How To Find Your Way Out of the Wilderness
I've got nothing today.
I've been staring at the blank space on this computer screen for about ten minutes, and nothing is coming. All of my efforts to spark my creativity this morning have fallen short.
This is a familiar feeling, to be honest. I've been here before in this wilderness.
The sights are always the same: the battered, dust-covered signposts, dried up flora and fauna and maybe even the random withered carcass or two of hopes, dreams and ideas that came here to die.
You know what I'm talking about. We all have dry moments in our lives. We all take a trip to the wilderness now and again.
Yesterday, in my small group meeting, the conversation turned to this very thing. A question was asked about what advice I would give to someone who is going through the wilderness. So, I shared with the group a story.
In 2011 I went through a pretty serious wilderness. I was in the third year of my role as pastor of the church I am currently serving. Things had been going really well for the first two and half years, but that year was rough. Attendance and membership plateaued. Giving began to decline.
For those two and a half years I had been focused on one thing and one thing alone: turning the church around, after it had experienced nearly forty years of steady decline. As I write that down, it seems crazy.
For forty years my church had been declining in membership, worship attendance and giving. And I thought I could fix that in two and a half years.
I found myself spiritually dry. I wondered if what I was doing even mattered. I found myself doubting aspects of my faith that I'd never doubted before. I started thinking about doing something else for a living.
Out of desperation, I took the advice of some close friends and my loving wife, and began a journey that has led me to some pretty incredible places. I began dedicating time every single day to reading the Bible and inspirational books, and to pray by journaling.
These personal devotions have changed some over the years, and I've added books that I read each morning over time. I've also filled up at least five or six journals with prayers, laments, rants, pleas, reflections, praise and much more. And I discovered something along the way...
Jesus had been there all along, you see. But I was too busy staggering headlong into the wilderness rather than stumbling after him.
There's this verse in the Bible from the prophet Zechariah that reads, "Therefore tell the people: This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Return to me,' declares the LORD Almighty, 'and I will return to you,' says the LORD Almighty."
"Return to me... and I will return to you."
My journey with Jesus these past several years hasn't always been easy. Following Jesus never is, to be honest. I will tell you, however, that not long after I began spending time every day drawing closer to Jesus, focusing on Jesus and stumbling after Jesus, all of the things that I worried about, fretted over and thought were so important... didn't matter all that much anymore.
I don't always get this right. I fall down pretty often as I am stumbling in Jesus' footsteps. But as I am fond of saying, "at least I am stumbling in the right direction."
May you find streams in your wilderness today. May you find moments when you can push back against the dry, dusty feelings in your soul and spend time with the One who is the Living Water. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.
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