by Joanie Butman
Shame on me for dissing on Moses last week. He wasn’t ‘lost’ for 40 years. Quite the opposite. Yes, asking for directions is anathema to most men. However, Moses was the exception – at least in his older years. I’d say his desert time was actually the 40 years growing up in Pharaoh’s house followed by an additional 40 years as a fugitive in Midian prior to beginning His trip towards the Promised Land – times of growth, maturation and preparation for his life’s purpose. For the first time in his life, once he began his daunting rescue mission, he was following explicit directions from his Divine GPS who – unlike the lady speaking from my dashboard – never leads you astray. I wish I could say the same about my own circuitous journey through the ‘desert.’
Trust me, when God is not involved in your decision making, you WILL find yourself lost in a metaphorical desert sooner or later. I didn’t spend 40 years there, but close enough. Even when God IS intimately involved in your life, you will still find yourself among barren terrain at times, feeling spiritually disconnected, disappointed or even angry that God’s not answering your prayers. Nevertheless, just because you feel something doesn’t make it true. He’s always there with you guiding your steps, as He did with Moses. It’s His promise to us. Just this morning my devotional read:
"Keep walking with Me along the path I have chosen for you. Your desire to live close to me is a delight to My heart. I could instantly grant you the spiritual riches you desire, but that is not My way for you. Together we will forge a pathway up the high mountain (or through the desert). The journey is arduous at times, and you are weak. Someday you will dance light-footed on the high peaks; but for now, your walk is often plodding and heavy. All I require of you is to take the next step, clinging to My hand for strength and direction. Though the path is difficult and the scenery dull at the moment, there are sparkling surprises just around the bend. Stay on the path I have selected for you. It is truly the path of Life." Jesus Calling, 7/15/17
Living in a broken world guarantees that everyone will spend their share of time in the desert, whether it be through illness, addiction, age, loss, loneliness, depression – life offers a smorgasbord of reasons. Not only that, it’s rarely a one-time event. Circumstances can thrust us into a desert experience at any moment—over that we have no control. How we choose to experience it, however, is up to us.
When you think of a desert, images of a desolate wasteland emerge where survival is seemingly impossible. However, the desert can be fertile territory, rich in nutrients that allow the soul to thrive. I believe desert time is an essential element of personal and spiritual growth. It’s not necessarily the length of time you spend there, it’s what you learn while you’re in it that’s important. I doubt you’d be able to find any great spiritual leader (or individual) who hasn’t spent a significant amount of time in arid surroundings. Mother Theresa claims to have spent a majority of her life there. Even Jesus spent time there – more for our benefit than His own I’m sure. He left us an example on how to travel through it – by relying on His Father, of course, as Moses faithfully did.
Do I have any advice for those of you in the middle of a desert experience? Let your childlike instincts override your intellect. Let me explain. In the book, I’m Here if You Need Me, a forest ranger describes what children do when they realize they are lost in the woods. Instinctively, they find a safe, comfortable spot, usually under a bush or similar kind of camouflage, curl up, go to sleep and wait for their parents to find them. In their innocence, they possess the confidence that if they just remain still, they will be found. Could the spiritual truth in this observation be more glaring? “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 Perhaps that’s why Christ calls us to be more childlike in our faith. We need to trust that He knows exactly where we are and what we need.
Surrender, humility and trust are the manna from Heaven we all ultimately receive through our desert experiences – or not. How are you going to choose to arrive in the Promised Land? Kicking and screaming over the unfairness of life, kvetching about your difficulties in the desert, or will you arrive serenely, eagerly anticipating meeting your Divine Navigator who’s been guiding you home? Even more importantly, will you instead decide to go your own direction, lost in an eternal desert like an entire generation of Moses’ followers? Your answer will be the most important decision you’ll ever make. Choose wisely!