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“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” Psalms 13: 1-2. “Sometimes I ask God, my rock-solid God, ‘Why did you let me down? Why am I walking around in tears? …Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying?” Psalms 42: 9&11.
It’s been many years since David wrote these words in Psalms, and yet he could quoting the cries of many
of our hearts. It doesn’t matter whether we are kings of Israel or working-class Americans, whether we were born a few thousand years or twelve years ago, or whether we are considered a man after God’s own heart or someone the church doesn’t approve of:
We are almost all eventually faced with a spiritual desert.
When we find ourselves turning the pages of the Bible longing to hear even just a word from God, when we find ourselves growing bitter towards the people around us in the pews whose exuberant worship rubs salt in the wounds of our parched souls, when we find ourselves feeling utterly abandoned and alone, we often feel like we have failed as Christians.
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With the words of people saying “God is always speaking, you just have to start listening” ringing through our ears, we feel ourselves drowning in waves of guilt.
And yet, throughout the Bible, people who love and seek God face the same soul-wrenching feelings we do.
While some of David’s cries to God emerge from the emptiness he feels as a result of his sins, he makes most of his most desperate pleas while he is risking his life to do God’s will. Others like Job express similar feelings of pain and desperation to hear from God, and for the hundreds of years between the last prophet of Israel and the coming of Jesus, the entire chosen nation of God lived through a period of God’s silence.
I wish we could learn some secret to escaping from our spiritual deserts from the lives of the biblical figures who faced the same struggle.
The truth is, what we learn from them is not how to escape the spiritual desert, but rather how to walk through it. But in the end, this lesson can change everything about the desert journey.
The first thing the struggles of people like David teaches us is while sin always comes between us and God (sin Jesus readily takes away when we ask and repent!), a feeling of distance between us and God does not always come from sin. There is nothing inherently sinful about living in a spiritual desert, but Satan tries to use guilt to disillusion us with God and to keep us from seeking him.
If we are truly repentant of our sins and remain in a spiritual desert, we need not beat ourselves up. We simply need to continue to seek God while we walk through the experience.
The second thing the biblical figures’ struggles teach us is how to actually travel through the desert.
In Psalms 37:34, David shares the way to remain faithful to God through the hard times: “Wait passionately for God.” We need to patiently wait for God, knowing his reasons and his plans are far beyond what we could ever understand.
However, waiting patiently is not a passive state, it is the passionate act of surrendering everything to seek God, even when we cannot feel him.
Finally, the biblical stories of spiritual deserts remind us to stay grounded in the one hope we have to hold onto, knowing there will be a day when we live forevermore at the feet of Jesus, full of complete joy, peace, and wholeness.
They remind us the God who came to be with us and to redeem us suffered alongside us and is in us and around us regardless of how close we feel to him.
This world is not our home, and spiritual desserts are a symptom of our homesickness. They are a sign of our longing for the place where we truly belong, not a sign of spiritual failure.
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