Thriving in the Desert

sherjc.com_leaf_road_cirThis is the final post in a 3-part series. Read part 1: Alone in the Desert.

Like navigating the open terrain of a physical desert environment, it’s critical to recognize your desert and respond accordingly. As those familiar with the desert know, it can be a lonely place. You can easily buy one of the many lies of Satan that you are alone, no one understands you, and that God brought you here to die. But that’s not true. God is always with you and will never abandon you. He’s got an amazing, special plan for each of our lives, including our desert experience, and He’s gracious to give us everything we need to thrive.

EMBRACE YOUR SOLITUDE

God has carved out this solitude for you as a gift. Now is not time to launch into busyness (you know, by pursuing every social engagement possible, filling the quiet with endless chatter, becoming a workaholic, or hitting up Facebook every 5 minutes!). It’s also not time to become a self-focused hermit (like by thinking this time is just to spend on yourself and sleep in, catch up on every episode of Boy Meets World on your DVR, or never talk to a living soul). It’s time to surrender to what God wants to do in you to bring you closer to Himself and further into His plan for you. You’ll just have to ask Him for wisdom on how He desires you spend this time, and then obey what He says, even when it’s difficult.

In my own life, solitude has given me space for a deeper pursuit of God, helping me to stay in tune with God’s voice so I can hear Him above the crowds and the noise. The crazy thing is – I’m even learning to enjoy the hours and hours with just me and Him (Strange how much this season is changing me!). By leaning into the solitude and not running in terror away from it, I’ve found the grace I need to continue this journey at the pace that God is setting.

TUNE OUT THE DISTRACTIONS

In desert times, the distractions and temptations can be less obvious, but I’ve found that they are still there! More often, for example, it’s exhaustion, despair, thoughts in your head about giving up, media that screams “there is no God to save you,” the “not-in-line-with-what-God-says” voices of the well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning. You have to fight to stay focused.

Unfortunately, there are many who don’t understand the desert, who think you need to shake off the “blahs” and go do something, anything about changing your circumstances already (since, apparently, God is waiting on you to figure out a good plan). And then, there’s the impatient nature of the flesh within that agrees, tempting me to act out of sync with God’s timing, which will always result in disastrous consequences in the long run. But don’t move a muscle! Keep your eyes and ears on God, ready to obey when He says, “Go” and when He says, “Wait.”

READ AND MEDITATE ON GOD’S WORD

Not rushing through it. Not glazing over it. Reading. With pencil in hand, waiting, hoping, praying, expecting the Spirit to speak. Truly, for me, the Word of God has been my utter comfort and consolation during this time. The Lord told me that I would need His Word in a greater way than I’ve ever experienced before. Not just daily devotions, not classroom study – these are all well and good, but though a foundation, it’s surely not enough sustenance for the rigors of the desert. At first, I didn’t get it, but oh boy! Now I do! By His grace, He’s helped me to see that the only way I could endure my desert, my time of waiting with God, is to simply devour His Word and…

SOAK AND SATURATE IN HIS PRESENCE

I am definitely praying a lot more than I used to! Not listing off a bunch of “get-me-out-of-this-crap-season-now” or “give-me-this-desire-and-I-won’t-complain” requests — although, those are warranted and needed. God wants to hear our hearts – so let’s pour it out! He’ll change us in the process and make His will clear. But this is also a time for me to grow up even more by learning to accept these circumstances and praying for what God wants to accomplish in this hard season.

And part of praying involves listening. Shutting up. Sitting in the silence by myself before God to hear what’s on His heart. This isn’t the only way I listen (or to listen!), but spending time in silence makes me more sensitive to God’s voice throughout the day. I set a timer (so I don’t get distracted by the amount of time) and keep out a pencil and paper to write whatever I “hear” (less like an audible voice and more like a thought from the outside that pops up in my head and heart that is not my own and is consistent with God’s Word).

[And for those of you wondering… God really does speak to His people today! Just ask Him in faith, persist, and He will help you hear Him. (Read about listening to God in prayer and His silence.)]

LISTEN TO OTHER MATURE BELIEVERS

Sermons. Books. Blog posts. Music. A God-timed connection with a wise believer and subsequent Skype or phone call. Encouraging quotes, tweets, pins – whatever! If it’s grounded in the Word, and I can get my hands on, I’m reading it or listening to it!

STAY CLOSE TO THE FEW, NOT THE MANY

Honestly, a lot of people can become quite confused by the desert experience you’re walking through. Some of them won’t know how to respond to your situation and others give… well, sometimes crazy advice (kind of reminiscent of Job’s “comforting” friends). It’s not necessarily that they don’t have any knowledge, don’t care, or don’t love God, but they just don’t understand. And usually in the “not understanding,” they try to comfort and care the best way they know how, offering what they have to give.

Then, there are the few, that handful of God-given friends who (by His grace) do understand. And when you’re in the desert, those life-giving relationships are priceless. The few are the ones who “get” me. They walk closely with God and point me to Him. They’re humble enough to know that they don’t have all the answers and love to listen. They are those who fight with me in prayer and keep me focused on what God is telling me to do that no one else is saying do. They’re patient enough to listen to me cry again about my circumstances and kind enough to just let me be without asking questions.

And the few are wise enough to know that God is faithfully, sovereignly at work in me. They rejoice when by God I “leap a wall” and when more of His fruit starts to show in my heart. They remind me that He’s doing good, deeply good things in my life because they are close enough to Him to recognize His movement and His ways that are SO not like our own (Isaiah 55:8-11).

GRACE, GRACE, UNENDING GRACE

Which, friends of the desert, brings me to an important point: Don’t be too hard on those who aren’t in your desert experience. Walking in grace, simply grace, is needed during this time. You’ll need it for yourself, you’ll need it for others, and God will give it to you by His empowering Spirit.

By grace, I mean learning to listen at times and be quiet at others, humbly receiving the words that others can give and recognizing their heart to care for you. Other times, it means tuning out the voices that are discouraging and leading you away from this very specific path God has you on. And still other times, grace means gently, honestly sharing your story so they can relate to how God is using your life to say something about Himself. You’ll need God’s wisdom to know exactly what you need to do and when.

Though I may have more than one friend on Facebook, not everyone can walk with me through this season. I’m sure there are those I’m not equipped to walk alongside in their season too! In a way, it is what it is. But I do think we can ask God to teach us how to be people who can comfort, who can walk alongside others in their difficulties, trials, and struggles. (Spoiler alert! That means you’ll have to experience your own difficulties, trials, and struggles and learn how God is your All-Sufficient Help too. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

BECOMING A DESERT SURVIVOR

In whatever desert God’s brought you to, just surrender to Him and go with it. Remember, every good and perfect gift is from God. And while not everything that happens in life is good, our God works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). You might not see the gift in your current set of circumstances, but as His Word says from Genesis to Revelation, He is faithful. It won’t be a waste. Ask Him for eyes to see it His way.

Are you willing to recognize and surrender to your desert experience with God?

You will see God.

Your life will be forever changed.

The people in your world will see Christ shining brightly through you!

You’ll have an amazing story of God’s grace to share and comfort to give.

And you’ll never, ever regret it.

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