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.

 

And Who Is My Neighbor?

Vacations are great…

Often times, they give us the opportunity to see new things, try new things, and simply get out of what can become the monotony of life. When you travel, your mindset changes a bit doesn’t it? On vacation you become a tourist. You are simply there for pleasure. On vacation you want to separate yourself from your everyday reality. You want to get away. And it feels good to get away; to escape and simply be free to do whatever you want, whenever you want. You simply step into a different place and engage your surroundings as you please.  As a tourist you can freely float from one experience to the other.

Recently I’ve been reflecting on this idea of being on vacation versus the way I sometimes engage my own place or neighborhood. If I’m honest there are times when I engage my own neighbors and neighborhood much like I tourist. I come in and out of my neighborhood as I please, separating myself from the realities of life that are all around me. Rather than being present to my surroundings, I move from experience to experience simply using my home as a hotel bed to sleep in. Leonard Hjalmarson in his book “No Place Like Home” looks at this phenomenon.

He writes:

“There is a certain approach to life, a particular posture, that dominates in our culture: it’s the posture of the tourist. The challenge we face as followers of the Incarnate One is to move from the posture of tourist, to the posture of pilgrims. Tourists are escaping life; pilgrims are embracing it. Tourists are trying to forget; pilgrims are trying to remember. Tourists are looking for bargains, and aren’t really SEEING at all. They are like technicians, cataloging reality as if it can be accrued in a bank balance. And they hate to be surprised. Pilgrims love to be surprised, and are looking to see, to connect with something larger, something other than themselves. Charles Foster comments that, ‘What sets the pilgrim apart [from the tourist] is that he hopes, and at some level believes, that someone will hear his footsteps coming from afar … and that from inside will come music that he has heard somewhere before.’”

This is a powerful reminder that as followers of Jesus we are actually invited to move beyond the perspective of a tourist and actual take the posture of a pilgrim right in our own neighborhoods. As a tourist simply view my neighborhood from the pane of a window and never actually enter into the lived story of my place. When I take the posture of pilgrim I’m actually invited to enter into the stories that shape my community. I’m invited to move from consumer to actual participant in the lives of those around me.

That means, I purposefully live my life in the midst of those around me. That means I actually learn who my neighbors are and allow my life to intersect with theirs. I not only learn their stories, but I share my own and invite others to join me. To be a pilgrim means that I am constantly learning and engaging with my surroundings. Each life, each space, is sacred – because it reflects the beauty of our creator. So, who are your neighbors? What are their names? What do they do for a living? How old are their children? What do they like to do as a family? What are their fears or their dreams?

When I’m on vacation I’m focused on “the experience” and rarely pay attention to the locals, unless they hinder my ability to enjoy my vacation.

As a pilgrim, I have stake in my place, in my journey, and those who are a part of it. If we believe that our God is a God who took on flesh, we must also acknowledge that God cares about place, about the particulars and intricacies of life – And Christ beckons us to do the same.