Updated: Feb 25, 2021
It’s been dry, desolate. I look to the horizon, only to see more of the dreary monotonous gray of winter. More than the view out my window, there lurks a desolate feeling in my soul. One of my most-read books, Streams in the Desert, by L.B. Cowman, overflows with golden nuggets to inspire the weary traveler. I’ve probably dog-eared half of the 366 devotionals! Each one a powerful reminder that God often works His best miracles in desert places. These and other teachings, along with time and experience, taught me to take a reflective pause when the scenery is not what I want it to be.
“Tribulation is the door to triumph.”
L.B. Cowman, Streams in the Desert, "January 21"
I’m so grateful, truly grateful for streams in the desert -- places of provision. If you look closely, leaving room for possibilities outside of your expectations, God most certainly will reveal them to you. Indeed, God has miraculously sustained me during times of waiting and times of drought. How do I know He will continue to take care of me, you may wonder? How do I have hope when the foreseeable future seems so hopeless? I simply remember the storms weathered and the victories won. I count my blessings and look to the “great cloud of witnesses” that have gone before me.
When the Israelites escaped Egypt and overthrew Pharaoh’s army by crossing the miraculously parted sea, they still had the wilderness to traverse. As they traveled in the desert, some real ugliness surfaced. Lots of complaining. Idol worship. Backbiting. Obviously, they weren’t quite ready for the peace of the promised land. So it is with our spiritual journey. Unfortunately, we cannot be instantly transported to heaven. We must learn first to live and walk in the Spirit, setting aside the ways of the flesh. That can take a while and due diligence!
Perhaps a trite illustration, but since so many are suffering from it right now, let’s talk cedar fever. The cedar allergy count has been the highest ever in the Texas Hill country. Even people who don’t normally have issues are sneezing up a storm. Frankly, if it was like this all the time, I would absolutely jump ship for a more allergy-free zone. It’s miserable. Itchy eyes, runny nose, and sneezing, however, are just a drop in the bucket compared to the desolate times Jesus has carried me through. There were times when I didn’t think I could survive another day. There have even been times when death was the only fathomable escape. But I saw miracles. In the most desperate times, I felt God’s presence overwhelm me like never before as I surrendered to His embrace, realizing His arms were around me the whole while.
Remember, God never left the Israelites either. Supernatural provision and awe-inspiring events occurred in the desert as well! Manna, water from a rock – those miracles spurred the travelers on and gave them hope. Early in their journey, the Israelites came together in an extraordinary display of unity. They generously gave of their own supplies and labor to build the tabernacle and all the articles therein. At one point, Moses even instructed them to stop giving because the priests had an overabundance of supplies needed to finish the task at hand (Exodus 36)!
Admittedly, these trials forced the Israelites to practice some pretty potent faith. They had no idea what would happen day-to-day. Moses suddenly became their leader. All provision came from God. Everything was new. Moving orders came in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:20). No chance to make any future plans! At times, they were only in a place for a few days and then had to pack it all up to move again (Numbers 9:15-22).
Sadly, when it came down to the wire, most of the Jews lost their focus and did not believe they could occupy the land God showed them. Only Joshua and Caleb believed God would do as He said (Numbers 13). If the others would have simply believed God and obeyed, time in the desert would have been so much shorter. Fear. It paralyzes. It blinds us to the goodness of God. It hides provision and weakens our resolve. Fear causes us to focus on our strength alone and ignore the greatness of God Almighty.
God’s greatness shines forth in the desert. His mercies never cease (Lamentations 3:23). Now, we are even better equipped than our Jewish forefathers escaping Egyptian slavery. So why do we worry? We have scripture, promises of provision, grace, and new mercies every morning. Because of the cross and the power of the Holy Spirit our Comforter), we can survive the wilderness and come out the better for it on the other end. Those who have gone before us – the great cloud of witnesses – remind us that no matter what may lie ahead, there is a plan for provision, restoration, redemption (Hebrews 12:1). Like the Israelites who joined resources to build the tabernacle, we can unite as the body of Christ, serving and loving one another, giving without expectation because He sustains us. We don’t look to ourselves or to the world for hope. Instead, we see with spiritual eyes and cling to the steadfast assurance found in the promises of God.
In this desert place, I will set aside my own agenda, look to the horizon, and be ready to move with the cloud. One day at a time, putting my trust in Him, patiently awaiting the promised land. The stark landscape of winter is only a season. Spring WILL come again. Our Redeemer lives and our redemption draws near (Isaiah 51:5, Luke 21:28).
L.B. Cowman, Streams in the Desert: 366 Daily Devotional Readings/ [compiled by] L.B. Cowman: edited by James Reimann (Zondervan 1997). First published in 1925
Holy Bible, NIVUK translation