The past 4 years, and especially the past one have been among the most difficult in my life. There have been joys as well, but for the most part my wife and I have just wondered out loud. " What is this all about Lord?" Working for a church, coupled with personal and family issues which never cease can bring a person to their knees, both in prayer and in desperation, and often in reverse order. While I am pretty good about avoiding self created drama (Pretty good, although I have finely tuned the art of denial), there is still the drama you are handed by simply being alive,and guaranteed if you follow Jesus.
I have often said that pastors are either playing the role of Moses, or Joshua. You can either help people get to the promised land, or you get to help them cross into it. The problem is, you never quite know which one it is until you are on the edge of it. The sure thing is, you will probably get to play both. Most often we get to play Moses, and I'm cool with that because I get to help prepare people move closer to God's purposes and promises. Just one thing, it involves being in the desert for quite a long time, learning lessons that you didn't think you needed to learn.
I have two friends who told me "George, you are in a desert. Not a literal desert, but a spiritual and emotional desert. The Lord has lead you to this desert. He will send angels to minister to you in the desert, but you can not wrestle your way out of it. Your job is to learn to be faithful in a new way while it lasts. There is nothing you can "do" to get out of it. No sacrifice you can offer that will be pleasing enough because the reality is you're just bargaining, and when has that ever worked with God?" Uggghhhh. I don't care for deserts.
I've been in one, literally, in Egypt, and I couldn't stand the heat. Deserts are dry places where very little lives. That which does live there stays hidden and out of sight because the sun exposes every thing's weaknesses. I dislike deserts.
This desert is totally exposing all my weaknesses. My desire for control. My desire to be liked. My desire to be complimented. My fear of rejection. My fear of being exposed as a fake. My fear of having done something wrong in the past that will affect my family. My fear of not making it through another day. My fear of not being good enough. My initial prayers and cries have been " Lord, just show me what I need to know. Show me what I'm looking for."
One of those same friends told me, " George, there are those of us who think God expects less from us than He does, and then there are those who think God expects more from us than He does. I think you think God expects a lot more out of you than He really does." Bingo, Bulls eye, we have a winner! I want to be God's go-to man. I want to believe the faith rises and falls on me. I want to be the one who carries the ball of Christianity across the finish line. I often have to stop myself and ask, " George, why are you trying to do what only God can do? Do you think He can handle it?" Yes. . . and no.
Side bar: I have the gift of being able to think through every possible scenario. I also have the curse of being able to think through every possible scenario. One produces measured results, the other produces . . . . paranoia.
Some of it is well intentioned. I want to show people Christ in a way that is authentic and not plastic. I want to show a Christianity that works. . . in all situations. I want personal holiness that brings God glory, and shows people Christ and not me.
Then there is the not so well intended reasons.
I want to get it done because no one else is doing it right. I want people to recognize me and point to me and say " We can always count on him."(Can you see the cape flowing in the breeze as I plant the Christian flag on the sunlit mountain side?) I love being that guy. I have been that guy several times in my life. It has huge payoffs. The problem is, it's not sustainable. The image and the reality are not the same, but for a moment.
Deserts are lonely places. You can be completely surrounded by family and friends, but if they are not experiencing the same issues, you are alone. Except for God.
Since entering my desert, God has not abandoned me. I can honestly say I have never felt as if God abandoned me. I can say I have questioned God, but I have never felt as if God was saying "Good luck with all that." Whether on top of a parking garage, in a green meadow, or while on a run God has always meat me. And those angels, he has sent a few. They have come in the form of my children, my wife, close friends, and new friends.
The pillar of cloud is now resting over Beaver, PA. For a season it was over Evanston. In either place, God has been telling me " Remain faithful. obey. Handle accurately the word of truth. Keep focused. Love me,and those whom I put in your path. In this you will find rest." Between the lines He's telling me " Don't waste time trying to find a silver bullet. Don't waste your energy trying to wrestle me. Don't try to present me with sweet smelling sacrifices. Keep your eyes and head moving forward."
Is there a promised land? Yes. But it too has its issues. In either case, desert or not, what I think God is trying to teach me and lead me into is rest. The kind of rest that looks like Jesus in the boat, asleep during the storm; trusting the Father in all things. The danger, the temptation, is to rest in things that are tangible like money, a new home, a job, or escaping into things that are emotional junk food like food itself, pornography, online relationship, you name it. It's perfectly natural for us to seek after rest and security. The question is, where and in what do we seek it?
I am learning what it means to rest in God in all things, giving thanks for today, and not placing expectations on tomorrow. Its completely counter intuitive to our culture of day-timers, forecasts, and predictions. It took Israel 40 years to learn to rest in God, day after day after day after day. It took an entire generation to learn rest (trust). I'm getting frustrated after a couple months.
In all of this, the desert is, dare I say, a gift. The desert allows us to experience God in the same way Moses, Jesus, and Paul did. It allows us, if we are willing, to trust in God alone for our provisions. No one wants a desert. No one asks for God to lead them into the desert, and yet there are a lot of desert experiences in scripture. I guess I'm in good company. I'm not alone. It appears deserts are necessary.
What is the purpose of deserts? Preparation. For what? Other deserts. If we learn to live faithfully in the current one, we are better prepared to live in the next. If we try to skip the present desert, we are guaranteed to face another one and experience the same trials. God is a God of second chances. That includes deserts. Ever wondered what Jesus meant by the abundant life promised to us? I think he meant fullness, but most like to translate that into wealth. I think Christ meant that if we follow his voice, we will experience a fullness of life, beyond our expectations. I have not meat people who have experienced that fullness who have also not experienced deserts. Could fullness include suffering? I think so.
I am slowly. . very slowly learning not to fear the desert. What God is doing to me in the midst of it is pointing out my weaknesses, and his strengths. God is changing me from the inside out.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Posted by George Atkins at 8:06 AM