Is my God-assigned temporary shelter-in-place a picnic in a luxuriant park or a bleak and lonely desert with endless stretches of hot sand, no water and a scarcity of greenery? Attractive only to snakes and scorpions, the latter surely is not a Disney World destination. Believe it or not, a desert can become a tourist attraction to draw thousands of people, and my shelter-in-place can also become not only tolerable but God's lavish Wonder World.
It takes a literal “heavenly atmospheric alignment” to transform an apparent wasteland into a springtime bloom extravaganza. And a change of perspective on my part to bloom where I am planted by this vicious virus. When a unique combination of sun, wind, water, temperature and elevation sets the stage and the precise location is determined, an explosion of wildflowers can happen in certain so-called arid deserts.
The magic scenario? Rain in small doses throughout the winter—too little rain provides a poor climate for seed germination. Too much rain, and the seeds could rot or be washed away. Showers too early or too late in the season snuff out possibilities of this fireworks of wildflower blossoms. Temperature is also critical. If the sun gets too hot, the seeds may become parched and seedlings scorched—extremely cold temperatures spell bad news for blossoms. Timing is everything.
The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in southeastern California displays what is called a "super bloom" on occasion. The typically bare park,comes alive with vibrant greenery, poppies, primroses, and lilies not planted and cultivated by man's hands. The Creator seems to like to surprise us. Even the inhospitable Death Valley desert which straddles California and Nevada gets in on the action! God paints the desert with lavish colors. The window of opportunity for human eyes to see this incredible display is only brief.
Cactus plants regularly join in the fun. Right in the middle of their profusion of sharp stay-away-from-me spines grow the most spectacular flowers in the entire Southwest.
Splashes of bright red, yellow, pink, orange, and lavender dot the barren landscape. Some cacti have long roots stretching as much as eighty feet underground. As part of the complex ecosystem, they store water in their leaves, their thorns protect the stem and give shade and shelter to human and animal life.
THE ANALOGY TO OUR SPIRITUAL LIVES.
In this surreal time of global pandemic, some of us find ourselves in isolated, arid places—literal or figurative. We may not lack for survival provisions, but we view our situation as a desert. We might even prefer an Amazon tropical rain forest jungle or a bleak mountain, or a deep valley. Here in our virtual mental, emotional, social and spiritual desert the fierce hot wind bites our face. We sweat. We have parched, cracked lips and we taste gritty sand. The heat burns through the soles of our shoes. We have an insatiable thirst. We feel downright miserable and our lot becomes intolerable.
Yet the declaration of the apostle Paul rings in our ears, “Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content” (Philippians 4:11). Is that true of me? Wherever I am? In whatever circumstances? Yes, if I am a child of God, He has uniquely planted me for this slice of time wherever I am for my good and for His glory and His purposes. That includes the inhospitable virtual desert of our isolated circumstances. But something positively spectacular could happen to me wherever I am!
What makes the difference between despair in my circumstances and hope for change? Recognizing the loving presence of Jesus can suddenly burst my life into “super bloom” if I open myself to embrace with joy the conditions He has arranged for me.
The sun (we must be in right relationship with the Son), the wind (Wind of the Holy Spirit must be invited to blow freely through our lives), the water (we must keep ourselves hydrated with the Living Water, Jesus, from above through rain or below from aquifer underground rivers that run secretly cool and fresh deep beneath the desert sand), the temperature must be the right balance between hot and cold (but Jesus doesn't want us to be lukewarm spiritually) and the elevation (we must be standing firmly high on the Rock which is Jesus. I've traveled through the Sinai desert. Immense rocks jut forth from the desert sand.) All these conditions need to be fully aligned in us in order to germinate beauty from our aridity and burst forth into full bloom spiritually.
God's purpose for us, however, is not simply to “stand around blooming.” A spectacular sight, yes, and a witness for Him to others in the desert around us, but He primarily desires us to be His channels for that Living Water which He provides sufficient for all. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 Paul lets us know why we may be going through such personal desert trials, hardships, exhaustion, frustration, affliction and stress. God lavishes His comfort on us so that we can comfort others and point them to the all-sufficiency of God.
How? We can offer cups of cold water to others who are thirsty because we have experienced thirst that has been quenched. We can wash their burning, sandy feet. We are to be God's “well-watered gardens.” God wants us to be signposts inviting the thirsty to the flourishing, abundant Oasis which is Christ Himself, the Ever-flowing Spring, where they can drink freely.
If we consider ourselves in a virtual desert, let's take heart! God's promises abound in the Scriptures of what He will do for us and through us in desert places. The following verses from Isaiah applied first of all to Israel historically, but the principles are applicable to us now: “I have given waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert...I pour out water on the thirsty land...I will guide them to springs of water.
“I will make her desert like the garden of the Lord...the Lord will satisfy your soul in scorched places...you will be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters do not fail...like streams in the desert...I will make the desert a pool of water, and the dry land fountains of water....” “The desert will be glad and rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it will blossom profusely...”
And so will we in our aridity and discontent as we allow God to make our shelter-in-place deserts into His well-watered gardens.
Was the following verse written just for such a time as this?
“Come, my people, [go home] [go into your rooms and lock your doors] [go into seclusion] enter into your rooms [shut yourselves in] and close your doors behind you; hide in there for a little while, [a short time] until indignation runs its course [God's anger is finished] [the punishing wrath is past” (Isaiah 26:20 in various versions)
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