December 9, 2019
Isaiah 35 (NLT)
Even the wilderness and desert will be glad in those days.
The wasteland will rejoice and blossom with spring crocuses.
Yes, there will be an abundance of flowers
and singing and joy!
The deserts will become as green as the mountains of Lebanon,
as lovely as Mount Carmel or the plain of Sharon.
There the Lord will display his glory,
the splendor of our God.
With this news, strengthen those who have tired hands,
and encourage those who have weak knees.
Say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, and do not fear,
for your God is coming to destroy your enemies.
He is coming to save you.”
And when he comes, he will open the eyes of the blind
and unplug the ears of the deaf.
The lame will leap like a deer,
and those who cannot speak will sing for joy!
Springs will gush forth in the wilderness,
and streams will water the wasteland.
The parched ground will become a pool,
and springs of water will satisfy the thirsty land.
Marsh grass and reeds and rushes will flourish
where desert jackals once lived.
And a great road will go through that once deserted land.
It will be named the Highway of Holiness.
Evil-minded people will never travel on it.
It will be only for those who walk in God’s ways;
fools will never walk there.
Lions will not lurk along its course,
nor any other ferocious beasts.
There will be no other dangers.
Only the redeemed will walk on it.
Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return.
They will enter Jerusalem singing,
crowned with everlasting joy.
Sorrow and mourning will disappear,
and they will be filled with joy and gladness.
There was a season in my life when I felt as if I was trudging through sand in the desert. Desperate to get out of my own personal wilderness, I was hounded by a persistent suspicion that it was up to me to find the way to a more hospitable land.
One day, I saw a vision of myself turning around from my trudging and finding a rock in the desert where I could just sit and rest. The words, “Out of the rock will come your provision” came to my mind. I felt like God was encouraging me to stop trying to get out of my life and to start trusting him to create something beautiful…maybe even a garden…right in this desert I was in.
Isaiah’s vision of a barren desert transforming into a bountiful garden was written to the Israelites when they were also facing the decision whether to trust God or not. Surrounded by threatening kingdoms, they could either secure safety by their own strategies or they could put their trust in God.
Much of Isaiah presents the people with this question: Is God trustworthy?
I’ve asked this question many times in my life and it’s something that I still struggle with. Can I trust my entire life to God? My vocation, my inner life, my job, my relationships, my future? Can I let go of my grasp on these things and hand them over to the God who makes gardens grow?
Isaiah assures us that we can trust God, even in the most painful and precious parts of our lives.
Despite my struggle with trusting God, I have personally witnessed his faithfulness in the desert. The few times in my life when I have actually given up my own striving and have trusted instead in the God of the garden, I have witnessed the Spirit bring new life out of the very dust that I’ve been sitting in.
I believe that as surely as the sun warms our skin, God’s presence makes beautiful things grow.
And yet, as my friend Taylor King says, “There are still deserts in our lives. There are still deserts in our families. There are still deserts in our souls.”
This is the tension of Advent.
With God, every desert will eventually become a garden.
Every wilderness will become a place of life-giving springs.
And yet, we still walk in desert lands.
Our stories and those of our loved ones still include infirmities that silence us, burdens that immobilize us, and death that seems to claim us.
Dr. John Oswalt, an Old Testament scholar, describes the tension this way:
“We cannot say with absolute certainty how all of this will work out . . . But this we know: to walk with God is to walk in security, in blessing, in glory, and in joy. And if these are limited now, there will come a day when they will be as unlimited as he is.” (p. 621)
One day, the manifestation of God’s glory in our lives will be as unlimited as he is.
This is the Advent hope that we carry in our desert seasons.
This is the promise of God that we count on when we’re still surrounded by sand.
There will be a day when God’s glory will be on full display in your desert and in mine.
On that day, every parched ground will become a place of springs.
Every blind eye will witness the blossoms bloom.
Every deaf ear will hear new melodies unfold.
Every bed-bound soul will leap, wild and free.
Every silenced voice will sing with raucous joy.
Every desert will become a garden.
God is here.
God of the garden, help me know that I can trust you, even as I journey in the desert.
Spirit of God, breathe upon me.
- What are a few desert places that you have encountered in your life this year?
- In what areas of your life do you struggle to trust God?
- When have you seen God’s faithfulness in your desert places?How does the hope that one day, every desert will become a garden, affect you today?
Song for Meditation: