[Psalm 27:4 NIV]
But I will see Your face in righteousness; when I awake, I will be satisfied with Your presence.
[Psalm 17:15 CSB]
Note: Graham Cooke has said that what happens in spiritual “ebb” or seasons of “hiddenness” is just as important as what God does in the “flow” of evident blessings, answered prayer, etc. This is Part 2C of a series that includes postings on 11/12, 11/26 & 12/3 (so far), where we’ve seen that “spiritual wilderness” is intended by God as a place of purpose and preparation to walk in His promises for our lives. This week, we’ll look at the wilderness as an opportunity to develop a deeper love relationship with the Lord.
Loving Intimacy with God
When I write about supernatural provision and divine guidance - lessons learned in the wilderness seasons of life – I'm writing from experience. My former husband left me with three young children to support, minimal job skills, and – after years of verbal and physical abuse related to his struggles with alcoholism (which eventually took his life) – a lot of insecurity and fear. I had no idea how to lead a family or even make my own way in the world. As I learned to follow Him step by step through many difficult years, God showed Himself to me as an excellent Provider and infallible Guide.
In the early days of my journey as a single parent, a pastor’s wife said to me - in a lackluster Southern drawl which seemed to me, at the time, to mask both awful pity and relief that she wasn’t in my shoes - “It’s OK, honey, Jesus will be your husband.” It was small comfort at that moment (especially since it didn’t come with anything as warm as a hug or even a gentle pat on the arm). I thought, Easy for her to say, she has a “real” husband at home. It would take me almost 20 years to really understand and experience what God says so clearly in Isaiah chapters 54 & 56 (and many other scriptures): our heavenly Bridegroom is not a 2nd best, 2nd choice, or 2nd rate substitute for those not fortunate enough to be blessed with a happy (earthly) marriage. God is the Best Friend, Lover, Helper & Companion any of us – male or female, married or single – could ever desire and come to know in this life, and forever.
God uses the lonely wastelands of life to romance His wayward people. He woos us – like Hosea’s wife - into dry and empty places, away from all our other gods, to establish us in the reality of His True Love. (Eugene Peterson’s beautiful Introduction to Hosea is quoted in full below this posting.)
I will make you my wife forever, showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion. I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as LORD. [Hosea 2:19-20 NLT]
Following God through the wilderness is not just about hardship and discipline – it’s an awesome love story. In the New Testament, God calls His people “The Bride of Christ” [Ephesians 5, Revelation 21-22]; and the culmination of this age is “The Wedding of the Lamb” [Revelation 19].
In desert places, God draws us away from worldly things until we know His Love in such a way that we love Him above all else. Like Job, our trials can teach us that God’s highest priority for us is not a comfortable environment or even impeccable behavior, but knowing Him as He really is. Each difficulty we walk through in life is another opportunity to learn that intimacy with God Himself is the true prize.
After 40 years in the desert, Moses loved God’s Presence more than His promises. When God said He would send an angel ahead of the Israelites to lead them into the Promised Land [Exodus 33:2], Moses pleaded for His Presence:
Then Moses said, "If you don't go with us personally, don't let us move a step from this place…” And the LORD replied to Moses, "I will indeed do what you have asked, for you have found favor with me, and you are my friend." Then Moses had one more request. "Please let me see your glorious presence," he said. [Exodus 33:15, 17-18 NLT]
About a year ago I found myself telling someone at church that, after all these years, I wouldn’t trade the intimacy I have with God now for 20 years of (earthly) marriage to a good husband. A married friend who was listening said, “Really?” and I nodded, Yes. It’s not that I don’t want to share my life with another human being – and I believe God has a plan for that, in His timing. But I don’t want a man more than God, and I don’t want a man who doesn’t love God first (what would be the point of sharing my life with someone who couldn’t share the most important part of it?) – so if that means waiting longer than I sometimes enjoy… (well, we’ll discuss “Waiting on God” in an upcoming blog as well. :)) Meanwhile, I understand better now why a minister once shared the following verse to explain what he felt God was doing in my life through that lonely season:
Who is this coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her Beloved?
[Song of Solomon 8:5a NKJ]
The image below reminds me that we meet our Beloved in a special way in the hard places. I first saw this picture in 2008, as I was preparing to go on a mission trip to Mozambique - my first time halfway around the world to one of Africa's poorest countries. I couldn't help noticing that the young woman (who represents the Bride of Christ*) is headed away from the comfort of the palace, as she walks toward some barren, cold, hard, rugged mountains. The wilderness is a temporary but important passage in our relationship with the Lord.
"Preparation" by Amy Montgomery - email email@example.com
*Artist's note: This image portrays the youthful bride in her time of preparation for her Heavenly Bridegroom. The dove [representing the Holy Spirit] is bringing her the bridal veil. In the snow of the mountains is a man's profile representing her Heavenly Bridegroom. "For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear." [Revelation 19:7-8]
Introduction to the Book of Hosea by Eugene Peterson in The Message version of the Bible:
We live in a world awash in love stories. Most of them are lies. They are not love stories at all - they are lust stories, sex-fantasy stories, domination stories. From the cradle we are fed on lies about love.
This would be bad enough if it only messed up human relationships - man and woman, parent and child, friend and friend - but it also messes up God-relationships. The huge, mountainous reality of all existence is that God is love, that God loves the world. Each single detail of the real world that we face and deal with day after day is permeated by this love.
But when our minds and imaginations are crippled with lies about love, we have a hard time understanding this fundamental ingredient of daily living, "love," either as a noun or as a verb. And if the basic orienting phrase "God is love" is plastered over with cultural graffiti that obscure and deface the truth of the way the world is, we are not going to get very far in living well. We require true stories of love if we are to live truly.
Hosea is the prophet of love, but not love as we imagine or fantasize it. He was a parable of God's love for his people lived out as God revealed and enacted it - a lived parable. It is an astonishing story: a prophet commanded to marry a common whore and have children with her. It is an even more astonishing message: God loves us in just this way - goes after us at our worst, keeps after us until he gets us, and makes lovers of men and women who know nothing of real love. Once we absorb this story and the words that flow from it, we will know God far more accurately. And we will be well on our way to being cured of all the sentimentalized and neurotic distortions of love that incapacitate us from dealing with the God who loves us and loving the neighbors who don't love us.