The Purpose For the Desert

"[Hagar] gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen the One who sees me."
Genesis 16:13 (NIV)

I have been back and forth from the United States to the continent of Africa six different times. 35,000 feet above the ground, our jumbo jet always had to fly over the vast Sahara Desert on our way to and from Europe. It was on the first flight to Congo that my dad told me to feel the windows of the airplane as we flew over the burning sands below. We had left Detroit in early December, with a bitter cold wind blowing. Sleet and snow were a possible concern as we made our way down the runway to leave our homeland behind for the first time. Forty-eight hours later, the windows of the plane were warm like fresh-baked cookies minutes out of the oven.

It was all an adventure to me the first time we made the trip over the desert. At ten years old, I only had a vague idea of what a desert was. I knew it was a waterless place with extreme temperatures, but I had never been to a real desert before. The thought that we were flying over that desolate place was somehow romantic in my mind and fleeting. I never gave it a second thought.

With each flight thereafter, however, I started to feel a small sense of terror when our jet approached the desert. I had felt the scorching heat of the Congo sun on my freckled skin and had known what true thirst was. Without air conditioning, I understood how vitally important trees were to offer some sort of protection from the blistering rays of the sun. Thoughts of, What if we crashed right now over the Sahara, kept me praying the long minutes of flight it took to leave the desert behind. The horror of our plane going down and me surviving to face the barrenness of the desert and its heat made me shiver in my seat.

Girlfriends, are you and I in the desert today? Are we filled with fear over not being able to find shade from the heat of our circumstances? Are we looking for an oasis of refuge and can't find it because our terror overwhelms us? Why would God bring us to this awful, awful place? Is it to leave us here to die?

It's funny how being thirsty can make us aware of how fragile our lives are. How long has it been since we have needed to drink the Living Water? When life is going along just as I want it to, I can fool myself into thinking I do not need to dip down into the well of my salvation. I do life on my own. I go at a thousand miles per hour and do not take the time to rehydrate myself. I am not aware of how parched I am, until my Jesus leads me into the desert.

My darling sister, the desert is not for our demise! Listen to the reason our God gives for bringing us into the desert:

"Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her.

There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will sing as in the days of her youth,
as in the day she came up out of Egypt."
Hosea 2:14-15 (NIV)

When was the last time we heard our Jesus speak tenderly to us? I cannot hear Him when I am pursuing His presents more than His presence. The Valley of Achor is translated "place of pain." Where is your place of pain that you keep trying to fix by this world's methods? The desert, my sweet friend, provides a door of hope in the midst of our pain. If you and I are in the desert today, we can be sure that our God is ready and willing to talk to us there. Before the desert, we may not have had ears to hear Him.

Is this barren, thirsty place keeping us on our face before Him? Do we realize how finite we are and powerless to change our circumstances without our great God stepping in and rescuing us? Oh, then we need to rejoice today! Our Jesus is right here with us in this desolate place. And, like Hagar the slave-woman in Genesis 16, it is in the desert that we are able to say: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen the One who sees me."

Jesus, I hate the desert. It terrifies me. The heat and desolation keep me running from that barren place. But my understanding of the desert is all wrong. It is in the desert that You give me back what is truly worth living for. After the silence of the desert, I have a new song to sing that only You and I know the words to because You have written them on my heart through the trial of the scorching heat. I never like the time You have me spend there, but I praise you for the desert. It is not in the times in which life is spent in the lushness of my comfort that I have the eyes to see that You see me. Let me have ears to hear Your tender words over me as You use the time in the desert to help me leave behind what only encumbers me in the end.