Prayer In The Desert10:05 PM
I hate the color brown. There is a sturdy line of logic behind this thought. You see, I don’t just come from California, I come from the High Desert of Mojave. There are a few things in your life, you cannot change, cannot erase; one being the color of your skin (that is unless you’re Michael Jackson or that lady addicted to the tanning bed), and another being most certainly the place where you grew up. No matter how often I claim the beach town where I went to college as my hometown, the truth always leaks out in conversation. I don’t actually come from a place with waving palm trees, perfect temperatures year round or a flagrantly gorgeous population. I come from a town a little bit north of all those glamorous things. How does one explain to a European that nearly every Western movie ever made was filmed in my town; that there are legitimately no sources of greenery for 50 miles that are not imported and that my father had a tumbleweed in lieu of a Christmas tree as a child growing up? What’s a tumbleweed?
I remember as a child, going “down below” to Los Angeles. My heart would pound with excitement on the 60 minute drive (without traffic of course!) You knew you were almost there when you would start to see little patches of grass on the side of the freeway. Green! Heck, even a ride to the dentist was sheer magic. As a child, I didn’t really mind the dryness or the temperatures soaring sometimes up to 120 degrees. I heard the adults complaining about why on earth they had chosen to inhabit this god forsaken land but this always baffled me. I couldn’t fathom anything different. The ocean was where you visited; the desert was where you lived. You just took certain things for granted. For example one must always be careful when running or one may fall into a cactus thereby losing most of one’s internal organs. Rattlers, (rattlesnakes) most often come out in the evening when it’s cooler because their skin cannot abide the searing daytime heat. Juniper trees with their prickly needles and sappy, splintery bark are not to be climbed. If you’re going for atmosphere on Christmas you’re lucky if you get a freak rainstorm. I remember peering out at sunset as the lights of L.A. rose above the mountains and wondered what those people’s lives were like there, over the hill where people dressed so fine and women were forever beautiful.
As a teenager, I grew to loathe the place. Everything that was perfectly acceptable as a kid, became wretchedly disgusting in its blandness. It was like living in a land camouflaged by dirt. Only at the end of the day, when the dust rose in the West, creating the most beautiful sunsets in God’s creation, would I sigh in contentment and appreciation and realize that even this was a good thing God had done. As I mentioned, after that I moved to a beach town, picked up an entirely new wardrobe and accent and attempted to put my past behind me.
And yet, with distance and 7 years of not living in that desert valley, I have grown to reluctantly appreciate where I come from. You see, I find so many parallels in our lives to the desert. We all want the beach life, chilled out, relaxed, storms just make bigger waves dude! And yet, there are quite a lot of us who walk with God through the desert. We wander in barren wastelands in which there is no water. We cry out to God and live not in a land flowing with milk and honey but a land of manna and daily provision. We see miracles, yes in the desert. We see water coming out of rocks and the fire of God ascending on the mountaintops. We are amazed at His glory, stunned by His grace. Yet we are also bitter when we don’t get what we need and sometimes more parched than a horse’s saddle and often with the same taste in our mouth.
This is when most of us skedaddle and get ourselves a boat to cross that red sea back on into Egypt. This is where some of us fail time and again and just when we think we’re about to enter the Promised Land, we mess up with a lousy finality that sends us back into our seemingly aimless sojourn away from Canaan. And you know why? It’s because until we are ready to learn our lessons in that desert, we are in no way capable of handling our Canaan. We can’t face the battles of the Lord until we’re tough as nails and trust Him with all our heart. The Lord is my Shepherd but He doesn’t just lead me through green pastures, He guides me through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, a place I’m not too keen to go. I don’t know about you, but my gut reaction to life’s lemons has absolutely nothing to do with lemonade. Personally I attempt to chuck those little yellow babies into kingdom come, throw on my running shoes and get out of town!
This blatant form of denial may get you out of a situation long enough to postpone the inevitable, but as sure as that poor coyote in his murderous attempts on the roadrunner will find an anvil falling on his own head, you will turn around to realize that you may have gotten out of the desert, but the desert’s gotten into you. It’s the oldest story in time. “What apple? Oh that half eaten thing on the ground. Yeah, um, well, we’ve got a real bad case of rodents in this garden of yours God! You really might have thought twice about creating rats AND mice. Not buying it? Okay fine, the snake talked me into it! But, hey, do you at least like my new fig leaf?”
We’re genetically programmed runners. We hide in the bushes from the God who created the bush. We murder our brother and act like nothing happened. We stink at nonchalance. We create golden calves and act like our problems are God’s faults. He’s in control, isn’t He? That’s who we are.
Before I was born, my Mom was sure I was going to be a boy. What she thought were kicks of masculine aggression were actually early Irish dancing lessons. Having her heart set on this boy, she and Dad decided on the name Joshua. Knowing that Joshua should have been my name, had I come with different accessories, always made me favor this biblical character. Joshua was the guy that bucked the trend. Where everyone else saw giants, he saw giant grapes, a land of opportunity, dreams being fulfilled. When the people chose fear instead of the promises of God, and were doomed to walk the rest of their lives in the nightmare of their own making, he, of course went with them. However, God saw that faithfulness of heart and chose to make out of him one of the greatest leaders in history. He was the man chosen to lead the next generation into the Promised Land. And when they came, they entered with a bang. The first thing you find him doing in his newfound position of leadership is picking up where Moses left off (a pretty hard dude to live up to I’m convinced) by parting the waters of the Jordan. The thing about Joshua was, he too grew up in the desert. He had to fight for the promises God had given His people, but fight He did. He made some pretty big judgments in error along the way, but I really believe that this warrior of a man was shaped and formed by living the majority of his life in the shadow of God’s promises. He was a child of the desert.
As I was leaving the AntelopeValley after a trip home last year (classy name I know). I saw the desert again at sunrise. It was one of those two times of day when bland is transformed into magnificent. I can’t be sure, but on the side of a hill, nestled in between the towering Joshua trees and humble tumbleweeds, stood a lowly desert cactus out of which was blooming one of the most beautiful flowers I’d ever seen. And in a whisper that could only have come from the heart of God I heard “that’s you little girl. You’re my desert flower, my beauty in the midst of hardship.” Perhaps you’re not a child of the desert. Perhaps you grew up in a beautiful place and lived there your whole life. However, I can bet that you know what it means to have an aching, all penetrating dryness of heart. Perhaps you know the feeling of living years on end without the permeating touch of God. Perhaps He did miracles in your life, He parted seas for you, overthrew armies for you but now it seems as if He’s brought you out here to make you die of thirst. As the Germans so often like to say: I know this. To tell you the truth, I’m there myself and not sure if I’ve reached a much needed oasis, am seeing mirages of water, or have finally come out on the other side. All I know is, at the other side of the desert are the promises “But whomever drinks the water I will give him will never thirst again.” John 4:14 Hang on you desert dwellers and sojourners. Walk through this valley with Him and He’ll bring you not only out of this place but into a land flowing with milk and honey.