February 22, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Isaiah 35:1-2 (NRSV)
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.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the LORD,
the majesty of our God.
Sometimes life is like a verdant forest . . . and sometimes like a parched desert. You may not be in the desert today, and that’s great. Or you may be in the middle of what feels like an endless Sahara. Perhaps you can’t to flourish today as you had once hoped. But God is with you and God is able to make deserts flourish . . . including you.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Invitation to a Flourishing Life
Today’s devotion continues the conversation from yesterday. I want to reflect with you a bit more in response to the question: Can I flourish in the desert? As I noted yesterday, the idea of flourishing sounds great. After all, who wouldn’t want to live fully and fruitfully? But many people are not in a place where flourishing seems likely, or even possible. They feel as if they’re in a desert of dryness and despair. Their dreams for life didn’t pan out as they had expected. For folks like these, talk of flourishing can seem empty or even unkind.
In yesterday’s devotion, we saw that God is in the business of making deserts flourish. In Isaiah 35:2, “the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus
it shall blossom abundantly.” Isaiah goes on to say that “the glory of Lebanon shall be given to it” (35:2). Lebanon, in the time of Isaiah, was known for its verdant forests and vigorous cedar trees. This blessing will, in time, be given to the desert. God’s people, caught in a season of debilitating dryness, will one day be fully and generously restored.
The God who brings ultimate flourishing can also help us to thrive in the desert. By God’s grace, our lives can be an oasis of beauty and fruitfulness. We can indeed flourish, though not as we have done before and not as we may have hoped. Flourishing will look different in different seasons of life.
I want to share briefly three examples of flourishing in the desert. All three stories feature friends of mine who are (or were) living fully and fruitfully in what feels (or felt) to them very much like a desert.
Tim was a world-class gymnast who may well have made it to the Olympics. But, while training in college, he sustained a major neck injury that immediately ended his athletic career and saddled him with years of terrible pain. Tim’s dreams of athletic flourishing were over. He was stuck in what felt like an endless desert.
But God had plans for his life. Tim went on after college to pursue a top-flight education. He invested his talents in creative, innovative ministries. Now, he leads one of the top Christian organizations in the world, while also being a loving, engaged husband and father. Once thrust into the desert, Tim is flourishing today by God’s grace.
Martha loved being a wife and mother more than anything in life. She was deeply devoted to her husband, with whom she served in children’s ministry at her church. When her husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Martha’s life seemed to unravel. His death was devasting for her emotionally. It also destroyed her vision of how she would flourish in life.
In the midst of her grief, Martha began to serve in a temporary children’s ministry staff role at her church. Soon that ministry was thriving under her leadership, and the church asked Martha to become the full-time director. For seventeen years she flourished, as did the ministry entrusted to her and the hundreds of children and families whose lives she touched. She loved her job and the people with whom she worked. And they loved her. Martha’s desert became filled with blossoms, though she never stopped aching over the fact that she couldn’t share it with her beloved husband. (Martha, by the way, was my mother. The photo is of my mom, who, at around 70 years of age, was camping in Yosemite, sleeping on the ground in a tent, leading a bunch of families from the church and having the time of her life.)
Johnnie was an older woman in my church in Irvine. She was energetic, outspoken, and filled with love. She had also suffered more than most people I knew; she struggled with various physical ailments, but, more than that, she had lost a son and all of her grandchildren to premature death. Johnnie could tear up in a second when she talked about those she had lost, but, by God’s grace, that same passion made Johnnie one of the warmest people in our church. She especially loved welcoming visitors, getting to know them, inviting them lunch, and caring for them in a beautiful way.
But, near the end of her life, Johnnie’s physical condition deteriorated. She became bedridden and couldn’t come to church anymore. She felt useless and depressed. One day, as I was visiting her, she lamented her empty life. We began to talk and pray about what she might be able to do with such physical limitations. All of a sudden, Johnnie got an inspiration. Though stuck in bed, she could still use the phone. She determined to get the church directory and call every household in the church to see how she might be able to pray for them. And so she did, day after day. Church members experienced Johnnie’s genuine care with gratitude. And she was able to live fruitfully even when stuck in her room.
All of these friends of mine flourished in their desert. All lived fully and fruitfully in spite of difficult losses and challenges—though it might be better to say that all of these friends flourished both in spite of and because of what they suffered. Their pain gave them deeper wisdom, deeper love, and even deeper gratitude.
You may not be in the desert today, and that’s great. Or you may be in the middle of what feels like an endless Sahara. You may not be able to flourish today as you had once hoped. But God is with you, and God is able to make deserts flourish.
Do you know someone who has flourished in life in the midst of difficult challenges or losses? If so, what do you think has helped this person to flourish?
Has there been a time in your life when you were going through hard things, yet you also seemed to flourish at that very time? If so, what was going on? How do you make sense of it?
Can you picture people you know who are flourishing in different ways in different seasons of life? What is common to their varying experiences of flourishing?
Think of someone you know who is going through a difficult season of life. Pray for this person. If you sense the Spirit’s nudge, reach out to this person in whatever way seems appropriate.
Gracious God, thank you for the people who show us how to flourish in the desert. Thank you for how you meet people in their place of dryness and pain. Thank you for helping them to blossom even when life is hard.
No matter what I’m wrestling with today, may I look to you for grace. May I be open to however you wish to work in my life. By your amazing grace, Lord, may I flourish throughout my life, living for your purposes and in your joy. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Promise of Return
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.