The People of God Refuel in the Desert
I have only been to one desert in my life. I was traveling with a band to Reno, NV. We stopped along the road for a pit stop (and when I say “pit stop,” I mean a place on the side of the road to go to the bathroom). This was a desolate place. I can’t imagine spending a large amount of time in a place like that. Five minutes was long enough.
Imagine spending 40 days in the desert. Some of you may have been there in a metaphoric sense. Many of us probably haven’t.
I live in Springfield, MO. In Springfield, we have more caves than just about anywhere. In fact, I didn’t struggle with seasonal allergies until I moved to Springfield in 2003, and I blame it on the caves, with all that the water underneath me at all times and the mold it grows. I’ve been in many caves as both an amateur explorer and tourist. But I can’t imagine making a cave into my home.
Some of you have. Many of us probably haven’t.
And yet, for some reason, God seems to love both deserts and caves.
Luke 4 is where we read about Jesus being tempted by the devil during Jesus’ 40-day stay in the desert. We might suppose that the reason the devil tempted Him there was that Jesus would have been weaker, and thus more vulnerable to succumbing to temptation. And maybe that truly was the devil’s strategy, but what he found was that in the desert Jesus was actually more spiritually robust to fend off the traps of the enemy. Luke 4:13 ends this passage with, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” In other words, the wilderness, the desolate place, was not an opportune time for the enemy to attack because it was where Jesus was strongest.
Maybe that’s also why we see so many instances where Jesus withdrew to lonely places to pray. This withdrawal was not so much a way to escape, but a way to recharge. We can naturally be scared of the silence. We can avoid the desolate place because it’s too uncomfortable. After all, we can rather prefer our lives of busyness and distraction.
Yet it’s when we carve out time and space to be still with the Lord, in His presence, that we find the strength we need.
In 1 Kings 19, we see the prophet Elijah in the back of a cave, hiding for his life from the evil Queen Jezebel. God asks him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (emphasis mine). God invites Elijah to come to the entrance of the cave to watch and then offers several fantastic displays of power: a great and powerful wind, an earthquake, and fire.
Yet God was not in any of these spectacles. It was after these loud events that God finally came—but it was in the hushed whisper of His presence. The Bible describes it as “a still small voice.” This was what drew Elijah further out of the cave so that God could ask the same question, but perhaps with a different emphasis: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (emphasis mine).
There’s only one way you can hear someone whispering: they have to be close to you.
It was there in the cave that God revealed His nearness to Elijah. The fiery prophet needed to experience God in a way that lacked the demonstrative feats of strength. He needed presence more than pyrotechnics. And what He found is that presence is…enough. It’s enough to fuel us for the ministry ahead of us.
In the desert, Jesus shows us that as we deny ourselves, making the desolate place a priority, we will find strength—strength to resist temptation and to show compassion to others, even when we have every right to be focused on ourselves and our own stuff.
In the cave, Elijah show us that as we lean into God’s presence, we gain the strength to press on through discouragement and fear.
I want to encourage you to draw near to God’s presence in the stillness so that you can have the strength needed to lead and serve His people come Sunday morning and on into Monday—showing compassion and providing healing for hurt people.
As we deny ourselves, making the desolate place a priority, we will find strength.