I just took a look at the drought map for the state where I live. To say there is a drought in New South Wales is a huge understatement. Officially only 0.4% of the state isn’t in drought, while 0.3% is recovering. The remaining 99.3% is experiencing drought. Now that’s bad.
Now, Texas is big, but NSW is bigger. Texas is 268,596 sq mi compared to NSW’s 312,528 sq mi. It’s devastating for a state that thrives on farming to see such barren fields.
Sometimes following Jesus can be like this. There are times when God seems so close and when experience his blessings, but then other times when he seems so absent. It’s can be like walking through a spiritual drought where instead of green grass, the dust puffs up as your foot cracks the dry earth with each step.
At least that’s my experience at times. The prayer that continues to go unanswered. Or when the times when I’ve trusted God, and it seemed like he didn’t come through. Or when I’ve showed up but he hasn’t. The drought of walking through the spiritual hard times where the good times once stood.
David knew what this was like. He writes in Psalm 63:
‘God, you are my God; I earnestly seek you.
I thirst for you;
My body faints for you
In a land that is dry, desolate, and without water.
So I will gaze on you in the sanctuary
To see your strength and your glory.’
David’s words are so helpful. They articulate our own sense of barrenness and longing for God’s presence and remind us that the reason we are so keenly aware of God’s absence is because we have felt his presence so intimately in the past.
An Image for Surviving Spiritual Drought
Trees are among my favourite Bible images. They are easy to grasp. Take a look at Jeremiah 17:7-8:
‘But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD,
Whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
That sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when the heat comes;
Its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
And never fails to bear fruit.’
Are you encouraged by this passage? I am. It changes our perspective on reality. Yes, heat comes. There are times of spiritual drought. But God assures us we won’t just survive, we can actually thrive thrive.
Thriving doesn’t mean the spiritual drought will be suddenly lifted. God doesn’t say through Jeremiah that his presence will be suddenly manifest. So, what does thriving look like? Continuing to bear fruit. It’s God’s Spirit continuing to be at work in our lives through the gospel shaping us more like Jesus even when it seems barren and we long for a greater sense of intimacy.
So, what do we do? Don’t give up. Jeremiah’s tree didn’t stop however most of what it did wasn’t visible. Instead it happened underground. The tree is planted close to God and sending its roots toward him. In other words, following Jesus is dependent on God. We can’t conjure up cheap palour tricks or short-cuts to follow Jesus. Discipleship only occurs when we rely on the life sustaining and changing presence of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who brings fruit in our lives and enables us to thrive during droughts.
I continued reading my Bible and writing during one spiritual drought. One story that captured me came from the beginning of Exodus. God’s people are having a hard time in slavery and it seems like God eventually decides to hear there cries. In reality though, he already has in deliverer, Moses in the place where he wants him. God hasn’t been ignoring them. He’s been working behind the scenes, they just couldn’t see it.
This small passage gave me hope in a barren time. As I reflected, I saw God was still working in my life. It helped me continue. Moments of God’s grace are what we need for the barren times.
Reading and writing are ways that I dig deep. They help me plunge my roots into the grace God has for me. What ways do you connect with God? Don’t give up on these when the the heat comes or in the year of drought. These practices are the ways that roots go deep down to Jesus, the life giving stream. It is his continuing gospel work in the through the Holy Spirit’s presence in your that will allow to endure and be fruitful during the spiritual barren lands.
Isn’t this good news?