Change Happens in the Desert

Prayer is hard.
 
As a young girl growing up in a Christian family, I went to church (on many occasions more than once a week) and attended a Christian school. So, you can imagine just how many times I was told I needed to be disciplined in reading the Bible and prayer. Naturally, after hearing this I would go upstairs in my room and try. I can’t tell you how many times I would tuck myself away, try to quiet my thoughts, and pray to this invisible and inaudible Being. But I began to notice the more I tried to will myself to pray, the more I disliked it. I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t have much to ask for, and besides, did God even care about the things going on in my life? If He did, it’s not like he responded audibly to my requests anyways.
 
Though my idea of prayer and God changed as I grew in my knowledge of and relationship with Him, I still struggled with prayer. What about the many times I had called out to him – no, begged – for him to change a situation or give me something and He hadn’t? Was He really who He said He was? And if He’s so powerful, then doesn’t He have the ability to do these things? So why isn’t He? Those are just a few of the many doubts I had (and still have) that kept me from reaching out to Him. But God was working in my heart and, about a year and half ago, I asked God to transform my prayer life and give me a desire to pray. No, it definitely did not happen overnight. I tried to read books on prayer, ask friends for advice on prayer, etc. As a matter of fact, many times I got so frustrated with not seeing any changes in my prayer life that I would sit in my room and force myself to be quiet and pray. Of course, this only led to me being hard-hearted with the Lord and forcing an outward prayer that my inner self was not praying. It was then that I decided that if God was big enough, He could and would change my heart in regards to praying and it wasn’t up to me to force it. Ironically, that was actually making things worse.
 
So, I stopped praying. And God started working.
 
Several months into this process, circumstances in my family’s life and my own personal life brought me to a place where I had absolutely no control. I was desperate – I could do absolutely nothing to change the situations – so I began to pray.
 
In his book, A Praying Life, Paul Miller recounts he and his wife’s experience of having an autistic child. He calls the space in between hoping and reality a desert. “The hope line represents our desire for a normal child, reinforced by our prayers from Psalm 121. The bottom line is the reality of a harmed child. We lived in the middle, in the desert, holding on to hope that Kim could somehow be normal yet facing the reality of her disabilities.”
“The hardest part of being in the desert,” Miller says, “is that there is no way out. You don’t know when it will end. There is no relief in sight.”
 
This sounds utterly hopeless, doesn’t it?
 
But Miller draws our focus to what God is doing in the midst of our complete vulnerability and weakness. He explains that “The first thing that happens is we slowly give up the fight. Our wills are broken by the reality of our circumstances… The still, dry air of the desert brings the sense of helplessness that is so crucial to the spirit of prayer. You come face-to-face with your inability to live, to have joy, to do anything of lasting worth. Life is crushing you.”
 
“Suffering burns away the false selves created by cynicism or pride or lust. You stop caring about what people think of you. The desert is God’s best hope for the creation of an authentic self. Desert life sanctifies you. You have no idea you are changing. You simply notice after you’ve been in the desert awhile that you are different.
 
“After a while you notice your real thirsts. While in the desert David writes,
‘O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.’ Psalm 63:1
 
“The desert becomes a window to the heart of God… You cry out to God so long and so often that a channel begins to open up between you and God. When driving, you turn off the radio just to be with God. At night you drift in and out of prayer when you are sleeping. Without realizing it, you have learned to pray continuously. The clear, fresh water of God’s presence that you discover in the desert becomes a well inside your own heart.”
For so long I had only viewed prayer as a way to get things from God; an avenue through which I could change situations and circumstances; a tool to access His power when I am powerless. That view is not entirely wrong! In many ways, it is completely scriptural (Matthew 7:7, Matthew 18:19, Psalm 107:28-30). But often times, God chooses not to grant our requests or chooses to make us wait for years until He answers them. When we view prayer only as a means to get what we want, we are missing out on potentially God’s biggest purpose for prayer: bringing us closer to His heart and carving us into the image of His Son, Jesus.
 
I had always thought that through prayer I could change things, but I never realized that God was using prayer to change me. In my powerlessness, God has begun to show me aspects of Himself that I never would have seen unless I was desperate for Him. And slowly, but surely, He is changing the way I pray to become more aligned with His heart.
 
2 Corinthians 12:8-9 “Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses so that the power of Christ can work through me.”
 
Have your way, Lord.

-Maggie Addison, GEM Missionary

If you’d like to support Maggie as she serves with GEM in Mexico, you can do so HERE. You can also contact her directly to talk further about what it means to be on her support team and find out how you can be praying for her!

Ruined – A Brief Reflection On Isaiah 6:1-7

ISAIAH 6:1-7

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:“

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.
And I said: “Woe is me! For I am ruined; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

This passage is one of the most striking passages to me in the whole Bible. It reminds me of my smallness and my frailty. It speaks of my total inability to make myself right before pure holiness.

A VISION OF TOTAL PERFECTION

Notice the progression in the text as Isaiah has a throne-room vision of God. What he sees utterly terrifies him – God is high and lifted up, the train of his robe fills the temple. He is beyond comprehension. We get no description of God other than him sitting on a throne high and lifted up and the train of his robe filling the temple, and his total, perfect holiness. In the vision, he sees and hears angelic creatures crying out, “Holy, holy, holy.” In ancient Hebrew literature, a word used three times consecutively carries greater force and gives that word the highest meaning it can possibly carry. So what these angelic beings are saying is that God is supremely holy. None can match the supremacy of his holiness. Basically, God’s holiness means his “otherness” in that it is uniquely distinct from all creation. He is set apart. He is “not us.” John Piper says of God’s holiness, “His holiness is what he is as God which no one else is or ever will be. Call it his majesty, his divinity, his greatness, his value as the pearl of great price.”

THE ONLY RESPONSE

Isaiah sees a glimpse of God’s absolute holiness and he finds himself utterly devastated. He is ruined by a glimpse of the only perfect, holy, glorious, eternal God. He cries out, “Woe is me!” which is a funeral dirge over the dead. He recognizes that he is utterly, totally devastated. He makes this plain by crying out “I am ruined!” The Hebrew word Isaiah uses for ruined here is dâmâh. It’s a verb that could mean “to be silent” or “to be cut off/destroyed.” However he is using the word, it’s clear to the reader that Isaiah feels a profound sense of dread in the presence of a holy God. He is utterly ruined because he realizes that God is totally holy, perfect, and pure, and that he is by comparison unclean, impure, and sinful. Andrew Bartelt rightly says, “a sinner before the holy God can only cry out in despair.” That’s exactly what Isaiah does.

A scene from The Chronicles of Narnia is helpful in understanding God’s holiness. Speaking of whether or not Aslan (the lion who represents Jesus) is safe, Mr. Beaver says,

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe.

But he’s good.

He’s the King, I tell you.”

God is not safe. He is not akin to a nice old man in a white robe sitting on a throne, listening to harp-playing, nude, child-angels. When the Seraphim called out to one another, the foundations of the thresholds shook. The whole place shook. What Isaiah saw ruined him. It changed him.

RUINED FOR YOUR JOY

John Piper says God’s glory is “the public display of the infinite beauty and worth of God…the radiance of his holiness – the radiance of his manifold, infinitely worthy and valuable perfections.” Isaiah saw the radiance of God’s holiness and it shook him to the core. He recognized in that moment that he was a ruined sinner. Because God is not safe and because he is so utterly holy, Isaiah knew that he was undone. The text goes on to explain how God made atonement for Isaiah. Rather than Isaiah trying to clean himself off and make himself presentable to the king of the universe, God himself made a way for Isaiah to be purified. God had made a way for Isaiah to be in his presence that did’t involve Isaiah dying.

This passage teaches us something profound – a right vision of God’s supreme glory will ruin you. When you encounter the holiest being in the universe, the only response is to cry out with Isaiah, “I am ruined, for I am a sinner!” Yet we can rejoice along with Isaiah that in the moment we see his glory, and our sin, we are able to rightly grasp the magnitude of his grace for us in Christ Jesus! Just as Isaiah was purified through God’s appointed means, Jesus is the means by which we are declared righteous before a holy God. Jesus alone. Jesus is the appointed means by which a holy God and a sinful man may meet. He is our only hope, and it is for this reason that God’s ruining glory is also our eternal joy – because in it we find the sweetest of grace in Jesus. By being ruined we are made whole. By having a vision of the grandeur of God so large that we can never hope to attain right-standing with him, we are ready to receive the grace of God through faith in Jesus alone. God’s glory ruins our meager attempts to work our way into right standing; it compels us to rest, to trust in his grace. God’s glory ruins our petty attempts to find satisfaction in lesser pursuits, because one cannot exhaust his delights and his goodness. God’s glory ruins and devastates our pride and postures us to walk in humility. God’s glory ruins our insecurity, because we stand confident in the cleansing work that he has done on our behalf. God’s glory utterly ruins us, and the result is a harvest of eternal joy.

Think about that – God devastates us for OUR JOY! His glory, the manifestation of his holiness, utterly ruins us, leading us to cling to our only hope – Jesus. And when we cling to him, when we trust in him and treasure him, we find greater joy than we could have ever imagined.

Thomas Watson, a puritan author, once wrote, “Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.

I would push that and say, “Till God be glorious, sin will not be bitter.” But once we see a right vision of a holy God, we see with stunning clarity the depth and magnitude of our sin. Only then will we find the magnitude of his grace for us in Christ Jesus so very sweet.

A right vision of God’s glory will cause our hearts to sing with the apostle Paul,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love, He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us…” -Ephesians 1:3-7

Let us pray each morning with renewed passion for God to open our eyes to his stunning glory and for a heart to receive him and exult in him. My prayer for the Church is that we see God’s glory in such a way that it devastates our sin and yields the fruit of repentance and joy!


13002621_1137203002997725_8962894918079717680_oDaniel Mcdonald graduated from Liberty University with a B.S. in Communication (2011) and a Master’s of Divinity in Evangelism and Church Planting (2014). He is serving as the Director of Communication for GEM, while his wife, Kristen, serves as the 4th-grade teacher.  Above all, they desire to make disciples by making Jesus known in Puerto and around the world. To read more posts on Daniel’s personal blog, click here.