The Desert

This is the desert; the moments of your life when everything seems dry. You thought you knew what was coming next. You thought God was right there with you. But now, the road has led you to a treacherous place and the God you had believed to be holding your hand is no-where to be found.

What do you do? Who do you turn to? And how in the world can you make this terribly empty feeling go away?

The fact of the matter is that we aren’t always aware of God’s presence, and we shouldn’t expect to be! Did you know you aren’t the first person to feel this way? There are examples littered throughout Scripture of devout men of God who felt the same way. David, Solomon, Elijah, Job… they all spent phases wondering how God was really there with a plan, and sometimes they called Him out on it!

The most difficult thing about these situations is trying to comprehend the differences between the things you know and the things you feel. You think that you know God is there. You just don’t always feel His presence. You know that God is in control and does things for a purpose, though you don’t recognize it anymore. So, you keep at it. You read through the Word desperately, hoping that you feel something. You pray to what seems to be the ceiling. Your words feeling as though they are falling on deaf ears. You look back on previous times in your life and you ask yourself: “Was any of it real?” You’ve had highs, you’ve had lows, and you’ve spent a lot of time in between. Though now as you sit here feeling more alone then you ever have, you look for answers and pray somehow that you can make sense of it all…

Sound familiar? Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn’t. But personally, I find these moments among the most challenging in my life. Recently, I had experienced two years of spiritual growth unlike any I had ever gone through, and I felt great. But as I came off of a second summer of ministry all of a sudden, without any warning, God wasn’t there anymore. At least, that’s what it felt like. While at other moments (even difficult ones) I felt God’s presence, at a seemingly mundane time it was gone… Now making it through daily life became difficult, a struggle in and of itself. I had thrived off of a keen awareness of His presence and had grown in that situation, but with the feeling of His presence gone I quickly began to flounder. I lost sight of His plan, His purpose, and my Hope.

So how do you handle these situations? What do you turn to, and most importantly: how do you carry on? :

  1. Truth is still true. Regardless of how you feel about it.

This certainly sounds obvious, doesn’t it? It’s almost a throwaway statement without any gravity to it at first glance. But if you think about this, it has the largest of impacts on your life! The most difficult thing about the desert is the fact that God doesn’t seem to be there… But He is! You just don’t feel it! I don’t need to list the many verses and passages that communicate this truth: HE WILL NEVER LEAVE US OR FORSAKE US. “But I don’t feel that way right now.” There certainly must be sympathy towards feelings and an understanding towards the resonance they have in the soul, but FEELINGS NEVER TRUMP TRUTH. They simply make it difficult to always see it for what it is. Sometimes one’s feelings make them more attuned to truth, while other times they cross all of the wires. It’s easy to feel as though truth is true when everything is going well! But when things go bad, we begin to doubt, because it doesn’t feel like its true anymore. But that does not diminish the fact that what was true then MUST still be true now. Because truth, God’s truth, never changes.

Truth never changes… As exemplified by an individual suffering from hypothermia. As their body is freezing and shutting down, one of the last stages is a flood of warm blood throughout their body. As this blood flows through, the victim feels overwhelmingly warm and often takes off their clothes. The truth is that they are freezing to death… yet their feelings tell them that they feel warm. While feelings are helpful, they never, ever ought to be considered more valuable than truth.

  1. Is there something wrong with us when we can’t feel His presence?

The short answer? Sometimes. The fact that we don’t feel God’s presence does not inherently mean that there are issues, though it can be a sign. Most commonly, we’ve lost sight of the truth and have begun to be overwhelmed with trying to hold the weight of the world on our shoulders. Examine your heart before the Lord in humility and see if this current feeling is revealing a problem in your spirit.

  1. What should our response be when we are in the desert?

The guidebook to living in the desert can be found in Habakkuk 3. At the end of the chapter, beginning in verse 17, Habakkuk says this: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, Yet. I will rejoice in the Lord. I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” In the midst of difficulty, fix your eyes on the truth of who God is and what He has done. It does not immediately solve the problem, but the promises (truth) of God tell us that He’s there, and that He reveals Himself to those who humble themselves before Him.

If you’re in the desert right now, fix your eyes on truth.

If you’re not, fill your heart with truth. You don’t know when you may make that journey and need something to hope in.

Don’t make the same mistake of one suffering from hypothermia and make decisions based on current feelings when truth reveals something else. You may freeze to death.

Advertisements

Scars

Scar tissue.

It was the summer of 2008, and I was having a heated conversation in my pastor’s office, with both him and my father. A month or so before, my dad had announced to the family that he would be taking a position with AWANA clubs International and sometime soon we would all be moving. I really had a hard time adjusting to the idea, and had begun to let my attitude reflect what was going on in my mind and heart. I had grown angry, defiant, and was just waiting for the right moment to blow up.

Both my dad and pastor saw this, and this particular afternoon they were making an impassioned plea for me to trust God and those He had put around me that loved me dearly. In my anger and defiance I looked at my pastor and told him “I don’t want His protection. I don’t want your protection. This is MY life and you’re all ruining it.” In that moment, I meant it with every ounce of my being… My pastor looked at me with a deep sadness and pain and responded much like this: “Kevin, one of these days you’ll make a decision and God will let you live with the consequences forever. It’s like scar tissue. The pain will go away, but there will always be a scar. A mark to remind you of the time you disobeyed God’s authority in your life. “

 

That night, the baseball team I played on was facing yet another loss. Being the oldest kid on the team, I took the role of being a leader very seriously and pushed myself to provide the heroics that I imagined they needed.  Late in the game I hit a fly ball to the right fielder… An easy out. I got to first and out of the corner of my eye, I saw the fielder drop the ball! My first base coach shouted triumphantly, and told me to stay. I looked at the fielder and the ball and then decided I knew better. I took off for second base. I shortly arrived at second, and immediately after, saw the ill-advised throw from the already maligned right-fielder scream past the shortstop covering the bag. I turned and saw my Head Coach, standing at third base telling me to stay. I didn’t even hesitate this time and took off for third. Yet again, I made it!  It’s a good thing I knew better than my coaches! How could he doubt me? I knew I could do it!

That’s exactly how I viewed the situation with my family moving. God, however well-intending He could claim to be, was over-stepping His bounds! I had everything figured out and could do it on my own! He was doubting me (a shot at my pride) and was denying me of something I viewed to be great!

Luckily for me, the play in my baseball game did not end there.

The shortstop threw the ball to third base in a desperate attempt to get me. And the third baseman dropped the ball! My coach, immediately sensing my intentions shouted “Kevin, no!” The ball stopped a few feet from third, and the gears started turning.

It would be close, and my coach clearly had told me not to, but I knew I could make it.

So in the ultimate act of defiance, I sprinted for home. I was two-thirds of the way there when the ball landed squarely in the catcher’s mitt, as he stood guarding home. My heart sunk as I realized that I was caught in a rundown… A nightmare for base runners. For a few panicked seconds I darted back and forth… Running towards third to see the ball beat me there, turning around only for the ball to beat me back at home. As I felt the fatigue wearing in, I turned and made one last effort to make it back to third base. I stretched out my left hand and moments before the ball got there, touched the base. Only a second later, as the third baseman caught the ball, he jumped into the air, landing with his metal cleats squarely on my hand. I laid on the dirt for a few seconds clutching my hand. His spikes had landed squarely on the middle knuckle of each of my fingers. I stood up and looked at my coach, who didn’t have much to say. I had ignored his wisdom, and had returned to where I had once stood with him before, with the wounds to show for me foolishness.

God had allowed me to experience the consequences of my choices, and had allowed me to return with a reminder to trust Him.

After the game I sat in the back of my family’s car examining my hand. Each of the knuckles was bleeding, and would eventually scab over. As I recalled my pastor’s words that morning I looked up  at my hand and said to myself: “Scar tissue.”

That was nearly 8 years ago… But the lesson has never been forgotten. We often attempt to take our world and lives into our hands. In pride we try to do things on our own and keep from admitting our desperate need for God.

We fail to realize that the weight of the world is too much for our frail shoulders to hold up. So we suffer under that burden until we see our need of God’s guidance and strength.

Every now and then, when we ignore God and try to take things into our hands, he allows us to experience the consequences of it. And though the pain will subside, the scars will never go away. I’m sure it is my imagination, but I still see the scars on my left hand.  A lasting reminder to trust God’s leading and to admit that I don’t know better than the Lord of the Universe.”

Some scars never go away…

But maybe that’s the way it was meant to be.