Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Finding Your Way Out of the Desert

I grew up in a little farm town in South Central Kansas.  Even so, deep down I'm a city girl.  Maybe not "big city," but certainly not "roughing it in the wild," either.   I was even a Girl Scout for most of my elementary school years.  Still, I'd rather sleep under a ceiling fan than the stars and go swimming in the city pool rather than the river.

If I ever truly got lost in the wilderness, I'd be sunk.

Fortunately, surviving a spiritual desert doesn't involve lighting a fire with no matches or using the position of the sun to figure out which direction I'm going.

It does, however, involve a huge amount of persistence and tenacity.

For the past couple of days we've talked about different reasons we might end up in a spiritual desert.  Tonight I want to give you some practical steps you can take when you're in such a place that will help you to find your way out with your faith intact.

First, like I wrote in The Desert of Bad Choices, you have to find out if it is your own sin that has driven you into the desert.  It's like ruling out an empty gas tank in your car before you decide the engine is broken.  You have to start there, or nothing else you do will ever help you move forward.  So start by asking God if there is any unconfessed sin that stands between you and Him. If He reveals anything to you, confess it and receive His forgiveness.  I believe you will never fully experience God's healing waters until you do.

The next instruction I would offer is this: Keep acknowledging God as your Lord.  Even when you don't have that emotional pull, that desire rooted in your heart to worship Him, do it anyway.  Call upon your head knowledge and your previous experience that tells you God is who He says He is, even if your heart doesn't agree for the time being.

Hosea 6:3 says this:
"Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge Him.  As surely as the sun rises, He will appear; He will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth."
"Let us press on to acknowledge Him..."  This is where that tenacity comes in.  Sometimes acknowledging God in our most desolate times take intentionality and hard work.  But when we continue to faithfully acknowledge God as the Lord of our hearts and our minds and our souls and even our bodies - Lord of all that we are and all that we do - even when we aren't experiencing emotional closeness with Him, we will eventually see Him.  And when we find Him, we will find refreshment and rejuvenation just as the earth feels when the spring rains shower down on it.

Press on to acknowledge the Lord.

Keep seeking the Lord.  Don't give up and decide that He is not to be found.

David, the one called a man after God's own heart, experienced desert times.  He wrote in Psalm 61:1
"You, God are my God, earnestly I seek You.  I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water."
David's soul was thirsty for God's presence, and so he was earnestly seeking Him.

Be persistent as you keep seeking the Lord.

One way you can do this is by continuing in your spiritual disciplines.  Keep your habit of reading the Bible, praying, meditating, fasting, meeting together with believers.  If you haven't established these habits, now is a great time to start!  Let the habit bridge the gap between those times when your heart feels fully invested.  It may feel as if things become a little more ritual than heartfelt - even a bit like you're just going through the motions.  But the fact that you are continuing in the practice of nourishing yourself spiritually will keep you from withering and wasting away in the heat of your spiritual desert.

Continue to give God praise, even when you feel distant from Him.  Go back to Psalm 61.  Immediately after David declared that His soul was parched with thirst for God, He wrote this:
"I have seen You in the sanctuary and beheld Your power and Your glory.  Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You.  I will praise You as long as I live, and in Your name I will lift up my hands.  I will be fully satisfied as with the riches of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise You."
Even when David felt distant from the God he was seeking, he continued to sing praises.  He recalled the things God had revealed to him.  He reminded himself of the goodness of God.

And last, focus your heart and your mind on Jesus rather than your circumstances.  Ask Him over and over to be the light that leads you out of the wilderness.  Join with David in this prayer, found in Psalm 43:3-4 -
"Send out Your light and Your truth; let them guide me.  Let them lead me to Your holy mountain, to the place where You live.  There I will go to the altar of God, to God - the source of all my joy.  I will praise You with my harp O God, my God!"
Jesus said in John 8:12, "I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

And in John 14:6 He said, "I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me."

And don't forget Jesus' promise in John 4:14 - "Those who drink the water I give them will never be thirsty again.  It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life."

Jesus is the Truth that we can cling to when we feel lost in a spiritual desert.  He is the way to the Father, He is the pillar that will lead us out of darkness and into the light of our Father's presence.  He is the One that will give us that eternal, life-giving spring of water welling up and overflowing in us.

Deserts are pretty awful places to be, on foot and in spirit.  When we're in a spiritual desert, we long for those mountain-top experiences.  We long to feel the closeness of God, to overflow with the joy of His presence.

But I believe it is in the desert where our character is truly shaped into that which more closely resembles His.  It is there that we learn to trust Him regardless of what our emotions tell us.  It is there that we learn to depend on Him for every ounce of nourishment.  It is in the desert that we learn to work hard in our pursuit of Him, and it is only by experiencing the desert that we fully understand and appreciate the cooling refreshment that His Spirit brings.

Deserts are inevitable, but not fatal.  When you find yourself in the middle of a spiritual desert, don't give up.  Keep seeking God, and trust that He will carry you through to the other side where you can sink in to the coolness of His Spirit and enjoy the refreshment that only He can bring.

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