5 Lessons I Learned in the Desert

5 Lessons I Learned in the Desert

God actually brings people through the desert. On purpose. Because He loves them.

Let that sit for a bit.

The desert.

You know, that place where you’re all alone. That place where there’s absolutely nothing around for miles. That place where wild animals are looking for their next meal. That place where your deepest fears and insecurities seep up from the depths of your soul because you’re left alone with them.

That place where no matter what you do, you don’t feel God’s presence and nothing turns out the way you thought it would. That place where you’ve done everything you’ve been told to do in the past: pray, read your Bible, listen to hymns about God, go to church and it just doesn’t work.

That place is where I’ve found myself wandering throughout this past year. To say that it’s been exhausting, emotional, and just plain hard would be an understatement.

And yet, being led into the desert was God’s purposeful and loving path for me to be formed in the ways of Jesus. And through it, I’ve learned a lot.

1) God cares more about my heart than He does about the results of my “ministry”

God used the desert to show me the places in my life where I didn’t love Him. He began to strip away any semblance of productivity and success. God made it clear: more than the number of people I lead to Jesus, more than the leaders I’ve trained and developed, more than the partnerships I’ve forged, He cares about my heart being surrendered to Him.

2) Often times I live like I’m a Christian Moralist

When I didn’t see the results and “fruit” of all my hard work I felt guilty and shameful. In order to cover those feelings up, I worked harder. But what God began to show me was that it’s not my job to take away guilty and shame. That’s Jesus’ job. That’s why He died. God began to show me what was in my heart. Spiritual pride. “I can do it myself.” Instead God pointed me to a place of love and humility; the way of Jesus.

3) You can’t read and pray your way out of the desert

Scripture is full of verses that talk about “waiting on the Lord.” We often think that that the longer we’ve been walking with Jesus, the more “experiences” we’d have with Him. We’re often told that we’re supposed to “feel” God’s presence all the time. And so it’s confusing, we often think that the more character/maturity we have in Christ, the deeper the experience of God we should have. When we stop having the “feeling,” often our response is to go back to what we know. “But, I’ve read my Bible, I’ve prayed, I’ve gone to church…why does God still seem so distant?” What I began to understand is that God’s desire is to take us to real places of growth. Thats the purpose of the desert, to expose one’s heart. God strips us of what’s worked before to draw us into deeper relationship with Him. God brings us to places where all we can do is pull up a chair and sit down while we wait for Him to form us, grow us, and lead us out of the desert.

4) God desires for us to be vulnerable with Him

I was raised as a good Baptist.  I could never imagine telling God I was angry at Him. I mean, I probably told God I didn’t like something once or twice, but never dared to express my anger towards Him for putting me in a specific situation. And yet, this past year I’ve spent more time reading Psalms and Lamentations than ever before. Let’s be very clear: David and the writer of Lamentations were extremely honest with how they felt about their subsequent situations. They held nothing back. As I began to share the anger, frustration, sadness, and brokenness that was in the depths of my heart, I in turn experienced the invitation of God to draw near to Him in love and comfort. He loved me despite the smorgasbord of genuinely negative feelings I had towards Him. Allowing yourself to feel emotions in the midst of your situations and offering them up to God who in turn responds with love is a recipe for heart change. And that’s what began to happen.

5) We need community to point us to Jesus when we can’t find the way ourselves

The desert is disorienting, exhausting, and grueling. When you’re in the middle of the desert it’s hard to tell which way is up. I’m grateful that in the middle of one the hardest seasons of my life, God graciously surrounded me with people who knew which way was up. When I couldn’t hear God’s voice, they listened on my behalf. When I couldn’t “feel” God’s love for me, they showed me the love of God. When I couldn’t see God’s faithfulness they pointed out God’s gracious provision. They prayed faithfully for me, listened intently to the cries of my heart, and sat with me when I needed friendship and comfort. They pointed me to Jesus when I couldn’t find my way through the desert. A community that reflects the person and work of Jesus transforms neighborhoods and lives. That’s why community is so important.

 

Conversations while waiting.

I’m grateful for those times I choose to stand in line at our Starbucks rather than just make my own drink behind the bar…I’m thankful for the conversations God brings me into while I wait.

“How long have you been in the neighborhood?” I ask.

“Two years. You?”

“About a year and half, we moved here from Seattle, we lived there for about 5 years.”

“What brought you here?”

“We’re down here training and being prepared to move to Spain.”

“Whoa, that’s awesome, to do what?”

“Well we’re involved with a non-for-profit that trains and mentors young people to live like Jesus lived and invest in their neighborhoods and communities.”

“Wow…that’s awesome – how old are you?”

“I’m 31.”

“Oh you’re just a baby still.” She chuckles.

I sheepishly grin…

“Shoot (she didn’t say shoot), I still don’t know what I want to do with my life and I’m 44.” And just like that she begins to open up. “I studied economics in college (which I hated) and I got my masters in Asian studies, now I just work for the government.” She rolls her eyes and shrugs her shoulders.

“Wow, speaking of things that couldn’t be more different! That’s pretty cool, you got such a broad spectrum for school stuff. So, if you could do anything in the world what would you do?”

She thinks about it for a split second, her eyes light up, “I’d probably move back to Japan and work there and continue to study their culture.” She pauses and sighs, “but then I’d have to learn their language.” She awkwardly laughs…”I couldn’t do that. Plus I’m bogged down in loans…I’m kind of stuck.”

“Why not? It sounds like that’s what you love to do? I mean, you obviously got a masters in all things Asia for a reason, you should look into it! Nothings worse than just slugging it out day in and day out and knowing you’d rather do something else. You should go for it.”

And all at once, it was done – “I’ll take a triple tall Americano.”

Countless conversations I’ve had while making drinks, standing in line, or even ringing people up at the register center around passion and vocation. I’ve met and talked to so many people who seemingly work in a place that drains their life; while knowing deep down inside the thing that they really want to do, the thing that brings them joy, fills them with excitement, and enables them to soar is something completely different. I’m thankful for these conversations. I’m thankful for opportunities, to hear how God has uniquely shaped them, impassioned them; and I’m thankful that God allows me to, in those small instances, remind them that He’s done so. Not everyone will, can, or even should drop whatever they are doing to follow after their passion or calling. Shoot – some are currently in the process of getting there (I know our hands are raised!!). But I think we’d be remiss to completely write off those deep passions God’s implanted in us.

People need to be reminded it’s ok to dream. People need to be reminded of what they’re passionate about. People need to to be encouraged, loved, supported, nurtured, and even pushed a little bit. I know I do. Because it’s so terribly easy to let fear creep in, to allow circumstances to lull you into complacency, to get buried by the day in and day out routine and forget or even turn away from your true passion or calling.

I want to remind people to live into their passions. To be a person who encourages and even champions people’s passions. I need people to do that for me too. I’m grateful for those who have been “encouragers” and “pushers” in my own life. Many people have invested in both Jenifer and I over the years to help shape and mold and even direct us to where we are today. I pray that God would use me to remind others that He’s uniquely shaped them for His purposes. I pray that God would use me to remind my neighbors, my family, my friends, myself – to live into the passions He’s created us with.

I desire to see my neighborhood living in to this reality. Because when we live into our “sweet spot,” we see more clearly God’s Kingdom right here on Earth. 
I pray that that would be true for my friend, whom I spoke with in line at Starbucks today. May she experience God’s Kingdom in her life – that she would follow hard after what she was created for and that while she does so, she would find peace, hope, joy, and life.
Your Kingdom come. Amen.