Monday, January 31, 2011

Wandering in the Desert of Spiritual Dryness

Several times within my Christian journey, I have experienced a spiritual desert. My spiritual path blended with the horizon of barrenness. The dust, as I walked, clouded my vision. I walked along the parched, cracked ground, hoping to find a sip of water to quench my thirsty soul; yet I pretended life was going well.

The more I struggled in my dry spiritual desert, the more I allowed shame and guilt to overcome me. How did I get here? Why was I here? The dry desert sapped the vigor out of my: 

  • Worship
  • Prayer
  • Time in God’s Word
  • Fellowship
  • Life
I thought of the Israelites who wandered forty years because of their ignorance. Was I in an ignorant place? Would my spiritual dryness be forty days, or forty years? God forbid. What if other, fellow believers knew how desolate my inner soul felt?

The Israelites complained constantly. I believe we tend to concentrate on their faithlessness and ungratefulness—we equate our desert experience as a soulless place. Christians have, in my humble opinion, a misguided view of being in a spiritual dry place. Somewhere, an untruth was assumed that being in a desert was dishonorable and detestable—a sinful place to be. But I learned something as I dredged through my dry parched desert—several times in my life: God was there, continually. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:39).

Personally, I’m a little worried about Christians who smile incessantly, praising the Lord as if they live on the Island of Joy—as if that is the only emotion Christians can have. I don’t judge them. Some personalities are just “up” and I accept that. I feel this image, however, is not a true picture of what walking with God is supposed to be like. 

Paul the apostle wrote to the Corinthians, “ . . . We commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in strips, in imprisonments, in tumults, . . . in sleeplessness . . . ” (2 Corinthians 6:3-4). These words: tribulations, distress, sleeplessness, and tumults—do not seem to describe a happy, carefree walk with God; and we know the apostle Paul learned to be content in all circumstances. To me, these words—distress, sleeplessness, tribulations, and tumults—sound like desert wandering words, much like the loud voices in our head telling us we are failures, that God has abandoned us.

What we fail to see is when the Israelites wandered in the desert, grumbling all the while, God still provided for them. The Spirit of God even drove Jesus into the desert for forty days and forty nights (Mark 1:12-13; Matt. 4:1-11). The Israelites were tested. Jesus was tested. We too are tested. To me, desert=struggle=growth=faith to preserve through temptations and to know God deeper. The desert teaches us to see what is in our character and where we might have misguided faith.

Quoting from A Center of Quiet- Hearing God When Life is Noisy, by David Runcorn, he refers to a man named John Richards who wrote a “booklet on this theme.” David said that John, “suggests that these times of dryness and struggle are not a negative denial of blessing but a ‘Positive preparation for ministry.’”

When I left the ministry of the pregnancy support center, my heart was crushed, yet I knew God was calling me into a new place. I even had several people confirm to me that God was taking me into the “field of preparation.” Of course, my thought was, oh, God is going to teach me all the wonderful things about writing and speaking and all those good things I’d need to know for this “new place” I was going. You see, God had also whispered in my ear audibly, “For I know the plans I have for you,” (Jeremiah 29:11).  He also gave me this Scripture: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze,” (Isaiah 43:2). However, I was clueless to what that had to do with my “field of preparation.”

My field of preparation involved our son’s first manic-depressive episode, his arrests and drug use. There were times I felt we were a “Jerry Springer” family—crushed that my daughter-in-law was also walking down a hurtful path. I contended with a rebellious daughter, home schooling, working for a church that provided some troubling insights into the business of church, the death of my mother, turbulence in my marriage, a pregnant-confused daughter and the unstable relationships she entertained. And let’s not forget menopause!

What I thought was going to be my “field of preparation,” walking in a field of tulips and singing the Hallelujah chorus, was rather like walking in a field of thorns, stickers, and drinking water from a very bitter well. Yet, God knew what was coming and he knew exactly how he would use the thorns and thistles of my life to complete my preparation for the plans he has for me. And remember, the rest of the verse God spoke to Jeremiah; His plans are not for calamity but for prosperity.

At times, Christians believe that because something is negative or a struggle, it must not be God’s will. We must lay that idea aside and know that in our struggle, in our negative world, and the pain that accompanies it, is the place where God meets us most often.

Do we need God as much when life is happy-go-lucky? Ah, we’d like to say yes, but the truth is, we don’t. We will certainly turn our face from him and walk in our own strength during the good times. But when adversity strikes, we go running to the Father to fix it. We certainly don’t tell our brothers and sisters, least they judge us.

What God showed me in my spiritual desert was:
  • He is ever present
  • He is providing
  • He is comforting
  • He is teaching
  • He is fathering
  • He is nourishing
  • He is patient
There has to be a moment in the believer’s life in which he or she learns to embrace the desert, not just the scorching heat of the day, but also the darkness of the desert night. David Runcorn put it this way:

“Unless we accept this, there is a danger that our worship and prayer may be a desperate clinging to the light because we are afraid of the dark. Darkness is assumed to be a defeat and failure.” I agree with David when he says, “There is nothing sadder than a Christian fellowship where every song must be of victory . . . every member always smiling and joyful.” He continues, “It is an exhausting pretense to keep up for long, and it condemns those who cannot hide from their fears to further pain of failure and inadequacy. It is actually dishonest.”

Maybe this is why our church services are not overflowing with new converts to Christianity.

Let me leave you with this: Being driven to the desert by life’s circumstances is normal. There is no shame or guilt to be had, that is, unless you are in a dry, desolate desert because of outright disobedience and rebellion. There is no shame in the desert itself.

These are some of  God’s promise for the desert journeys:

 “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom … they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendour of our God . . .” (Isaiah 35:1-2).

“He turns a wilderness into pools of water, and dry land into watersprings,” (Psalms 107:35).

What has God taught you about being in the desert? Have you believed that being in a spiritual desert as negative or positive?

(Quotes from: A Center of Quiet- Hearing God When Life is Noisy, by Daivd Runcorn, published by InterVarsity Press, 1990)
Edited by: First Impressions Writing Services, Jeanette Morris

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