Joy in the Desert

desert walkers

“Listen to the birds sing…Do they ever sound alone?
Do they spread their wings and yet question their strength to fly?
I’m trying hard to trust You Lord, but it’s safer said than done
So won’t You feather my faith
With a love for the open sky?”

– Andrew Peterson, “If I Wanna Walk” –

 

I wake up in painful dryness.

I whisper a few words into the dark and they seem to echo back to me, unheard.

Where is He? He said He would meet me here.

Of course, I wonder what exactly I have done to cause Him to be so distant. I haven’t been reading my Bible enough, I haven’t been praying enough–surely I can muster up the spiritual strength and then He will return. What have I been doing wrong?

There’s a sandstorm in my eyes as I try to read. Every word seems purposely difficult and obscure.

My prayers turn repetitive and restless, a desert wind wailing in the night.

Where are you, God?

I want to be thirsty for Him, but I can hardly choke down Scriptures that in greener days were full of glory.

How long will the swirling sand hide You from me?

How do I seek Jesus when everything feels mechanical and forced and drained of power?

How do I find joy when all I can see are weathered boulders and shriveled grass and endless, endless sand?

I have been wrong. Joy is a very different thing that what I thought.

It is easy, when water and good moods and inspiring writers are present, to think that delighted tickle of understanding and wonder is Joy.

Joy is in it, yes.

But that is not Joy.

Joy can still happen when I stand on a hill in a barren wasteland.

Joy can still be found when I’m huddled in the dark chill of a desert night.

And Joy can be there still, when the morning slips over the purple shadows of the mountains and the hot sun begins once again to scorch.

Thirsty, I just want to know how. How do I meet with Jesus in this place that seems so empty? How do I thrive when the cloudless sky beats down without relief?

Working harder. Pleading for His presence. Trying to conjure up an emotional response to the Bible reading.

Sometimes, these things still leave me dry.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve slipped into thinking that when I can’t feel God, then He must not be around.

If His presence is not powerfully stirring me, then I feel abandoned.

But God never promised us a cartload of pleasant emotions. Jesus stated facts–beautiful, strong, unshaken facts: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

In the desert, Joy is an act of belief, not a dance of feelings.

So when I rise in the morning and open my Bible and stare at pages unfeeling, I can still smile and bow my head to my Maker. I can still pray for the fountains of His delight. I can still believe in His promises, whether I feel them to be true or not. They are–and they must be my anchoring places.

Some mornings, this act of Joy may feel forced. Jesus told us to rejoice. So I can look around and thank Him–perhaps without the leaps of my heart that I would like to accompany my gratitude–but I can still thank Him.

I cannot always control how I feel, but I can always choose my response.

Because of that, I can wake up to an empty, cold room and know that my sight deceives me. Jesus is there, even if I cannot sense His warmth.

I can toil up a desert hill, sand slipping back under my heels, and praise Him for His love.

It doesn’t really matter if I feel the love at that moment. He is Love. And He has chosen me. I will rejoice in that fact.

When Joy is a choice, nothing can shake it.

The desert sands will slip away someday and grass will spring up.

But while the sun still beats down and the sand still burns, I will keep walking.

I will read when I feel nothing. I will pray although I feel alone. I will sing when it seems that no one is listening. And He will be there all along.

My feelings lie to me all the time. But Jesus never has.

For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Hebrews 13:5, NKJV

“The enemy can only bring defeat,
If he can somehow shake what we believe.
So our faith cannot be based upon
Only what we see or feel,
And the circumstances cannot change
What our hearts know to be real

So when doubts arise and cloud your mind
My friend, don’t be deceived
For with a knowledge of the Word of God
In our hearts we can believe

You can take God at his word
He is faithful kind and true
Not a prayer will go unanswered
In His time He’ll see you through

Keep believing in what you know is true
Keep believing, you know the Lord will see you through
When troubles rise in your life
and you don’t know what to do,

If you’re looking for answers and you can’t find your way
And the enemy tells you that there’s no need to pray
You just remember God is faithful and His word is true
Everything He’s promised is what He’s going to do
And you’ll be fine if you just keep believing.”

– “Keep Believing,” Gaither Vocal Band –

A big thanks to Public Domain Pictures and Marco Laython for this post’s photo.

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5 thoughts on “Joy in the Desert

  1. Hi Shelbie,

    While reading your blog I was reminded of a recent read. C.S. Lewis in “Surprised By Joy” shares of his insatiable journey of pursuing joy (*note* as an atheist he sought “joy”/ obviously…prior to a conversion to God and later Christ). I found that to be of remarkable interest.

    While a professed nonbeliever, he wrestled with the question of did he crave the “pursuit of joy” or simple “joy” itself. Regardlessly, at each encounter with joy it seemed to allude him. It would be “on the run” leaving him “lost and empty”.

    This pursuit was tiring and unending until it collided with a rational belief in God. He admits he was likely the most reluctant convert in England.

    After his conversion to Christianity he concluded that joy or the pursuit had simply been a “pointer” or a sign. Also, he recognized joy or the pursuit as an allurement, a desire or feeling. It kept him craving something unattainable up until a certain moment in time. Thus he concluded that joy was not only active and alluring but necessary until an appointed moment. The moment in which he believed the Truth. Yet after the moment he still had much truth to learn.

    Christ came to seek and save and none of His will be lost.

    So it would seem that whether a professed atheist or believer, we both struggle with desiring a sign or a feeling.

    Yet we can know the Truth and the Truth can set us free, over and over and over…. While we wait for our change…we obey and hope, repent and believe!

    Good remind Shelbie! Keep on!

    Ms. Horner

    1. Thanks, Ms. Horner! I appreciate the insight! I recently read Surprised By Joy and found it fascinating. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and encourage me!

      -Shelbie

  2. “I cannot always control how I feel, but I can always choose my response.” Thank you for this. So needed to hear it today.

  3. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Hebrews 13:5, NKJV Praise God!

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