They say you don’t really know the vastness of a desert unless you walk through one yourself. The intense heat from a cloudless sun, miles of seemingly uncharted layers of sand, and a horizon promising little else. A desert is just that: a vast, hellishly hot land of choking dryness without change. It has been that way for thousands of years, and will be so probably until the end of time.
Our faith goes there sometimes. We waltz through life strong in our beliefs until suddenly God has picked us up and dropped us square in the middle of the Sahara.
And there…we wait.
Faith is tricky. Maybe I’m not supposed to say that. Speaking of faith in any way deemed negative will get us called names. Those of us that call ourselves followers of Christ are supposed to be fearless, not scared of any hiccup in our walk; no frayed wire in our connection to God.
Desperate times come, however. We lose jobs, relationships, and money. We succumb to disease and anxiety. These bare bone desert moments make us feel a million miles away from God.
We search for revival. A quick scripture, a two minute prayer, or perhaps a new hardback from the Christian inspiration section. We beg to anyone who will hear us to pull us from the desert. We cry and cry for an oasis. All too often, that oasis never appears. Where then is our Savior?
The loneliness of these moments makes me think of one particular verse in the Bible. A verse that frazzles the mind of likely any believer. Isaiah 54:7.
This verse starts out in a harrowing way with God Himself saying "for a brief moment I abandoned you…" God abandoned Israel. His own chosen people. How does that make sense?
Commentators believe He was turning from the sinfulness of His people. Some think He was pouring out His wrath on them. In either case, abandonment from our Father is sobering, if even for a brief moment.
This must be how a desert feels. The distance. The feeling of grasping for fresh air but getting nothing. This is what it is like to not feel God close. To not feel God at all.
We’ve all been there. We’ve all rallied our fellow soldiers in prayer for a word from God. We’ve scanned scriptures looking for a reason. Still…silence.
The hope we seek may seem far off, but the rest of the verse encourages us. "For a brief moment I abandoned you…but with deep compassion I will bring you back."
Compassion. Deep compassion. Deep as the deepest rivers, ones we desperately need as we wander in the desert. Compassion relentless in its pursuit of us. Compassion sweeter than the bee’s honey and never ending like the vastness of the heavens.
The inescapability of Isaiah 54:7 is this: God is God. God is not waiting by the phone to place our orders.
God is God. He is not posing for pictures on a red carpet as you awe in His presence.
God is God. He is not bribing you with petty cash to spend a few days with Him.
God is God. He is not throwing you high fives at your snarky tweets.
God is God. He is not in need of your constant devotion, though He desires it greatly.
God is God. He is God of the refreshing mountain springs and of the harsh sun-soaked deserts. He is God of the scenic drive and of the frightful ambulance siren.
God will do what He wants to do. It may seem cruel, but we need to know all of this. Why?
When we can relent of our own plans, our own comforts, our own fears and failures, we can recognize God as who He is. One of justice and mercy. One of grace and wrath. We cannot change God. He can (and will) change us.
Even in the desert. Even in the hospital bed. Even in the stress of the moment. Even in the darkest times. Even in the doubts and insecurities.
And when we stray (because we will), we may feel God has left the passenger seat in our car and flown back to His heavenly mansion, but we know that with unfathomable, unworldly love and compassion, He will bring us back.
You may be walking in the desert right now. Stop. Be still. Know that God is God. When our faith feels small, know God is big. When our faith feels weak, know God is strong. When our faith has left us, God will bring us back.
With deep compassion.
Nothing in this tired world could be better.