. I often complain about my suffering rather than humbling asking for the Lord’s provision to satisfy my need. Our discouragement will increase when we neglect to petition our Provider properly.
The Israelites, received the water they wanted after asking, “Give us water to drink”.
The text states:
“Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (v.6-7).
Have you ever experienced this depth of discouragement in the deserts of despair? Every ask yourself, “Is the Lord even here?” Oh, easily we question God’s presence when pain is present.
Yet, when I begin to be real about what I am feeling and face the frailty of my faith, I am challenged to discipline my devotion which is forged in the fire. James 1 speaks of this discipline of devotion, reminding those experiencing trials to be aware of God’s grace, amidst the testing of our faith, which produces steadfastness.
When I look back at where I was about a year ago, I can vividly see the deep and dark valleys of doubt I have walked through to bring me to my present place. As hurtful and helpless as I felt through each moment of discouragement, the Lord has led me through the darkest of forests with a new understanding of His grace and goodness.
I am learning to embrace that life has no guarantee of goodness apart from Christ. When pain is present, my purpose is simply to press in and press on towards the promise that one day, if not this side of heaven, tears will be wiped away, lives will be restored once and for all.
I am sure of this one thing: my God is good and graciously goes before me.
“ I will patiently wait to see the good God will do in my life, with the calm assurance he will do it” - Unknown