I don’t think about deserts much. I think about forests, mountains and beaches, but not deserts. Probably because I don’t want to be there. Deserts are hot, uncomfortable, vast, and a place to get easily lost. What I’m learning, though, is that deserts teach you something. More than that, they form something important in you. There are growing pains in the beginning, especially for those of us living pretty comfortable lifestyles. I never thought it could happen, but I’m moving out of the “Why, God, are you doing this to me?” phase and moving into peace. Slowly. I am nowhere near having arrived to any promised land yet, but, it’s a step.
Hidden Purpose of the Desert
I started reading the Old Testament this year and have recently arrived at Numbers. Yes, I know, the glamorous, juicy, page-turner book of Numbers. How many times have I read Numbers before this? Probably once. Not a book I go to regularly, but I wanted to read through the Bible chronologically, so here I am. After watching a Bible Project video, I learned the book of Numbers is about the Israelites time in the wilderness. I’ve also been listening to a podcast that gives ancient Jewish context to the Bible. It’s called the BEMA Discipleship Podcast (highly recommend!). The episodes about the book of Numbers are focused on helping the reader understand what life in the desert was like for the Israelites. Marty Solomon, one of the podcasters, shares about the life of a shepherd, along with different trees the Israelites would see as they were traveling through the desert.
You may be thinking, wow Lindsay, this is riveting information. If I’ve learned anything from listening to BEMA, it is that at first, there are lots of details that seem small, irrelevant, maybe even boring. But if you listen to the whole episode, you will understand something about the character of God you would not have seen without those beginning details. I won’t describe all of the episodes about the desert (because I’d rather you go listen for yourself) but I want to share three realizations about what God wants to teach us through desert seasons.
- Be content with having just enough. This was something the Israelites had to learn when it came to their food. God provided them with manna. They always had enough to fill their stomachs, but they couldn’t store up more for tomorrow. Abundance was not the mentality of the desert. Having just enough was.
- Trust your ears over your eyes. Israel was in this vast desert and they did not know where they were going. But God knew and He was leading them. This aspect of the desert was teaching the Israelites how to live by faith. They had to learn to listen to God’s voice and trust He was leading them to the Promised Land, even when all they could see was desert. Was He telling them every detail? No. Was He showing them the Promised Land before they got there? No. Faith is a muscle God was growing in His children. He wanted His people to trust Him and trust His voice even when they couldn’t see the results yet.
- Remember that fruit in the desert doesn’t always show. There is a tree in the desert called the Acacia tree. This tree looks dead most of the time. What is interesting about this tree is that it’s not dead. It can be dormant for 7-12 years (according to the BEMA Podcast), which is good because it doesn’t rain much in the desert. But when that rain comes, the leaves blossom and the tree becomes “The Gift of the Desert.” This is the tree many scholars believe David was talking about in Psalm 1. Knowing that David was referencing an Acacia tree gives us a different perspective of what fruitfulness looks like; being planted by the water doesn’t mean you will always bear fruit. It seems God wants us to believe the work we do in leaning on Him will produce fruit that benefits ourselves and others. We just may not see it for some time.
Seeing God More Clearly in the Desert
Last night, I realized that I am still in a desert season. Instead of being angry, I’m strangely…okay with it. At least, in this moment. When there is more intense discomfort, I bet I will go back to kicking and screaming. After reflecting on the information in these podcast episodes and not experiencing much joy or freedom in trying to escape, I am finally surrendering to God in the desert.
To close, I want to share a song I really enjoy called Sanctuary by kalley. One line that really hit me this morning says, “Control is not peace.” Lately, I’ve thought that if I control my circumstances, if I can control things causing me pain, I will have relief. I will have peace. Have I experienced more peace? No. We all experience pain in life and we have a choice when we experience that pain. Do we surrender to God in the process and bring the pain to Him, trusting He will do the deep work to heal our souls? Or do we harden our hearts, try to control our circumstances, and stop ourselves from feeling anything at all? I’ve done both, and in all honesty, I’ll probably pick the latter again throughout my life. But each time, God will be faithful and will help me trust His goodness more, even in the desert.
I know God isn’t a sadistic being making life harder for His kids. He is a good and loving Father that wants to be with us through our pain and struggle. We have to walk through the desert, through the pain, for true healing to come. He is my peace in the desert and now, I am thankful for this desert season.
-Written by Lindsay Fipps, Chi Alpha Alumna of Indiana University