Water in the Desert
As a lover of sun and warmth, February is the hardest month of the year. December is certainly dreary, but the newness of snow and promise of Christmas is enough to distract from the impending wasteland of deep winter. Even winter lovers must concede that the frigid temperatures, snow storms, muted landscape colors, and sunless days are enough to dampen their spirits at some point during the season. At best it can seem acerbic, at worst sardonic, therefore, that the season of Lent begins in the deepest and at the lowest point of the year.
There is no question that we are more inclined toward seasons of celebration, indulgence, and rest. We strive through months of work, eagerly anticipating our annual two week vacation. We press on in challenging courses of study, longing for summer break. We rigorously train our bodies during a sports season, with the goal of victory against our opponents. Despite our natural human bent toward satisfaction and fulfillment, there is a pattern of endurance through suffering that occurs between what is desired and gratification.
Seasons of joy are wonderful times. They are pictures of the great celebration when all longings will be satisfied in the Lord's presence forever. But our seasons in the wilderness evoke this longing through a different means. In the desert, distractions are stripped away by our realization that they can't provide for our need. We can know that "man doesn't live on bread alone” (Matthew 4:4), but our faith in that truth is tested when there is no food. Suddenly, we are confronted with the question, "will lack of food rob me of the hope and joy I have in Christ?" The promise of God to sustain us is more fully realized when we are found in the desert place with no water. His unlimited power and provision is more clearly seen when our dire circumstances are conquered by His bringing forth water from the rocks (Isaiah 48:21).
As believers, we can anticipate seasons of suffering. We can even find joy when they come, knowing the "tested genuineness of our faith--will result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:7). But it can feel foreign, even needless to intentionally seek out a time of self-denial. We can find ourselves questioning the purpose, the relevance, the benefit. In February, there are all sorts of opportunities at my disposal to avoid discomfort and suffering. "But that is not how [I] learned Christ" (Ephesians 4:20). There is opportunity for a different response. During Christ's earthly ministry we learn that "he would withdraw to desolate places and pray" (Luke 5:16) even during times when thousands were coming to see and hear him. Why would he depart into solitude (Luke 4:42)? Perhaps because he knew that in order to meet the needs of the people, he required frequent removal of worldly distractions replaced with time spent with His Father; a focus of his vision on the eternal and unseen reality of His mission. So we, as fellow citizens of that unseen reality and members of God's household (Ephesians 2:19), heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:17) can see this as a model for our ministry. And we can have confidence that our suffering in this world, whether chosen, or received, is achieving for us “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17) In the deepest winter, in the driest drought, we can call to mind His promises to us. “Let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth” (Hosea 6:3).