Desert-ed by God

Some thoughts for Lent – Exodus 19: 1-2

by Christine Sine

by Carol Dixon

On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on that very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.

A desert prayer:  Desert-ed by God

The desert is hot and arid,
….it saps my strength,
….my eyes burn for a glimpse of God;
Parched I pant for pools of living water;
….I long to lounge again by the life-giving streams,
….and let God’s provident love flood my life.

Bountiful God,
….Renewer of our strength in times of testing,
….you provide bread for our journey,
….and springs of water in the hard places
….if only we know where to look;
Forgive our flagging faith,
….turn our fasting to feasting,
….remove our stone-filled sandals
….and humbly wash our feet,
….until restored, renewed and re-invigorated
….we plant seeds of joyful hope
….in the desert places of our world. © Carol Dixon

I’ve never been in an actual desert.  I should imagine it can be quite a scary place.  I’ve never been a refugee either, fleeing from an oppressive regime.  So it’s hard for me to imagine just how desperate the fugitives who followed Moses from Egypt felt.  Often when we hear the story we blame the refugees themselves for moaning about the situation they found themselves in – they’d just been spectacularly rescued from a life of slavery so why complain – but in many ways it must have seemed to them like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.

So why did God allow his chosen people to wander in the wilderness for a whole generation?  Canon Trevor Dennis in his ‘Book of Books – The Bible for young people’ suggests that one reason was so they would learn to grow up into the people they were meant to be – far away from the temptations of heathen gods and the flesh pots of the decedent cities round about.  It was also so that they would learn to rely totally on God who fed them physically and spiritually. 

Sometimes in our lives we can feel as if we have been des-ert-ed (deserted) by God.  Joyce Huggett in her book ‘Formed by Desert’ says: Sometimes in our lives we can feel as if we have been des-ert-ed (deserted) by God.  Our ‘desert’ might be a situation of hopelessness and helplessness, any situation where we watch the resources we normally rely on dwindle and dry up – any situation where we feel we have lost our way.  Our own personal wilderness might be the emptiness of loss that comes through bereavement or redundancy, depression or burn-out, illness or loneliness, post-accident trauma or marriage breakdown; failure of any kind.  Alternatively our desert might be the desert of discouragement or confusion, inability to pray, weariness or disappointment, or an awareness of our innate selfishness and addiction to consumerism, to name a couple of 21st century deserts.’

In these kind of situations we can learn a lot from the story of Moses to help us to understand and get through our desert times in life.  His story reminds us that when prayer seems dry, difficult or dull, we still need to come to God – even if it’s just to complain!  Moses also teaches us the value of waiting.  Praying in times of spiritual aridity may seem as if nothing is happening but as we offer God all that we are we discover that the waiting time allows our soul to grow up’ and we learn to become the person God intends us to be.

The story of Moses and the Israelites also teaches us to hope in the sense that it encourages us to depend on God’s promises and power.  He challenges us to watch to see the way in which God’s creative love will express itself at every twist and turn in the road and we learn to look around every corner expecting the new mercies God constantly showers on us day by day even in difficult times.

Sometimes in our desert God provides us with the support of a companion, a spiritual desert-dweller who has learned the art of thriving in the inner desert; someone who can point out hidden dangers, as well as waterholes and sustenance for our journey – I’ve been very blest over the years to have found such companions who have helped me on my journey of faith. The final lesson Moses had to learn over the years was that of letting go.  When something or someone is precious to us, the temptation is to cling, and when we cling we are unable to stretch out open hands to receive the new thing or insight God yearns to give us.  Moses (and the people he led) learned, albeit with a struggle to pray the prayer of relinquishment regularly.  As God himself reminds us (in the words of the prophet Isaiah):  Stop dwelling on past events and brooding over days gone by.  I am about to do something new; this moment it will unfold.  Can you not perceive it?  Even through the wilderness I shall make a way, and paths in the barren desert… for I shall provide food in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (Is 43 v11-21)  

We have a Saviour who has walked the desert way before us and who is with us in all our challenging circumstances as well as in our joys. One of my favourite songs is ‘Be not afraid’ (You shall cross the barren desert). The words are so affirmative and comforting. I particularly love the version by Marilla Ness:

Be Not Afraid
You shall cross the barren desert
But you shall not die of thirst
You shall wander far in safety
Though you do not know the way
You shall speak your words in foreign lands
And all will understand
You shall see the face of God and live
Chorus: Be not afraid, I go before you always
Come follow Me and I will give you rest

If you pass through raging waters in the sea
You shall not drown
If you walk amid the burning flames
You shall not be harmed
If you stand before the power of hell
And death is at your side
Know that I am with you through it al Chorus:

Blessed are your poor
For the kingdom shall be theirs
Blessed are you that weep and mourn
For one day you shall laugh
And if wicked tongues insult and hate you
All because of Me
Blessed, blessed are you!  © Bob Duffy

Photo by Emma Van Sant  Unsplash 


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