Nashville has been hot and dry this summer. Our lawn is getting crispy, our landscaping is dying, and our garden has become a dried-up housing opportunity for all manner of insects. While we’ve not had the drought that other regions have had, Nashville has had one of the hottest summers on record, almost as if Nashville has turned into a desert.
Have you ever been called to the desert? Not the Mojave desert type, or the Nashville type, but a time of spiritual dryness: a time when God seems to remain distant and withhold directions, while sending frustrating circumstances all the same.
That is where Ken and I have been numerous times in the past, and even in the last year: searching without finding answers, sensing a call but having significant obstacles to overcome, and finding ourselves trudging along, wandering.
The desert has not just been hot and dry, but there have been stinging sandstorms along the way. Not only the losses of the children we have tried to adopt, but betrayal by those we had trusted, and hurtful comments from others that have come along the way. This year has been hard.
At times there have been oases, moments of refreshment and enjoyment: vacationing at the beach at Christmas, celebrating at Chick Fil A, finding food trucks to enjoy, the enjoyment of spending time with friends and family. But lingering at an oasis would be a mistake. God did not intend for us to find our fulfillment at a pond and palm trees in the middle of the desert. He is calling us through the desert. Though we have no idea how long the journey will actually be, we pack up and move on, continuing to search for the way out.
At times the oases have just been mirages: completing stages of paperwork, promises of children, pictures and names of little ones who were supposed to be ours. But when we finally crested the last dune, we realize that there is only more desert to come. And we muster the strength to wander some more.
I have never resented the God of the desert. Though difficult, I can accept the desert. I will walk where He has called me to walk. After all, He is God, and I am not. He is allowed to set me loose in a directionless desert if that is what He desires for me. I can accept that this is where God has called me to for this season of my life.
I know that God can give meaning to my time of wandering in the sun swept landscapes of barrenness, if He so chooses. Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest says, “If we are in fellowship and oneness with God and recognize that He is taking us into His purposes, then we will no longer strive to find out what His purposes are. As we grow in the Christian life, it becomes simpler to us, because we are less inclined to say, “I wonder why God allowed this or that?” And we begin to see that the compelling purpose of God lies behind everything in life, and that God is divinely shaping us into oneness with that purpose.” It has become less important to me to figure out why God has called us here, because I trust that He is shaping me into who He wants me to become. So I clench my jaw and set my forehead to the wind, and plod along.
The Psalmist David had his own times of wandering in the desert spiritually.
Psalm 63:1-3 NIV says,
“O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.”
David’s glorification of God during times in the desert is admirable. And I can echo those sentiments; I can yearn for God and seek Him in the desert. After all, He is my way out! I can even praise Him for being my way out. But glorifying God in the desert still doesn’t seem like all He has called me to.
I can endure the desert, I can be obedient in the desert, and I can yearn for Him in the desert, but can I find delight in the one who led me there?
That’s not so easy.
Finding my treasure in the One who leads me staggering through these dry and weary times? To look to Him through clouds of swirling sand and shout for joy over the roar of the dust devils that surround me? The words seem to be choked by the sand in my throat.
John Piper in What Jesus Demands from the World says,
“He did not die to make this life easy for us or prosperous. He died to remove every obstacle to our everlasting joy in making much of him. And he calls us to follow him in his sufferings because this life of joyful suffering for Jesus’ sake (Matt. 5:12) shows that he is more valuable than all the earthly rewards that the world lives for. If you follow Jesus only because he makes life easy now, it will look to the world as though you really love what they love, and Jesus just happens to provide it for you. But if you suffer with Jesus in the pathway of love because he is your supreme treasure, then it will be apparent to the world that your heart is set on a different fortune than theirs. This is why Jesus demands that we deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him.”
Can I have everlasting joy in the One who lets me wander in the midst of the dry and dusty wilderness?
I don’t want to love God in spite of the fact that He has led me into the desert. I want to love Him because He has led me into the desert. Love that is by force of will isn’t really love. John Piper again wrote, “Willpower religion usually fails, and even when it succeeds, it gets glory for the will, not for God. It produces legalists, not lovers.” If I merely endure the desert, I miss the opportunity to bask in the pleasure of knowing him now. I do not want to overlook the enjoyment of God today while waiting for the mirage in the distance to become real.
I want to desire Him more than the fruitful land on the other side of this desolate terrain.
So let the sand take off a few layers of skin. Let the dust devils howl, the sun beat down, and the mirages come and go. My life does not have to be easy, comfortable, or on even the other side of this desert for me to find my supreme treasure in Him.
I am learning to dance in the desert.