ARE YOU FACING A SPIRITUAL DESERT?
(The following entry originally published on Thien’s Doan’s blog, found at thiendoan.net)
You are going through a frustratingly difficult season right now. For some reason, even though you are a person of faith, God seems to be a million miles away. Your faith is dry and you just feel stuck. You want to experience life and joy, but instead you are faced with boring monotony. You pray and seek God, but it seems like he has abandoned you.
If you feel that way, I’m glad because that means I’m not alone. I have experienced what St. John of the Cross calls “the dark night of the soul” before. Others have referred to it as a dry time, spiritual desert or wilderness experience. In my years as a Christian and pastor I have gone through at least two distinct and prolonged desert experiences. Let me tell you, those are not fun at all.
Chuck Swindoll describes the spiritual desert as a place of prolonged obscurity, loneliness and discomfort. While going through the spiritual desert we spin our wheels but we do not make any progress. We feel like God is like a basketball coach and has benched us and forgotten us.
The good news is that the desert experience is not only common; it is one of the primary tools that God uses to develop and prepare his servants for greater use. The Bible is full of examples of this. God used the desert to transform Moses, David, Elijah, and countless others into useful servants. I believe that God continues to use the desert as one of his primary tools of transformation and preparation.
If you are going through a desert experience right now, I want to give you some suggestions of what you can do.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU ARE IN A SPIRITUAL DESERT:
1. Hold on to the person and promise of God.
In the desert, it is easy to lose hope and assume that God has abandoned us. You cannot assume that difficulty is a sign of God’s abandonment. In Deuteronomy 32:10, Moses reflects on his multiple journeys with God through his desert experiences. He remembered that it was in the desert that God found him, shielded him, cared for him, and guarded him like the pupil of his eye. Don’t allow the desert to steal your faith in God’s character and promises.
2. Cooperate with God’s shaping process.
While going through this prolonged time of testing we are tempted to look for a shortcut. I’m sorry to tell you that there are no shortcuts out of the desert. It may feel like a going in circles in a cul-de-sac, but every step that God has you take it purposeful.
God uses the desert in our lives in the same way Mr. Miyagi used “wax on, wax off” to teach Daniel-San Karate. It doesn’t make sense. It’s frustrating. Here’s my advice for you: Don’t fight it. Don’t look for a short-cut. Don’t question it. Learn as much as you can as quickly as you can.
3. Listen closely for God’s voice.
In the desert, God is trying to get your attention. Most of the time, God doesn’t shout. He waits patiently until he has your attention before he speaks. He is like my wife when she refuses to talk to me until I put my phone down and give her my full attention. In the desert, God spoke to Moses in a burning bush and to Elijah in a still small voice. What is God trying to say to you? Allow that time of silence and solitude to adjust your ears to the sound of God’s voice.
4. Grow in your appreciation of what Jesus did for you.
Do you realize that because of sin, all humanity was cast out of the garden of God into the desert of separation? Because of our sin, you and I are destined to live in an eternal desert wasteland of separation from God. Do you realize that Jesus went through a temporary desert of separation from God to save us from the desert of eternal separation from God?
If you think about it, the entire 33 years of the incarnation was a desert experience for Jesus. He was far away from home in a place of discomfort and obscurity. He humbled himself to become a servant. He experienced periods of intense loneliness. He spent the majority of his life not being used. Imagine that, the Son of God sat on the bench for 30 years. Even his Father turned away from him while he hung on the Cross. It truly was a desert experience for Jesus.
When you are tempted to complain about your desert experience, please consider what Jesus went through for you. Appreciate what Jesus did. Believe it, trust it, & embrace it. Allow the desert to grow your sense of gratitude for Jesus and to shape your character.
What other lessons or advice would you give to someone going through a desert experience right now?
Thien has been working in the area of church planting in various roles for more than a decade. He has personally planted three churches in Southern California.
Thien and his wife Kerry have been married for 17 years and have three children and live in Fountain Valley, California.