Tuesday, April 28, 2015

In the Desert Part 2: The Desert of Adversity

Hello again, my friend.  I'm so glad you came back to walk with me another day.  This week we're talking about Deserts on My Heart.  If you're joining us for the first time, you might want to head over to this post: Deserts.  Or if you missed yesterday's post, you can find it here: The Desert of Bad Choices.
 
Today we're going to take the heat off of ourselves for a bit and look at how sometimes we end up in a spiritual desert not because of our own choices, but because of the actions of someone or something else.

People - often people we love and trust - hurt us, betray us, anger us, disappoint us.  And in the midst of these hurtful circumstances, we can sometimes find ourselves feeling cut off from God, left to deal with life on our own.

I'd like you to meet one of my favorite minor characters in the Old Testament.  I adore her story because she gave God a name that has become very dear to me: The God Who Sees Me.  Her name is Hagar.  She was the maidservant of Sarai and she was pushed into the desert by her mistress not once in her lifetime, but twice.

You see, Sarai was promised that she and her husband Abram would have a son that would one day become a great nation.  The problem was that Sarai was barren.  No babies in her foreseeable future.  And rather than wait on God to fulfill His promise in His own way, Sarai took matters into her own hands.  She offered her maidservant, Hagar, to Abram and told him to sire a child with her.

After the child was conceived, Hagar began to resent her mistress.

Can you blame her?  She didn't choose to be Abram's wife; Sarai didn't bother to ask Hagar before she gave her to Abram.  And yet she was forced to conceive and carry this child.

And then there was Sarai... She had her own basket full of resentment!  I think as she watched the belly of her maidservant swell with the child that should have been her own, Sarai began to despise the young woman.  Every milestone in Hagar's pregnancy must have been a harsh reminder of her own barrenness.  Resentment and hatred must have grown in Sarai as she watched - in her estimation - the promise God had made to her come to fruition in the womb of another woman.

And so the Scripture says that Sarai mistreated Hagar until the servant girl fled to the desert.  An angel of the Lord found her there and spoke to her, and it was then that Hagar gave God the name El Roi, the God Who Sees Me, because He saw her in the wilderness and spoke to her there.  He made a promise to her that her son would be the father of a great nation himself, and He sent her back to Abram and Sarai.

Now fast forward thirteen or fourteen years.  Hagar had returned to her mistress and had given birth to Ishmael who was now a young teenager.  God had visited Abram and made a covenant with him, changing his name to Abraham and Sarai's to Sarah.  He had fulfilled His promise to bring them a son, and Sarah bore Isaac.  Isaac was old enough to be weaned so his father held a great feast of celebration.  Ishmael, being the shining example of a fourteen year old boy, began to mock his little brother, and Sarah witnessed it.

And boy, do you wanna talk about mad!  You do NOT mess with Mama's little man!  Finally, after watching her husband interact with that other boy for more than a decade, she had a son of her own and she certainly would not tolerate such behavior.  So she marched herself over to Abraham and demanded that the boy and his mother be sent away.

I picture Abraham taking a deep breath as his wife ranted, and then letting it out in a long, slow sigh as he watched her stomp away in a huff.  And then sadly, he turned to go find his firstborn son and the boy's mother and tell them they had to leave.

Early the next morning, he gave Hagar and Ishmael some food and water and sent them on their way.  They wandered in the desert of Beersheba until their supply of water was gone.  Unable to watch her son wither and die, Hagar sat him down under a bush and walked far enough away that she couldn't see him and sat down herself.  She began to weep as she realized they were both going to die.

We do that too, don't we?  When life gets too overwhelming, when we can't seem to find our way out of the desert?  When we're hurt and alone and feeling abandoned?  I know I have days like that.

But do you know what?  God didn't leave Hagar and Ishmael to die in the desert.  He heard them crying and He called out to them.  Even though they weren't crying out to Him - they were just wallowing in their sorrow - He heard them and He cared for them.  He spoke to them.  The first time God spoke to Hagar in the desert, she named Him El Roi.  I think the second time God spoke to her in the desert, she recognized the voice of her El Roi and she knew she was safe in His care, even in the wilderness.  And when He told her to get up and go back to her son, she didn't argue or tell Him why it was no use.  She simply obeyed.

And it was then that God opened her eyes so she could see the water well He had provided, full of life-giving water to sustain herself and her son.

Sometimes we are sentenced to spend time in the desert not because of our own sins or our own wanderings, but because someone or something else pushes us there.  Perhaps a spouse betrays us, a child rebels, a friend gossips.  Maybe someone we love lost their life far too soon, or we lost a job and don't know how we'll put food on the table.  Maybe someone we looked up to as a spiritual leader betrayed us.

Or if you're like me, maybe the pressures of life just get so burdensome that you can't find a way out from under them.

So many painful circumstances that we endure in our lifetime can push us to a place where we feel alone, separated from God.

Hopeless.

Be we, like Hagar, are never alone in the desert, even if we can't hear or feel the presence of God.  We are never without hope.  Isaiah 41:17 says,
"The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst.  But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.  I will open up rivers for them on the high plateaus.  I will give them fountains of water in the valleys.  I will fill the desert with pools of water.  Rivers fed by springs will flow across the parched ground."
Hagar survived her time in the desert because God provided for her, and He will do the same for us.  When we listen for His voice and obey when He speaks, God is faithful to provide.  He will flood our thirsty souls with His presence and satisfy our longing for Him.

Jesus said 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."  When we find ourselves in a spiritual desert, we can trust that Jesus will provide His life-giving water for our souls.  We can know that He won't allow us to wither and die in the heat of the sun.

There is a God Who Sees Us, an El Roi, who will rescue us in the desert.  Trust Him.  Know you are safe with Him.  Wait for Him.

Tomorrow, we get practical and talk about some things we can do to find our way out of a spiritual desert.  Hope you'll come back and talk with me some more!

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