Intentional Deserts

IMG_0593 IMG_0575Recently Laura and I had the opportunity to return to Israel for a couple of weeks, spending time in the Land and meeting many amazing people. We traveled through the Negev, the southern portion of the country, seeing Masada, the Dead Sea, the Caves at Qumran, En Gedi, and the city of Eilat. I was impressed with how dry, barren, and HOT the area was. I remember thinking of the newly formed nation of Yisrael walking through this same type terrain under Moshe, wondering where the next drink of water might come from and perhaps asking each other, “Are we lost?” I had to do a bit of repenting. I realized that while that generation did walk in unbelief, I had believed that I would never have had that attitude. After seeing where they might have walked and experiencing the extreme heat,  I probably would have done the same thing.

The rest of this awesome country is lush, green, watered, and covered in agriculture. The mountains have beautiful streams and the hills are decorated in flowers, crops, and colorful tile roof homes. These regions of Israel make you want to sign up and move in. But that’s not what Am Yisrael first saw of the Land. Their initial experience was hot, barren, dry, and lacking water. Surely Mitsrayim [Egypt], with the Nile River supplying irrigation and food would have been a better alternative. Forgetting the slavery, the harsh labor, and the cruelty of Pharaoh, they struggled to stay focused on what was before them and yearned for what they had been liberated from.

Those of us on this journey wrestled with questions that provoked deeper study of the Scriptures. We asked, “Is this all that there is?” While the pulpits declared how blessed we were and people around our pews seemed to be content, we stretched and squirmed, yearning in our spirits for something to free us. The sermons no longer fed our hearts and minds. The routines of songs, offerings, appeals, messages, prayers, and “What are your ministry gifts?” classes no longer filled the void inside. We cried out to Him, as the Hebrews in Egypt did, and He answered by leading us out. We left our spiritual Mistrayim, our place of confinement and started out toward our Land of Promise.

With visions of “…green pastures…still waters…restored souls…” we walked in search of what had been missing, taking our journey into the unknown. What we may have found was “Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death…” Would YHWH intentionally lead us out of a place where we at least had some degree of life, health, and spiritual sustenance to walk in the desert? Is it YHWH’s will for us to struggle, even with the basic necessities of insight, fellowship, and answered prayers? How long do we have to knock on closed doors? Surely wandering from one small oasis to the next, just to make some progress is not what He led us out for. Again we start asking, “Is this all that there is?”

I bring this up because I still have this same struggle and issue. I left the church system almost 13 years ago. I’d like to say that my sojourn through the desert to the Land of Promise has been full of joy and tremendous growth. The reality is that while there have indeed been awesome highlights and seasons of my yearnings being satisfied, I have also found the heat and barrenness of the desert. I’ve worn grooves on doors from knocking. I’ve literally yelled at the heavens for an answer. I’ve argued. I’ve cried. I’ve lost people and relationships that I thought were solid and dependable. But, I can’t go back to Egypt. I have no desire to return to what I’ve been called out of or to duplicate it in the wilderness. “…I count all to be loss because of the excellence of the knowledge of Messiah Y’shuah my Master…I press on, to lay hold of that for which Messiah Y’shuah has also laid hold of me. Brothers, I do not count myself to have laid hold of it yet, but only this: forgetting what is behind and reaching out for what is ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of Elohim in Messiah Y’shuah.” [Philippians 3:8, 12-14 The Scriptures 2009]

Yeah, YHWH will intentionally lead you through dry and barren places. He will allow you to struggle and groan on purpose. He designs places of questions and frustrations for us to walk through for at least two reasons. D’varim [Deuteronomy] 8:2-3 “…YHWH your Elohim led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, prove you, to know what is in your heart, whether you guard His commands or not. And He humbled you, and let you suffer hunger…to make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of YHWH.” Shemot [Exodus] 20:2 “I am YHWH your Elohim, who brought you out of the Land of Mitsrayim [Egypt], out of the house of slavery.” We must know Him as He really is and we must learn what is really in our own hearts. The barrenness of the desert places is His chosen environment to discern those things. Isaiah/Yeshayahu said, “…waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert…” and “…I am even making a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” [Yeshayahu 35:6-7; 43:19] Believe it when I say that life and powerful hope can be found in the driest of terrain. In the struggle of it all, we are still free from what religion was doing to us. We no longer raise hands in worship that are weighed down by chains of man and his dogmas. When Yah leads us to His waters, they are without weekly sermon measures. No more a sip at a time. We are no longer slaves to the system!

Hey fellow traveler, the land that bears fruit and grants shade is not far away. The Kingdom of YHWH is indeed approaching. The growth that you experience is real and will last. You are not alone. If you look around you, you will find others are making the same journey and overcoming the same obstacles. That’s what this blog is all about; to help us stay focused and going forward. Keep walking. Find new springs in the desert. Lay hold of His reason for laying hold of you. Be encouraged. I am.