08 March, 2010 Jim Gettmann
I have always loved well watered places. I have struggled to appreciate deserts. As a child I lived in both environments: the steaming jungles of the tropics and the dry, fire-prone desert landscape of southern California; but I always preferred the lush greens of places with regular rainfall.
I remarked on it once to the Lord, wondering why God had made deserts. I thought maybe it was actually an oversight, or a result of the Fall, perhaps a negative consequence of the sinful condition of man borne out physically in the natural environment. His reaction at that time was swift and decisive: He spoke very quickly, telling me that he had made and designed the deserts of the world and that they are both beautiful and good! My reaction then was, well, to each his own. I still prefer the forested mountains of Alaska and the Alps!
When it comes to the desert times and wilderness experiences of our spiritual lives I think that most people would agree with me. I don't know too many people who sigh and moan through the times of their lives when all is apparently going well and God seems near, when answers to prayer are coming thick and furious and all of your efforts to serve others are seemingly having great success. You know, those times when everyone wants to know your name and are asking you to pray for them, come and speak to them about all the great miracles God is doing through you. Those times when God's kingdom is growing by leaps and bounds and there is excitement in the air. Few people try to just endure such times, holding on and gritting their teeth until it is over ... no, they revel in such times!
What? This isn't your normal experience? Well, quite honestly, it hasn't been mine either. I seem to keep finding myself on the backside of the desert, wondering when it is finally going to start raining, when am I going to finally start experiencing the great moves of God, the miracles, the healings, the manifest presence of God, the tingling and joy of being overwhelmed with the love of God, seeing the glory of God come down in a visible cloud. You know, all that good stuff. (You can fill in the blanks with the things you yourself long for ...) Some of us wonder if we are doomed to be like Israel, wandering in aimless circles in the desert for 40 years ... and doing a bit of moaning and sighing while there.
Recently I have begun to understand why the desert is beautiful. And after the last blog a week ago about the Desert Wedding , I've been asking the Lord about it as well. Slowly a picture is developing that explains why God loves the desert places.
There are several special characteristics about deserts.
There is little growth and few trees in the desert to hide the landscape. The true form of the land is open for all to see. You could say that the heart is laid bare in the desert. There are no activities to hide behind, no successes to hide inner emptiness. We humans are very good at self-deception. One of our favorite self-deceptions is that if there is a lot of activity, then there is life there.
Another is that if we are experiencing success, especially if our work is growing, then God must be pleased with us. In all the activity and apparent success it may still be possible that we are just doing it and accomplishing much through the strength of our own personality, hard work and charisma. Is God really there? Is the work being accomplished his work or ours? In the busy green valley it is hard to know for sure.
In the beautiful lush valleys there is water flowing everywhere. There are ponds here, a lake there, waterfalls spilling over the cliffs and meandering streams. Here and there are even a few swamps and marshes sprinkled in for good measure. Where is the real source of the water? From the sheer mass of water it is hard to know for sure.
In the desert, however, water is rare. It is found in rocky basins that caught the last rainwater, in springs welling up from below. There aren't many other possibilities in a real he-man desert. Rivers and streams are only seasonal and last only days after the last rain. One thing is for sure, you know where your water is coming from. It is from this spring right before you, not from one 300 kilometers away.
There's a lot of water flowing in today's church scene. What's not so clear is what the source of much of that water is. Mostly you just see that that wet stuff in front of you looks like water and you take a drink. Did it come from the Lord? Did that sermon, that tape, that anointed hands-laid-on prayer really come from someone who is drinking directly from the Holy Spirit? Well, I sure hope so, but it's hard to tell.
In the desert you go right to the source. Lord, it's just me and you now. I've got to hear from you! I have no where else to turn. Every other water source has dried up. Speak to me, Lord! If you don't speak ... I have no other options, I have no other plan.
In the desert there are not so many distractions.
In the desert you can get thirsty. Real thirsty. It's hot with the sun beating down on you, you perspire (or sweat if you are a real man), there is little shade, and if you aren't careful you can get so dehydrated that you could literally die of thirst. My point? You suddenly know what it is that you really want. You are totally convinced of the One Thing that you really need, more than anything else. And you will do just about anything to get it. Now. Today - not tomorrow. It could be too late tomorrow or even in two hours. Life gets stripped down to its most basic components and you become single minded - possibly for the first time in your life.
Perhaps this is the real goal and the huge value of that wonderful, precious wilderness experience that your loving Lord and Master arranged for you to be experiencing. He took care to cut you off from the distractions. He pruned your ministry from you. He lovingly sent the supportive people away from your life for the time being and He's making sure that circumstances are beating down hot on your head. He wants you to get good and thirsty so you will start looking for the real source. He's keeping you from taking the easy way out, making sure that you will not get a quick fix from the nearest fast food Preacher-in-the Box restaurant. (My apologies to Jack-in-the-Box restaurants)
The answer is in Hosea. Chapter 2, verses 14-20. There the Lord is speaking of his plan to cure wandering Israel from her spiritual and moral distractions (immoral actually):
"Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. "And in that day, declares the LORD, you will call me 'My Husband,' and no longer will you call me 'My Baal.' For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD."
In his wisdom and love your Jesus is doing the one thing necessary to get you to give him what he most wants from you. It is not your money. It's not your service. It's not your prayer for the suffering and dying of this world or even that you should leave all and become a missionary in Thailand. It is you that he wants.
Therefore, according to Hosea, he is slipping into the role of a suitor to try to win your heart. He is putting you into the best environment for you to realize what you really wanted all along - and that is him! He's paring away the distractions and making you desperately thirsty.
In this place you begin to see him as Ishi, and not as Baali. Those are the two Hebrew words for Husband in the above verse. Ishi means, "my man! my husband." Baali is perhaps a more common word for husband in Hebrew today, yet it means, "my Lord, my master (husband)." In the wilderness you begin to discover that Jesus is more interested in getting intimacy and passion from you than service and ministry success. In fact, without the passion you aren't much good to him in service. Oh, you might appear to have great success with all kinds of growth and applause of men. But sooner or later he's just going to have to strip it all away so that you can get back to the ONE THING that HE is looking for. If you wait for him to do it, it's generally more painful.
The desert breaks you. But that is where life starts to spring forth. His life, not imitation, charismatic, pentacaustic, baptistic, churchianic or whatever other kind of religious life. You have to go into the desert to die. You decide you never really needed your ego and selfishness after all. You start to realize that there isn't that much worth protecting in your plans and ambitions after all. You realize that your identity is NOT in your work, but in your Lord. You become willing to give up everything for him, even to the point of losing the ministry you thought you were building for him. You come to the conclusion that Jesus is enough. You trade your old life for his.
And now it can finally, really begin. You start to finally, really know the Lord. Theories go out the window. (Unless your theories about God have started to go out the window, you probably haven't made much progress along the path of knowing God! You will find that even cherished teachings of beloved past leaders will have to be abandoned in the light of the living Truth. Disillusionment is one of the great steps forward - because it is where you start to lose your illusions!) A great, big, wonderful Person starts to take their place.
"The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;" Isaiah 35
The desert breaks you, teaching you how to lean on your beloved from now on."Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved? Under the apple tree I awakened you. There your mother was in labor with you; there she who bore you was in labor." Song of Solomon 8:5
Now, tell me the truth! Isn't the desert incomparably beautiful?
How have wilderness experiences affected you? Share your insights and comments about the desert times!