One thing God intended about deserts: we were never meant to linger in them longer than necessary.
“Necessary for what?” you might ask. To come to the realization that desert journeys are not just ‘part of life,’ as we blithely remark. More than that, they are purposed as a Divinely-orchestrated thoroughfare (in spite of the sand) for being called and led forth to abundant life – from slavery mindset to experientially knowing we are sons and daughters of the Living God. Heart knowledge instead of head knowledge. There is a difference.
A key distinction between languishing in the wilderness, wondering when on earth the long, dry trek is going to end, and maintaining the courageous, believing heart that will see one victoriously arrive at the desert’s far edge is simply this…what is your heart set upon? Merely surviving until something changes? Or pilgrimage?
Merely surviving is not a healthy marker of the abundant life. Pilgrimage, on the other hand, is responding to God calling us onward and upward in search of Him…in the here and now…and eternity that He has set in our hearts. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
Scripture unfolded itself again this weekend as a well-known passage in Isaiah linked hands with another verse in the Psalms. Let me share them with you…
Isaiah 40:3 – “The voice of him who cries in the wilderness: Prepare the way of Jehovah; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (LITV)
Psalm 84:5-7 – “Blessed is the man (or woman) whose strength is in You; Your (high)ways are in their hearts (who have set their hearts on pilgrimage). Passing through the valley of weeping (Baca), they will make it a fountain…They go from strength to strength…” (LITV)
As I contemplated what these verses were really saying, one thing became apparent. God has told us just what to do (prepare the way for Him to ride in the desert right into our dusty situation*), while granting us the choice (ever the Gentleman who will not push His will on us) of how we will go through our desert experiences. Dry and thirsty or as an oasis.
“Wait just a minute…,” you say. “But it’s a desert; we’re at its mercy! And you’re telling us we choose how we go through the desert?!” Yes, that’s what I’m saying. The Children of Israel had the same choice – God even made it easy by telling them what to choose – “choose life!” (Deuteronomy 30:19) We make it so complicated at times.
Back to scripture, Prepare the way of Jehovah in the Isaiah passage means “to turn and face the road trodden as a course of life or mode of action.” Many of us get hung up right there as we don’t want to turn and face the road set before us. Let alone take the necessary action, however difficult, that comes with walking that road that will speed up the process of getting from ‘here’ to ‘there.’ If we remain hung up with God (obstinate, stubborn, fearful, doubtful, unable to trust …) traveling in circles for an undetermined length of time becomes an exceeding possibility. Just ask those Israelites…
Yet if we will heed that first instruction and also follow the next injunction, make straight (right, pleasant and prosperous) a highway – a thoroughfare or staircase – for our God, then the Lord Himself becomes our strength within so that we may literally go “from strength to strength” even in the wilderness. What a beautiful picture of a desert staircase – each stairstep taken with Him increasing our strength. Reminds me of “If you build it, He will come,” to paraphrase a favorite movie line.
God’s heart is not that we would weaken and pine away in the drought times of life, but rather that we would pass through the valley of weeping, not pitch a tent and park it there. Scripture says the result is that we ourselves make that valley a fountain – meaning a source of satisfaction – because our strength is in God. (Go read those verses from Psalms one more time!) He has called us to flow with rivers of living water. Isn’t it just like Him to lead us into the wilderness to coax those springs up from the depths?
Let me tell you from recent experience it IS possible to see life’s deep valleys become a source of satisfaction, tears and all. God’s Word doesn’t call it the Valley of Weeping for nothing! But He doesn’t call us “wellsprings” for nothing either. Instead, He desires to change our perspective of who we are in the desert.
More on pilgrimage next week in this pilgrim’s progress,
*See 3/21/11 post “Desert Days: Him Who Rides in the Deserts”