21st June 2020
Judean Hills at 1,000m above sea level
If you visit the Holy Land you will see many amazing sights,
the great walls of Jerusalem and the noise, smells and bustle of its souks,
the beautiful churches, so varied and individual,
the tranquillity of the Sea of Galilee,
the peaceful and contemplative Garden Tomb, the Dead Sea,
I could go on and on, I love it;
but for me the place I found most overwhelming
and one of the most spiritual was the immense Judean Desert.
It is a wilderness landscape spanning from the Judean Hills
at 1,000m above sea level in the west all the way down
to the Dead Sea at 400m below sea level in the east.
The Judean meets the Negev Desert in the south.
it is full of breath-taking views that are constantly changing.
Mountains, cliffs and chalk hills stand alongside plateaus,
riverbeds, and deep canyons rather than rolling sand dunes.
A place of grandeur and intense quietness.
When we go into the desert we are stripped of all the trappings of society,
taken back to basics.
It is an experience that must be felt:
it is a place for reflection, physical and mental challenge,
and renewal; it is where we meet with God.
It is in the most desolate places where God makes His most significant appearances
and where He speaks into the lives of His people.
This had been especially true at Mount Horeb
where Moses first encounters God in the burning bush (Exodus 3)
and later where he meets with God on the mountain
and receives the Ten Commandments. (Deut. 5)
Moses spent 40 years in the desert as a shepherd,
before God called him to lead Israel out of Egypt.
As soon as God delivered Israel from captivity in Egypt,
he took them into the desert where they wandered for 40 years.
This seems a very long time but God doesn't always work on our timetable
and he was with them through to the end.
He never abandoned his people and he is with us and will never abandon us either.
It was Moses' encounters with God in the desert that moulded his character
and allowed him to see the Glory of God,
not only in his own lifetime here on earth but also
1,500 years later when he appeared with
Jesus and Elijah on the mountain of Jesus' transfiguration (Matthew 17).
David also did a lot of time in the desert,
hiding out from Saul before God made him king;
as did John the Baptist preparing himself
before he came out of the desert to start his ministry.
After his baptism, the Spirit of God drove Jesus into the desert
where he stayed for 40 days and was tempted by the devil.
It is in the most desolate places in our lives that we can find God.
We often face battles and problems that we struggle with; we feel forgotten, alone.
And yet the hardest struggles we face have the greatest potential
to teach us patience and endurance,
like nothing else can.
The years of our own "desert wanderings" may prove to be our most power-packed,
strengthening, faith-building time of life,
but we probably won't not fully realise it until we look back at them -
hindsight is a wonderful thing!
And sometimes when we find ourselves there,
we just need that reminder from the whispers of God down deep inside,
"My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest..." Exodus 33:14
In whatever we are facing, we can be assured,
God is with us, he's providing for our needs,
he has a plan, and nothing is too difficult for him.
Our ever faithful God is with us today, and he will never let us go.