June is a brutal month to live in Tucson. With our triple digit temperatures soaring to 115 or worse, the prickly pear cactus pads grow as thin as paper. Everything is thirsty and at the nursery we water all of the cacti weekly to keep them looking their best. Miraculously, though, near the fourth of July all this oppressive dry heat suddenly moves out.
The arrival of the monsoon rains in July makes most Tucsonans deliriously happy. Watching the promising storm clouds form is one of our favorite pastimes. The coming rains signal the end of the most intense heat we will have all year.
Soon though, desert dwellers are diving for cover, because the monsoon rains are typically packed with electricity and breathtaking lightening displays. Tucsonans have grown to respect the monsoon’s power, as our desert washes fill quickly and turn into raging rivers that make driving on our normally dry roads suddenly dangerous.
Living through a drought will make anyone grow to appreciate the rain. Experiencing intense heat will cause us to value cool refreshment for ourselves and others. Amazingly, the story of how God healed our lives can bring life-giving water to others. If we want to bloom in the desert, we must see the value of our own story.
When we testify of God’s faithfulness, friends and neighbors will put their hope in God, trust in his salvation, and be healed spiritually. Returning to Isaiah 35, look at verses 5-6a.
5) Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6a) then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. ESV
The blind will see, and the deaf will hear when they put their trust in Jesus. The lame will leap like a deer and the mute will sing for joy because they have experienced the salvation of our God. Is physical healing promised for today or is this just something we enjoy in heaven when we die? The answer is both. God continues to heal today when it serves his higher purposes and I have witnessed many physical healings. I have also experienced God choosing not to heal someone I loved. Over four hundred people prayed in faith for God to heal my beloved husband and instead God chose to take Gary to his reward in heaven. Our ultimate healing will come when we see Jesus face to face. In the scriptures our salvation is often portrayed as a spiritual healing. Our story of trusting God with our fears, and putting our faith in him, imparts his most important healing to others, restoring their spiritual relationship to their God.
But first we have to open our mouths to comfort the anxious. We have to tell of God’s faithfulness to us. We have to speak to the fearful with the comfort God gave us and thereby give them an opportunity to trust God. Like water breaking forth in the desert, comfort stills an anxious and fearful heart.
Notice what happens next in this prophecy.
6b) For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;
7) the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. ESV
When the fearful put their trust in God they are healed and their changed lives are God’s evidence, the faithful revelation of those who are the true children of God. The truth is that those who put their trust in God live differently.
Now we mustn’t get this reversed. We can’t live a certain way to earn God’s favor. It is impossible to live a godly life apart from Christ. But, if we have found God’s favor, his gracious gift of salvation, our lives will give evidence of that fact.
Verses 6b-7 then are the natural progression, which occurs in the fulfillment of this prophecy. Creation has been longing for the day when the children of God will be revealed. All nature waits in eager expectation, so she can be set free from her bondage to decay (Romans 8:19-23).
Physical streams of water will break forth in arid lands when the children of God have been revealed. Waters will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert will flow. In the parched land where there once was only burning sand, a pool will be found. There the thirsty ground will turn into a bubbling spring of water. In the place where only jackals used to live, the grass will turn into reeds and rushes because of the abundance of water found there.
Water is always a game changer in the desert landscape. Even the mighty saguaro will grow faster when it is fed extra moisture. Water changes everything.
It all starts, though, when we can see the value God places on our own story. God has privileged us with a ministry born from our own pain. When we begin to boast of the wonderful mercy and healing he has given to us, we offer hope. When we begin to comfort those who are struggling with our former fears, we bring healing. In John 7:38 Jesus said,
Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ESV
It all begins when we choose to offer life-giving water to those still anxious.
Do you value living water? Has your time in a dry and weary land cultivated in you an appreciation for a cool monsoon rain? Our journeys into the desert are never solely about ourselves. God heals us so we can become healers.
Before going on to the next lesson carve out some time to work through this exercise.
1) On three separate pieces of paper write one of these words at the top of each page: Before, How and After. Spend some time alone asking God to speak to you about the value of your desert story before beginning this assignment.
2) After your time of prayer, on the first piece of paper marked “Before” jot down some thoughts about your life before you experienced a spiritual drought. Include both good and bad experiences in your “before” story.
3) On the second piece of paper marked “How” tell what the desert felt like. Write about how God used the dryness to expose your fears to you and healed you. Tell of God’s nearness to you even when it was difficult. Talk about learning to trust God and how you grew confident he was on your side.
4) On the last piece of paper marked “After” describe the beautiful flowers that grow in a dry and weary place. Tell how you grew to experience God’s pleasure. Boast of God’s goodness to you in spite of the fact that you did not deserve his mercy and favor. Keep these three pieces of paper for future work. We will come back to this exercise after the next lesson.
If you find that you are not ready to write about your desert excursion, it is ok. Please remember the importance of being kind to yourself as you walk through this drought. Keep soaking up the goodness of God’s love and revelation. He will tell you when you are ready to write or share your story. When you are finished, return to reading Isaiah 35 as often as you can.