The blast felt like a furnace. Opening the door to greenhouse number seven, I could not believe I was going to walk into that atmosphere. The blazing dry heat confronting me was easily 120 degrees. A couple of shoppers came into the nursery looking for a peanut cactus, and earlier in the cool of the morning. I had spotted a flat blooming in number seven. Walking over to the third bay, I picked up a tiny cactus covered in hot pink blooms and quickly made my escape to the balmy 100 degree temperature found in retail. I hoped my customers were going to love this little beauty.
As they finished making their purchases, my co-worker asked them, “May I interest you in a bottle of ice-water?” Flushed and dripping in sweat they said, “Yes! Oh, that would be wonderful.” Whenever the temperatures started soaring, we were quick to push complimentary cold water because fainting into some thorny plant was just not a good business plan.
I loved everything about my job at the cactus nursery. I was born and raised in Arizona, but in serving my customers I found myself falling in love with the beauty of the desert in sweet new ways. I loved the lessons I was learning about growing drought tolerant plants. I love the camaraderie I experienced with my co-workers as we physically labored together. I loved the ice cream bars my boss stuffed in the freezer for a quick cool down delight. I loved it that someone was paying me to lose weight and I loved it that I was sleeping soundly after a day of physical exercise. But this was not the job I had dreamed of or the job I had trained for.
For thirteen years, I had planned my reentry into the work force by commuting from Tucson to Phoenix to pursue a master of theology degree. It usually doesn’t take that long to finish a seminary degree, but my schooling was often interrupted by the needs of my family. Praying out loud to stay awake on these late night drives, I would joyfully release my future ministry to God.
You can imagine my disappointment and confusion when I was the only person in my graduating class who did not get a job after seminary. Even the other women in my class found ministry positions. I thought I was doing what God had called me to do. And, while in the past I could have been nominated for volunteer of the year, I now needed to work. My husband and I had two children in college and I deeply desired to use my new education to help pay our bills.
If you had told me that God had planned next for me after graduation was to work at a cactus nursery, I would have never believed you. Sometimes, I find it is easier to obey God when I don’t know the future. Surprisingly, though, working at the nursery became a real blessing to me. It wasn’t long before I began to sense my time among the cacti was more than a job to help me pay my bills. It was an extension of my seminary training.
Bible verses that talked about living “in a dry and weary land where there is no water” began to jump off the pages at me. I knew from my schooling Israel’s topography was similar to the state of Arizona, but laboring in this dry heat was highlighting spiritual truths from a fresh perspective. One of those passages I fell in love with was Isaiah 35. Reading about a physical desert coming into bloom made me ponder what it would look like if my personal spiritual desert came into bloom.
I know I am not the only person who has struggled with disappointment and loss, with dashed dreams and unfulfilled expectations. Many have also lived for years with a dream or a desire that they fear is simply in danger of evaporating. As we go about our lives we may be privileged to experience a physical desert like Tucson. But all of us, whether we live in a physical desert or not, will at one time or another experience a spiritual desert; times in our lives when we feel dry, when we feel God is not speaking, when our spiritual lives feel like they have withered up and died.
Perhaps we don’t think of God at all and don’t know we are in a spiritual desert, but we know something is missing. Examining how life prospers in a physical desert will give us insights into how to bloom when we find ourselves in what we think is a spiritual desert.
What would it take to see a spiritual desert come into full bloom? This is our quest. Because of God’s amazing provision, we are going to be set free to bloom in places we once thought of as desolate. God is going to open our eyes to the beauty hidden in the desert. In the past, we have been tempted to label our lives as barren and in our narrow viewpoint, we may have missed the fact that God has moved us to a landscape free of mosquitos. We are not barren and neither is the place where we live. Maybe roses don’t grow especially well here during the month of June, but that doesn’t mean this is not a place filled with majestic beauty and rich nutritious soil when we grow the right kind of plant.
It is true that the heat has been a huge distraction for us in the past and always before we could not imagine blooming under these circumstances, but we need to get ready because refreshing water is coming to the desert, life-giving water. Water is always a game changer in the desert.
In our journey, we will discover there is a special irony about learning to bloom in a spiritual desert. Blossoming will feel good to us, but it will also bring God much pleasure. Flowering enables us to reach our eternal purpose and at the same time brings God glory. If God has taken us to a place that feels like a hot dry land, we need the assurance he has brought us here to bless, us not to curse us.
This is God’ promise from Isaiah 35:1-2a
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. ESV
God poetically equates blooming in the desert with gladness, joy and singing in this passage. In my early confusion when I read these words, I was tempted to believe that God must be using a different dictionary than me. I knew I wasn’t defining my desert experience the same way God was. How could dryness be a good thing? At the nursery, God introduced me to the incredible flowers which only bud on a cactus. From that graphic visual, I began anticipating what beautiful blooms might sprout from my disappointments.
Consider these questions about your spiritual deserts:
1) What circumstances make you feel spiritually dry? Make a list as long as you need to.
Before you move on invite God into each circumstance you wrote down or thought of. Don’t rush this process. If you need more than one day to process this dry and weary land it is okay. Ask God to receive glory from these circumstances which feel so lifeless to you. When you are finished with this exercise, go on to the next question.
2) What dreams of yours are in danger of evaporating?
After compiling your list, one by one give these dreams to God. Again take your time. Ask God to be exalted in your dreams. Ask God to bless you even if these dreams die.
In the coming days, begin reading Isiah 35 as often as you can. This chapter is only ten verse long and is a great source of living water for these days of drought. In the coming lessons, we will dig deeper into Isaiah 35 and the eternal purposes of God revealed in our spiritual deserts.