My Three Month Desert Experience

Do you feel like you are in the desert? I certainly do. The storm, the dark night of the soul, the valley of the shadow of death, the desert, the fiery furnace, whatever you want to call it. That’s where we are. You see, we moved 500 miles away from good jobs and 13 years of friends back in Minnesota because it seemed that God opened a door for us to use our gifts strategically in a place of real need- a place 500 miles away. Four weeks into the move, despite months and months of research and prayer, those plans crumbled apart. Now we find ourselves in the desert. Finances stretched thin because of the move, far away from friends, and jobs and influence back in Minnesota that were better and greater than what we have here. And it’s hard. It feels like God brought us out into the desert.

For some people it may be a new job that didn’t turn out as expected. Maybe it’s a business or a ministry that you started. And despite your prayers and your research and the Godly advice of other people, your good intentions and your plans now lie in ruins. Four weeks into our journey, it seems that our God-sized dream lies in ruins. But in the middle of our desert experience we are trying to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. We had a desert experience before. And in hindsight we can see that we lost focus during that desert experience of 2012–2013. So, now, when everything seems to be crumbling around us, we are fighting for faith. If we don’t pray together, we won’t make it through the desert. If we don’t come to the Scriptures daily to look for hope and help and more of God’s wisdom, then we won’t make it. If we don’t spend time listening to messages of Godly pastors who point us toward God, then we won’t make it. And it was those efforts that led to a great quote from Matt Chandler.

During his series on the book of Ecclesiastes, Chandler was talking about Solomon’s advice for when we are in a dry place. If you feel like you are in a dry place pay attention to your feet, make sure you keep heading toward God. Don’t lose focus; keep your eyes fixed on him. Pay attention to your feet and listen to him. If it feels like he is silent, just keep listening. Listen to God, draw near to him.

Then, Matt said, “And so, for some of you, please hear me, because I’ve been there. Please hear me. Tonight, you’re in a dry time not because God’s angry with you, but because He desperately loves you. That’s why. Right now, for some of you, the reason you can’t find Him is because He desperately wants you to really find Him. Are you tracking with that idea? Like, for some of you, He feels far so that you might as Acts 17 says, you might, “grope for Him although He is not far from any of us.” So, maybe you’ve been allured out there. Maybe it’s not sin, maybe it’s not disobedience, maybe God just said, “Okay, I’ve got to kill some stuff in you. Let’s go.”

“Well, what stuff do You want to kill?”

“Well, I could explain it to you now, but you wouldn’t actually believe that it’s actually in your heart, because it’s really, really deep down. I mean, I’ve got to take the plow to you. Let’s get out of here. Let’s go to the desert.”

“Well, I don’t like the desert.”

“Well, I know you don’t, but let’s get out there. Because out there, I can really do a work in you, a work that will make you quit coming to church and quit doing Christianity stuff. Because you think in the end, I can kill you or that I wish you harm. It’s out here, it’s out in the struggle, it’s out in the fight that you’re finally going to learn that I love you.”

So, sometimes the desert, it’s here for awhile, man. Because I think that’s the question when God goes, “Come on, let’s go to the desert.”

“Well, how much water do I need to pack?” Maybe six weeks, maybe six months. Listen to me, maybe six years. This ain’t no Rubix Cube, man. This isn’t math. Some times with God, 2 + 2 doesn’t equal 4.

“Come on.” He says, “Come on, let’s go. Out to the desert, come on. It’s dry, it hurts, but pay attention to your feet. Draw near and listen. I have not abandoned you.”

Draw near.

There are many things we don’t like about our desert experience. For one, we don’t have much control over it. Read the book of Job. Job definitely was not in control. We don’t like the desert experience because we don’t know when it will end. God’s timetable usually is much different than ours. And we don’t like the desert because the desert doesn’t feel like progress. Most of us have bought into the idea of pursuing a dream, climbing the ladder, achieving our goals. The desert doesn’t feel like any of those things. The desert doesn’t feel like progress; the desert feels like taking several steps back.

Dave Harvey helped me tremendously through his book Rescuing Ambition. I devoured the book in the fall of 2015, but when Kari and I were stuck in our desert experience of 2016 it was a specific Dave Harvey quote that brought me comfort. Harvey writes, “We define progress as a constant ascent up the ladder of dreams. Then we fuse our joy with how much progress we’re able to obtain. But God sees progress differently. To work in our souls, he occasionally pulls us aside for a little one-on-one time.” This is our desert experience. As our God-sized vision lies in ruins, it appears that God has pulled us aside for a little one-on-one time. God is using the desert experience to work in our souls.

Everything is beautiful in its own time.

My study of Ecclesiastes led me to Tommy Nelson. I had no knowledge of Tommy Nelson, but he had a Bible Study on Right Now Media that took people through Ecclesiastes. Better yet, Matt Chandler randomly mentioned Tommy as one of the best exegetical pastors around. Enough said.

In his study of Ecclesiastes, Tommy talked about going through heartache and wanting to know why. To stick with our desert terminology, you are in the desert, and you say, “God, I’m going to trust you, but I would like to know why.” And most of the time, God doesn’t tell us. As Tommy explains, God says, “No, I’m not going to tell you. But I will tell you that my compassion is over all of my work and that I am good. Now, you trust me.” Your desert experience isn’t because God is angry with you. Rather, it’s because he loves you. His compassion is over all of his work and God is good. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace his hand, we must trust his heart.” That’s good.

God is good and his compassion is over all of his work. And Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Note that the inspired author uses the word “everything.” He has made everything beautiful in its time. Can you trust him? Can you trust him that your career disappointment may bring heartache now, but everything is beautiful in its own time. Your inability to have children is sorrowful, but everything is beautiful in its own time. Your ministry was baked in prayer and you worked diligently, but it never got off the ground. But everything is beautiful in its own time. Tommy Nelson said, “I’ve learned that when things happen-even though they are painful- everything is beautiful in its own time.”

We can trust God.

Remember, that God is sovereign over your desert experience. Nothing is out of control. God is holding you in the palm of his hands. He is using the desert to work on your soul. So, draw near to him. Maybe the diagnosis had to come because that’s the only way you would learn what God was trying to teach you. Maybe you had to lose your dream job. Maybe it took that set of circumstances to get your attention. And now the Lord is drawing you near for a little one-on-one time. Tim Keller writes, “We must look at suffering-whatever the proximate causes- as primarily a way to know God better, as an opening for serving, resembling, and drawing near to him as never before.”

So, when you are in a dry place, remember that God desperately loves you. He is pulling you aside for a little one-on-one time. So draw near. Keep your eyes and your ears fixed on him. You may never understand the reason behind your desert experience, but remember God is good and his compassion is over all that he does. You can trust him. As Tim Keller writes, “It’s not just that he is sovereign and all-powerful. We should also trust him because he earned our trust on the cross. So we can trust him even when he hasn’t shown us yet the reason why. He is good for it.”

Thanks for reading- I’m Scott Raymond. I’m a writer, volleyball husband, and avid reader of non-fiction. Kari and I lived in the Twin Cities Metro for 13 years and were blessed to sit under the teaching of Wes Feltner for the last two years. We are currently living in Central Illinois. My favorite books of all-time are Don’t Waste Your Life (John Piper), Radical (David Platt), The Comeback (Louie Giglio), Just Do Something and Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung.

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