For those of you who are walking through a difficult season right now this excerpt from A Praying Life by Paul Miller might be exactly what you need.
People of faith live in the desert. Like Abraham, they are aware of the reality of their circumstances but are fixed on hope. Paul describes how “in hope (Abraham) believed against hope” (Romans 4:18).
The hardest part of being in the desert is that there is no way out. You don’t know when it will end. There is no relief in sight.
A desert can be almost anything. It can be a child who has gone astray, a difficult boss, or even your own sin or foolishness. Maybe you married your desert.
God customizes deserts for each of us. Joseph’s desert is being betrayed and forgotten in an Egyptian jail. Moses lives in the Midian desert as an outcast for forty years. The Israelites live in the desert for forty years. David runs from Saul in the desert. All of them hold on to the hope of God’s Word, yet face the reality of their situations.
The theme of the desert is so strong in Scripture that Jesus reenacts the desert journey at the beginning of his ministry by fasting for forty days in a desert while facing Satan’s temptation. His desert is living with the hope of the resurrection yet facing the reality of His Father’s face turned against Him at the cross.
The Father turning His face against you is the heart of the desert experience. Life has ended. It no longer has any point. You might not want to commit suicide, but death would be a relief. It’s very tempting to survive the desert by taking the bread of bitterness offered by Satan – to maintain a wry, cynical detachment from life, finding a perverse enjoyment in mocking those who still hope.
God takes everyone He loves through a desert. It is His cure for our wandering hearts, restlessly searching for a new Eden. Here’s how it works.
The first thing that happens is we slowly give up the fight. Our wills are broken by the reality of our circumstances. The things that brought us life gradually die. Our idols die for lack of food.
The still, dry air of the desert brings the sense of helplessness that is so crucial to the spirit of prayer. You come face to face with your inability to live, to have joy, to do anything of lasting worth. Life is crushing you.
Suffering burns away the false selves created by cynicism or pride or lust. You stop caring what people think of you. The desert is God’s best hope for the creation of an authentic you.
Desert life sanctifies you. You have no idea you are changing. You simply notice after you’ve been in the desert awhile that you are different. Things that used to be important no longer matter.
After a while you notice your real thirsts.
The desert becomes a window to the heart of God. He finally gets your attention because He’s the only game in town.
You cry out to God so long and so often that a channel begins to open up between you and God. When driving, you turn off the radio just to be with God. At night you drift in and out of prayer when you are sleeping. Without realizing it, you have learned to pray continuously. The clear, fresh water of God’s presence that you discovered in the desert becomes a well inside your own heart.
The best gift in the desert is God’s presence. We see this in Psalm 23. When you go through “the valley of the shadow of death,” He is right next to you. The protective love of the Shepherd gives you the courage to face the interior journey.
When you don’t receive what you pray for or desire, it doesn’t mean that God isn’t acting on your behalf. Rather, He is weaving His story. Paul tells us to “continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians). Thanksgiving helps us to be grace-centered, seeing all of life as a gift. It looks at how God’s past blessings impact our lives. Watchfulness alerts us to the unfolding drama in the present. It looks for God’s present working as it unfolds into future grace.
Watch for the story God is weaving in your life. Don’t leave the desert. The best is yet to come.
Excerpts taken from A Praying Life by Paul Miller
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