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Can I Flourish in the Desert?

February 21, 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.

Focus

If you’re feeling dried out by struggles and suffering, if you’re feeling more like desert than a forest, if you’re afraid that you’ve missed out on flourishing, then the Bible has good news for you. God is in the business of helping deserts flourish. God can work in and through the dryness of your life, growing blossoms with living water. Flourishing doesn’t deny the pains of life. But it does give meaning and purpose even to those pains. God’s promise of flourishing is for you, no matter what you’re dealing with today.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Invitation to a Flourishing Life

Devotion

The biblical promise of flourishing sounds wonderful. Who doesn’t want to live fully and fruitfully? Who doesn’t want to experience the abundant life promised by Jesus? Who doesn’t want to “bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16)?

Yet, for some of us, flourishing seems like a distant, perhaps even a forgotten dream. We can feel dried up and depleted, as if nothing beautiful or valuable will ever grow from us. Perhaps you’re struggling with physical limitations or pain. Is flourishing even possible for you? Or maybe you’ve lost a loved one and it feels like grief will never let you go. Can you still flourish? Or, as you get older, you recognize that your physical strength is waning, maybe also some of your mental capacities. How can you be expected to flourish?

The pains, losses, and limitations of life are very real and mustn’t be ignored. Scripture regularly acknowledges the brokenness of life, often with unrestrained grief. (If you don’t believe me, read the biblical book called Lamentations.) We would be doing a great disservice both to people who hurt and to God’s Word if we were to pretend that flourishing means living without suffering, frustration, and heartache. We’d end up with an unreal reality that was available only to the most privileged and lucky of human beings. That’s not what biblical flourishing is all about.

Without denying the sorrows and struggles of life, Scripture promises the possibility of flourishing. Those who are in right-relationship with God and others can flourish, that is live fully and fruitfully (see Psalm 92:12-15, John 15:1-11). This doesn’t imply a pain-free existence. Remember, our Savior was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3 KJV). Yet he flourished more than any other person, even though his life was cut short at a relatively young age.

Almost all of us will go through periods of dryness, times when we are not particularly fruitful and when we feel exhausted by the toil and turmoil of life. Those seasons in the desert can seem endless. We’re not just in the desert. We are the desert: dry, barren, dusty, seemingly lifeless.

Yet, for us there is good news. God makes deserts flourish. We see this, for example, in Isaiah 35, a prophecy about the future flourishing of Israel:

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom [parach]; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly [parach parach], 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 (Isaiah 35:1-2).

You may recall that the Hebrew verb parach refers to the actual blossoming of plants as well as the figurative blossoming of people. When the verb is doubled up, this accentuates the meaning. “The crocus shall blossom [parach]” becomes “The crocus shall blossom abundantly [parach parach].” In the prophecy of Isaiah 35, the vision of flowers blossoming in the desert shows what God will do with and for God’s own people. By God’s grace, there will be “streams in the desert” (Isaiah 35:6). What Isaiah envisioned centuries ago, God does today through the healing, reviving, renewing work of the Holy Spirit.

© Copyright Mark D. Roberts 2019

When I read Isaiah 35, I picture the deserts of Southern California. During most of the year, these deserts are hot and dry. A few hearty plants grow in this harsh atmosphere, but their colors are washed out, not unlike the ground in which they are planted. Yet, if the rain comes at just the right time, then, in the spring, the deserts of California become a stunning patchwork quilt of flourishing. Bright, colorful flowers cover the ground in a way that seems almost unreal. (I’ll share with you a photo I took a couple of years ago in Desert Hot Springs, California.)

If you’re feeling dried out by struggles and suffering, if you’re feeling more like desert than a forest, if you’re afraid that you’ve missed out on flourishing, then the Bible has good news for you. God is in the business of helping deserts flourish. God can work in and through the dryness of your life, growing blossoms with living water. Flourishing doesn’t deny the pains of life. But it does give meaning and purpose even to those pains. God’s promise of flourishing is for you, no matter what you’re dealing with today.

In tomorrow’s devotion, we’ll continue this conversation with some examples of people flourishing in the desert. For now, however, you may want to consider the following questions.

Reflect

Have you ever felt dry, rather like a desert? When? What was this like?

Are you in one of those dry spells right now?

When you think about flourishing in life, what comes to mind for you? What thoughts? What dreams? What feelings?

Act

If you’re in a desert season of life right now, find someone with whom you can share your struggles, someone who will listen well and pray for you. If you’re in a fruitful season, you may know someone to whom you can reach out with a listening ear and a heartfelt prayer.

Pray

Gracious God, sometimes the promise of flourishing seems so far away from our reality. This is especially true in times of spiritual drying, or in seasons of grief, or in episodes of pain. We can wonder if flourishing is even possible for us.

Thank you, Lord, for the streams in the desert. That you for being present as we struggle. Thank you for giving us hope when we feel hopeless. Thank you for the living water that can help us to flourish even when we feel like a desert.

May your living water spring up in me to eternal life, beginning now! 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: Drinking Living Water


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2 thoughts on “Can I Flourish in the Desert?

  1. Carol says:

    I very recently discovered this website through a link elsewhere, and then the “flourishing” series began- WOW!! Powerful in guiding me to dig deeper within and live daily life with a greater awareness of God/Jesus/Holy Spirit with me every moment . Even in this “desert” time of physical pain and forced immobility. Thank you!!

    It would be great if these daily Life for Living devotions were also available audibly and could be listened to as well as read visually. One could then take them into the day for repeated listening like when driving, at a break during the day and even at night during the quiet before bed.

    Just a thought…

    • Mark Roberts says:

      Carol, thank you for your encouraging note. It means a lot. I am sorry, however, for your “desert.” That sounds hard.

      You are now the third person in the last month to encourage me to during Life for Leaders into a devotional podcast. I am seriously thinking about this. The big challenge is time. Even though it seems like it wouldn’t take much, it is a serious regular commitment. I’d appreciate your prayers about this.

      Blessings to you!

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