I am convinced. The present day church is in need of another counter-cultural movement birthed in the desert places.
We are standing at the threshold of another reformation and again there are structural doors that cry out for truth born in love to be nailed to them.
Have you ever heard the phrase “desert season” or “spiritual wilderness”? What comes to mind? People half dead, delirious from dehydration being somehow punished for their sins? Unfortunately, that is the picture I see painted many times in sermons or messages.
Biblically, deserts were not places of lack and misery. They were places where people came to know the wilds of God’s love for them in a way no other place could teach them. Deserts are places of raw intimacy with Jesus where our comfort-zones are shattered and our props and pretense are stripped away, where reformers are born and nations are shaped.
The desert is the place where God becomes our focus and the platforms of men only find meaning inside of Him. I have walked long with the desert fathers of old, the early church leaders and the Celtic saints. Their writings gave me my first language for understanding my own journey with Jesus.
The desert fathers and mothers were radical lovers of Jesus who escaped the Constantinean reforms of 313 AD that imposed a political empire on the church that still informs the way we do things millennia later. Instead, the desert fathers built a community that was a counter-cultural stance against the power structures taking over the fabric of their faith.
They embraced an ebb and flow of solitude and togetherness which brought them closer to the Father and to one another. Deserts were places to find sanity and freedom from a politicized church system run a muck. And in turn their desert journeys inspired other generations, especially the Celtic Christians a few centuries later.
There is a story about the meeting of two desert monks. A younger monk sought out an older monk and recited all of his spiritual disciplines. He came with the question in his heart, “What else can I do?” The older monk lifted his hands towards heaven and his fingers become like lamps of fire. He replied, “If you will, you can become all flame.”
Desert journeys are truly about that. About becoming all flame.
Desert seasons are not miserable seasons of God withdrawing or being absent. Far from it. They are seasons of Him presencing, presenting Himself differently in order to draw us deeper into more of Who He is. Deserts are places of burning bushes and miracles of provision. They are the places we are wooed and spoken tenderly to, given back our vineyards, where we lay our head upon the rock and wake to meet angels. Deserts are where the valley of dejection becomes a door of Hope. They are the places we come up out of leaning on Him Who is the Lover of our souls.
Yes there are times God seems a bit far, His hand a bit slow for our liking. But He really isn’t. Ever far or slow.
So sweet friend, may you run to the desert knowing burning bushes of commissioning, deep wells of compassion and holy encounters where you are named and you meet God face to face are waiting for you there. It is from this place reformers are being shaped to prepare the way once again for the Jesus to make Himself known.
I’ll leave you with a prayer scribbled in the corner of one of my Africa journals.