Every one of us must take this journey. No one is exempt. It is a pilgrimage that takes us into uncharted territory. Lack of certainty, the unknown, and mystery are the companions along the way of this nomadic travel. The harrows of this trip might seem to be the outward troubles and circumstances which surround you, but the real test is the journey within – it is the walk across the desert and the aridity that seems to exist in the soul, as if there are no familiar resources to draw from. There is only one way, and that way appears so fearful that you and I try and avoid it like the plague. But we cannot.
When times are tough, and when we find ourselves in the midst of circumstances that we didn’t see coming or have no desire to experience become the desert journeys which both demonstrate and define who we are as people. The rock hard vicissitudes of this fallen world are no respecter of persons. They come to all, whether rich or poor, black or white, privileged or underprivileged, introverted or extroverted, hard working or the just-getting-by, as well as the young or the aged. What truly separates one person from another is how they handle the inevitable desert journey with its dryness of soul and seemingly endless barrage of trouble.
You cannot avoid it. Eventually, someone you love will die – maybe even several of them in a short amount of time. If not now, there will come a time when your financial budget will no longer budge and you’ll wonder what in the world you are going to do. Even if you have never known poverty or want, the prospect of what will happen in the future might occur, with its lost investments and/or the slow erosion of economic resources because of circumstances out of you control. There will come a time when you will be betrayed, become the victim of a verbal hate crime, or lose your reputation. If relationships are presently serene, there is coming a day when it will not always be this way. Strained friendships, difficult relations with co-workers, marriage troubles, and family squabbles aren’t just things that happen to other people.
Perhaps at this point you no longer wish to stick with me on this journey of words. It’s a downer. Maybe there isn’t enough positive thinking and you’d like to break off this train of trouble. That is your prerogative. But it doesn’t negate the fact that there is either right now something going on under your nose that you’re ignoring or in denial about, or a turn in your life that is coming down the pike. Then what will you do? Will you have the inner resources to face it? Is your soul in a state that can sustain a loss, even a minor one, tomorrow? Are you ready for adversity?
If you have ever felt alone, lost, hopeless, empty, and in the dark, as if you are sinking in quicksand, I want you to know that this is a journey that we all must undergo. It is tempting, when going through such a time, to look backward and long for the good ol’ days. But those days are gone. They aren’t coming back. What worked for you back there probably won’t work for you now. So, here is the thought that I’d like you to think:
The desert is the perfect place for transformation; the wilderness journey is the means to a new and better life.
The ancient Israelites were slaves in Egypt, hard pressed and in agony. Through a series of miraculous events God redeemed them out of that place and sent them on a journey… into the desert. Yes, that’s right. It might have seemed to the Israelites that they were jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. Here they were out in the middle of nowhere without water, food, and basic necessities. It’s endemic to the human condition to complain and seek to blame someone for your trouble. Moses took a lot of crap from the people. Yet, God had his own purposes and plans for the inner redemption of the people as well as outward freedom.
God put his people squarely in a place where they could not go back, couldn’t go around, and most definitely could not stay put where they were. Nope. They had to go through the desert. There was no other way. Moses made it through those years of living in the desert by reminding the people that there was a future for them, a better future than Egypt or the desert – a hope of the Promised Land. God also shaped the way they were to think about the past through an annual rehearsal of the deliverance out of bondage, the Passover. For the daily and ever present activity of desert living, God enabled Moses to delegate the practical situations of being together in a desert situation by gifting others to help and walk with him. And this was all formed through the covenant experience of Sinai – the giving of the Law, the Promise that God would always have his loving loyalty upon the people.
Going through your own desert journey will require the same resources of Promised Land, Passover, and the Law of Promise. That is, viewed through the lens of the Christian, God is forming within us a deep spirituality based in the promises of His Word, the sustenance of the Lord’s Table, and the confident expectation of Christ’s return and the hope of His reign to be manifested in everything from small family structures to large corporate systems, and humungous governments. In short, the kingdom of God is near – if we have the eyes of faith to see and the ears of belief to hear.
It is imperative that you and I connect with Holy Scripture in a healthy and consistent rhythm of hearing God and responding back to him. It is most necessary that our perspective of both the past (Christ’s cross and resurrection) and the future (Christ’s return and reign) is formed through regular spiritual practices which remind us of what is most important in life, not to mention how these spiritual resources can sustain us through dark times.
To survive the desert, one must walk through it – not around it, not going backward away from it, and not sticking our spiritual heads in the sand. To make the trip, we must deliberately walk with others who will remind us of healthy ways of seeing ourselves, our past, and our coming future. Faith, hope, and love are the practical necessities which need to be in our backpacks as we go forward. They will be our food and our drink.
Travel well, my friend. May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with you as the Spirit hurls you into the desert to experience the love of God in new and profound ways.