The dry season has arrived on the Central Coast. Temperatures are high, the hills are brown and dry, and water is scarce. The deer are out at all times of the day looking to quench their thirst. The lush green hills are a distant memory and will be for several more months.
Dry seasons can happen to us as well. It is not uncommon for us to experience a season of dryness in our relationship with God. Most Christians will go through a spiritual desert experience some time in their life, but few will talk about it. Our spiritual desert can leave us confused, bewildered, frustrated, and wondering what we have done wrong.
Sometimes we do go through a dry season because of sin as David did in Psalm 3. However the Psalmist shows us in Psalm 42 that often a dry season will come upon us for no reason.
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? Psalm 42:1-3
The Psalmist paints a picture of a deer that is so thirsty that he is panting, yet there is no water to relieve its thirst. He compares this deer’s unquenchable thirst to his own desire to see God, to meet with God. He is going through a spiritual drought which has left him wondering where God is. This can happen and will happen to most of us. We can be doing everything right and suddenly a drought will come upon us and take us by surprise. We might find ourselves alone in the desert with no place to go and no idea how we got there. Lonely, depressed, fighting the darkness, we may flounder there for some time if we do not turn to the very God whom we feel has deserted us.
We must first take heart in the knowledge that we are not alone in that desert experience. Many a dear saint has been there before, and many will come after us. The writer of Psalm 42 (where is some debate whether it was David or someone else) was there and God thought it was important to chronicle his experience for future generations. God wanted to use the turmoil of this writer to minister to us and take away any guilt or shame we may carry.
I had my own a spiritual desert some years ago. I remember being stunned to find myself in that place. I knew no one who had ever gone through the drought and the darkness I was experiencing. The God I loved and served for so many years, was now silent. I questioned everything I knew and had been taught about Him. Fortunately, I picked up a book from my husband’s library written by Sinclair Ferguson titled, “Deserted by God.” The book opened up Psalm 42 for me and many other Psalms of lament, and I knew that I was not alone. I was also assured that somehow I would get through it.
Second we need to be honest with ourselves in our emotions and honest with God. We must pour out our soul as the Psalmist did. All of Psalm 42 and 43 is a confession of all that the writer is feeling and experiencing. Expressing our emotions both privately to God in prayer and with a trusted friend can help us process what we are facing. Be open in this process to what the Holy Spirit may expose in you as idols of the heart. God used my desert time to expose some false beliefs I had about Him and myself. I came out of that experience knowing God more intimately and trusting Him more fully.
Third, we need to continue to do in the dark what we learned to do in the light. In other words, we must continue to pray, read our Bible, attend our small groups, go to church and worship corporately. We will not feel like doing these things. We may think they are a waste of time. Even if we do not “feel” like doing the things that God has commanded of us, we need to be more disciplined than ever. Talk to the absent God about His absence. Read the songs of lament that other saints have written in His Word. Attend weekly church services not only for the preaching but to be around other believers. We tend to isolate ourselves from other believers when we are discouraged.
When I went through a desert experience the last thing I wanted to do was go to church. My husband was between ministries at the time and I had been deeply wounded by leaders and people in our previous church. My husband insisted that we get back into church right away. We attended a friend’s church during that time and though my body was obedient, my heart was not. Still as the weeks went by I felt myself warming up to this church and the people who loved me so well.
Fourth, we need to remember the grace of God. The Psalmist says
My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
He remembers the goodness of God and His abundant grace towards him.
Fifth, we need to hang onto hope and preach the Word of God to ourselves.
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
What we know to be true in the scripture often stays in our head instead of trickling down into our hearts. So we preach to ourselves the truth of God’s word over and over again until that trickling becomes a river of life to our soul. And we remember that there is One who was abandoned by God so that we would not be. We remember there is one who experienced utter separation from God so that God could say to us, “I am with you always.” We remember there is One who died that we might live.
Just as the deer waits and hopes for Spring when the grass is lush and water is abundant, so we wait and hope for our own season to change, and Spring to arrive.
Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God