STREAMS IN THE DESERT
The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. . .
Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come . . .”
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.
Isaiah 35 (selected verses)
As we go through life, we each pass through our own forms of wilderness. Dry deserts of hardship, illness, guilt, grief, despair – the question is not if one or more of these will come, but what will be our response when they do. Fear and worry are two very natural responses when we find ourselves in the middle of a desert. We sometimes wonder if God has forgotten us.
Isaiah 35 talks about God’s redemption of the world, when the desert and the parched land will be glad, and the wilderness rejoice and blossom. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection marked the beginning of that redemption, the beginning of God’s kingdom on earth. Jesus taught that in this world, we will have trouble, but urged us to take heart, because he has overcome the world.
So what is our response in the wilderness?
Isaiah tells us to brace up the places that need strengthening, to be strong and not fearful – but how? Fear is a natural response; in Christ, we have access to the supernatural. Paul reminds us that we have not been given a spirit that makes us slaves to fear, but the spirit of a child of God. If I’m God’s child, and my Father is on my side, who indeed can be against me?
The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? (Ps. 27:1-2)
It’s been said that worry is a form of atheism. I don’t know how that hits you, but it brings me up short. If I really accept that God works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purposes, how can I justify worrying? Are my concerns too big for God to handle? Is he untrustworthy? Is he too far away to hear my prayers, or too unconcerned to respond to them in the way he – and only he – knows is best?
If I have accepted Jesus as my Savior, and he is always interceding for me, do I have the right to worry? Has he not instead given me the right and the incredible privilege of asking for his help, strength, encouragement, comfort and peace? Hasn’t he promised that when I ask for these things, he will gladly supply them as I continue to trust in him?
One of the hardest parts of being in a desert is not knowing how long you’ll be stuck there. Waiting is hard, and it’s particularly hard for me. But I’ve discovered that waiting time is learning time. I’m most open to God’s leading when I’m struggling hardest. I’m most aware of my need for God’s strength when I’m feeling weakest. Again and again, God has affirmed this wisdom: “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Ps. 27:14)
In the parable of the sower, Jesus teaches that the one whose seed fell among thorns is the person who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. If our minds are filled with the worries of daily life, we have no room left for the things of God. Jesus says to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all the worldly things we really need will be supplied. When God’s word goes into my mind, God’s worth comes out.
I don’t want fear to paralyse me in seeking God’s will for my life. I don’t want worry to blind me to God’s power or deafen me to his promises. With God’s help, I’m learning to turn from worry and to his Word. When I do, God opens my eyes, clears my ears, and makes my desert bloom with his beauty.