I titled my book Content to Be Good, Called to Be Godly. It’s not a great title, but I could never come up with anything else. I published it with Tyndale about thirteen years ago, and then our ministry bought the rights so I could update it and do a reprint. This week’s blog post and the one for next week will be a summary of one of the chapters in the book.
I did radio interviews after the book was published, and the host usually asked me to explain why I wrote the book and gave it that title. My answer: After a lot of years in the ministry, these are the things I most want to say to my brothers and sisters in Christ—and I gave it that title because it seemed to me like most of the Christians I knew were settling for less than God’s best, myself included. We are often content to be good when God has called us to his higher standard.
I wrote a chapter about the desert times because it seemed to me like too many Christians were just enduring their spiritual deserts instead of learning from them. We should never be content to simply survive the tough times. God has a higher purpose for those days. That’s what I’ll write about for the next two weeks.
So, what is the first thing we should do when we realize our soul has landed in a desert?
ASK GOD WHY
I’d lived my life trying to be a good enough preacher’s wife, and one of my first desert experiences occurred when I realized that I never would be.
It’s an impossible job to get right all of the time. At first, I assumed my desert time was my doing, and in some ways it was. But, I learned a LOT about God as I was home, recuperating from a case of pneumonia that almost took my life. Actually, in many ways, my entire ministry changed after that time. I stopped trying to do a good job and began to work at allowing God to do his job through me. It made ALL the difference.
God does a lot of work in our lives during the desert times. So, instead of being defeated by a desert, I’d like to suggest we all learn to be redefined by those dry, often difficult, times. You aren’t alone in the desert, although it usually feels that way—even when you are still busy and surrounded by others. You know when your soul is dried up; other people likely won’t notice. The first thing to realize when your soul dries up is that you haven’t been deserted.
God never deserts you, but he does allow the deserts. Why?
Deserts aren’t just a period of time to endure. Deserts have a purpose and, if you walk them well, they are an important part of your Christian growth. The thing to ask first is, “Why am I here, Lord?”
SOME DESERTS ARE SIMPLY MEANT FOR CROSSING
There are seasons of life and there is grace for each season. God is looking for growth, not perfection. We who are older need to be far less judgmental of young people and far more understanding. Is that young person growing in the Lord? If the answer is yes, they deserve our praise, not our comparisons.
I was a very young, inexperienced pastor’s wife—with two busy toddlers. I wasn’t very knowledgeable of the Bible yet and had a LOT of growing to do. There were some who judged me and many who encouraged me. But those who judged seemed to have louder voices in my life.
Can I say that a lot of parents who have toddlers probably feel like they are permanently living in a desert? It’s not permanent, but I’m not going to lie: it can seem like a long, dry spell. I used to have an apron that said, “And I spent four years in college for this?”
Jim would preach about the need for a daily quiet time and, honestly, I wanted to stand up in the middle of the sermon and shout, “The ONLY reason you have a daily quiet time is because I pull your children off the door handle until you are done.”
Parents of toddlers don’t always have a free hand or much free time to feed their souls. Let’s give grace to all Christians who are in a difficult season of life and help them find ways to grow, even if it is a “slow growth” season of life.
Interestingly, I probably learned to love God during that young season of my life. I realized the overwhelming love I felt for my two boys was the way God felt about his children, me included. And I can name the people who encouraged me to grow in my knowledge of God and cheered me on every step of the way. Don’t you want to be named on someone’s list of encouragers someday?
When I speak to parents of preschoolers, I often tell them that while this season is tough, there is never a time of your life that you will laugh and smile more often. Some of our spiritual deserts are simply because we are in a season of life or a season of circumstances. The goal is to take God’s hand and keep moving forward. Some deserts are simply meant for crossing. Growth is learning to walk that time with God and enjoy the comfort of his loving Presence.
OTHER DESERTS ARE FOR DISCIPLINE
Every Christian blows it and sometimes God hands us a “time-out.” If you ask God why you are in the desert, he might say, “Because you need to stop so we can talk.” Sometimes God wants to preserve our witness and protect us from ourselves!
The deserts of discipline happen when we blow it. Sometimes we just flat-out lose it and sin. Sometimes we make choices that have lifelong consequences. Other times, we slip into what I like to call “Pharisee mode.” We might see ourselves as a little more “holy” than God does.
How can we know if we have been led to the desert, aka the time-out chair?
Ask God and take time to think. You know if your prayers are shallow. You know if God’s voice has grown silent. You know if you are under conviction. And you know if you are too arrogant and think of yourself “more highly than [you] ought” (Romans 12:3).
God is a perfect father, and his discipline is because he wants better for us than we might settle for ourselves. God doesn’t want good Christians; he wants us to be godly—and there is a HUGE difference between those two things.
If you know your spiritual life has dried up, it’s important to understand why. Ask, and be ready to repent of whatever is in your life that God is tired of putting up with. The apostle John was on the island of Patmos when Jesus gave these words for the weakened church in Laodicea: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19).
A perfect Father teaches his children how to live a blessed life. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
God disciplines when we are living in ways that hinder his ability to bless us and others through us. The desert time of discipline is for our sake and for the sake of our witness with others.
EVERY LIFE HAS DESERT TIMES
The truth is, all of us live with the highs and lows of life.
All of us experience desert times in our lives because deserts are part of the journey. Christian growth isn’t about avoiding desert times as much as it is about learning from those days, months, and sometimes years. Maturity doesn’t mean we don’t experience desert times but it often means we learn not to stay there as long.
Next week, I’ll continue with this subject. Before then, will you spend some time this week and consider your surroundings? If things are lush, green, and growing in your soul, praise God. If things seem to be dry, dusty, and less than you want them to be, ask God to meet you in the desert, and ask him to lead you out.
The psalm says that he leads you to the still waters to restore your soul (Psalm 23:2–3). But, God also leads us to the deserts for that same purpose.
What is God saying to you right now?
Ask and keep asking until you know.