Sometimes we pray, pray, and pray some more for God to remove suffering in our life and yet that prayer goes unanswered. I know this has happened in my life as well as those that I know. I want to share something the Lord showed me this past week through the book we are reading in our Bible Fellowship Group called “A Praying Life” (I shared about this in an earlier post). It was pretty eye opening for me in relation to suffering and walking with the Lord.
When we start encountering suffering in our life, whether it be finances, a loved one struggling with cancer, a child with disabilities, we hope and pray that the Lord will change things. But as much as we hope, the reality is that things aren’t changing and our prayers aren’t being answered in the way we think they should be. Every part of our being wants to close the gap between hope and reality. We will do anything not to live in the desert.
Some people deal with suffering by the denial approach. It is filled with hope but doesn’t face reality. For instance, some Christians try to sidestep suffering by insisting God has healed them, then they die of cancer. Another approach to dealing with suffering is determination. You have faced enormous obstacles in the past and overcome them, so the same is true with this. You will make this happen. It’s a short trip from determination to despair, when you realize you aren’t going to change the situation, no matter what you do. You try to stop hurting by giving up on hope.
In contrast, people of faith live in the desert. Like Abraham, they are aware of the reality of their circumstances but are fixed on hope. In the face of Sarah’s barrenness and old age, Abraham still had hope (Romans 4:18). He did have his moments though of trying not to live in the desert. He suggested to God that his steward Eliezer become his son. Sarah tries the determination approach by suggesting that Abraham sleep with her servant Hagar. But ultimately, he stakes his life on the hope line.
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. Although I am not in the desert right now, I know lots of my friends who are. Both spouses are unemployed and have no hope that a job is coming. Friends who have been trying to have children for years but are barren. Friends who have endured months of crazy things happening that have pushed them to the brink financially, physically, and mentally. My heart cries out for those in the desert because I, too, have been there.
But here is the neat thing about it all. The desert is a common theme in Scripture. 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 the desert while facing Satan’s temptations. 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.
God takes everyone he loves through a desert. It is his cure for our wandering hearts, restlessly searching for a new Eden. 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. You come face-to-face with your inability to live, to have joy, to do anything of lasting worth. Life is crushing you.
Next, desert life sanctifies you. Things that used to be important no longer matter. You have no idea you are changing but you are. After a while, you notice your real thirsts. (Psalm 63:1) 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 to be with God. Without knowing it, you have learned to pray continuously.
The best gift of the desert is God’s presence. The protective love of the Shepherd gives me the courage to face the interior journey. When we don’t receive what we pray for or desire, it doesn’t mean that God isn’t acting on our behalf. Rather, he’s weaving his story in our lives.
This encourages me to no end. I look back at deserts I have gone through in my life and know that the Lord was weaving his story. He used a boyfriend’s death in my life to bring me closer to Him, to cause me to surrender all of my idols, and to change me into the person He wants me to be. I pray for those that are in the desert right now that you will not turn to denial, determination, or despair, but chose to live in the desert, knowing that God is sanctifying you and is closer than ever before.