The child grew up and became spiritually strong, and he was in the wilderness (desert) until the day of his public appearance to Israel. Luke 1:80
We’ve all heard it… “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Basically, keep it to yourself… no one has to know about it, whatever it may be. But for a woman who wanders the desert, so to speak, this doesn’t quite apply. In fact, the opposite is true. Because if what God purposes to transpire in our hearts actually takes place, then we’re meant to take that with us. We’re not supposed to keep it to ourselves. This is epitomized by something Helen Keller said, “I thank God for my handicaps, for through them I have found myself, my work, and my God.” Amazing story… at 19 months old, Keller lost her ability to see and hear but through the tireless efforts of Anne Sullivan she learned to communicate. Not only that, she went on to be an activist and a writer. Wikipedia includes the following statement made by Keller, “I was appointed on a commission to investigate the conditions of the blind. For the first time I, who had thought blindness a misfortune beyond human control, found that too much of it was traceable to wrong industrial conditions, often caused by the selfishness and greed of employers. And the social evil contributed its share. I found that poverty drove women to a life of shame that ended in blindness.” In this last portion, Keller was referring to prostitution which often led to syphilis (a leading cause of blindness). So Helen Keller, a woman who traversed the desert so to speak, overcame her obstacle. And once she emerged on the other side, she didn’t keep what she learned to herself. Instead, her affliction became her life work. Her ministry. She was a living testament of beauty for ashes.
But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. Exodus 1:12
The Israelites and their forty year desert journey holds a prominent place in my heart. But it was something I recently read that shed new light on their plight. It’s what took place before they even set foot in the desert. They were under Pharaoh’s rule in Egypt and because they were growing so large in number, he decided to oppress them with harsh labor. Their ruthless slave drivers made their lives bitter. Nevertheless, the more the Israelites were afflicted, the the more they grew. Hardship didn’t decrease this people as Pharaoh so intended, but rather, affliction increased them. They multiplied. Hardship did not stop the nation of Israel from spreading out. And over time, when life became too difficult, they voiced their distress. Their cries for help ascended to God and He remembered His people. At the right time, He interceded.
In steps Moses, who had been away from Egypt for forty years. By now, it’s no surprise that God appointed a wayward wanderer for His purposes. It seems as if Moses was a desert sojourner long before God appointed him as leader of His people. For when Moses first encountered God at the burning bush, he had been on the far side of the wilderness (desert). That’s when he came to the mountain of God called Horeb. Does it astonish you to know that Horeb means desolation or desert? At one time, I think that may have struck me as odd… that the mountain of God means desolate. I would have imagined the literal meaning to be glory or majestic. But now, I’m not so surprised. Because it’s becoming clear that seasons of desolation and barrenness are necessary for all of God’s people. Often, it’s that dry season that drives us to His mountain to begin with. We know that at our individual Mount Horebs, we can cry out and He’ll observe our misery and oppression and suffering, just as He did with the Israelites so long ago. We have confidence that He’ll rescue us in the same way. And when He does, we’ll have our own stories. Like Helen Keller, and Moses, we’ll be living testaments of beauty for ashes. Our affliction (even if it be a small one) will become our own life work. A ministry. But first, we have to traverse the desert to get there. On the backside of our deserts is where we find our God.
“You have stayed at this mountain long enough. Resume your journey and go to the hill country…” Deuteronomy 1:6
I just love that. You have stayed long enough… unfortunately, these words were spoken to God’s people before their forty year trek. He had rescued them from Egypt and performed miracles before their eyes. He was right there with them, the LORD God in their midst. And yet, when He said it was time to move on, they were reluctant. Their faith wavered when they saw the inhabitants of the land of promise. And so, fear kept them out. God’s promise delayed because of His peoples’ disbelief. But see, they should have been strong enough. They should have grown by this point. Spiritually, that is. Why the distrust when He proved Himself strong on their behalf over and over and over…
In steps me. I came home to live three and a half years ago and let me tell you, I thought I had arrived. For at that time, I had already served my time of slavery in Egypt and traversed desert lands (or so I thought). I found God (or so I thought). And when my foot made contact with home soil, with all my heart I believed I was emerging on the other side of barrenness into my land of promise. It was there for the taking… I simply had to reach out and grab it. I can’t tell you the shock it was when I realized this is not my land of promise, after all. How dismayed I was when I figured it out… the desert journey had just begun.
Now, I just have to laugh over my naivety. Because in looking back, it’s all so clear. I was Born and raised in this small town, but left at a young age. And when I returned, I thought I was a new creation. But I wasn’t, really. I was so much the same girl who left at 19. And so, what’s crystal clear today is that God brought me home to bring me back from the dead. For here He fills my lifeless form with spiritual breath. He covers me as a newborn babe and nurtures me as I feed on His word. And so, I begin to thrive under His care for He raises me up as His own. And the utter miracle (to me) is that I am being born and raised all over again. In my hometown. I’m growing up all over again where I did it the first time. The only difference is this one’s spiritual. Here I am, a 41 year old woman raising my own child while God raises me, His child. So often, I am in the very place my son is. God teaching me through the little one I’m teaching. Isn’t that amazing?
Here I grow spiritually strong. For in my hometown, I’ve traversed the back side of the desert. But you know what? I’ve also trekked up Mount Horeb. It’s a fact that I have encountered the living God. So now, only questions remain. Have I stayed on this mountain long enough? Have I allowed my affliction to transform me? Has what God purposed to transpire in my heart taken place? Am I ready to take what I’ve learned and use it for His good? Can I be a living testament… one of beauty for ashes. Like Helen Keller? And Moses? And the answer to all these questions… yes. I think, perhaps, it’s a yes. It’s time to resume my journey and go. Which leads to perhaps most important question. How strong is my faith? Do I trust my God enough to walk out of this desert? Because if I don’t, I won’t go any further. For the first step into the land of promise takes faith… just one step.
The miner strikes the flint and transforms the mountains at their foundations. He cuts out channels from rocks, and his eyes spot every treasure. He dams up the streams from flowing so that he may bring to light what is hidden. Job 28:9:11