No matter who we are, or how long we’ve pursued a relationship with God, everyone goes through what we’ve come to call “desert experiences.” These are hard times with God, which never cease to come around, and always seem to offer some great revelation or lesson in the end. These times have been embraced by many as the most poignant way God speaks to them in their life.
But does God really intend on us going through those times? Is that really part of the plan?
We call these desert experiences as a biblical allusion to Moses and the nation of Israel. But if we read through Genesis again, we may find that they were left in the desert largely in part to continued rebellion and disobedience.
What does this say about our own spiritual journeys?
Most everyone has heard or read Footprints. You know, the story about Jesus and the guy looking back on life as a walk on a beach. The guy asks Christ why there was only one trail of footprints during the most difficult times, and Jesus says something like, I didn’t leave; those were the times that I carried you.
That’s all well and good, giving everyone warm and gooey feelings, like the kind we get when we watch romantic comedies starring Tom Hanks. But if I wrote the story, it would have been a little different.
Looking back, the guy would have noticed that at random points, the footprints both came to a pause, stood side-by-side, feet together. Then those footprints looked as if it had randomly wandered around the beach in a drunken, often circular fashion, going into the water and out again. Lastly, another footprint was left on the upper ground, seemingly having stopped for several naps. Noting this, the guy would make his query about it, and Jesus would simply say, That’s where I stood and waited patiently, while you tried things your way.
When we get to a place where we don’t feel God’s love, it is quite possible we’ve not been around God enough to let Him love on us.
God doesn’t stop loving us when we stray from consistent, meaningful fellowship with Him, or when we don’t live up to our calling, as Paul wrote about in Ephesians 4. In fact, God waits patiently.
We must realize that this whole life thing isn’t some science experiment. God created us because He wanted love from someone who had a choice to love Him or not. Jesus pointed out that the most important things to do in life is to love God and love people. That in a nutshell iswhat Jesus had to say about following Him.
The idea of God being disappointed in us when we do stray is not what the ”new covenant” is about. The concept of God’s grace is centered on the fact that He would be displeased with us it it weren’t for Christ. But Christ set us free from that. God’s not hung up on rules; we see Abraham was righteous because of his faith long before God’s law was even given to mankind. We screwed up the purpose for the law and in turn made ourselves slaves to it. Jesus came to free us from that so we can get back to that relationship.
The law does still exist, and we are called to honor it with our lives. However, God is no more disappointed in our failures now than before we believed.
Righteousness is hard. But we must remember that while righteous living is of utmost importance, God is still all about friendship.1 John 3:7 says “ … those who practice righteousness are righteous, just as He (Christ) is righteous.”
The key word here is practice. In a book full of harsh, depressing truths about integrity and grace, God communicates through 1 John that He knows we’ll screw up, but that’s not the point. Practice basketball and you become better. Practice righteousness and you are righteous.
So when you start thinking you haven’t been reading your Bible like you’re “supposed to,” or praying like “you should be,” ask yourself if it’s a lack of biblical knowledge and/or token prayers that’s making you feel dry and tired, or if it’s maybe caused by not spending time hanging out with the only one who can give us real rest.
Psalm 62[Chris Aytes is a writer, singer/songwriter, and co-youth director with his wife, Renelle, for the First United Methodist Church, in Great Bend, Kansas.]