In a Dry and Weary Land

He opened the rock and water flowed out; It ran in the dry places like a river” Psalm 105:41 (NASB).

Moses led the Israelites on their exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. They left the delta region of northeastern Africa, where the Nile River kept the territory lush and green, and crossed into a dry and barren desert. In the desert, they were overcome by thirst – “there was no water for the community” (Numbers 20:2). As far their eyes could see, there was only sand – and not a single drop of water. They endured long days of marching with their worldly possessions on their backs and a long journey still ahead of them. They were weary. They were thirsty. They were suffering.

Dry deserts are not just in the wilderness of Sinai. Sometimes they are in our hearts.

Call them “wilderness seasons” or “the dark night of the soul” or “spiritual deserts.” One thing is certain, they are exhausting, wearying and seem to have no end in sight. If you read biographies of the spiritual giants of Christendom, you will find many experienced these difficult seasons. The Psalms are replete with the laments of David, Aseph and others who cried out, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42: 1-2). Perhaps you also know the ache of a dry and weary soul, when you reach out for God and He seems so very far away. Maybe you have been in that season so long you don’t have the strength to reach out anymore. I know that soul-despair, I have been in the desert, feeling lost, parched, and lonely. I’ve gazed out across an endless expanse of dry, hot sand and wondered if I would survive to the other side – or if, in truth, there was anything on the other side.

There are many reasons we find ourselves in the desert and the Israelites provide the example for us. Sometimes the issue is with us – God commanded the people to cross over and take possession of the Land of the Canaanites, but they faltered for the same reasons we do. First they listened to the discouragement of others. Numbers 13:16-33 tells the account of the scouting party that went into Canaan and brought back a report to the people.  While Caleb and Joshua encouraged the people, the others left them filled with dread. Then, because of the discouraging report, the people lost their trust and confidence in the Lord. We read their reaction in Numbers 14:1-3– they wept and grumbled and envisioned only disaster. They forgot all the miracles God had done to bring them thus far and let their fear and doubts overtake them. From there, they rebelled in disobedience. Number 14:4 says they decided it would be better to return to their lives as slaves than obey the Lord: “They said to each other, ‘We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” God responded by declaring that “Not one of them will ever see the land I promised” (Numbers 14:23). He determined that the entire faithless generation of Israelites would fall in the wasteland.

Fear. Doubt. Disobedience. They will lead us into the desert every time.

But let’s not forget the quest they were on. God took them out of slavery and bondage in Egypt to bring them into the Promised Land of blessing and fruitfulness and peace.   They were sojourners being let by YHWH to a “good and spacious land, land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8). They were on their way – with God – to better things. His promise was more than they could envision, and for the ones who chose to believe and press on, the blessings overflowed in their lives.

I have had dry and barren seasons because of my own doubts and sin and disobedience. But thanks be the God for His forgiveness and His mercy through Jesus Christ – I did not have to stay there. But the sweet truth I have learned is, often those desert seasons are leading me into a place of promise and fruitfulness and fulfillment that I could not see among the rocks and sand. Sometimes the desert is the place of preparation for the place of promise.

Here is one more point I want to make: even in the desert, God provided water. Psalm 107: 35 says “He changes a wilderness into a pool of water and a dry land into springs of water.” Even in their faithlessness, God proved faithful. He heard their cries (well, actually their grumblings) and as our key verse says, He brought water from a rock. Psalm 114:8 says “[The God of Jacob] turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of water.”

Listen to the beautiful promise of Isaiah 58:11 – “You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” Hear his word in verse 14 “Then you will find your joy in the Lord.” Dry deserts are no match for God and His grace.

If you are surrounded by a sea of endless sand, cry out to God today and let Him bring the refreshing waters to your heart and your life. Then you can say with David, “In the roar of your waterfalls, all your waves and breakers have swept over me” (Psalm 42:7).

Holy Father, Your Word promises that You will “satisfy the thirsty” (Psalm 107: 9), and Lord, my soul thirsts for You. Oh, please let Your refreshing waters flow into my life. Amen.

Stray Dogs and Sin

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it” (Genesis 3:6).

A stray dog wandered into our yard this week, just a big old pup. She was so friendly, jumping and playing and following us around with delight. She looked the picture of health, not boney from hunger, no wounds or sores from disease. Her eyes were bright and she had a happy, smiling face. We tried to shoo her off, but she just made herself at home, curling up on our front porch and snoozing away the day. Every time one of us walked outside, she bounced up and ran circles around us – she was so happy to see us. When I walked past the front door, she looked up with excitement and delight. We knew we couldn’t keep her, we have a cat who has no love for dogs, and our home is too small for the big dog she will grow to be. But the more we tried to run her off, the more determined she was to stay. She thought our yelling and stomping at her was part of the game. Still, I waffled. She was so happy and friendly and my son had always wanted a dog, and, quite honestly, she was beginning to grow on me. I mean she obviously liked me. And was it really such a big deal that she chewed up my husband’s newspaper before he could read it? Was it so bad that she barked at every car that drove by – day and night? And, yes, my cat was terrified of her, but they would learn to get along wouldn’t they?

But then, she jumped on my neighbor. She harassed the little dog that was visiting next door. And she got under the house and knocked out a side panel trying to get out. Maybe it was not such a great idea to have her around after all. But she had really settled in here, and I didn’t know what would happen to her if I called animal control.

Then, we saw the blood on her fur – blood from some animal she had killed since she showed up in my yard. Now I knew, the stakes were higher and she would have to go. I had no other choice. I made the call, and asked animal control to come and pick her up.

Sin is a lot like that. Sin comes to us, delighted to see us, with bright eyes and a big, happy smile. Sin doesn’t present itself as unhealthy, rather sin is well-fed with nothing to indicate the disease that it carries. Sin is friendly. Sin laughs at our half-hearted attempts to shoo it away. We know that sin really doesn’t belong in our lives – but surely sin and our convictions can learn to get along can’t they? Besides, sin is happy with us; sin has made itself at home and is curled up peacefully on the front porch. Well, sure there are a few little red flags, but, you know – it’s kinda grown on you. We’ve come to like it, and frankly, we’re not sure we want to let go of it.

But then, sin starts to attack our relationships. Sin begins to pick off the good things in our lives. Sin begins to destroy the foundation of our lives, knocking out the moorings that have kept us firm in our faith.

And then, sin turns on us, and we see our own blood from the wounds that it has caused, as it sinks its teeth and claws into our flesh. Now, we see sin for what it is and for the damage it has caused. We are trapped and helpless.

Maybe you have done like me with this stray dog, and given sin an opportunity to make itself at home in your life. You should have cried out for help when it first appeared, but it was so deceptively happy and fun. It liked you and you found yourself liking it too. Now the stakes are much higher and the danger is real. And you can’t shoo it away.

There is only one choice – we must call on the One who can take away our sin and cleanse our wounds with His own blood. We must cry out to Jesus for his power to drive sin from us and his mercy and grace to heal us. You and I do not have to be held captive by sin, Jesus died to set us free. Don’t let sin sit on your front porch one more minute. Call the sin-control specialist and be free.

Jesus, I have played around with sin, I didn’t take it seriously at first, and now I’m held captive in its powerful jaws of death. Only You can help me now. Please come and set me free. Amen.

(Update: I told my son this morning that the dog had inspired me to write this devotional about how sin creeps into our lives, and he said, “maybe that’s why God send her here.”  Not ten minutes after I posted this, animal control came and she went happily off to the pound.)