Thursday, November 3, 2011

Part 2: Cultivating Hope in the Desert Seasons of Life

**If you want to read Part 1, go here.**

God Leads Us Into the Desert

"So I am going to take her into the desert again; there I will win her back with words of love." (Hosea 2:14)

God wants to get us away from distractions, to be isolated, show us our own self-reliance, and realize our need for Him. He wants us to spend quality time alone with Him, getting to know Him better and love Him more.

The Desert
So what is the "desert"? It's that place that you're stuck in, where you can't find a way out, none of your efforts help, and it goes on and on seemingly forever. Maybe you can't find a job and you've exhausted all of your resources. Or it's finances; you just can't seem to keep your head above water no matter how hard you try. Or maybe it's a relationship with your husband or your child or your good friend. There's a distance there, or even outright disconnection, and it seems impossible to fix. Maybe it's a health problem that won't go away. Or the loss of a dream you held dear in your heart. Or it could even just be a period of numbness, like life is passing you by but you can't seem to engage in it.

Whatever your "desert" is, the common theme is feeling stuck and thinking that things will never change. It is filled with trials, testing, and even suffering.

Why God takes us
Why does God take us into the desert? Sometimes it's because of our sin that He has us stay put until we surrender completely to Him. The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years because of their disobedience to God. Over and over God had to allow suffering before they would finally turn to God. Hosea 5:15 says, "I will abandon my people until they have suffered enough for their sins and come looking for me. Perhaps in their suffering they will try to find me."

God will often allow the desert time because He wants to test and increase our faith. Many heroes of the faith have walked this lonely road- Abraham waiting for an heir and then being told to sacrifice his promised son, Job losing everything he had, Paul's many beatings, jailings and shipwrecks as he shared the Gospel- to name a few.

Many times God uses the desert time to teach us, strengthen our character, rid us of selfish ambition, learn humility and dependence on Him. He uses the desert to shape us into His image. Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers, and then falsely accused and spent years in prison. But he learned patience, humility, and trust in God during those difficult years. When he had the chance to get even with his brothers, instead he responded with love, saying, "Do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you... So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God." (Gen. 45:5,8)

We will all experience suffering
It's definitely not a popular message, but it's true. God allows suffering to come upon His people. There are some believers that talk about pain as if it is only caused by sin. They say that if you're sick, you don't have enough faith because God always wants you to be well. If you're having a hard time, you just need to believe you already have the answer and then it will come.

But the Bible does not guarantee an easy life for anyone, let alone Christians. In fact in 1 Peter 4:12 it says, "Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you." Even Jesus, "son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered." (Heb. 5:8) We will all experience the desert seasons.

My times are in Your hands (Ps. 31:15)
Recently I read again about Corrie ten Boom (in Life Lessons from the Hiding Place). This courageous Dutchwoman helped hide Jews in her home from the Nazis during WWII. After her family was caught, Corrie spent nearly a year in prison and in a death camp in Germany. Her father, sister, and nephew all died in prison, and afterwards she discovered her release was a clerical error- a week later all the women her age were sent to the gas chambers.

But despite the horrors she endured, she left with a determination that "there is no pit so deep, the love of God is not deeper still." In response to someone saying that it must have been her faith that helped her survive, she said no, "My faith was so weak, so unstable... no, it was Jesus! He who said, 'I am with you to the end of the world.' It was His eternal arms that carried me through. He was my certainty. If I tell you that it was my faith, you might say if you have to go through suffering, 'I don't have Corrie ten Boom's faith.' But if I tell you it was Jesus, then you can trust that He who helped me through will do the same for you."

Corrie's family strongly believed in the sovereignty of God. That "He who is all-loving and always good determines the paths His children take, allowing pain and suffering to come to them for an eventually good purpose... All our times are in God's hands, even the difficult ones."

God chooses to use the desert time- discipline, testing, and suffering- in order to make us more like Him. In Psalm 37:23 it says, "The steps of a righteous man are ordered by the Lord." And "In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps." (Prov. 16:9)

But just as God is sovereign, He is also loving. God is not some distant being that leaves us alone in the world, nor is He an evil dictator that sets out to punish us for every mistake. He loves us, and because of that love, He wants the best for us. However, the best isn't always what's easiest. "Have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children?... It's the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects." (Heb. 12:5-6 MSG) Those of you with kids know that you can't give in to every desire your children have. Sometimes discipline and pain benefit them far more than fun and easiness. This is called "tough love."

Part 3: God Has a Purpose for the Desert coming soon!
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