Finding Rescue From the Spiritual Desert

Imagine that you were lost in the middle of a vast desert land. The sun is like a sweltering furnace with no shade or escape in sight. As the hours tick by, the heat becomes almost unbearable. You reach for your bottle of water and realize that it is completely empty. Your tongue begins to swell. Your lips are dry and cracked. You would give anything for just the smallest drop of water or relief from the unforgiving rays of the sun. You scan the desert in hopes of finding something. Anything at all that could satisfy and provide some sort of reprieve from your agony. All of the sudden in the distance you see something that appears to be dense and sparking in the sand. Could it be an oasis? As you race towards what appears to be a patch of water up ahead in the distance, you begin to believe that your salvation is in view. 

As you finally reach your destination, the sun is so bright that you can hardly make out what it is that you are standing over. Through squinting eyes and a mind that is half delirious  with thirst, you plunge yourself face first into what appears to be a small stream of water. As you begin to swallow the substance before you, you quickly ascertain that it is providing no relief at all. As you begin to cough and spit the sand out of your mouth, you realize that it was just a mirage. That which you thought looked so satisfying from far off has proved to leave you more parched and dry than you were before. 

This is the description that the scriptures paint of spiritual dryness. At times, the glittering allure of sin in the distance seems to promise more satisfaction than obedience to the Savior. And so little by little, a person’s attention starts to become captivated more and more by the things of the world, and less and less by the things of God. Reading social media replaces reading the scriptures. A passion for material things replaces a passion for His Great Commission. And a dulled conscience replaces a pierced heart in regards to the sensitivity to sin in one’s life. It’s not long before they have begun to run full tilt towards a sparkling oasis that seems to promise unending satisfaction, but in reality is just an empty mirage.

For an unbeliever, this spiritual desert is home. They are nomads without a place to rest. But for the Christian, eventually they will come to their senses. For the Christian, they will begin to see the empty void that these mirages truly are, and long for the fount of living water that they once found their joy in. 

What do you do when the passion for Christ is no longer there? Where do you turn when you realize that the joy in your salvation is gone? You’ve tried to commit again to reading the Bible, listening to sermon, and going to church. Yet you still feel an emptiness within, and the heart that you once had for the Lord seems all but a distant memory. What do we do when we realize that we are lost in the desert with no apparent road back home?

If you have ever been lost in this spiritual dry land, you are not alone. We see God’s people wandering through a literal desert after their rescue from Egypt that was reflective of the spiritual dryness in their hearts. But the account of King David is one that stands out in regards to wandering through a spiritual desert. King David was called a man after God’s own heart. Yet David became more captivated by sin and it led to a spiritual dry period in his life. David’s off ramp into the spiritual desert began slowly and almost subtly, with something as seemingly innocent as a glance.

“In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful.” 2 Samuel 11:1-2.

When men become idol, sin comes knocking. David should have been about his duties as the King of Israel. He should have been leading His people into battle against the Ammonites. But David decided to stay home and lay around his palace. The Lord had made David King, and with that title given him responsibilities to lead Israel’s Kingdom. 

But on this day, David was aloof. Maybe David was tired or just burned out from his duties as King. Growing weary or experiencing burnout from responsibilities is not a sin. Rather, becoming overwhelmed in certain seasons of life is part of the human experience. Jesus Himself became tired and weary at times during His earthly ministry. The difference is that Jesus sought communion with God the Father in prayer when He grew weary. However, David looked for satisfaction in the desires of his flesh. David was experiencing a some sort of dryness in his life, and he sought relief in the mirage of a woman bathing in the open. 

David arose from his couch and went for a stroll on his roof. And he saw a beautiful woman bathing in his view. His departure into the desert began with just a glance. David thought that he had found a beautiful oasis that would satisfy the longing in his soul. David’s glance led to an inquire in order to find out who this woman was.

“And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” 2 Samuel 11:3.

David’s spiritual drought led him deeper into the desert. One glance led to lust in his heart. David did not repent or turn from his lustful glance. Instead, he drew closer to this spiritual mirage that he knew was forbidden. He now had knowledge that Bathsheba was the married woman of one of his faithful soldiers. But the beauty of this glittering oasis was now in his reach. Instead of looking for a pathway out of this dry land, he became consumed with the lie before him. 

“So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house. And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.” 

2 Samuel 11:2-5

After his affair with Bathsheba, David did not cry out to God in repentance. He did not feel a shame or remorse. He had been temporarily satisfied in his lust, and now rather than looking to the Lord for a way out, David would wander farther into this spiritual desert. Now that Bathsheba was pregnant with a child that was not her husband’s, David attempted to orchestrate it to where her husband Uriah would go and lay with his wife in hopes that he would be fooled into thinking the child was his. David even got Uriah drunk in hopes that he would lay with his wife. But Uriah remained faithful to his duties and chose to sleep along side the other servants who were guarding the ark in a field. 

David realized that his attempt to cover his sin with a lie would not work. So King David had Uriah sent to the front lines of the battle. But not only that, David ordered Joab to tell his troops to pull back in the midst of the battle so that Uriah would be killed. And Uriah was indeed killed.

“In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah.In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die.” 2 Samuel 11:14-15.

An apparent burn out of responsibilities led to a lustful glance. A lustful glance led to a lie to cover up the truth. A lie led to premeditated murder. And David’s wandering into this spiritual desert took him farther away from the shade and protection of his Lord. Finally David was confronted by his friend Nathan regarding his sins, and it was then that he began to see how far he had wandered away from the Lord of his salvation.

David had fallen away from the Lord into a great spiritual dryness. He was consumed with his sin, and he found no joy in the Lord of his salvation. Eventually, David realize that the mirage that he was consuming was providing no satisfaction in his life. It was causing him to feel much more empty than he had been than the day when it all started the afternoon he lounged on his couch. David realized he was distant from the Lord. But he did not know what to do or how to escape this desert that he had made to be his home. So David did the only thing he knew to do. He cried out to God in prayer.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Psalm 51:1-10.

This is not just a flippant apology. This is not just a casual calling out to God. This is a prayer of desperation. This is the pray of a man who is spiritually parched and fully aware of his spiritual decline. David’s transgressions were no longer acceptable. They were constantly on his mind. His sin was ever before him. David knew that there was nothing he could do to restore himself to God. He cried for God to create in him a clean heart and a right spirit. This implies that David knew that the desires of his heart were unclean, and he could not just flip a switch or muster up enough spiritual strength to overcome them himself. David was aware of his sin, and also aware that there was no joy for the Lord in his heart.  He went on in his prayer to the Lord;

“Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” Psalm 51:11-12.

Notice that David is asking God to restore his joy. The conclusion we reach is that David had no spiritual power to restore to himself the joy of the Lord. He was finding no joy in His Lord. But the Lord had opened his eyes just enough to see his spiritual depravity. And realizing that he had wander away from the presence of the Lord terrified David. In fact, David and others have graphically expressed how they felt in the midst of a spiritual dryness into sin elsewhere in the Psalms.

“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.” Psalm 42:1.

“My soul longs, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” Psalm 84:2.

“I open my mouth and pant, longing for Your commandments.” Psalm 119:131.

Have you been in this desert? Maybe you are wandering there now. Your sin is ever before you, constantly on your mind yet you do not know how to escape it. In this spiritual wasteland, you find no pleasure in the things of God. You have no desire for obedience to his word. And you are constantly mesmerized by the sparkling oasis of sin. Although you know it is ,in truth, an empty mirage that can give you no life, you find yourself almost a prisoner to it’s deception.

All the while, you long for the joy that you once had found in the Lord. How do you rekindle a desire to read God’s word when that desire is not there? How do you spark a passion to pursue obedience to His word when that former flame in your heart feels like a snuffed out candle? The answer is that there is nothing that you can do in and of yourself. As David exemplified, the only one who has the power to restore spiritual joy is the Lord. 

“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13.

So often we read this verse about seeking God wholeheartedly and we begin to read our Bible’s in hopes that we find a path out of our desert. Reading the word of God is always a step in the right direction, but so often this is done at the neglect of seeking Him in prayer. When it comes to restoring your joy in Christ, the question is not how much do you read your Bible, but rather, “How much do you pray?”

King David was not considered a man after God’s own heart because of his sinlessness. Far from it, David was a great sinner. If you have personally wandered far from God, it is a sure bet that David wandered farther. Yet the remedy that we see from David was not that he began to read the scriptures in his Torah vigorously, because according to his own words, he had no joy in the things of God. And David did not find his way back to the Lord by going to the temple worship each Lord’s day. Although these are well and good practices, David’s rescue from his spiritual desert was found through prayer. One of the greatest preachers of the 20th century, Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones once said, “I am a great sinner, but I serve a greater Savior.”

Paul Washer once said in regards to our individual spiritual walks, “It is not that you are too weak, but rather, that you are too strong.”  We fail so many times to stay strong in our walk with the Lord because we attempt to follow His commands in our own power. We can easily fall into thinking that we can conjure up enough internal strength to be obedient to the commands of God. But apart from a life that is bathed in consistent, daily, I dare say moment by moment prayer, we are powerless to uphold ourselves, and sooner than later, we will fall. And when we neglect prayer in our lives, it is as if we are saying to God, “I’ve got this, because I’m strong enough to overcome temptation and sin on my own.” 

As Paul Washer said, so many times we fall into sin not because we are so weak, but because we pridefully deem ourselves to be stronger than we truly are. When we are neglect prayer, we drift apart from the Lord. And apart from the power of God that upholds us, we can do nothing of any spiritual benefit. Pride always comes before the fall. 

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5.

David was called a man after God’s heart because he was a man that was broken over his sins. He was a man that cried out to God, recognizing his spiritual inability to pull himself up by his bootstraps. I’ve been asked by many people, “Why do I feel so distant from God?” To which I will respond with a question of my own and ask, “How often do you pray for God to restore to you the joy of your salvation?” King David was not the model of a righteous man. But he is the model of a repentant sinner. Constantly petitioning the Lord through prayer is the key to not only living our lives in Christ, but also to possessing a joy in our salvation for the things of God. For apart from Him, we can do nothing.

“The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” Psalm 145:18

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