Deserts motivate us to seek and trust God in deeper ways. In the process, we can encounter wonder. The spiritual symbolism of deserts involves facing our needs, relying on God for help, and strengthening our faith. Desert conditions are often stark, yet God provides for us even there.
The Bible describes many times when God provided for people in a desert, such as sending daily manna for the wandering Israelites and causing water to flow from a rock that Moses split in a desert. Jesus overcame intense temptations from Satan in a desert. God always makes a way for good to happen even in harsh desert conditions. As God says in Isaiah 43:19, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
On a trip to Joshua Tree National Park, I experienced an awe-inspiring connection to God and the system of living things that designed to work together there. At first glance, the desert seemed like a hostile environment. Joshua Tree (which comprises some of both the Mojave and Colorado/Sonoran deserts) looks like a wasteland littered with rocks, shrubs, scattered palm trees, and not much else. It has little water, a blazing sun, high winds, and relentless heat. Yet, living things there are resourceful. Animals and plants work on adaptation in a desert habitat. For example, kangaroo rats have adapted to life in Joshua Tree’s desert by absorbing water from the seeds they eat and escaping heat by going underground rather than sweating so they don’t lose water. They can survive even if they never drink any water at all! Among plants, for instance, Palo Verde trees have adapted to the desert by dropping their leaves during droughts to retain as much water as possible in their systems.
Just like them, we also have to adjust when we’re in a desert. I carried plenty of water with me, for instance — both to drink and also to pour on a sports scarf I wrapped around my neck for relief from the heat. I also wore sunglasses to protect my eyes from the sun’s strong rays and the swirling dust kicked up by high winds.
Many different kinds of tough circumstances can pull us into a “desert” in our lives. Injuries and illnesses lead to desert times for our bodies. The stress of going through crises may lead us to a desert state of mind. Our spirits can dry up like a desert unless we invite the Holy Spirit to renew our minds, in the ways I describe in Wake Up to Wonder.
The key to thriving in a desert is being resourceful — learning how to tap into the resources we need, despite the tough situations we’re facing. What inspires me to be resourceful is to remind myself that the ultimate source of everything I need is God. He’s the one who created the desert and all other parts of nature; he’s the one who has the power to provide what I need in any situation. He can do the same for you, whenever you rely on him.
Tapping into a relationship with the Creator gives us the gift of “living water” the Bible says (John 4:10), which will empower us to meet any need we have in body, mind, or spirit. Just as a natural supply of water lies hidden underground at Joshua Tree National Park, the living water of help from the Holy Spirit isn’t something we can usually see. But it’s always there, available to us.
So, the next time you find yourself facing desert circumstances, be resourceful. Look for ways to get the help you need by tapping into the gifts God has given you — from caring relationships with friends and family to refreshing practices like sleeping and exercising well. Adapt to your tough situation with the confidence that you can make it through successfully, with wonder and faith!