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Unpredictable and mysterious, desert experiences come as differently as the seasonal winds shift the sand designs upon its floor. Questions abound more than answers, and even when we think we understand, the unfolding of time provides insights we could have never known. However, for most of them, these times in our lives transport us to similar surroundings – dusty, dry conditions that expose our superficial securities. They are not easy paths, and probably not meant to be. Yet, they can be incredibly life-altering where our hearts become sensitive to that around us which has seemed invisible.

When living in the midst of the desert, the aloneness can become overwhelming. Acutely aware of our circumstances, we search for companionship to share the experience as well as for promises to sustain us. While most of the time humanity remains at a distance, there is a discovery that awaits us.

The Old Testament King David shares an amazing promise for our journey during these times…

“Sing to God, sing praises to His name; Lift up a song for Him who rides through the deserts, whose name is the Lord and exult before Him.” Psalm 68:4, NASB (emphasis mine)

We are not alone in our “desert” times. The Lord Himself comes to the very place we find ourselves. Whether we’ve come because of our choice or not, He becomes our company and our promise. His presence sustains and nourishes our heart, gives direction to our wanderings, and serves as the final answer for drawing goodness from our experience. The desert times are mostly about deeper union with Him. Despite what we may see around us, He who shares our road as we pass through these times of parchedness makes all the difference.

Silent Presence

In the face of trials and problems, the pressure to have answers for those we walk with is strong. We sit listening, feeling their pain, and search desperately for something to share that will bring relief. Sometimes, our focus turns to diagnosing the reason they are in this position as if this somehow helps. But most of the time, it doesn’t. Truthfully, we know we have nothing to offer in the way of a complete solution. Still, our hearts want to be useful, even in these challenging times.

Flipped around, we all have been on the other side, experiencing similar low points. Everywhere we look, the road seems blocked, or worse, nonexistent. We have no answers, and without thinking, we begin hoping to find them in others. Answers to our questions dominate our attention. However, deep down we discover there is another cry. We want to know others are with us, especially in these trying times. And maybe that’s all we need for the moment – just having someone willing to stand by our side.

Similarly, I wonder about the same in my relationship with God. Seasons arrive in my life where I am desperate for direction. I pray, declare, believe, and so one, only to hear next to nothing in return. Hours and days pass with little tangible insight. Yet, the comfort I receive surprises me as I begin to realize something else is happening. In those moments, God holds me, but offers few words. My heart settles down, and peace comes with unexpected hope. 

Just as God offers His silent presence at times in difficult seasons, we too can offer the same to those important in our lives. Moments will come where answers are scarce. As they do, we must never forget that our staying by their side, even without answers, may be what they need to find their way.

We all have them. Times in our lives that are marked by difficulty, trial, testing, challenges, or whatever descriptive word you may use. Still, knowing that others encounter the same does little for our own hearts as we walk through them. We wake up surrounded by darkness, as if we are standing at the bottom of a deep valley with nothing but sheer rock walls on every side. At first glance, we feel small and insignificant compared to the enormous scene before us. Even the sun above remains hidden, covered by both the depth and hiddenness of our plight. And worse of all, our hearts grow weary, stabbed by the pain of abandonment. How can I get through this? Am I alone? What do I do?

God’s answer to our many questions surprises us. Amid the oppressive scene and our personal discouragement, He asks us to look again at our valley. But this time, He encourages us look for His Presence and provision. With a mystified gaze, we obey. Astonished and awakened with new hope, the scene transforms. We now stand in a flowing river of crystal clear water. Stooping down, we scoop the water into our mouth with both hands. Cool and refreshing, it tastes wonderful. Slowly, but surely, the ominous quality of the valley gives way to the power of the river as light begins to fill what once was the narrow and darkened space. Prompted by a silent, but loving call, we begin taking steps and  follow the river’s flow. Trust builds in our hearts as we give ourselves to the one greater than our circumstances.  

Like a river in the deepest valley, God’s promise of Presence and help becomes more apparent in our valley seasons. In the natural world, water flows the greatest in the deepest recesses of the land. And with God, He does the same. Our darkest, most overwhelming time cannot compare to God’s provision of refreshing life and direction. He created us with the capacity to receive Him and His heart. Doing so equips us with eternal hope and courage as we see what He sees. Valley seasons are truly special opportunities to become defined not by what we encounter, but by God’s promises for our journey through it.

If you’re standing in a deep valley today, look for God’s river of living water. He promises His best for times like these, desiring to make us stronger and more trusting of His true heart of faithfulness and kind love. When you find His water in your valley, drink long and deep. The effect on your heart and life will surprise you. Courage and hope will be restored as you experience His Presence in a fresh way.

Living in Wonder

Our hearts were made for wonder. The vitality and freshness of life we experience has much to do with the wonder that captures us. And wonder dwells in the largeness of life relative to our own understanding. We like to think that increased knowledge brings expectant life. But in reality, when we are amazed beyond our knowing, our gaze is directed to author of all life.

What about the wonder that surrounds us? A day never passes without it. The question is do we see it? Do we stop long enough to be consumed by the wealth of wonder of our lives? Consider the following wonders…

The reddening streaks upon wispy clouds as the sun sets;

The perfect formation of a v-shaped flock of geese soaring high in the sky;

The contagious laughter of young children playing together;

The sound of our own breathing, methodical and life-giving;

The deep peace of stillness;

The way of a hummingbird alighting and drinking the nectar of its passion;

The vibrancy of infinite color that fills our world;

The gripping power of a great story;

The emergence of a new life being born;

The raw power of thunderous storms with pounding rain;

And the list goes on…

Hope and strength mingle with wonder to arrest our hearts for He who gave us life. Every thought of God’s heart exudes wonder, and the greatest wonder of all comes in His desire to share them with us. His knock comes faithfully each day upon our heart’s door waiting for our invitation. As we invite Him in, heaven’s atmosphere of wonder changes everything.

Hugs and Kisses

Over the past few days, my 3-year old daughter has struggled with my leaving the house and being separated from her. Whether I’m going to work or running an errand, she genuinely becomes emotional at my absence. Paining my heart, my leaving has become harder and harder. 

In response to these trying moments, I have sought to simply hold her tightly, kiss her on her cheek and tell her  how much I love her. I let her know I will be back, and at times, this seems to help. At other times, I shut the door in my leaving to the heart-wrenching sounds of her crying for me.

In one sense, my heart is deeply touched over her affection and desire for my presence in her life. But in another, I am pained in knowing that my separation affects her in this manner. Yet, I have also realized that emotions aside, something more important is happening. Our exchange of hugs and kisses is growing abiding security reflecting the deepening union of our hearts as father and daughter.

God’s interaction with us is no different. Each day brings His own hugs and kisses, able to fill our hearts with surpassing joy, peace and encouragement. Beyond our successes or failures, He peers deep into the fabric of our hearts seeing the truth of our lives as He created them. And everyday His message  to us remains unchangable – “I love you more than anything!”. So vast and powerful is His love that all the universe orients itself to welcome our drawing near.

The intensity of God’s response to our longing for Him surpasses that of my own towards my daughter. And yet, my own pained, but joyous heart gives a dim picture of what the Father in Heaven experiences with us. The worth of our lives moves Him with abiding love more than we can imagine. And like that of my daughter, our own hearts can be established with more security as we receive His daily hugs and kisses.

Pour Out Your Heart

There are those moments, and sometimes extended seasons, where answers to life’s questions are few and far between. The wrestling becomes intense, not only over the weight of the questions, but also regarding how to carry them. We either feel tossed around like a feather in the midst of a storm, or like we’re stuck in quicksand, paralyzed with little direction.

Beyond our questions, another struggle adds an even greater threat. Harassing voices run like a continuous message in our ears. “Your failing”, “There is no hope”, “Look at the mess you’ve made” and the like pierce our hearts like daggers, even though they have no truth. Soon, the sheer constancy of their presence weakens our heart’s door. The twins of discouragement and fear pound relentlessly, wanting to make their home within us.

Combined together, these experiences can drive us into deep, dark valleys. The light of hope, joy and abundant living seems dim or even absent. We look around and see everything scarred with pain, heaviness and/or fear. Our sight is cloudy at best, and we wonder when the darkness will engulf us.

Quietly, but with magnified power, a call arises in these depressing circumstances. Our ears recognize the unique sound, while our hearts sense the presence behind it.  All else captivating our gaze falls back as if reeling from an invisible shock wave. The comprehended words instantly energize hope, giving strength to our weakened heart. Powerful and life-giving, the invitation now becomes clear…

“O my precious people, trust in Me at all times. Pour out your heart to Me, for I am your refuge.”  
God  (adapted from Psalm 62:8, Holy Bible)

Immediately, our hearts become immersed in wondrous, kind love. We’re overwhelmed as we realize how personal God wants to be in our lives, especially during our “valley” seasons. His call, while filled with hope, is also radically honest, revealing the true issue of our heart wrestling…

Who will we trust?

Yes, it’s true. As we reflect over our past, we have no choice but to admit how often we run to and fro seeking to find something or someone to give us trustworthy answers to our questions. We seek the wisdom of others, both past and present, hoping for that magic key that would solve our present dilemmas. And yet, we always end up in the same place…little to no satisfaction.

Incredibly, our answers come not in what we seek to receive, but rather in what we give. Able to be the lone refuge of safety and protection in the midst of heartache and great challenge, God calls us to come to Him with open and honest hearts. The refuge He generously provides becomes the reason for our uninhibited heart cry, however joyful, pained or perplexed it may be. We discover in our offering His deep and abiding presence and pleasure. With our hearts in His hands, our trust grows deeply, securely establishing our lives upon Him and His faithful love.

God’s invitation to come remains open regardless of circumstance. Whether upon the mountain of amazing joy or in the deepest valley facing fears within and without, He longs to hear the depths of our hearts. Doing so gives God our trust, and transforms our hearts to live in peace and rest with Him who cares about every aspect of our lives. As for our questions, they may remain. But our growing trust lies not in their answer, but rather in Him who is greater than any question.

Life today, marked by frenzied sound and activity, seems to never stop. We go, go, go, and surround ourselves with technology that enables us to go even faster. We share often how much we are getting done, as if the more we do, the better. Tangible productivity becomes the measure of success, and the accolades mount all around us.

But I wonder, what does constant activity and noise do to our heart?

As long as I can remember, quietness has been an integral part of my life. Whether having to do with my environment,  relationships or prayer life, my times of silent withdrawal have become a profound treasure. Even God’s silence over particular aspects of my life offers me opportunities to discover something new and fresh. While the silence has been awkward at times, its effect upon my life has been profound.

A unique and particular beauty surrounds experiences of quietness. Our sensitivity to the realness of God’s presence increases with growing clarity, color and vividness. In these moments, whether accidental or by design, our eyes and ears are opened to new realms of wonders all around us. Life seems different even though nothing apparent has changed.

A mirror for more honest reflection, quietness, or intentional stillness, opens a new wellspring of refreshing waters for our hearts. Activity and distracting sounds diminish, allowing the real to become more real. Just as God permeates all of heaven, He desires to permeate earth and its people. But He needs permission, and only we can give it.  Quietness is one key to open this wondrous door of His extraordinary life.

Honesty in our quiet reflection draws God’s presence and removes the dams holding back His rivers of living waters. To be still places our trust in Him who knows all yet remains by our side. Ultimately, turning aside into quietness means standing against the incessant, life-draining flow of earthly life in order to be refreshed by heaven’s River of Life. 

 We change in quietness. We become more real with ourselves, others and God. And in that place of growing honesty, refreshing water heals and strengthens our hearts. Vision and hope are again restored,  pulsing with great expectation. May we all find that place of quietness and turn aside.