A few days ago I left the desert. I was physically in that desert for 49 days straight and it was time to pack up and move on. I remember the very first time I traveled to the desert. My first impression from my seat on the airplane was that the desert looked pretty rough. From the air I saw the dark, craggy mountains. From the ground as I was riding in the van taking us to our hotel everything looked just, well, brown. Brown earth, brown buildings, brown dust blowing through the air was all I could see, but after a few days I opened my eyes and began to see all the color and life in that desert. The beautiful bright pink and purple Bougainvillea were everywhere. They brighten the highways, the city streets, the wealthy and poor neighborhoods alike, their color really popping against all of that brown. Bougainvillea
Then one day I went farther into the desert on horseback. I saw the desert floor covered in green foliage, sage, flowering cactus, and Desert Marigold. I rode up into those craggy mountains among the giant Saguaro cactus that are abundant. From those mountains I saw the most beautiful sunset, God’s glory on fire in the evening sky. I had a different perspective when I realized that God’s presence is everywhere, even in the desert.
Sunset during my horseback ride in the Sonoran Desert
All of us have been or will be in the desert at some point in our lives, not necessarily physically, but emotionally and spiritually. Satan really loves to wear us down by using the things of this world to place us in bad situations, to control what we do, what we think, and what we feel. We may experience in our lives the pain of a bad relationship, financial loss, or addiction. We will all deal with temptation, sin, and the consequences of that sin. We may have to face the fear of a terminal illness, and all of us will experience the pain and sorrow when someone we love passes on. When these situations happen we can question God, or push Him away entirely. All we may focus on at first is that dark, craggy mountain we have to climb. We feel like we are surrounded by a swirl of brown dust and nothing looks bright at all. But when we seek God and allow Him to open our eyes in the desert that we find ourselves in, we can see the goodness and beauty of His grace, we can feel His presence. His love blooms on our desert floor. His majesty rises above the craggy mountain. His glory shines bright in our darkness.
God understands what we are feeling when we find ourselves in the desert because His Son walked through His own desert. For forty days and forty nights Jesus lived in that desert and Satan worked hard, so very hard on Him. Jesus was tempted, He was tested, He was starved, mocked, His emotions and spirituality tested, but His focus remained on God and God’s Word. Jesus turned away Satan’s darkness and afterwards God sent His angels to take care of His Son. Jesus experienced what we all do in terrible times of trouble, but God helped Him through and then restored Him. God does the same for you and me. All you have to do is turn to Him, turn to His Son, Jesus. Whatever desert you may be walking through right now or may walk through in the future, know that God is present. Focus on Him to see His “pop of color” amongst the brown earth and dust that seems to surround you. Turn to Him for strength, knowledge, and protection. Turn to Him and be restored.
Then Jesus was led out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, to be tempted there by Satan. 2 For forty days and forty nights He ate nothing and became very hungry. 3 Then Satan tempted Him to get food by changing stones into loaves of bread. “It will prove you are the Son of God,” he said.4 But Jesus told him, “No! For the Scriptures tell us that bread won’t feed men’s souls: obedience to every word of God is what we need.”5 Then Satan took Him to Jerusalem to the roof of the Temple. 6 “Jump off,” he said, “and prove you are the Son of God; for the Scriptures declare, ‘God will send His angels to keep you from harm,’ . . . they will prevent you from smashing on the rocks below.”7 Jesus retorted, “It also says not to put the Lord your God to a foolish test!”8 Next Satan took Him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed Him the nations of the world and all their glory. 9 “I’ll give it all to You,” he said, “if You will only kneel and worship me.”10 “Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “The Scriptures say, ‘Worship only the Lord God. Obey only him.’”
11 Then Satan went away, and angels came and cared for Jesus. —Matthew 4:1-11
Saguaro Cactus on my walk in the Sonoran Desert