Read Psalm 63:1-11
O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
David wrote this psalm in the desert—not the kind of place you would first think of as the perfect setting for such an eloquent prayer like this. But if you were to study the lives of all the greats in God’s Hall of Faith, you would find that almost without exception, each had spent a season in the desert.
The most famous desert dweller, Moses, spent forty years on the backside of the Sinai desert. Moses, however, was only one in a long line of many: Abraham was schooled in the desert, Elijah got wilderness school, so did John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul. God’s people, Israel, spent forty years wandering in the desert; forty years it took for God to drain 400 years of Egypt out of them.
Even Jesus, God’s own Son, spent forty days and nights fasting and praying in the dangerous and desolate Judean wilderness. If the very Son of God needed wilderness school, guess what? The desert is going to be core curriculum in your school of spiritual maturity, too!
My sense is that each of these heroes of faith would tells us that, in hindsight, the desert was the most productive time of their lives. How could that be? The desert is the place where you get stripped of every false dependency, while at the same time, faith in God alone is forged in the core of your being. That is never a pleasant process. Frankly, it is the toughest thing a believer is forced to endure. It requires solitude, involuntary insignificance, forced simplicity, soul-searching, patience, desperation, just to name a few—the necessary ingredients to an altogether deeper dimension with God; ingredients that are only extracted and catalyzed in the blast furnace of the desert. Andrew Bonar, a nineteenth century Scottish preacher, said,
“In order to grow in grace, men must be much alone. It is not in society that the soul grows most vigorously. It is in the desert that the dew falls freshest and the air is purest. The backside of the desert is where men and things, the world and self, present circumstances and their influences, are all valued at what they are really worth. There it is, and there alone, that you will find a Divinely-adjusted balance in which to weigh all around you and within you.”
All the greats were driven into the desert, and there they found God. It seems that in our day we’ve done our best to avoid the desert, which has only left us devoid of deepness with God. Maybe we need to reconsider the desert; it may not be such a bad place after all. The desert is where the rebel soul learns the ways of God.
“In the deserts of the heart let the healing fountain start,
in the prison of his days teach the free man how to praise.”
—W. H. Auden