The desert is a metaphor for life. Our lives are a desert journey. There are times of respite and refreshment. There are times when the intense heat of the desert zaps our energy, numbs our consciousness, and causes us to wonder if we can possibly take another step on the path of life.
In those intensely dark times, God’s Word speaks most clearly. As one rabbi said, “The deeper we go into the desert, the greater are the miracles of God.” As another rabbi said, “You can take me out of the desert, but if you take the desert out of me, I will no longer be faithful.”
The desert metaphor is powerfully illustrated in many of the psalms, including Psalm 121. My help comes from the Lord! The Lord will not even let my foot slip on a desert mountainside. He guards me even when I sleep. He is my shade when the sun threatens my life. He is my blanket when the cool desert night makes me tremble. He keeps me from harm, protects my life, and watches my coming and going.
When we dig deeper into Psalm 121, we discover a disconcerting paradox. In times when the heat is intense and we experience God’s protection, the psalm is comforting. But when we find ourselves in a dark valley, we ask, “Where is our God who promised that the sun would not cause us harm, because the Lord is protecting us?”One year ago this week, my nephew died suddenly in a freakish traffic accident. My wife and I were awaking to a vacation day at Lake Louise. Then the text from my sister arrived. “Pray! Pray!” The early report was bad. The accident and head injury were very serious. And then we learned that the medical team could find no brain activity. We were in shock and numbed. It is moment that has left a hole in the hearts of his family that will never close completely. It will always be there, but with edges that are a little less rough as time passes.
Our family is not unique. No one is spared. Each of you has a deep desert story too. The blazing sun of our desert lives seeks to destroy us with sickness, broken relationships, workplace issues, and even death. The metaphorical desert sun rises every day, and its direct heat is brutal. It is the condition of life in a broken world.
In desert times and places, Psalm 121 speaks. When the sun is most intense, Bedouin shepherds know that the most vulnerable part of the body is the head. If he or she can just get his or her head into the shade, the sun will not harm. The sun will still be beat down intensely. It will still seek to destroy. But it will not prevail, because shade protects. The Lord is our shade.
The words of Psalm 121 are not for my nephew. The intense heat of the sun or chilling cold of the night are not attacking him any longer. The Lord has already welcomed him into his presence. The Lord is protecting him under his own wings and he is experiencing eternal refreshment.
Psalm 121 is for those who remain on this earth until their appointed time, when our Father calls us home and Jesus is there to greet us. Psalm 121 is for those of us as we experience the desert journey of life. It is for each of us as we struggle with brokenness. The blazing sun will not harm us, because God is our cooling shade. God is our blanket when we are shivering alone at night. God is the shepherd who guides our path when are eyes are too filled with tears to see.
God doesn’t take the desert from us, as much as we wish he would. God has chosen for us to live in its harshness. Why? Maybe because the desert is the place where we experience God’s presence most acutely. Maybe because it is the only place where we understand our total dependence on him. Maybe because he longs for us to walk with him, and he knows that we be drawn closest to him in those desert times and places.
My nephew no longer needs the shade or a blanket. He is at home with Jesus. Those of us left behind and dealing with his loss need the life-saving shade which God provides to survive the intense sun that remains in our lives.
The tree that provides that bit of sun for our heads in the deep desert is a broom tree. On a trip to Israel together I convinced my nephew Kevin to lie down with his head beneath the tree, because someday I wanted to use that real picture to talk about Psalm 121. Never in my wildest imagination did I think that this photo would be a part of a devotional that included his story.
Are you in a desert time or in a desert place? If you are not right now, you will be someday. When you find yourself there, remember. The Lord will protect each of us while we walk the journey of life on this earth. The Lord will be our shade when the sun is blazing. The Lord will be our warm blanket when we shiver alone at night. And just like Kevin, those who claim the Lord as their Savior will one day be welcomed out of life’s desert and into his presence forever.
Devotionals are written by Jeff Blamer, Vice President of Member Services