Are You Spiritually Parched?

photo credit: thephotographymuse via photopin cc
photo credit: thephotographymuse via photopin cc

The advent of global warming has resulted in some crazy weather conditions across the globe. Throughout the course of history, famines have not been uncommon, but some geographic areas are now seeing droughts of record proportions. Only a few months back, for example, shippers were fretting over the mighty Mississippi River as it slowed to a near trickle. During this current era, our natural circumstances appear to run concurrently with those that are spiritual—our world is parched!

I am not sure how we arrive at such conclusions, but it is common for Christians to believe that God leads them into spiritually dry seasons. As subtle as the difference may seem, we would do well to make a distinction between traveling through a dry environment, and being dry within our hearts.

Just as God led the nation of Israel through the desert, so He will sometimes guide His children through dry, desolate places. The Bible, however, is absolutely clear: He never wants us to be dry in our hearts! If we are spiritually parched, He is not to blame. The only wise option is to take personal ownership of the issue rather than blaming it on the mystical work of a sovereign God.

We must wonder, then, what causes our spirits to wilt with barren dryness. In most (if not all) cases, I believe that the culprit is misplaced trusta reality much more dangerous than it sounds.

Idolatry—a spiritual condition detestable to God—amounts to putting someone (or something) other than God on the throne of our hearts, either as an act of adoration, or in trust as the source of our provision. Because God is invisible, and idols physically tangible, we are tempted to look to idols to meet our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

photo credit: Ian Sane via photopin cc
photo credit: Ian Sane via photopin cc

What are the primary idols of our day? It’s difficult to find many that compare with materialism and entertainment. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with a large bank balance, or a good movie for that matter, but those who keep material goods and the need to be entertained at the core of their beings will pay the steep price of spiritual famine.

Thus says the Lord,
“Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind
And makes flesh his strength,
And whose heart turns away from the Lord.
“For he will be like a bush in the desert
And will not see when prosperity comes,
But will live in stony wastes in the wilderness,
A land of salt without inhabitant.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord
And whose trust is the Lord.
“For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit. Jeremiah 17:5-8 (NASB)

The contrast is all too clear. Yes, God may indeed lead us through dry environments, but if we are dry in our souls, the problem is ours and not His. Someway, somehow, we are placing the weight of our trust in someone or something humanly tangible. Our Father promises that those who cultivate faith toward Him will always be “well-watered gardens”, overflowing with abundant life (John 7:37-39).

photo credit: the_tahoe_guy via photopin cc
photo credit: the_tahoe_guy via photopin cc

We are all alike in that we each have the tendency to put our confidence in that which is visible instead of in our invisible God. Thus, in those unpleasant seasons when we find ourselves spiritually parched, the best first step toward a solution is to honestly examine the focus of our trust. This may not be the feel-good answer you are looking for, but I can assure you that it is a highly effective way to get those dry springs flowing!

(This post is based on the content of my new book, Champions in the Wilderness, which will soon be available for sale. Also, when our new SfMe Media website is complete, our blog posts will be switched our new ministry website, and this blog site will be phased out. You can subscribe to by entering your email in the subscribe panel on the right-hand side of the new website.)

Steeler Nation Wiping Tears with Terrible Towels

Photo by Sonnett - CC BY-SA 2.0

My hopeful anticipation quickly faded on Sunday as I laid on the edge of the couch watching the painful loss of the would-be World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Painful because of their many injuries. Painful because of how they played. Painful because of how they lost. Painful because of the non-penalized, illegal formation on the last play of the game. Painful! Painful! Painful!

Phone lines immediately lit up for the local sports talk shows. Emails flowed as fans provided their armchair critiques. Hines Ward called it one of the worst losses he had ever experienced. Filled with shame, Ike Taylor wouldn’t even talk with the media. The entire Steeler nation lapsed into a state of mourning.

Photo by daveynin - CC BY 2.0

There’s been much talk about how the performance of college and professional sports teams affects the psyche of a geographic region. Success in sports helps to ease the pain of economic and domestic difficulties. Failure intensifies the agony. Panthers. Pirates. Steelers. Penguins. Western Pennsylvania is walking with an emotional limp; our hope wearing an ankle boot.

But amazingly, the sun still came up on Monday morning—doubly significant because it’s always cloudy in Western PA in January (and the rest of the year for that matter). Perhaps God wasn’t aware of the Steeler loss.

Proverbs 13:12 tells us that, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Heart-sick—sounds like an appropriate description of how the Pittsburgh Steeler faithful feel (not to mention the fans of all of the other pro football teams that have fallen short this season).

There’s only one problem with this scenario—and it’s a big one! Professional football is first a business (notice the Professional), and second a game. We err to our own detriment when we put so much hope in a group of highly paid (yet fallible) men running around in tights chasing an odd-shaped ball.

If hope deferred makes the heart sick, continually misplaced hope makes it diseased. We find ourselves downtrodden, constantly searching for a few bright spots of victory. And it isn’t just sports; there are so many other areas in life in which our focus is on a human-based hope.

Jeremiah 17:5-8 speaks primarily of faith, but I think a strong connection can also be made to where we focus our hope:

“Thus says the LORD, ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD. For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant.

Photo by Vicky Hugheston - CC BY 2.0

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD
And whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought, nor cease to yield fruit’” (NASB).

If we want 2012 to be full of life, the appropriate response is to focus our attention on The Living Hope. I’m not saying that we can’t enjoy sports, or that the economy or the presidential elections are unimportant. It’s just that these things pale in comparison to the eternal hope we have in Christ—a hope which never fades; a hope which serves as the anchor of one’s soul in turbulent times.

Personally, I’m so thankful that there’s more to Proverbs 13:12: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (NASB). With the right focus, each and every day in 2012 can be brimming with hope and filled with life! Go Tebow!

Wondering in the Wilderness – Part II

I’ve decided to change the title of this blog mini-series to “Wondering in the Wilderness” because that’s what we tend to do upon finding ourselves in desolate territory—wonder what happened to God and his promises. It is this very tendency toward doubt that God is trying to kill off from our lives.

Photo by Omar Omar - Creative Commons License 2.0

Our heavenly Father never intends a wilderness to be a destination. It is simply a territory that we must pass through on the way to a promised land, flowing with milk and honey. But for us to go from desolate isolation to sweet fullness, something must die. That something is our unbelief.

By design the wilderness is constructed as a test our faith. How will we respond when we see fierce giants, when we lack water, when life is dull and mundane, or when we don’t like the direction our leaders are going? Yes, God wants to test and prove (establish) our faith! Our ability to trust Him is that important. We, however, often have our own agendas, thereby finding ourselves completely ignorant of God’s intended purposes. In such cases, we prolong our wilderness experience as we fail to align ourselves with His plans and purposes.

After their exodus from bondage in Egypt, the nation of Israel should have spent about two weeks crossing the desert into the promised land of Canaan. In the end that journey took 40 years (over 1000 times as long as intended) as an entire generation of unbelieving Israelites died in the wilderness. Do we see it? God designed the wilderness as a place for unbelief to die.

Deliverance and faith aren’t just about heaven! Like that generation of wilderness Israelites, many of us suffer from unbelief in the form of misplaced trust. We have this uncanny tendency to only trust what we can see or think we clearly understand. For them it was a golden calf and the consistent provision of Egypt. We tend to put our confidence in ourselves, our bank accounts, the security of our jobs, friends or family, etc.

Make no doubt about it—misplaced trust is unbelief clothed in idolatry, and it surely leads to spiritual desolation. In other words, the dryness of our external wilderness environment quickly infiltrates our internal spiritual state. If, however, we learn to trust God in the wilderness, our hearts are well-watered regardless of what’s going on around us.

“The Lord says,

Photo by beglib - MorgueFile

‘I will put a curse on people

who trust in mere human beings,

who depend on mere flesh and blood for their strength,

and whose hearts have turned away from the Lord.

They will be like a shrub in the desert.

They will not experience good things even when they happen.

It will be as though they were growing in the desert,

in a salt land where no one can live.

My blessing is on those people who trust in me,

who put their confidence in me.

They will be like a tree planted near a stream

whose roots spread out toward the water.

It has nothing to fear when the heat comes.

Its leaves are always green.

It has no need to be concerned in a year of drought.

It does not stop bearing fruit.”

Jeremiah 17:5-8 (NET)