Here We Are. In the Desert.
I want you to imagine something with me. I want you to think about your life. With all the good, bad, and ugly you have walked through. The pain of the past. The shame felt. The hurt caused by others. The abuses absorbed. The labels received. The failed promises. The failed vows. I want you to put all of that at the forefront of your mind. All those things no one else knows or has seen you weep over.
Now, I want to ask you a question. “What would it feel like to be completely whole, healthy, and restored?” Can you imagine what that would be like? To take a deep breath again with full healing from your past and present?
I have asked myself this same question before. I often find myself comparing my own journey and growth. However, not with other people as much. More times than not its with the people I have heard about in the Bible. They ALWAYS seemed to me as the prototype people of God who got it right.
I would idolize people like Moses who parted the Red Sea who lived so close to God’s holiness and healing that he met with God face to face!
I would think of Mary the mother of Jesus who had the honor to be chosen as the one to bear in the flesh the very Person of God in Jesus!
I would and have often thought of David who was called a man after God’s own heart. Clearly his life demonstrates the perfect image of what it means to be healed and whole.
I often thought of Paul and Jesus as well for obvious reasons.
When I would look at these individuals, foolishly, I would only look at their highs. Never their lows. Focusing on the positive of their lives but not on the hell they walked through. Why did I and why do we often do this when looking at people we are inspired by? Because we have an ingrained allergic reaction to anything that will cause discomfort, difficulty, and friction. We hate it. But the reality is, these are the things that bring us health and new life—oddly enough. We just want to skip it all.
You may remember the Extreme Home Makeover show. Well one of the biggest keys to making this show work was literally constructing a house in days. Newsflash: this isn’t reality. The problem is that the footers and materials used to make homes required time to set, mature, and become strong. And then the house would be durable. Many of these houses were riddled with issues because of unrealistic expectations in constructing them. Our lives are often no different. If we do not embrace even the difficult seasons, years down the road our foundations will rock and we will be a mess because we sought for short cuts. We ran from the pain.
Many of the individuals mentioned above walked difficult roads:
Moses was on the run for murder in the desert tending goats when God found him.
Mary was pregnant with Jesus AFTER an angel appeared to her and had to journey through the desert region of Egypt to escape the violence of Herod who was killing babies throughout the area in search of the chosen one.
David, before he ever walked into the fullness of his destiny was on the run from Saul in the desert region of En Gedi where many scholars believe he wrote some of the most powerful Psalms showing his deep love and trust in God.
And Jesus Himself? Before his ministry launched he was literally “cast out into the wilderness desert,” being tempted and tried by Satan Himself.
Paul too, when he found Christ did not immediately excel to this place of wholeness and healing. Instead, he spent 3 years in, you guessed it, the desert.
God’s strategy to bring us back to places of closeness and intimacy is seen above with these individuals. It is one word all of the examples we just heard about had in common. Moses, Mary, David, Jesus, and Paul. All of them walked through the desert to get where God desired them to go. This is God’s playbook.
A Wounded Heart Finds Healing
Now, lets take a step back. From Hosea 1:1 (a prophet in the Old Testament) all the way up to 2:13, God is hurting. His heart is tearing in two. Because those whom He created have forgotten about him. Not in lip service or when in need—but in living faithfully for Him and growing in their relationship with Him daily. God is a scorned and angry lover. He is so consumed with jealousy for his adulterous bride that he is ready to hit reset on everything.
“Start the rain water!… Bring the fire and brimstone!… Lets blow the whole thing up and start over!” But He doesn’t. He can’t. Something within Him always comes back to love and never giving up!
After the two-timing behavior of Israel is exposed, and after God breaks a few dishes and slams a few doors, God waits on the porch brokenhearted long into the night. He remains hopeful, not only that Israel will return on her own but also that He may be able to draw her not just back… but somewhere deeper. Where is this “deeper place?” You guessed it. The desert.
What is so special about the desert? Isn’t the desert places where things go to die? Exactly. All through the Bible the symbolism behind the desert is meant to display the locations where God’s presence and power is felt most. Rarely did transformation ever happen in King’s palaces, lush land, or places where all the needs were met.
This is why affluence in Western society is the slow killer of our spirituality. We have everything we need so why do we need the intimacy of God? Why pray? We have it all.
But in the desert we are reminded of our need and hopelessness. In the difficult areas we run from, we are running from our need for Him to work within us. It is there that the Holy Spirit can reach us. This is God’s playbook! As it was for his wayward wife. But what happens in the desert? Through Hosea (2:14-15), God says,
“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will respond as in the days of her youth,
as in the day she came up out of Egypt.
I encourage you. Read it again. Comfort is found in the silencing of competing voices. Vineyards are restored, which are a symbol of blessing and restoration. Trouble and challenge are turned into hope and opportunity. “Valley of Achor” meant the “place of trouble.” Do you see the transformation God is inviting unfaithful Israel into? He is not calling for divorce. He is inviting full restoration! It is a “return to your first love!” God says that Israel will sing again as in the days of her youth when she was first set free from Egypt. Can you see all of this? Eugene Peterson gives a great window into Hosea 2:!4-15 when he translates it:
“And now, here’s what I’m going to do:
I’m going to start all over again.
I’m taking her back out into the wilderness
where we had our first date, and I’ll court her.
I’ll give her bouquets of roses.
I’ll turn Heartbreak Valley into Acres of Hope.
She’ll respond like she did as a young girl,
those days when she was fresh out of Egypt.
God’s relentless heart and pursuit of us is beyond our imagination. The very places we hide from one another and from God, the best we can, are the very places God wants to bring to the surface in that wilderness time when we feel at our lowest. When we feel furthest from God, in a moment, God can transform it into the closest of times! Not to help us make a home there and stay in our brokenness… but rather heal and walk us through it. But for them, all of it was dependent upon one thing for Israel: willingness.
The Deceiving Hyphen
What stands before A – B is a small hyphen. Beware, the hyphen is deceiving. It leads us to think the route from brokenness to healing is a straight and easy line. It isn’t true. What is in the middle is the desert and we have to get through it God’s way. We may want to swim under it, jump over it, teleport to the other side, but we cant.
We. Just. Cant.
There is only one way from A to B. There is only one method of travel where Jesus will be found. And that is in treading water and swimming bit by bit to the other side. Often while holding a cinder block in one hand and a dumbbell in the other. It’s the desert. It isn’t easy. But even still, we tread and swim with Jesus there hoping and trusting we will find comfort, restoration, the transformation because of what we have seen time and time again in the Scriptures.
But if we aren’t willing to make that swim, we settle and exist with our cinder block, often times unknowingly hurting others.
In the book Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity, an author named Ronald Rolheiser explains this journey through the desert to healing well in our culture.
One of the challenges, at least in the western church, is an inability to deal with our wounds in a healthy way. Our training as Christians has been focused on Bible studies, small groups, and Sunday worship. But little thought has been given to the connection between our emotional and spiritual lives. This, I believe, is why people can inflict so much damage on and within the church. There’s tons of spiritual head knowledge, but without healing the wounds of the past they are unable to experience healthy relationships.
Being OK With Desert Silence and No Manual
All of us begin our lives in Christ with a child-like hope and belief that we will always remain in this faithful dialog with God and we will grow to become so close to Him and so whole. But as time goes on, Some of this begins to change. God becomes aloof to us, we perceive. We lose interest. All of this becomes a mindless and numb existence. We settle for it as though it were truth. Suddently then, God becomes really silent.
But it is in the silence of God, the desert and the wilderness, we actually discover Him in a real and new way. There is no sequence or method. There is no practical application when it comes to surrender, repentance, and discovery of the intimacy of God. These are all relationship words; not a manual to build a playground set. I mean, think about it. Do you look at your friendships and spouse this same way? Expecting a manual to make everything fit together perfectly? There just isn’t one. All of it is relationship and mystery. But what I do know, in the mystery where we hit our wall and surrender to the needed journey through the desert—God takes us to higher ground and deeper intimacy as seen in Hosea 2:16-18.
“In that day,” declares the Lord,
“you will call me ‘my husband’;
you will no longer call me ‘my master.’
I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips;
no longer will their names be invoked.
In that day I will make a covenant for them
with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the creatures that move along the ground.
Bow and sword and battle
I will abolish from the land,
so that all may lie down in safety.
Did you catch that key phrase? He says, “In that day…”
In that day when you Israel decide its time to surrender.
In that day son and daughter when you are finally ready to say, “Not my will but yours be done.”
In that day when you finally say its time to enter the desert for growth and new life.
There is so much healing and empowering God has for us in the places we least expect. Whether it is where we find ourselves which is difficult (desert) or a place within us we do not want to deal with (desert)—no matter what, there is healing to be had there. This is the playbook of God. And when we decide to do things God’s way… then “In that day…” we will find wholeness. I still believe Jesus heals and delivers us from our pain and sin. Do you?
Maybe you don’t. But you know what? It doesn’t change God. He relentlessly pursues his people. He relentlessly loves you. Our bad behavior does not make God love and pursue us less just as our good behavior does not make him love and pursue us more. We cannot earn the love of God, for He is love.
I encourage you to take time. Take time to look where you are at. Your desert may be areas you have ignored. Failed expectations. Broken vows. Broken promises. Things in your past. The desert could be your current situation. So… ask Him.
“Lord, what do you desire from me?
What is my wilderness?
Am I in a wilderness? Where am I?
Where do you desire me to go?
Am I running with you, to you, or away from you?”
Take time to be in the Scriptures and to pray so that the noise can settle. When it does, embrace the quiet and still desert air and trust that even in that place, God’s love is loud, present, and ready to do its healing work.