Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.
Picture in your mind an entire country the size of New Jersey. That’s Israel… 263 miles from North to South and 71 miles East to West. Jesus’s footprints covered an incredibly small square footage when you think about the impact He made across the world and for so many generations. The landscape was unlike anything I had expected. Israel is a beautiful country, stretching from mountains to desert to rivers and seas. On our second day, we made our way into the Israeli Zin desert where the Israelites spent most of their 40 years; the two days spent there – led by Rod and Libby Van Solkema – were enlightening to my spirit.
It’s easy to view the desert as barren, arid land where very little could grow, much less thrive, but I learned that the desert shaped the story of God’s people. When He leads you into a spiritual desert, it’s to draw you away from the distractions and noise of a fruitful land, and into a space that requires dependence and focus on Him alone.
The Bible refers to the desert more than any other physical place. Most of us are familiar with the Israelites’ 40 years of wandering through the dusty, mountainous, sandy terrain, their conversations full of grumbling, complaining and doubting the God who had led them out of slavery in a miraculous show of protection and provision. They felt lost and stranded as they wandered deeper and deeper into the deserted unknown.
What they (and we!) failed to realize, is that God didn’t just deliver them from their captors and take His hands off, He led them into the desert, and continued to be their guide for those 40 years, ultimately leading them directly into the promised land flowing with milk and honey. As we feel the temperatures and heat rise around us, when we’re in the middle of fiery trials, it is imperative that we press into a God that provides and protects us, and who is leading us through the deserts and into His promised land of riches and glory.
As we trekked through the Zin desert and worked our way across the rocky landscape, we saw movement above us on the mountain. We realized that the movement was the agile balancing of small deer (they looked like goats in our eyes) nimbly traversing their environment. We watched them in amazement as we read the Scripture in Habakkuk about God equipping His people with the feet of the deer.
My time in the desert (literally) will forever change the way I prepare my heart for my times in the desert (figuratively). Rather than plead with God to deliver me out of the deserts He leads me into, I will recognize that when He draws me away from my place of comfort, it is to speak to me intimately and in silence… in His Holiest of Holies. Secondly, my prayers will receive a transformative renovation. Rather than praying that God would take the desert away from me, I will pray like Habakkuk that instead, God would give me the feet of the deer to equip me to traverse the desert well.
No matter what the terrain looks like on your current path, I urge you not to plead with God to change the path, but rather earnestly seek Him and ask that He would change you to walk that path well. The desert isn’t a land defined by scarcity; it’s a land fruitful in its potential to encounter God radically.
*all images courtesy of the talented Ben Wierda. Thank you for sharing with us, Ben!