The arid land where nothing grows is what we associate with the word 'desert.' The dictionary confirms that it means 'uninhabited waterless region.' In a metaphorical way, our lives are really wasteland, not growing fruitful trees, not bringing forth luscious green pastures, not permitting sheep to graze and gain nourishment. Our lives try to achieve goals set by human standards.
As 'desert' denotes a cut-off, separated, abandoned environment which is dry and desolate, it signifies a time when individuals are feeling lost, rejected, confused, lonely, heartbroken, or stressed out. It may result from failure, loss of job, death of a loved one (parent or child), estrangement from spouse, health problems, financial crisis, an addiction getting the better of you, or diagnosis of a terminal illness. In short, it connotes a 'time of affliction,' and many people walk away from God who can hurt them so much.
We think we are self-sufficient and capable of taking care of ourselves. We have forgotten to take time to pray. We have been depending on ourselves rather than on God. Then suddenly we feel overworked, have no time to call our own, we are sick with neglect of ourselves, life seems meaningless, everything seems to fall apart, and we are exposed to a change that we cannot adjust to; we feel lost and powerless, and succumb to despair. Only then we turn to God and depend totally on Him.
In the 'desert' we come of age-we mature. God purposes and plans the 'deserts' for each one of us. We admit fear and seek courage from God; we admit weakness and seek to gain strength from God; the 'desert experience' is where we have that astounding realisation that we have to let go of all that blocks our love for God and surrender ourselves totally to Him. We change our priorities; we learn to treasure every moment; we leave all that is not of God and cling to all that is of God.
Much wealth can be gained from this experience. Scripture is replete with examples of individuals who were drawn into the desert experience and gained. God even sent persons literally into the desert.
Hagar was rejected by Abraham and Sarah. She was left homeless, aimless and hopeless in the desert, with her son Ishmael, who was dying from the scorching heat and thirst. God miraculously led her to a well of water. That was indeed divine provision.
Jacob was fleeing from Esau; his desert experience was from the fear of his brother's rage and revenge. Walking and running till he could no more, he lay down. He dreamt of a ladder leading to heaven with angels going up and down. The Lord standing at the top gave him the promise of divine care.
Joseph, being the favoured son of his father, was sold by his jealous brothers to Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt. We know how he resisted the seduction of the wife of his master Potiphar, and was thrown into prison. He bore the disgrace and punishment without retaliation, only to become the most powerful person in Egypt when he interpreted Pharoah's dream.
Moses fled from Egypt to the desert of Midian, after killing an Egyptian to save his Hebrew brother. Giving up his life of pomp and show, he lived as a simple shepherd for 40 years in Midian. Then God gave him the divine mission to lead His people out of bondage.
Does it not surprise you that Jesus too had the 'desert experience'? He did not exclude Himself from being truly human. He realised what God was calling Him to. He had to combat Satan and so He took up 40 days of prayer and fasting to receive strength to overcome temptation. Jesus felt forsaken, lonely, confused; even on the last night in the garden of Gethsemane, right to the cross at Calvary, He felt a terrible inability to go through God's plan of redemption for mankind. He had terrible anguish while voicing, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"
God has to break us human beings and give us brokenness. Every individual has his ego in varying proportions. Everyone wants to prove his/her superiority, capability and worth. Everyone wants to air his/her opinion with 'I think,' whether anyone wants the opinion or not! Even the Apostle Peter fell a victim to his pride and overconfidence. When he denied Jesus, his pride was shattered, he was devastated-a broken vessel in the depths of sorrow. The Bible tells us, that he wept bitterly (Matt. 26:75).
Our life-styles are not in keeping with an abundant life. How many of us waste our lives in mundane affairs, our money in superfluous gadgets and possessions, and our talents and time on unproductive pastimes? We overrate ourselves and tend to think others are worthless or no good, especially when they cannot do a job as well as we can. The Apostle Paul advises in Romans 12:3,4, " Realise what you do because it is a gift from God; for we have many members in one body and all the members have not the same office." We complement each other.
"In the rush and noise of life, we need intervals when we can step within ourselves and be still, wait upon God and feel His presence. This will carry you through your life's business" (William Penn). As families and as individuals, we are called to take time out and seek God. There are places which regularly organise retreats every year when whole families flock together, seeking pure communion with God, God's people and meditation on God's Word. In truth, setting oneself apart to devote time wholly to God's regime gives a chance for introspection, reflection and further perspective. It is not enough to seclude oneself in the house because interruptions are imminent and daily chores cannot be avoided.
Uninterrupted communion with God is like applying healing balm to the wounds in the world. It develops a closer walk with God and is almost like the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve had no chores to do and only had fellowship with God. The sin of Adam brought us into a chaotic life of toil for food, clothing and shelter. The joy and contentment of being in God's presence and doing what He commanded has taken a back-seat in the lives of fallen man.
The oasis we go to is for spiritual renewal-a refreshing place where there are no barriers of denomination, age, class or race. Christ died for everyone. The kingdom of God is a classless colour-blind society! Oasis is a time in your life when you have to 'repent and turn around.' In Greek, the word 'repentance' means 'right about turn'-to turn from wrong to right, and from sin to righteousness. So put your back to the carnal and face God. John the Baptist called out to the people, who came to hear him in the desert, with sharp and curt words. He preached repentance with a powerful invitation and warning of the coming judgement, "Prepare your hearts and straighten your paths." His was a divine ministry which transformed the hearts of many. So also, retreat places will transform your lives. The Spirit of God convicts the heart and creates awareness of the sin lurking in us, leading to repentance and new life. We overcome the inner barriers of pride, prejudice, guilt, ego, critical spirit and the like.
Many lives are barren like a desert, experiencing no joy, love, tenderness or compassion, but full of harsh words, revenge and intolerance. Christ is the Living Water (Jn. 4). When Christ enters such lives, they become joyful, loving, tender hearted, patient and humble. They enjoy abundant life and absolute peace.
Let us be fertile like the Oasis, seek the lost, heal the broken hearted, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and work for peace on earth.