“Who is this coming up from the desert leaning on her lover?” Song of Songs 8:5 (NIV)
Australia is the most arid inhabited continent on earth. Most of the people live around the fertile coastal strip, but the inland is inhospitable. There are a few hardy souls who call the outback home – the vast area where a merciless sun parches the earth, a place of dust and heat and flies. Beyond that is the actual desert: rolling sand dunes as far as the eye can see, with nary a blade of grass nor a water hole in sight.
Deserts are not fun places to be. Arid. Unproductive. Uncomfortable. Empty. The spiritual deserts are just as bad as – perhaps even worse than – the natural ones. I’ve been to the desert more times than I would have liked in my walk with the Lord. They are not places I want to visit, much less stay. When I’m in a desert, my one and only thought is about getting out, and the sooner the better.
Yet God uses deserts. Not always the kind with endless sand dunes, but isolated places, lonely places, wildernesses. When a headstrong young Moses tried to deliver Israel by human strength, God drew him out into the desert. (Yes, the instrument He used was Moses’ fear of Pharaoh, but the one drawing Moses was, nonetheless, God.) There Moses learned of his own inadequacy, and there he learned to care for sheep. Both necessary for the task God had in hand for him.
When the people of Israel baulked at taking possession of the land that God was giving to them because of the giants who currently held it, God led them into the desert. For forty years they walked with Him in the desert. Yes, it was a punishment for their disobedience. Yes, it was so that those who were lacking faith would be weeded from their ranks by death. Yet it was more than that. It was to teach them that “man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” It was a time when the nation that had known of God only in the handed-down stories of their forefathers would come to know Him in a personal, dynamic relationship.
Even Jesus had His time in the desert. In fact we are specifically told that it was the Holy Spirit who led Him there, immediately following His baptism, for a time of fasting and preparation for the ministry that lay ahead of Him.
So when we find ourselves in a desert, perhaps the most important thing that we can do is to remind ourselves that God is in it. He is the one who has brought us there, no matter what outward circumstances He may have used to push, prompt or persuade us. Since He has brought us to the desert, we can be sure that He has a purpose in our being there.
When we are in a desert, however, finding the reason for our being there is no easy task. We cry out to God with everything in us: “Lord, what’s going on? Why am I hear? Have I offended You? Why have You cut me off? Where are You? Why have You forsaken me?” Round and round in ever decreasing circles we go, getting nowhere other than into greater and greater misery and confusion.
We need to shift our focus. We need to give up trying to understand, and simply trust. “Lord, I don’t know what’s going on here, but I choose to trust You that You have a purpose in it, and that Your purpose is for my good.” We need to focus on Him, to lean on Him.
When we do, we may well find that, whilst the circumstances of our lives have not changed, we have. Like the Beloved in the Song, we may find that as we lean on our Lover, we too come up out of the desert.
Lord, I don’t like deserts. I would prefer never to have to go into them. But if I must, help me to focus on You, and to allow You to work Your purposes in my life, till I come up from the desert leaning on You.