We have probably all been there in our life as a Christian. That time where everything seems just dry. Our faith is not shaken and we know that God is real. We know that we will remain Christian, we just are not “feeling” the life in Jesus like we used for whatever reason. God seems really far away and abstract. We felt great power from God in the past, we just can’t seem to get any now.
What do we do in those times of great spiritual dryness? First, we ask who changed, us or God? Then, we dig ditches. We do the first things of the faith. The things that characterize a life with Jesus with the expectation that our Lord will rescue us.
In doing the first things, the hard things in the tough times that we really see God come through. We see God’s blessing the most clearly in our determined faithfulness.
An incident from the life of the Kings of Israel may be helpful to illustrate this point. It takes place when the Nation of Israel was divided. The two kings, Jehoram and Jehoshaphat unite to go to war against Moab, Israel’s ancient enemy. In order to fight Moab they need to march their armies there and surprisingly the Kings decide on a route that leads them through the desert. It is supposedly quicker, but it leads them into hostile terrain.
This is not the best decision on the Kings’ parts but it is even worse because it is solely their decision. They chose to be dry, hostile and dusty place out of their own self-will. They never stop and ask God which way to go. They then spend 7 days marching straight into a dry and dusty land before they suddenly realize that they have no water. There is also no water around that they can see. Their poor choices and lack of self-awareness have led them into big trouble.
In the middle of a Middle Eastern desert without water is a really bad position to put yourself in. It should not be missed, again, that there is no indication that the Kings prayed about whether this battle was a good idea, whether they should join together or the route that they were to take.
Decisions made without seeking God’s guidance do tend to lead to huge wordly predicaments.
While an army marching straight into a desert seems unbelievably foolish, have we ever found ourselves in a similar mess? We have entered into a relationship or taken a job without asking the Lord whether it is a good idea. We may have started a hobby that leads us away from our Bible study or begun watching a TV show that is just not good for us. Then we find ourselves in the middle of a metaphorical desert wondering how exactly we got there.
Too often, if we are honest we can trace back the decision-making process that led to our own spiritual valley to us walking away from God. He promises to be with us always and never lies so if God feels far away, who moved?
One king, Jehoram gives us exactly what not to do. He looks around at the circumstances he has placed himself in and responds completely in the flesh. He throws up his hands in frustration and blames God…for his own decisions he never asked God about. My own sin looks really bad on Jehoram.
“Alas! For the Lord has called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab.”
He outright accuses God of not only abandoning them but also giving them over to Moab to be destroyed. His eyes on his circumstances and lack of faith lead him first to despair and then to slander God. This is an ugly look on Jehoram, right?
The question, though, is whether we have fallen prey to the same line of lies of Satan. Have we like sheep gone astray, feel lost, lost confused and in great danger and blamed God for it?
Jehoshaphat reacts differently and provides us the better example. He has gotten himself into a mess. He is likely feeling just as much despair as Jehoram, but he rather than reinforce his own errors, he seeks the Lord and tries to stop the bleeding:
11 But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there no prophet of the Lord here, that we may inquire of the Lord by him?”
So one of the servants of the king of Israel answered and said, “Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who poured water on the hands of Elijah.”
12 And Jehoshaphat said, “The word of the Lord is with him.” So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him.
When faced with an impossible situation and likely just as tempted to turn on God, Jehoshaphat refuses to do so. Rather, he recognizes that it is they who have gotten themselves way off track, not God. This dusty season was caused by their conduct not God’s lack of faithfulness. He, therefore, turns to God before it is too late.
It is interesting to think about how much humility this took on Jehoshaphat’s part. In seeking out a man of God for wisdom and to hear from God directly, he has to acknowledge that he is in trouble and that he desperately needs the Lord. It is clear truth, but his fellow king is not willing to admit it. He would rather die out in the desert than give in to God.
Are we willing to show the same humility? God already knows when we are lost and in trouble. We are just agreeing with Him.
There are many voices that are all too happy to encourage us to curse God like Jehoram. The enemy is happy to pounce when we are in trouble and encourage our pride and running from the Lord. There are many voices that will get in the boat of dread and fear and sorrow with us over worldly troubles. There are few voices that will remind us to trust in the Lord and keep our eyes on Jesus. These are mature men and women of God in our churches. Seek these voices out. The men and women of God often can help us through our time of peril. They are “of God” after all.
If we are faced with great difficulty and feel like we are abandoned, stop. Do not move any further. God find someone who can speak with the Lord on your behalf and then speak truth into your life. Christianity, when done well, is a group sport. Like the kings, we may have made a series of bad decisions to get to this place. We may need someone who loves the Lord more than us to tell us we screwed up and how to fix it. We cannot be afraid to ask for help getting back on track with the Lord.
We should also stop and seek the Lord ourselves. Our heart may be telling us to panic, we just have to do something, but that is again the same thing that got us there in the first place. The heart is deceptive it is only the Spirit that is completely trustworthy.
The Lord says that He will never leave us or forsake us. He says to come to Him when we are weary and heavy laden so take Him up on the promise. Seek Him and keep seeking Him. Allow Him time to speak to you and provide the answers that we really need. As my wife likes to put it, do the first things first, even if you don’t feel like it and then trust the Lord.
So back to the kings. They seek out the prophet Elisha. Surprisingly, he has been with them the whole time they are marching in blindness and yet they have not asked him anything.
Through Elisha they are told:
“Thus says the Lord: ‘Make this valley full of ditches.’ 17 For thus says the Lord: ‘You shall not see wind, nor shall you see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, so that you, your cattle, and your animals may drink.’
Make this valley full of ditches. Go out into the land where there is no water in a time where you are dying of thirst and do physical labor to make holes in the desert. What foolishness this seems like! They did not have backhoes and bulldozers here, just old style shovels and strong backs. Yet, God wants them to dig holes in an area where there is no water.
Do we see the opportunity that God is providing and what He is trying to show them?
He is the consummate teacher. His goal is to teach these guys who have not prayed, not been faithful, not even sought out His direction how to follow Him. He is trying to teach them to walk by faith and not by sight in New Testament terms. So before answering their very late in the game prayer, He wants them to walk a little bit in faith. It is just a few steps and they need to undertake a time of labor motivated solely by Him. Then they will see a time of refreshment.
We might not be out in a literal desert, but a time of desperate thirst may come upon our lives. If we have spent a while walking by sight we may have led ourselves into a spiritual wasteland.
So what do we do? Do we go out in the backyard and start our own digging? No, we have not been told do so. But what does the Bible say to do as Christians while walking with Jesus in order to know Him better?
Put simply as the old children’s song goes, read your Bible, pray every day and you will grow, grow, grow! Those are not the only things, but they are a good start. Trust in the Lord, fast, repent from the things not of the Lord, cry out to Him even though we feel like all is lost. We call these the first things in our house. They are the important things to God that we tend to overlook when we are busy in the flesh.
Do the first things first.
We may not feel like it is doing anything. But how many hours did the Israelites feel silly digging ditches before any water was present? Following God out of faith always bears fruit. In faith inspired obedience we set the stage for God to do His wonderful work and bring water back to our personal wasteland.
When the Israelites listened to God’s direction with faith that God would respond, He did:
Now it happened in the morning, when the grain offering was offered, that suddenly water came by way of Edom, and the land was filled with water.
The land that had been dry and barren was filled with water, a feat that the Israelites just absolutely knew was impossible and could never happen. What did God say through the Prophet Isaiah?
“Do not remember the former things,
Nor consider the things of old.
19 Behold, I will do a new thing,
Now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it?
I will even make a road in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert.
So when we are struggling, seek godly wisdom if our own wisdom fails, seek the Lord and trust in his directions for us even if our deceitful heart is telling us it is not working. Dig your own personal ditches. Redeem your time in the desert with faith that God will fill you and provide a time of refreshing. God will come through just like He has been since the time of kings with funny names.