Five years ago, I spent a summer in the mountains, culminating in a night hike up Pike’s Peak to watch the sunrise. I’ve never seen anything more beautiful. But as I left my mountain high for dusty West Texas, I entered a dry season unlike any I have experienced. Loneliness, hurt, and stress dominated my life. In my desert season, I gained valuable insight into the purpose of these wanderings.
1) The desert is meant to isolate us.
Our desert walks are times where God isolates us from people and things we would normally run to for familiarity. The children of Israel wandered in the desert and were isolated for forty years. Exodus 13:17 says, "When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.' But God led the people around by way of the wilderness.”
He knew their hearts intimately, knew they would run back to comfort. So, God proved Himself Provider with food from heaven, water from rocks, a pillar of smoke to lead them by day, and a pillar of fire to lead them by night. The desert is a place where God breaks us so that we turn to Him. He shows up in mighty ways that we might have missed if we remained on the mountaintop.
2) The desert refines and equips us.
The goal of the Christian life is metamorphosis into Christlikeness. To have that transformation, we must experience the mountaintop as well as the desert. If he sends us there, He will give us the tools we need to survive.
For example, camels can withstand high heat and survive on limited water. Cacti conserve water within their bodies to enable them to go with little water for a long period of time. These plants and animals not only survive but thrive in the desert. He equips them for the circumstances. If the Lord does this for the plants and animals (Matthew 6: 26-30), how much more will He do it for those created in His very image (Genesis 1:26)?
3) The desert is a place to both remember and forget.
In 1 Chronicles, David charges the people to remember the miracles and judgments God had done. But in Isaiah 43:18, the Lord says, "Forget the former things, do not dwell in the past. See, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." The Israelites could get so bogged down on what God had done in the past that they couldn’t see what He wanted to do next. The desert is both a place for us to remember what God has done but also look toward the horizon with anticipation for what He both desires and promises to do.
You may be smack dab in the middle of a desert that seems to have no end. Understand that the desert is His tool to draw you closer. Remember what He has done and look for the pillar of fire that is leading you out of the desert and to the next mountain He has purposed for you to climb!