Periodically we find ourselves in a desert place, spiritually speaking. It may not be an extreme “dark night of the soul” kind of thing, but times of dryness and uncertainty can be just as unsettling.
It's pretty important to have a road when you're going through a desert. A true desert is pathless; the sands shift with the winds and everything looks the same as far as the eye can see. But if there is a road, there is guidance; there is hope that something better lies ahead, because every road leads to something. This idea of a road through the desert reminds me of a trip my husband and I took when we were at a conference in Arizona. We decided to spend a day sightseeing, and we were intrigued by the beautiful description in our guidebook of “Oak Creek Canyon.” We got on the highway indicated by the book…and for two hours we drove through utter wasteland. It looked like there could not possibly be anything as beautiful as Oak Creek Canyon in that vast desert. Without the promise of the guidebook we would have had no hope of ever seeing anything but desert, and we would have turned back after the first hour of boring scenery. Without the road marked for us to follow, we would have been hopelessly lost in very harsh terrain. But as we followed the road, suddenly we came upon a stream flowing through the canyon. Driving around a bend, we were stunned to see crystal clear waters, lush trees and flowering plants surrounding us on every side. Amazing! In the middle of the desert, a stream in the wasteland appeared—the very picture of our verse:
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” —Isaiah 43:18-19
This week we will focus on verse 18, which is the first sentence of the passage; and we’ll start by getting some context on Isaiah 43. For the first 39 chapters of Isaiah, the prophet is telling the Israelites about the judgment of God that is about to come upon them because of their continued disobedience. But beginning in chapter 40, he transitions to a message of hope; telling them of God's plan for eventual restoration and His never-ending love. When we get to chapter 43, God is reminding His people of who they are and what He has done for them, recounting the parting of the Red Sea and the miraculous escape from Egypt that He orchestrated (vv. 15-17).
Then in the very next verse He says (essentially), “Forget all that!”
Why would God say this, right after making sure they remember the history of His deliverance? Isn't it important to recall the things God has done in the past?
It is...and we will talk more about that next week.
When God says here to forget the former things and not dwell on the past, He is encouraging us to live in the present….experiencing Him fully in the here and now. Look back a little further in Isaiah 43 to verse 10, which says:
“‘But you are my witnesses, O Israel!’ says the Lord….‘You have been chosen to know Me, believe in Me, and understand that I alone am God.’”
So if you've ever wondered about the purpose of your life, here it is in black and white! It was His purpose for the children of Israel, and it is His purpose for you and me. We have been chosen (and don't let the importance of that word slip past you) to:
Know Him…Believe Him…Understand that He alone is God
I checked numerous other translations and every one has those same three words: know, believe, and understand. We can see clearly that it is God’s purpose for us to be in relationship with Him and to know Him deeply by experiencing Him in the present moment.
The problem is that a close relationship often seems elusive when we are in a spiritual desert.
It is common to experience a silence from God while in the desert. Sometimes we may handle this by choosing to dwell on events from the past, with the kind of “remembering” that fosters bitterness or depression. If we're not hearing from God, we might be tempted to think about how He has worked in former days, with the attitude of expecting Him to do that same thing again; we may even try to manipulate events to make it happen. But remember the story of the Israelites receiving the manna? They were told to gather only enough for one day, and if they disobeyed and tried to store up extra food, the results were sickeningly inedible. We can’t live on old manna! We need a fresh word from God for today.
Thankfully, God has something to say about that fresh word in verse 19 of Isaiah 43, which we will look forward to unpacking next week!
In the meantime...consider the possibility that when you’re in a spiritual desert, it’s a sign that God is preparing you for something extraordinary in the promised land that lies beyond it.
“God often allows that we suffer a little to cleanse our souls and to teach us that we are dependent on Him. Take courage; offer Him your pain over and over; pray to Him for strength to endure it. Above all, get in the habit of taking pleasure in God’s presence, and forget Him as little as possible. Adore Him in the midst of your weakness. Offer yourself to Him from time to time, and when you hurt the most,
ask Him humbly and lovingly to help you submit to His holy will.”