AUDIO VERSION: YouTube Podbean
God wants you to have a strong soul bond with Him—the kind that fills the core of your being with great joy and satisfaction. At some point, your soul recognized that He was calling you to pursue Him all out and you responded with great enthusiasm. You fully surrendered yourself into His hands and said something to the effect of, “Make me all that You want me to be, Lord. I want to be as close to You as I can.” But then, shortly after this exciting turning point in your life, it was as if God retreated to another universe. Now here you sit, year after year, wondering what went wrong.
Here is a common frustration among serious Christians: the more committed they become to God, the more elusive He seems. And while the fully devoted feel like they’re stuck in some eternal spiritual desert, rebellious Christians are glowing with joy and constantly reporting new words from God. What are we to make of this? Why does God withhold encouragement from His most faithful followers until they are left feeling totally rejected? Why does He persecute some of us with long periods of aloof silence while He rubs our faces in the fact that He is pouring down sensual feedback on the heads of those who are refusing to seriously submit to Him?
To help you understand the purpose of spiritual deserts, we’re going to use a metaphor involving a bunch of desert plants. Each plant represents a human soul. The plants are spread out over miles and miles of hot, dry desert. Now because it is so hot, if these plants are going to survive, they must have water. But when they reach their roots down into the ground, they soon absorb all the water that there is, and it isn’t enough. So the plants begin to feel fatigued and dehydrated and desperate for a drink. This is your soul when God is refusing to talk to you in some clear, sensual way. If He only would, it would be like a sudden shower of rain that reenergizes your leaves, soaks the soil around you, and instantly perks you up again. In your tired, dehydrated state, you desperately long for a sudden downpour of sensual connection with God. He doesn’t give you any. This is very frustrating, and since the sun is constantly beating on you from above, your only hope of survival is to keep digging your little roots down through the hard, dry ground in hopes that you’ll get deep enough to reach a water table that is located far below you. If you could tap into that water table, you’d be set for life, because that water will never dry up. But though you dig and dig, that water table never shows up, and meanwhile the only relief you get is when the sun goes down each night and gives you a break from its oppressive heat. But while you’re stuck in this miserable cycle of baking every day of your life, and lying exhausted through every night, you can see in the distance that other plants are getting regular showers of rain. Those other plants are like those other Christians you know who are so obviously holding back in their walks with God, yet He keeps refueling them with fresh infusions of warm fuzzies so that they don’t ever reach the point of spiritual fatigue that you do. From where you’re sitting, it looks like those other plants have it way better than you do. They seem to be God’s obvious favorites, while you’ve been totally passed over. And yet this isn’t at all how God sees it.
From God’s perspective, you are far more pleasing than those souls who He’s always gifting with a fresh infusion of spiritual affirmation. The problem with those other plants is that they’re much too shallow rooted. Because the rain falls on them so frequently, they’ve become totally dependent on it, and they aren’t bothering to grow roots at all. That water table that runs deep underground represents close communion with God—that is the truly great reward. That is the water which will truly satisfy. Because you’re being kept in a dehydrated state, you’re being forced to keep drilling your roots further down. You’re rapidly closing in on that water table, and God is going to make sure that you reach it. When you do, you’re going to be freed up from endlessly swinging from spiritual highs to spiritual lows like all of your perky companions are. Sure they look great just after a rainfall—all green and full of life. But it doesn’t take long for the panic to set in, because that sun is hot and it quickly dries up the ground. When your shallow-rooted friends run out of water, they find themselves in quite the crisis. Like you, they have the option to exercise their faith by rooting their trust ever deeper into God’s good Character. That’s what you’re doing as you keep digging those roots down day after day: you’re counting on God to somehow get you through this period of drought. Your hope is resting in His goodness and in His promise to make you all that He wants you to be if you fully surrender yourself to Him. You definitely made the wise choice by putting it all on the line for God. Your shallow rooted companions have chosen the route of foolishness by refusing to seriously seek God. Now they’re trapped in an endless cycle of swinging back and forth from high to low. They’ve become adrenaline addicts who keep searching for new ways to spike their emotions just so they can tell themselves that God is giving them a “word.” They are utterly dependent on the buzz of being around other Christians at church. They need the rush of that corporate worship time. They have to have other people propping up their faith for them and giving them the illusion of closeness to God, because the reality is that they barely know Him at all. Their internal bond with Him is an anemic, fragile thing that keeps crumbling every time they are out of fellowship for too long. Because they are refusing to depend on God, they are stuck depending on the many substitutes they have gathered to fill the void in their lives that can only be satisfied by deep communion with their Maker. But they’ll never know what that communion is until they stop holding back submission and really start digging down those roots of trust. Above ground, they look much better off than you, but if you could see below the surface, you’d see that you are the one who is truly blessed. You have something real, while they have only an illusion of something real. You have years’ worth of time and tears already invested in the project, while they haven’t even begun. They are nothing to be envious of, because your roots are closing in on that glorious water table that represents close communion with God. Once you make that connection, it won’t matter whether the rain falls above ground or not: inside, you’ll be in a constant state of satisfaction.
Here’s the irony about sensual experiences with God: we all want them, but if He gives them to us too early, we lose all motivation to pursue a far greater thing. The true prize is deep soul communion with God, and that is something which is built on a firm foundation of trust in His good Character. You develop that trust by clocking a lot of time in a spiritual desert. Once you have established deep soul communion with God, Jesus can show up in your room, sit down and talk with you, then disappear again and you’ll take it all in stride. His showing up in some visible, tangible form won’t make Him anymore real to you than He already is, and His leaving won’t be some big bummer because you’ll know that He is still there. Deep communion with God frees us up to be able to enjoy sensual experiences with God without losing sight of the fact that they are just moments—they don’t define the entire relationship.
When we first start out in life, we don’t even know that God exists. Once we connect with Him, we automatically try to build the relationship based on sensual feedback. When He speaks some personal word to us, we feel very confident in His desire for us. But when He falls silent for too long, we worry that He’s lost interest. We look around at others and think He is closest to those who He always seems to be speaking to, and since that isn’t us, we figure we’re His less wanted children. And yet in the world of spiritual growth, irony abounds, and so often things are totally different than they appear to be. The Christian who can’t stop talking about his amazing walk with God is often the most impoverished of the group, while the soul who feels like he’s gasping his last in some desert is miles ahead of the pack. To gain the most with God, you must develop strong trust, and trust cannot grow in an atmosphere of continuous sensual feedback.
While the shallow rooted can’t wait to report every new rush that they experience, those who know sweet communion with God don’t feel the need to constantly draw attention to themselves. It comes down to personal security: when you have the real deal, you don’t have to shout it from the rooftops. You don’t have to go booming down the street in your loud hot rod in hopes that everyone will notice you and be impressed. You don’t have to constantly talk about how hot your love life is in hopes that your friends will all be jealous. It is insecurity and dissatisfaction that motivates boasting in humans, whereas true contentment fills our souls with peace and stills our wagging tongues. You can’t pick deep rooted Christians out of a crowd because they aren’t going to draw attention to themselves by going on and on about the great word they received or the vivid dream they had. Once you tap into deep communion with God, you lose interest in trying to compete with mortals, because you’ve finally got your hands on the prize that you were hoping for in your own walk with God.
Nothing satisfies like deep communion with your Maker. It was what you were designed to crave, and nothing can substitute for Him in your life. So if you’re still holding back in your own pursuit of God, it’s time to put everything on the line and fully surrender yourself into His hands. If you have surrendered and you’re now trying to make it through a desert, realize that you have chosen wisely and He will make sure you make it all the way. Once your trust has been developed strong enough, He will unlock the door to deeper communion with Him. And once He does that, your life will never be the same.
Understanding Refinement: Why God is Brutalizing You
Defending Against Refinement: Stonewalling God
The Horrors of Spiritual Refinement: When God Won’t Stop Hurting You
The Trenches of Refinement: Too Upset to Praise
Understanding Refinement: Why is God being so mean?
Yearning for More of God: What it Does & Doesn’t Mean