My head is nodding is agreement with these words this morning…
“It’s the beauty of simplicity that brings me down to my knees. It fills me with eternity. I’ve tasted your divinity, and Lord I love you…because you, you first loved me.” — lyrics from The Beauty of Simplicity by Telecast
That’s why I’m posting this today. Because JESUS. He shows up here in my little living room, as I do battle with all the things that are my world this morning. There are cartoons, a kitten that has gone rogue and snuck in beside me on the sofa, a stack of notebooks to my left, a keyboard on my lap, ear-buds of music in my ears, and a small child draping blankets over my legs and making a fort on the other side of this screen. My reality. My joy. My frustration though at times, too. But it’s all right here, wrapped in a life that is mine. Given to me by a God who created galaxies and planets, and somehow in the midst of it, made you and me to share it with. He is HERE, mixed in between all these things, wanting to know us, wanting us to know more of Him.
And that’s why we’re here my friends. That’s why we’re on this spinning planet full of hopes and hurts and all sorts of busy. We dream big. We want MORE. But in reality, we are so small. So small and itty bitty. We seek out the big things, thinking they will fill us and comfort us, content us. But God never uses the big, does He? He uses the small. So let’s remember that as we live and breathe in our small corners of the world. Small is good. It’s the place where contentment lives. There’s beauty in simplicity ♥
I’ve been swimming in science and creation and somehow John the Baptist the last few days. It’s a weird mix, I know. But as I’m searching scripture, blogs, books, sermons — there’s a string of beauty working it’s way through the randomness of these truths. And this morning I’m doing my best to slow down and make sense of the latest rabbit trail of my soul.
I can’t help but think about the desert as I study John the Baptist. Deserts are BARREN. Empty. It’s a tricky and severe environment; one nobody really wants to stay in. It’s dry — bone aching dry. The temperatures can go from one extreme to the next. It’s a windy, thirsty, LONELY place. But it’s also where John the Baptist was called to. ? And not for just a season either. It was his home. He grew up there. He could of easily chosen to be in the towns, living a better life. The normal, good life. He could have lived among the religious leaders, spent his days at the priestly synagogue. His father Zechariah was even a priest. One who experienced a miracle, having had an angel speak to him. I’m sure John grew up hearing those stories from his parents. What a joy he must have been to them. Their only child, the precious dreamed of gift from God they had always wanted. And guess where they took him?
The DESERT. Ah-hem. What?
There are so many opportunities for pride for this family. They had been given a miracle baby, one who would be cousin to Jesus himself. His mother even felt the Holy Spirit FILL her womb. Can you imagine getting to tell THAT story? And her sweet child was filled with the the Holy Spirit of God from birth. (and all the mothers of toddlers gasp…!?) And of course, there’s John himself who was prophesied about in the Old Testament. Yep. PROPHESIED about. Can you imagine living knowing you had been prophesied about? Or even knowing someone who was prophesied about and long awaited according to scripture? Sounds like he should have been in a castle, not a desert. But God’s ways are not ours. Clearly.
“A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.’ ” Isaiah 40:3 NIV 1984
I’m trying to picture myself near to them. Growing up within ear shot of the boy who angels and scripture spoke of. Just a regular person who for some reason, God would use. I’m sure it was hard to make sense of for the people during that time. Hard to believe. It required eyes of faith to take hold of those kinds of words and truths and allow them space to be real. Maybe people like John with strange callings belong in the wide open spaces of the desert. I’m starting to wonder if maybe we do, too.
The irony for me is that this family could have totally claimed glory and fame for themselves, at least in a worldly sense. Oh the selfies they could have taken. Wouldn’t everyone want to know them? They could have reveled in it. Moved into the city and been the favorites at all the parties. But they didn’t choose that, did they? They chose the desert. They chose to be weird and to raise their kid even weirder. John wasn’t being raised conventionally. He lived in the desert. He lived and looked a fool — but he KNEW who he was. WHOSE he was. And more importantly, WHO HIS GOD WAS. Maybe it takes a little bit of the awkward and uncomfortable to really be able to take hold of that. And it’s fair to say John chose the desert too. That part gets me. He didn’t run. He chose different over popular. He chose to live a little harder, to follow his calling, to live the life of a WITNESS.
There’s so many things buried into the story of John. So many applications. But what I’m seeing this morning is the desert. God called John into the wilderness because He wanted to use him. And John? He needed the desert too. He need to be prepared for his ministry. He needed to see the world differently and live in a way where God was at the forefront of his life. It was there and only there that God could prepare him for what was ahead. That doesn’t sound too much different than what we’re called to, does it?
I’ve read the story of John before and never seen the grit. I’ve read the words about him eating locusts and wild honey and wearing weird camel’s hair clothes. I knew he was different. But I didn’t see the struggle. I didn’t consider the desert. He was called by God and that alone sounds big and like something. But that was all that I saw. I didn’t see the smallness of his work or his days.
I think sometimes we read the bible like an instagram feed. We see the beautiful. It sounds and looks like something we all want. But the beauty that lasts, the one that actually means something, isn’t found in the most beautiful picture or end game. It’s hidden between the frames. In the cracks of life when we are on our knees with our faces in the sand.
To be called and used and find the forever beauty we long for comes at a price, as following Jesus always should. We want the pretty picture, but we have to set aside our pride to find the good stuff. We have to stop worrying about how we look, if we’re liked, and stop trying to jump from mountaintop to mountaintop. We have to take up our cross and die to ourselves, and allow ourselves to spend some time in the valleys. That’s where beauty is made. But when we enter the hard arid places of life, WE WANT OUT. It’s not comfortable, and it’s not pretty — so God must not mean for us to be there. Right?
Being called to follow God is almost always going to include a trip to the desert, and we should be thankful it does. For some of us, a good portion of our lives are spent there… (wait…what?!) Now don’t freak out and run. We have the stories of John and the Israelites and many others to show us the beauty of the wilderness. Just hang with me a minute…
Now it may not include lying in the sun with lemonade — sorry. It didn’t for John, and it really shouldn’t for us either. It’s a DESERT remember? So as I picture John there, I’m starting to see myself there too. My guess is that John was a bit lonely and I can relate to that. I have friends and a sweet husband but sometimes as I draw closer to God, I feel farther from everyone else. Alone really. So a bit lonely like John, but maybe just lonely enough to look harder and run harder after God. And I bet John knew what it was like to feel worn down, soul thirsty and all a mess; like he didn’t he fit in ANYWHERE. That sounds familiar and like a lot of things we try to avoid, doesn’t it? But God took him there — to the sometimes harsh and quiet places so that He could do a deep work in him. And John stayed there in the midst of it. This is what Jesus has to say about him:
“I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist…” Matthew 11:11
And if you consider what John had done at this point, it doesn’t seem big and glorious. Not really. He lived a strange yet dedicated life in the desert and called for people to repent. He spoke boldly and called out sin. And he did it because that is what makes the way for the Lord to work. He didn’t need a stage or great clothes or an ear tickling message. He said hard things, lived a hard life with very little, and gave witness to the Lord. He lived a beautifully simple life.
And here we are, at least most of us, living pretty good lives. But one taste of the desert places of life and we want out. We want to get back to the time we felt in control, put together, strong, and were able to do more and accomplish more in what looks like His name. We want it to look pretty, and we want to get there fast.
But the things we have to learn in the desert take time. So let’s allow ourselves to sit in it a bit. It is hard being there, but God is DOING something in the desert. He takes advantage of the wilderness that Satan thinks will be the end of us. God knows where the wells of water are, and He will lead you and fill you and provide for you. Take heart. You can do this. You have the WORD. You have the SPIRIT. You are not alone, even if you feel like it. Just keep your face bent to His. If you haven’t noticed, the sun shines blinding bright in the desert because GOD IS THERE my friends. You may want to hide in the shadows and sleep thru the heat. I get it. It’s not easy. But don’t rush out of there. God can use every bit of what seems like a desert for your good. So sink into His presence. Seek His loving face. He will not leave you wanting.
The Israelites spent 40 years in the desert teetering back and forth between faith and failure. They followed God, they saw miracles. Many of whom lived and died in that wilderness. That’s hard to wrap our minds around. It almost looks like their life was a waste, doesn’t it?
You mean they didn’t end up on the mountain? Some never made it to the promised land, made it BIG, or got the bigger house?
They struggled and some even died still in the wilderness and that sounds pretty horrible. But we’ve overlooked the beauty again. We think it’s only found on the mountaintop. Just look at any famous, wealthy person. Are they completely fulfilled? I think you’ll find that money and fame and the mountain are not enough. The MORE we seek can only be found in the wilderness. In the upside down gospel, where Jesus is. Life might look like we’re just wandering from watering hole to watering hole out here. But we’re forgetting about the LIVING WATER. And water flows down the mountain to the valleys. And where there aren’t mountains, God can turned dried up streams into abundance because HE’S GOD.
So what is to be gained in the wilderness and desert?
A beautiful war-torn faith is what. We just have to look between the lines. We look back at stories like the Israelites (or at least I do) and I see a bunch of idiots. (yikes!) But seriously… People following magnificent clouds of God and eating bread falling from the sky, and they still screwed it up and missed God. But what we don’t see is the beauty of the repentance experienced in their souls. The beauty of failing and turning and seeing God waiting there for you. Still wanting to lead and love you through it. That’s something. That’s a life well lived. What if they would have sailed right through the desert, landed in the promise land and had all the water and food and goodness this world has to offer? Is that LIVING? I don’t think so. That’s not where we learn to appreciate God and the good things.
It’s the valleys where we see and experience the most of God. That’s where we’re ushered in to the truest, most beautiful good. It’s where God weaves a beautiful tapestry of the darkest and the brightest colors together. That’s what creates the most striking contrast. When we FEEL it most. When the colors of the good become even more beautiful and the ugly hard it’s own sort of precious masterpiece.
As I’m reading, I’m finding that John, the Israelites, even Jesus himself spent time in the desert before God used them. So if you’re feeling like you’re in a desert of sorts, look at those stories. Look at those people, and see how God showed up for them. You are no different. Take some time to dig into that bible of yours and let God speak hope over you. You are precious and loved and created for His glory too.
And the DESERT. Don’t forget what a necessary beautiful place it is. It’s the beauty of simplicity, like the song I’m still singing after the 3 hours of writing this. The song that is probably 20 years old and not even on radio anymore — ha! (Thanks Spotify!) But the song and the words and all the John the Baptist sermons crossing my lap are telling me we don’t need fancy and big. We can sit in our small living rooms and walk a bit thru the empty deserts and do small things and struggle and it’s okay. It’s more than okay. We don’t need to seek approval from people either. We just need to be our weird selves and do whatever it is He has called us to do, RIGHT WHERE HE HAS US. Desert and all.
So let’s find ways to appreciate the desert places, the ones we feel small and a little lost in. We have to remember that Jesus is with us. And when we are weak and bone-weary and ready to flee the wilderness, let’s not forget God is making room in our souls for what’s next. He’s there blowing the dust around and working in our souls and making beauty. He uses the empty space for our good, blowing the bits of our lives around just enough to make our rough edges smooth and refine us. Ready us. It will be beautiful. We know this because of Romans 8. We know this because of Ecclesiastes 3:11 …♥
“He has made everything beautiful in its time.”