Dry. Lifeless. Barren. Deserts sustain their dubious distinction based on their receipt of minimal rainfall. Lack of camouflaging foliage displays clearly every rise and fall, plain and canyon of terrain. We marvel that any creature can exist in the stark ecosystem of deserts.
Life can be like that. Sometimes we feel dry and barren, moving through each day’s routines, numb to beauty and parched in spirit. If we halt for a moment our feverish pursuit of activities that fill our waking moments we find, like grains of sand, they slip between our fingers; nothing of substance is left. Nothing remains to camouflage our emptiness.
Imagine a mist, a growing, spreading, towering cloud forming over some desert. Skies darken; the scorching sun is suddenly blocked. Then drops of unknown rain begin to fall. Faster and faster they drop until it’s a torrent, a wall of water pouring down. At first the sunbaked ground seems to repel the strange element, but soon the water finds the cracks and fissures in the hard earth and seeps its way in. As suddenly as it began, the storm stops and the clouds dissipate. The air is fresh. Puddles are swallowed by softened thirsty sand. Something else is about to happen. Life in the desert is about to awaken. Creatures are about to surface and sprouts and buds and blossoms are waiting to burst open. Transformation is at hand.
Earth’s physical deserts illustrate for us God’s great plan of transforming each of us. The ancient Hebrew sage and prophet Isaiah penned a beautiful description of God’s work. The lives of those, the “redeemed”, who will admit their need will be like deserts, “parched land”, gladdened by the rain of God’s thirst-quenching Spirit. Listen:
The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like a crocus it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
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 with vengeance;
with divine retribution he will come to save you.”
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.
And a highway will be there;
It will be called the Way of Holiness.
The unclean will not journey on it;
it will be for those who walk in that Way;
wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
nor will any ferocious beast get up on it;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
and the ransomed of the LORD will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
The great Redeemer loves to rework hopeless situations into oases of splendor. Rich with contrasts, Isaiah describes lives lifted from dry subsistence to lush and joyful productivity. He calls it the “Way of Holiness”, a direct reference to God’s own holy nature. This way of living consists of a ceaseless stance of openness toward God. It is a face-to-heaven, hands open attitude of constant expectation. God is the giver; we are the happy recipients.
Isaiah makes exceedingly clear, though, that some things must go. This is not an easy grace, an eclectic collection of feel-good fantasies.
Fear must go. We may not entertain the faithless practice of worry. God is greater in goodness than any evil we fear. He will make all things right in His time.
Blindness must go. We must open our eyes to the presence of God here and now every moment. No longer may we allow ourselves to be deceived by the pride and selfishness that sees all revolving around self. The truth of God’s presence is the light we need to see His centrality in our existence.
Lack of forgiveness must go. It is the haunt of jackals in the recesses of our memories. It destroys the relationships God want to be productive. We may not cling to past hurts of being wronged. Only God has the wisdom to know where vengeance is the rightful response.
Uncleanness must go. Only those washed by the redeeming work of Jesus may participate in this transformation. This world’s ideas of immortality through empty pleasure or cosmic unity are but foolish thoughts. More than foolish, rejecting God’s chosen Redeemer is wickedness itself. That is a dead end route and has no part in God’s highway.
And sorrow must go. Yes, there is a place for grieving life’s trials, but we must not give in to hopelessness.
The overwhelming awareness of God’s goodness swallows up every sigh. Everything from songs of praise to awe-filled prayers of silent thankfulness fills our wondering souls.
God’s blessing is here and now. Yes, we long for heaven but God’s eternal kingdom is at work in us now, if we will receive it. Today, God’s Spirit is raining down thirst-quenching, healing, living water for you and me. We must let it seep into our souls, softening the crust life’s troubles have baked solid. Drink it up. Soak it in. Something is about to happen. Transformation is at hand.