Welcome to the desert! It is dry, barren, and lonely. There is no one to share funny moments with, selfies, or tears. As you look out into the expanse of sand and sky, you can’t tell where one begins and the other ends. It seems as if both could go on forever. You can feel the sweat on your face evaporate almost instantly in the scorching sun during the day, and the freezing cold bite deep into your bones in the dead of night. If you have ever hiked in the desert or seen nature documentaries of the desert, you know that it can be an incredibly harsh and unforgiving environment. The desert plays no favorites.
Not only is the desert a physical place, but it is a spiritual and mental place as well. Many of us have gone through a desert of life, or currently find ourselves in one. We all have different experiences and stories, but all of us can relate to suffering. In the deserts of life, there are nights we find ourselves alone, curled up on the floor in tears asking God, “Do you see me? Do you feel my pain? Are you there?” I wish I could say I am one of the “strong” ones who can always say no matter what, “God is sovereign and causes all things to work for the good!” While I do believe those two truths, in the midst of our darkest moments those truths seems about as far away as the endless desert landscape. There have been several times in my life when I have thought that I literally wanted to die. However, what has always kept me getting back up is the realization that no matter the desert, God has always brought me through and has given me His greatest gifts in the desert.
About ten years ago, I announced my calling and I asked God to show me Himself because I did not just want to know about Him, but I wanted to truly know Him. At the time, I did not know what I was asking for and was cast into a desert of life shortly thereafter. From time to time, God would provide a little oasis here and there so that I could recoup just enough to keep going. However, life just seemed to never fully let up and to be honest, I don’t even know if I am completely out yet! Over time, I have realized that God’s clock is WAY slower than ours is. If we truly want Him, He is going to do a deep, slow work in us. The human heart is incredibly complex and we often think we know what we want, but God knows us better than we know ourselves; because of that, we often don’t even realize He is doing a deep work until after it is done.
When I was cast into the desert, I lost friendships, experienced deep betrayals, and felt distant from God. Some of my suffering was due to my own immaturity at the time as well. As a guy who has a deep sense of loyalty and tends to feel pretty deeply, I have fallen in love and have had my fair share of heartbreaks. All the pain I experienced started bringing back hurtful memories from childhood that I had long forgotten and I started to notice a theme pop up in my story. Everything started taking a toll on my mind and body. I saw that I was driven to please other people and accomplish many things to make up for the hole I felt in my heart from experiencing so much rejection throughout my life. In the desert, everything I was getting a sense of value from was taken away from me. The result was many sleepless nights, plenty of tears, and a whole lot of walks lost in thought, some of which would last three to four hours before I even realized how much time had passed.
In the silence of the desert, God revealed to me myself. I saw that I was not getting my sense of value or identity from Him, but from other people and circumstances. None of this would have come to light if my distractions had not been silenced, including my own voice. We live in a society full of distractions and people who like to talk, ALOT. As someone in ministry, I have to deal with people on a regular basis and find that people’s favorite subject is themselves. Like children, people want to gain approval by sharing all that they have done, seen, and plan to do. Because I have seen it in my own life, being distracted and being someone who talks a lot are signs of something deeper going on in the heart. The Bible actually has quite a bit to say about the benefits of being silent and using our words carefully. There is a reason God called His people to the wilderness first before He commissioned them. When I listen to people who talk a lot, they usually tell me who they are and what is actually in their heart, whether they realize it or not. Furthermore, they may tell me what they want out of life, but what they actually want is something else. Again, the heart is incredibly complex and when someone does not know who they are nor what they want, they will often contradict themselves while explaining what they want and will continually run in circles until their souls find rest in the hands of the One who made them. I know this because I have been there.
Unfortunately, most people will never enter the desert because they are too afraid to see what the silence will reveal. We are content to be distracted by our friends, our own voices, our devices, or dare I say, our own ministries. Believe it or not, staying really busy with the “Lord’s work” may actually just be another way to stay distracted. After all, the desert can reveal some funny things. Super busy people are usually the ones who are the most in pain and don’t even know it, and when they do realize it, it’s often too late. One of the most tragic things to see in people is that they may never reach their full potential; and, I believe one of the heartaches of the Father is when His children do not fully step into everything He had for them on this side of life.
Here’s the hard truth, if you really want to step into what the Father has for you, then you have to go into the desert. If you have been sold a message that God just wants you to be happy, you will be severely disappointed in life. Happiness comes and goes and life does not show favor to anyone; rather, suffering visits all. While happiness may not last, His joy and His strength are everlasting no matter the circumstances. Ironically, those who invest so much time trying preserve their lives by staying distracted because of the pain they might face otherwise, are the ones who will actually never live. I once heard a character say in a television show, “People that spend their life avoiding death are already dead.” Jesus Himself said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). If you want to truly be alive and you want to truly know God, you will have to face death, you will have to face the desert.
But here is the good news, not only will you discover yourself in the desert, you will also find God. At some point, I realized that God gave me the desert as a gift. In other words, He answered my prayers to know Him. Throughout the darkest seasons of my life, I had so many questions for Him and He hardly answered a single one of them. In the end, I never got the answers to my questions or what I thought I needed; instead, He gave me Himself. As a result, those questions do not seem nearly as important as they did back then.
I began this post by focusing on the harsh aspects of the desert, but want to finish with another side of the desert I saw when I was on a trip out West. At first, the endless expanse of sky and land was overwhelming and the silence was awkward; but eventually, the silence turned to awe and the endless expanse turned into a sense of freedom, as if I could just jump up and fly through the sky. Because there was no light pollution from nearby cities at night, the stars were breathtaking. In fact, I remember one specific moment when tears flowed to my eyes because of the beauty of the heavens and realizing that words such as beautiful or marvelous seemed so insufficient for describing what I was feeling. In those moments, all I can whisper to Him is “Thank you.” In the desert, I came to the end of myself and found God.
To me, that is the irony of the Gospel. On one hand Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). On the other hand He says, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). The painful part is coming to the end of ourselves and the willingness to go into the desert to do it, but the beautiful part is that God relieves us of the burden of having to do everything ourselves and the exhaustion of trying to please others and accomplish so many things that won’t even be remembered.
This blog is meant to help you navigate the desert and my prayer is that you will step into everything the Father has for you. Please believe me when I say, I may not even know who you are, but tears have been shed for you and prayers have been poured out for you. There are plenty of podcasts and books full of popular one liners and band aid statements written about the blessings “after” the desert, but for many of us there is not a lot out there about what to do when we are in life’s darkest moments. So, if you feel alone, abandoned, misunderstood, or lost, you’re in the right place. Your brokenness is the bridge to your destiny and I am with you on the journey. If you think of it, please pray for me too.
If you’re in the desert, take a moment to pause and look up. As the sun sets over the horizon and the sky changes from brilliant yellows, to burnt oranges, and finally fades into calming shades of pink. . . the stars slowly start to appear. Before you know it, you are witnessing shooting stars zap across the sky and the colors of the Milky Way split the sky into a brilliant tapestry. In that moment, you are reminded that there is a world of beauty that is beyond the reach of the harsh desert. Peace settles, as you realize the desert is not all there is, but that the desert also reveals what you could not see otherwise: That you were created for more, and there is a home made ready for you by your heavenly Father when the curtain of life closes. Until then, He has much to give and show you. May the Lord bless and keep you my friend.
“The desert shatters the soul’s arrogance and leaves body and soul crying out in thirst and hunger. In the desert we trust God or die.”Dan B. Allender
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”Samwise Gamgee from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King