Even in the life of a mature Christian, there are times when God seems very far away. We walk through the desert, crying for Him to just show us the way, to lead us to the oasis, to hold our hands and tell us it’ll be all right. What we see in our loneliness is burning sand and thirsty ground. The summer heat has chased away any pools or trickles of moisture. Our mouths are parched.
We remember being taught that we must have done something wrong, that we were in rebellion, or we’ve withheld confession of or repentance of some sin that keeps us from perceiving God’s presence.
And we feel even worse. Forsaken. Deserted.
But we know, by previous personal experience and by reading God’s word, that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us. We know that He does not condemn us, and that God so loved humanity that He gave His beloved and perfect Son to die that we could live the abundant life. We know that we have emerged from the wilderness in the past, and we will again.
Why in the world do we go through these trials? Why, when God has promised to comfort us with His Spirit, are we still tottering on weak knees?
Hummingbirds are lovely, tiny creatures that only live in the Western hemisphere. Their life spans average only three years. Their hearts beat 1,260 to 1,400 times per minute or about 23 beats per second. Their wings beat 55 to 75 times per second, creating the famous humming noise. Some migrate thousands of miles in a single season, following the blooming plants. They need to eat (flower nectar and tiny insects) about every ten minutes to maintain their metabolism.
When the young hummingbird is temporarily abandoned in the orchid tree, she chitters for her parents for ten minutes before she’s hungry enough to seek and sip her own nectar (which was why she was “abandoned” in the first place). Mom and Dad Hummer are busily seeking nourishment about 30 feet away, but keeping an eye on their baby. As soon as she leaves her branch and hovers before a blossom, her parents return to encourage her and they fly off together.
When babies first stand alone, and sway back and forth to maintain balance, we cheer with pride. When they take their first stumbling steps, we back up and encourage the child to toddle to us, and when they reach our arms, we enfold them with love and praise. “Well done, little one!”
What if, during our lonely desert experiences when we're looking down at the hot, burning sand, our heavenly Father is right in front of us with outstretched arms, encouraging us to take the steps necessary to develop strong muscles, to be ready to march and run? He’s never left or forsaken us, because He’s still here. He’s still our Immanuel and Comforter. When we begin to fall, His arms catch us and He sets us up for the next steps.
God is intent on maturing our souls to be ready for service. Some people need to see His power as expressed in an earthquake or lightning bolt. Others, in their pain or grief, prefer a gentle, healing touch and a kind word.
But when we do hear God’s whisper in our ears, a personal message that can’t be explained or translated, there is rejoicing in our hearts.
The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. …they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God. Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, "Be strong, do not fear; your God will come…he will come to save you." Isaiah 35:1-4 NIV
When Jesus was baptized, and the Father praised Him as His beloved son, Jesus left the crowds around John the Baptist, and the Spirit “drove” Him into the wilderness for prayer, fasting, and the devil’s temptations. (Mark 1:12) I’m sure that during those 40 days in the Jordanian wilderness, Jesus didn’t sit around thinking about pita bread and falafel. He was focused on the strength the Father had for Him in the scriptures. He experienced that loneliness and despair we do, and wondered if any human cared for Him. He wandered through the desert of His thoughts, too.
But Jesus had the faith that His loving Father was there, pleased with Him, ready to bear Him up if He stumbled. He had faith that God would turn His wordless, anguished prayer into the polished eloquence of heaven. He had faith that “Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs.” Isaiah 35:6-7 NIV
The burning sand and thirsty ground, just a depression that water runs through, is miraculously transformed into the opposite: a place that holds water, and the source of clean, bubbling, life-giving water. Grasses and trees grow in this oasis, and birds and animals come to live and thrive.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If…you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Isaiah 58:9-11 NIV
When you go through a hot, lonely desert in your life, remember that the Lord is still close to you, but allowing you to grow and strengthen, and to lengthen your stride. Like the hummingbird’s parents, at the right time He will swoop in and lead you away to sweetness.
And if you sense that your friend feels abandoned, rejected, or needs a beacon in the darkness, hold out your steadying hand. Carry a light. Extend that gentle embrace for a few extra minutes (not seconds). Say nothing — but feel everything. Breathe in the same rhythm. You can be the Lord’s healing hand. You will be that oasis that is sought after, that cool, sweet spring water.
“Sharing God’s love” is not a catchphrase: it’s real and it’s one-on-one. It’s loving the Lord with all our hearts, and our fellow creatures as ourselves. That is the greatest commandment. It’s the only commandment!