The barren desert is not the kind of place we would choose as a home if we have any choice at all. People do not normally stay in the desert. In the Bible, the desert is a symbol of testing and suffering. It is an in-between place. The desert is where we are when we have yet to get where we would rather be.
Moses, the former "prince of Egypt," had to escape into the desert when he realized he was no longer welcome at home. The book of Exodus has much to say about those forty years the people of Israel wandered in the desert. It was an experience so trying, so blistering that it moved them to fantasize about returning to their unbearable, yet predictable, lives as Egyptian slaves.
David fled to the desert wilderness to hide from a vengeful, dementedly jealous King Saul. Jesus was sent into the desert to be tested before his ministry. And it was to the desert that Jesus fled with his disciples when his opposition threatened his life before his time had come.
We all experience the desert. It is the place where our lives are barren, futile, loathsome, uncertain, confused, shaken or turned entirely upside down. When others fail us yet again, or we fail ourselves after countless attempts to change, we are in the desert – that place of endless sand dunes monotonously stretching as far as the eye can see. It is the feeling of going nowhere. It is testing, suffering, hiding, doubting, dying and blessing. Yes. Blessing too.
It was in his desert hideout that Moses came face to face with God. It was in their desert wanderings that the people of Israel experienced the daily provision of God, feeding them with his own hands, sprinkling manna from the heavens, forcing life-giving water to gush through a stone.
Though on the run from a raging king, it was in the desert that David pondered the mercy and faithfulness of God, writing down meditations that still inspire and comfort us three thousand years later. It was those weeks in the desert wilderness that Jesus took the final exam which proved he was ready for the most important three years in the history of humanity.
Perhaps more than the pain, it is the dryness of the desert that tries us. The awareness of being in-between any of the places that offer comfort, not knowing how long we must stay. But it is there that we may gain our greatest strength, find our greatest vision. In the desert God shows us what we are made of, where we need to concentrate our greatest effort. Sometimes it is only when all is taken away from us that we discover how much we have in God. His resources are often seen only when ours is taken away.
The desert doesn't need to be all dryness and drought. When we cling to the Lord, we can truly find refreshment in the desert. It is the place of renewed commitments and cleansed hearts. It is where we can find renewed fire and a resolve that can be found nowhere else.
David says that God turns "the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs" (Psalm 107:35).
(Lord, thank you for the time in the desert. And thank you for being there with us.)