I wrote last week about Wesley’s covenant prayer and how it was getting easier to pray it. The whole week since has been a reminder that no matter how much I might have grown, I’ve barely made it into kindergarten yet. Last week I could pray most of the lines. This week I’ve struggled to pray any. Or I’ve prayed them, but I’ve wondered if it made any difference. “Let me be full, let me be empty,” I’ve prayed, and yet when my energy failed by noon and the do-list that I couldn’t do stretched long and the hours of emptiness still longer, and I couldn’t shake the self-pity or even seem to be able to let Jesus love me in the middle of it, I wondered if my prayer had made any difference at all.
It felt like I was standing in the middle of a desert with emptiness stretching away to the horizon and my only companions the self that I wanted to escape and the tempter slithering around in the endless sands of my selfishness egging me on.
“Where are you, God? And where am I? And how do I find my way through this parched place?”
I’ve been in high-altitude deserts where the mountains of work crowded close and the snow drifting through the passes cut off all escape routes, and I’ve been in deserts of burned-out emptiness where the hours stretched away long after my strength had worn out and my parched lips cracked with the waiting for an oasis to appear.
Every desert looks a little different. But underneath, the heart of every desert is the same. Every desert, in one way or another, strips us of our ability to think we’ve got it together and calls us back to the One who holds everything together.
And this week as I cried out, a drop of water fell onto my parched tongue. A tiny, two-letter word that budded with hope.
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert.” (Luke 4:1)
I’d remembered that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert (Matt 4:1). I’d never noticed that Luke uses a different preposition. The one who led Jesus into the wilderness didn’t desert him at the first row of dunes. Jesus was, as the United Bible Society Translators’ Handbook says, “led about. Jesus went, guided by the Holy Spirit, from place to place in the wilderness.”
It shouldn’t surprise me. God not only led the Israelites into the desert on their journey into freedom, He led them about in it (Exodus 40:36-37).
It’s the way of the wilderness in Scripture. However hurt and grumbly we may feel as our comforts and our security are stripped away, however we may wonder where God is or who God is or how we’ve ended up in this place, God never leads us into the desert to desert us. He leads us here to draw us closer. To teach us to trust His love, to learn to let ourselves be led. Here in the desert enough of the clutter gets cleared away that we can finally, maybe, begin to hear again the voice of the One who is calling us closer:
“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 make the Valley of Trouble a door of hope. . . .
‘In that day,’ declares the LORD, ‘you will call me ‘my husband’;
you will no longer call me ‘my master.’ . . .
I will betroth you to me forever. . . in love and compassion. . .
And you will know the LORD.” (Hosea 2: 14-20)