Even in the Desert, He Loves You
If you know me at all, you know I’m a beach lover. Like, a sold-out, obsessed, any-chance-I-get-I’m-there kind of a beach lover. It’s my happy place. A place I can meet with God in utter bliss. I mean, what could possibly be a better setting to experience how much He loves you?
I also collect heart-shaped rocks I find on the beach. To me, they’re little love notes from God, and I have a giant glass jar of them in my living room as a reminder. This past August, I was faced with somewhat of a dilemma. We were dropping our daughter off at college in California, and had a couple of extra days afterward for a quick getaway. Do we go back to the beach again, or try something different? For some reason, I felt unusually drawn to visit the desert…and so we headed off to Joshua Tree National Park.
Truth be told, I loved every minute of it. The sun, the heat, the mountains, the alien-looking cacti and cool creatures I’ve never seen anywhere else. But probably my favorite moment was discovering a heart-shaped rock right in front of me on one of those desert paths. I picked it up, and my own heart swelled as I contemplated this amazing truth, this unexpected lesson at an unforeseen time:
Even in the desert, He loves you.
The Bible is full of desert stories. Often, ‘desert’ is interchangeable with ‘wilderness’ or ‘wasteland;’ a place that is stark, barren, and away from civilization. Though a good portion of Israel and its surrounding areas is indeed a literal desert, God also uses desert places in these stories symbolically. Just think of what the word ‘desert’ conjures up for you:
Dry. Empty. Desolate. Lonely. Dangerous.
A place of trial. Hard times, isolation.
Not exactly a place you want to be in. Nevertheless, in the Bible and in real life now, we all find ourselves there at some point. Philosophy professor, Holmes Rolston, (Colorado State University) describes the desert this way:
The wilderness is a locale for intense experiences—of stark need for food and water (manna and quails), of isolation (Elijah and the still small voice), of danger and divine deliverance (Hagar and Ishmael), of renewal, of encounters with God (Moses, the burning bush, the revelation of the divine name, Mount Sinai). There is a psychology as well as a geography of wilderness, a theology gained in the wilderness.
- When Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt, the desert was a training ground.
- For Joshua, it was a battleground.
- For David, exile.
- With Elijah, the desert was despair and defeat.
- With Ezekiel, desolation and judgment.
- Even for Jesus, it was temptation and trial.
Some people fled to the desert for safety and to escape life’s problems; other times, they were driven there as outcasts, rejected and alone. And sometimes, God Himself led His beloved into the desert!
Why would He do this? Well, to prove something:
In the desert, He shows His people that He can be trusted. That He provides. Guides you–carries you, when necessary. That He speaks, and that you can hear His voice.
In the desert, God shows up. He meets you, He cleans you up, attends to you, and brings restoration. And out of those desert encounters, He proves something else:
The Father uses the deserts in your life to strengthen you, sharpen you, and refine you. He uses your dry seasons to call you out of your sensory-overload, and when you are acutely aware of the silence and the nothingness of it all, He arouses your desperation to hear His voice once again. And once He has your attention, He cups your face in His loving hands, and speaks tender words of encouragement and hope to your weary soul.
God allows (and sometimes orchestrates) these desert experiences to prepare you for coming opportunities to step into greater authority, more freedom, and a deeper faith. You emerge from that place with a renewed understanding of who God is and what you are made of.
I’m convinced we don’t get there (as much as I would like it if we did) by strolling on the beach. Those beach days are rewards to be cherished and enjoyed, but they don’t cultivate our growth the way the desert does. Perhaps this is why I felt unusually drawn there this summer, when I could have easily chosen my happy place.
Like me, you probably don’t long for growth the way you long for days of fun in the sun, but this is precisely why we need our Father, who knows what is best for us! Because He knows what you are capable of, and is not satisfied with leaving you in your current state. He sees your potential; His dreams for you are bigger than your own.
And He wants to see them realized.
He wants you to experience deeper healing and freedom from the things that hold you back. His Father’s heart longs to connect with yours, so that through this channel, He can pour in more of what you truly need.
And so, He woos you–waits for you–in the dry, desolate, lonely places. And He meets you there.
Because even in the desert–
especially in the desert–
He loves you.