You hear the call, the call to go into the barren place, that place we know as the desert. Fear rushes to the soul as memories of the harsh desert sun beating on your skin and the cold night wind biting at your face and fingers returns to your mind, making the hairs on your neck stand up. You remember the days feeling parched because of the dryness and the exhaustion from miles and miles of trekking through the sand. In the distance, you can hear the noises of the dangers that lie ahead: Wolves howling, buzzards calling, and snakes rattling. . . and most of all, the uncomfortable and nearly unbearable feeling of loneliness brought about by the silence of the desert. Yet, you remember that the desert contains sights such as endless stars and breathtaking sunsets and sunrises not found anywhere else on earth. Before, you were cast into the desert without your choosing; but now, you are called back. Will you go, not knowing what awaits?
Does God lead us into barren places?
Up to this point, I have written about unforeseen circumstances casting us into the desert. However, what about circumstances where God calls us into the desert? Would a good God call us to a place of barrenness and pain? Would a good God call us to a place where the loneliness would feel unbearable? The answer is yes; in fact, he often called His people to barren places to call out the best in them. Jesus Himself was called by the Spirit into the wilderness before He was commissioned to begin His ministry (Mt. 4:1-11). When God calls us into the desert, it is only to bring to light the things inside of us that are killing us, things that can keep us from stepping into our God given destiny. These things are not always even bad things, they can be desires for good things in fact. Dreams have to go to the desert to die before they can be born. We go to the desert to starve so that we can learn how to be full. The desert is what leads us to green pastures.
The Crucible of Waiting
In Genesis 12:1-3, Abraham was given a dream, a promise from God that he would be a blessing to all the nations of the world and that through him, his descendants would become a nation. Many years go by and Abraham still has no son. Naturally, Abraham began to wonder if God’s promise would come true. In Genesis 17:17, Abraham asks God if it is possible that a man who is one hundred years old and his wife who is ninety years old can bear a son. God assures them that nothing is impossible with him. According to His word, Sarah gives birth to Isaac in Genesis 21. To be a fly on the wall and see the joy they must have experienced. After years of waiting, God’s promise came true! This was it, the culmination of their God-given dreams! For anyone who has been in a waiting season, you know that waiting on God’s promises can be one of the most trying, painful experiences known to man. In the waiting, there are often long periods of silence and because of that silence, we struggle with feeling alone and completely abandoned. All the while, God is working behind the scenes.
It is in the silence and waiting that He is doing heart surgery. I have shared this quote before, “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. Allendar, The Healing Path). Why is waiting painful? Waiting requires trust and for many of us, we do not trust easily. If you’ve lived on earth long enough chances are you have had times where you have been abandoned, betrayed, or rejected. Such experiences damage our souls. Often times, we tend to project our past hurts onto God and we think, “I can’t trust God with _________. Look at where trusting has gotten me before!” Maybe we missed it? Maybe God is not actually there? Waiting is painful because we are forced to trust. The desert leaves us no other option.
The Sacrifice of Trust
Now, to throw a curveball. After Isaac has grown a little older, God seems to make a bizarre request to Abraham. In Genesis 22:2, God tells Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” Notice what God emphasizes here. He doesn’t just say go sacrifice your son; rather, He specifically points out “your only son, whom you love.” At that point, Abraham’s heart must have sunk to the lowest depths, making his stomach sick and throwing his soul into anguish. After years of pain and trusting in the waiting, Abraham was now being asked to do the unthinkable, to give up his dream, his son whom he dearly loved. Abraham had walked with God long enough to know his voice and knew that even if He was asking for something that made zero sense, He would be faithful. In 22:5, Abraham tells his servants that he and his son would return. Somehow, Abraham must have believed that even if Isaac lost his life, that God would bring him back.
Abraham’s trial was the ultimate test of trust. At some point, each of us will reach a crossroads at which we will be asked to make the choice of trust. It is common knowledge that before a seed grows into a tree, it must first die. In the movie My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising, the main character, Deku, is faced with a difficult decision: to give up his power in order to save his friends. If you don’t know anything about My Hero Academia, it is set in a world full of superheroes. Nearly 80% of the population is blessed with powers called “quirks.” Deku was one of the unfortunate few to be born quirkless. Not only was he born quirkless, he was also born with a small frame, yet he has the heart of a hero and his greatest dream is to be like his idol, the hero named All Might. All might is considered the most powerful hero and possesses the quirk called “One for All.” What is not known about this quirk is that it is transferable to a successor the possessor deems fit to take “One for All.” After All Might sees Deku throw himself in harm’s way to save a friend, despite being quirkless, All Might decides to make Deku his successor. However, Deku is too weak to handle “All for One.” So All Might makes Deku undergo rigorous training to handle his new power and even when Deku finally receives “All for One,” his body can still barely handle the power. He has to learn to make it his own. Finally, after even more painful training, many battles, setbacks, and trials Deku is able to use about 20-30% of his power.
In the final battle in Heroes Rising, the heroes are getting beat pretty bad. Deku and Bakugo realize that if nothing changes, then all their friends and many in the world would lose their lives. Deku realizes that he must give up his dream, “All for One,” in order to save his friends and chooses to transfer One for All to Bakugo. The following dialogue takes place:
Deku: With this we will save them!
Bakugo: This will end your dream you know.
Deku: It doesn’t matter, there is no other way. . .
Deku realized that his dream, his power was borrowed. It was never his to begin with. Knowing this gave truth gave him the strength to give it up, despite the pain knowing that he was giving up his dream. After the battle, All Might is holding a wounded and bloodied Deku in his arms, as Deku is in tears confessing that he gave up One for All. Then all of a sudden, Deku’s veins light up as One for All returns to his body. One for All still saw Deku as fit to keep the dream because he held it loosely.
Right before Abraham lays the knife to Isaac, he is abruptly stopped by the angel of the Lord:
“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” Gn 22:12-14
God knows what He is doing and He knows when we are seeking Him with our whole heart and trying to honor Him. Anything His hand is on will come to pass, despite whatever mistakes we make in trying to follow Him in faith. Whatever we give up to Him, He will return and if He doesn’t return it, He will provide. Scripture is full of examples of His people misstepping, yet no matter what, He made His plans for them come to pass. God is bigger than our regrets, failures, and lost dreams. He will ensure what His hand is on will come to pass no matter what. This is easier said than done. When we give up what we want the most, we don’t know what the outcome will be but we have to trust that our lives and our dreams are in His hands. Stepping out in faith makes zero sense many times. It is painful and confusing not only for yourself, but to the people around you. Remember, dreams go to the desert to die, only to be reborn.
There is No Other Way
When He calls you back to the desert, it is a place where He can do the deepest work in your heart that He can do in no other way. Like Deku said, there is no other way. Surgery and the path of healing is painful. In the desert, the silence brings our insecurities and the voices of our past back to the surface. In those moments, God wants to weave a narrative of truth over the narrative of lies that we have believed. It is the pain of pouring hydrogen peroxide into wounds that have been ripped back open. Only this time, you are not using a bandaid to heal it, you are going for permanent healing so that you can be a whole person. In Avatar the Last Airbender, when Prince Zuko begins choosing to give up his narrative of shame and honor a war begins to rage in his soul. After falling ill, he asks his Uncle Iroh what is happening to him. Iroh responds, “You are going through a metamorphosis, my nephew. It will not be a pleasant experience but when you come out of it. You will be the beautiful prince you were always meant to be.”
All Dreams Must Die
Why must our dreams die? I think if we are not careful, our dreams can become our identity. What happens if you have a dream related to athletic goals and you become seriously injured? Who are you without your dream? Are you still worth it? What happens when we do not have friends or family to depend on? Right now, you may be reading this and feel you are alone. But, are we alone? I’ve made the mistake of putting my worth in other people, friendships, and relationships. When those people are gone, who are you and where does your hope lie? I’ve had to ask myself, does my hope and identity lie in the companionship of God? Is He enough? If our dreams become idols, He may ask us to sacrifice those dreams and if we choose to make that sacrifice, the pain will be excruciating. The call to sacrifice is a call to return to the desert, just when we thought we were coming out of it.
However, the pain is not forever and in the story of Abraham we see that God provided. There are several lessons I think God has for us in these moments. First, when our dream doesn’t seem to be happening and there is constant pushback, will we give up at the first sign of discouragement? God is looking for Joshuas and Calebs who will press forward into the promise, even if the land has giants. Can He trust you with His dreams? When a Sanballat or Tobiah comes along to frighten us from the work God has called us to, will we respond like Nehemiah, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you” (6:3)? The bottom line is this: Can God trust you with His dreams?
Second, who are you without that dream, that person, or that opportunity? These are painful questions I am having to face. If you are nothing without whatever “fill in the blank” is, then you are nothing with it. If you see yourself as a nobody without your dream, you’ll be a nobody even when it comes to pass. If something is from God, IT’S NOT UP TO YOU. Daily, I am having to scream this into my head. Yes, you have to put in the work and be obedient, but He is ultimately responsible for the outcome. I know that’s hard to believe because every self help coach tells you that it’s all up to you, but remember, God’s economy is backwards. He uses the weak and foolish things of the world to accomplish His purposes. All this to say, another reason our dreams may be put to death for a time is so that we can handle them with a new perspective. If our dreams become idols, then we are going to not only hurt ourselves, but those around us. God has to stay on the pedestal and be the main source of our identity because in reality, the dream is not the true prize, He is. The dream is that we simply get to join hand in hand with Him to bring hope and healing to this world.
Persevere, Endure, and Don’t Lose Hope
This post is dedicated to the dreamers out there, who have been waiting a long time. Maybe you have been waiting for a dream to come to fruition. You have been working behind the scenes on your dreams for years and years, only to face constant setbacks and disappointments. Perhaps you have been waiting on your spouse or the answer for a job. Maybe you finished reading this post and felt more frustrated, being told by another person to just trust and wait. Believe me, I am right there with you.
Ever since I surrendered to my calling and wrote my dreams down nearly 13 years ago, it has been desert after desert with small oasis’s here and there. The setbacks have been many. I’m frustrated with God and sometimes He makes no sense to me. The dreams I have written down I have been chasing for some time now, dreams I believe are from the Lord. Yet, those dreams seem to constantly be delayed. What hurts even more and makes zero sense is when you feel like you are asked to give up the very dreams you have been waiting for. It makes you feel crazy and you feel like everyone else around you thinks you’re crazy. Yet, I have to keep believing He does what He does for a good reason, that anything He has His hand on will not fail or fall by the wayside even if all hope seems lost. Even when we make mistakes, He is big enough to cover those as well. Abraham himself messed up twice by lying about the identity of his wife. In addition, thinking that maybe he misheard God on receiving a son, he slept with his servant Hagar, who gave birth to Ishmael. Despite Abraham’s mistakes, God still made His will happen. If our failures are big enough to stop God’s plans, then we do not serve a big God. No matter what happens, He will give you the strength needed to endure and the hope to persevere. We must never lose hope. Uncle Iroh has yet another piece of wisdom to give us on the importance of hope. During one of Zuko’s low moments, Iroh tells him, “You must never give into despair. Allow yourself to slip down that road and you surrender to your lowest instincts. In the darkest times, hope is something you give yourself. That is the meaning of inner strength.” Romans 5:3-5 tells us:
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
There is one dream I have been working on the past four years that has to do with running. During the pursuit of this dream, I have had many injuries and health complications. It has felt like I have had to start over time and time again. Even recently, with no warning my health took a bad turn for the past seven months to where I felt weak, exhausted, and was dealing with trembling in my hands and feet. During those months, training turned into going on simple walks, short bike rides, and breathing exercises. This felt devastating compared to the 15-17 hours a week of training I was used to. Not until recently did I feel my strength start coming back to me. Currently, I am back to doing daily 2-3 hour training sessions. Although I am encouraged by how quickly my strength has been returning to me, there is still a degree of frustration, the feeling of starting over again. There are a lot of things I am waiting on and a lot of things in this season that make no sense, but I know God is doing a deep work in my heart and rooting my identity in Him. It hurts; yet, at the same time there is a new level of steel will, determination, and focus that is settling over me that seems even more solid than what I had before. A quote from Tolkien’s The Return of the King came to my mind recently that I did not fully understand before, but now I believe I know what it is saying. As Frodo and Sam near Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring, they are starving, wounded, dehydrated, and nearly at the end of their strength. Upon losing hope Sam gains hope in a new form:
But even as hope died in Sam, or seemed to die, it was turned to a new strength. Sam’s plain hobbit-face grew stern, almost grim, as the will hardened in him, and he felt through all his limbs a thrill, as if he was turning into some creature of stone and steel that neither despair nor weariness nor endless barren miles could subdue.J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
Even though I should have every excuse to give up at this point, there is something in me that won’t let me give up. I will cross that finish line, even if I have to limp across. I am still struggling with trembling in my hands and feet and despite this, I feel emboldened now to push even harder. All I can say is that if God puts something on your heart, He will give you the fire and drive to see it through even when it makes no sense. My dreams are huge, and they scare me to death. If you’re reading this and thinking I am bragging on my own strength, let me be honest. I have never been the fastest, strongest, or smartest person. I regularly struggle with doubt. In fact, my dreams have made me think, “I can’t do that! I’m weak.” However, through Abraham’s example and the example of so many others in Scripture I am encouraged that my God is big enough to handle my weakness. When my dreams do come true, I won’t be able to take a shred of glory for them because of my weakness. He will get all of the glory. God’s economy is backwards and He chooses the weak things of the world rather than the strong. Again, this is contrary to today’s motivational and self-help material that tells you it’s all up to you and your strength. God’s people often doubted, cried, and struggled. By His strength, they pressed on and did not lose hope. If you are reading this and feel you are on a similar path, take heart and know that you are not alone. We have one another, as well as our brothers and sisters from the past to cheer one another on. God will supply all that you need. The only part that is up to you is to have a mindset not to quit, no matter what. One of may favorite runners, Ryan Hall, is known for saying, “Put in the work. Let God take care of the results.”
I have one more example from another Abraham that may inspire some hope. One of my favorite presidents is Abraham Lincoln, a man one could say was made for his moment history. The United States would not exist today if it was not for Lincoln and his steady hand at the helm during the tumultuous, bloody years of the Civil War. Although many only know him for his role in abolishing slavery and preserving the Union, few know him for all the failures that led him to the White House.
. In 1831 he failed in business.
. In ’32 he was defeated for state legislator.
. In ’33 he tried another business that failed.
. In ’35 his fiancé died.
. In ’36 he suffered a nervous breakdown.
. In ’43 he ran for Congress and was defeated.
. In ’48 he ran for Congress again and was defeated.
. In ’55 he ran for the Senate and lost.
. In ’59 he ran for the Senate and lost again.
. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States.
Even after becoming POTUS, Lincoln still struggled, but his time in the wilderness gave him the mental fortitude to press on. He was a deep feeler, which was part of his greatest strength and his greatest weakness. Michael Beschloss notes in his book, Presidents of War, “Lincoln’s strength amid his own trial by fire was all the more admirable in light of his lifelong struggle with depression. His childhood had been one of loss and alienation. As he later said, he was a ‘poor friendless boy” (211). His empathy was considered part of his political genius, but it also made him feel things very deeply (195). Because of his empathy, he had compassion on the weak, on those who were hurting and struggling with loss during the war. One would expect that a man for such a job would be a battle-hardened man’s man who would despise weakness, but Lincoln was the perfect man for the job despite seeming to be the wrong man. In fact, he did not know a thing about war; yet, he didn’t let that stop him. The study habits he developed when he was younger made him an avid reader, which led him to read everything he could about war tactics while he was in office. Lincoln himself found that his moment in history was quite odd. Beschloss notes, “Within a year of Bull Run, out of a mixture of emotions like no other President before him, Lincoln would ask an old circuit-riding friend, Congressman Daniel Voorhees of Indiana, ‘Doesn’t it strike you as queer that I, who couldn’t cut the head off of a chicken, and who was sick at the sight of blood, should be cast into the middle of a great war, with blood flowing all about me?” A man who seemed the least likely choice, who had a political dream, who failed over and over again. . . ended up saving the Union for such a time as this.
This is why I find history fascinating. The ones we look back to as examples of dreamers and people who did great things were often times the least qualified or expected for their jobs. Ronald Reagan failed two attempts at the presidency before being elected his third term. As a child, he did not have many friends and was seen as a loner. Yet, somehow he became a man of the people. During his losses, he used these “wilderness years,” as William Inboden describes them, to test his ideas, study, and refine who he was (The Peacemaker, 25). When he first entered into politics, no one understood him because he was ahead of his time. Reagan had a vision for a strong America and tight bonds with European allies and wanted to build a secure Pacific strategy based on Japan, because he believed Japan was the key to peace in the Pacific. At the time, President Nixon and those before him, as well as the experts, believed that China was the key to peace in the Pacific rather than Japan (19). They believed in containing the Cold War, rather than ending it. Many also believed that the USSR’s rise was inevitable and that America’s best days were behind, that the only way to make peace was to learn to accept the status of the Soviet Union. When he made his “A Time for Choosing” speech in 1964, the world was not ready, for Reagan was speaking of the vision he would apply 15 years later:
We cannot buy our security, our freedom from the threat of the bomb by committing an immorality so great as saying to a billion now in slavery behind the Iron Curtain, ‘Give up your dreams of freedom because to save our own skin, we are willing to make a deal with your slave masters.’ . . .There is no argument over the choice between peace and war, but there is only one guaranteed way you can have peace-and you can have it in the next second-surrender” (17).
Despite being labeled as someone who would bring about WWIII, Reagan won the Cold War without firing a shot. In fact, his mentor and former President Eisenhower told him that the most successful use of military force was to win a victory without firing a shot (18). History tells time and time again of people who should not have been in positions of leadership, who should not have had their dreams come true. If they listened to their failures and the experts, they would have never gotten to where they were. All of these people share something in common, they went to the desert where there dreams died and were reborn. When the timing was just right, God made things happen. That is why it is painful to be a dreamer, because we are always seeing ahead as to what could be and it burns like a fire inside that can’t be put out no matter how many times life smacks us down. KEEP GETTING BACK UP. KEEP MOVING FORWARD. DO NOT QUIT.
Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.
Sometimes God will call us back into the desert, asking us to give up for a time the things that matter most to us. It will feel like death because we will be starved of everything that gives us value, comfort, and security. However, on the other side awaits wholeness and healing. God always redeems what is lost and will always make sure His plans come to pass when we are seeking Him with our whole heart. In the pain of waiting, in the pain of the unknown, in the pain of the silence He is near and He is doing a deep, transformative work. Whatever we give up to Him in faith will be returned and if not, He will provide. However, it is hard because we fear we will miss it, but if you know your life is in His hands and you trust that it is, you will not miss a single thing He has prepared for you. If the dream goes to the desert to die, the only thing we can do is wait until He says it’s time to move. In the meantime, the desert has things to teach us. To be able to handle the weight of our dreams, the desert teaches us that the dream is not the true prize and if we see it as the true prize, it will kill us. The true prize is Christ and we have to remember that any dreams we have are His and were never our own to begin with. Because they are His, it is on Him to make them happen. It is on us to be obedient and hold them loosely because our true hope and our true home is Him, not the dream. We must be careful not to seek His hand rather than seek His face. Please pray for me and although I may not know you, I am praying for whoever reads these words and needs them. God bless you my friend. Until the end, we press forward.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!If, by Rudyard Kipling