The Desert Experience
Updated: Jul 6
How should we pray when we don’t feel like we can, or when we’re not sure if God is listening because we haven’t experienced His power and presence for a while?
Certainly, God has assured us that we are never truly alone or forsaken but sometimes, it can sure seem that way. What are some important things to know about such desert experiences?
Richard Foster, in his book Prayer suggests that as we grow in our relationship with God, we will undoubtedly experience times of seeming desertion, absence, and abandonment. He comments that the church fathers even had a phrase for this; Deus Absconditus – which means ‘God who is hidden.’
“Sometimes God seems to be hidden from us. We do everything we know. We pray. We serve. We worship. We live as faithfully as we can. And still there is nothing . . .” (Foster)
Sometimes God seems to be hidden from us. We do everything we know. We pray. We serve. We worship. We live as faithfully as we can. And still there is nothing...
The Biblical metaphor which captures this appears most often in the Psalms and likens the experience to the parched and barren desert. In reflecting on our desert experiences, Foster suggests we consider the following:
1. We’re in good company – There is comfort in knowing that this experience is common to all of God’s people. Christians great and small, from the time of Christ right up to the present day have had these experiences. Likewise, the Old Testament tells us about Israel’s long desert experiences and even Jesus experienced forsakenness at Golgotha albeit much more profoundly than we do.
2. Our experience is unique – Even though it’s common to God’s people, there is no way to predict when we will face it. There is no roadmap by which to navigate it. We cannot anticipate it, nor can we avoid it. Instead, we can only live with the knowledge and expectation that as we mature in our faith and as we pursue intimacy with God, we will undoubtedly encounter these desert experiences.
3. It’s healthy – These desert experiences remind us of the freedom that we and God enjoy in relationship. The experience forces us to recognize that just as we are free to be distant from, or to draw near to God, He also has the freedom to do the same. C.S. Lewis expresses this aspect of God in his Chronicles of Narnia when one of the characters comments about Aslan (Christ depicted as a lion), “After all, He’s not a tame Lion.”
Here we begin to get a sense of what God is doing in these desert experiences. “By refusing to be a puppet on our string or a genie in our bottle, God frees us from our false, idolatrous images” of Himself. We are being disabused of the idea that we can tame God.
By refusing to be a puppet on our string or a genie in our bottle, God frees us from our false, idolatrous images of Himself.
Next week, we’ll dig a little deeper into this concept and we’ll talk about what we can do when we’re faced with our own desert experiences.