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-- © GodSpeak International 2006 --
-- Do not republish without written permission from <copyright@godspeak.org> --

Author: Teresa Seputis <ts@godspeak.net>

Prayer-School Course #36

Ask Teresa

By Teresa Seputis

Week 8 Question
How Do I Get Out Of The Desert?

Dear Teresa

I had some times of intense closeness to God, where He seemed so near to me and so real. When I would go to pray, it was so easy to hear His direction for My prayer time. It was so easy to worship Him and to know what was on His heart. I felt His love for me so strongly. I called that my "secret chamber with God" or my "prayer tower." I loved it there and I planned to stay that close to Him forever.

I don't know how it happened, but I have somehow slipped out of that "close place" with God. I can't seem to get back to it. How can I get back there?

- Lonely For Him

Dear Lonely For Him

Oh, I know what you mean!

I have tasted that place of intimacy where His presence was so tangible and His love flooded over every part of my being. Given a choice, I would choose to stay there place forever, too, just like you. Sadly, it doesn't seem possible to do that. We have our "ups" and "downs" when it comes to sensing His nearness and consciously experiencing that sense of intimacy with Him. There are times when God makes me continuously aware of Him, where I can hear His slightest whisper, where my spirit feels so alive in Him. But there are other times when I feel completely unspiritual and He seems so far away.

These "down" periods in our walk with God are such a common experience that people have up with terms to describe it. They call it a "spiritual desert" or a "wilderness experience" or a "dry spell."

The problem is that we when feel spiritually "dry,' we usually assume that God is somehow unhappy with us, even if we have no idea what we might have done to displease Him. If we struggle in our prayer or in our devotions on a given week, we think that we have let Him down, which makes us a bit more afraid to approach Him, because we think that He is angry or disappointed with us. That makes us feel even further away from Him. It is sort of a nasty downward spiral.

It happens because we judge God's acceptance of us based on our emotional experiences instead of based on His word. We don't mean to do it, but we can't help it. We "know better" in our heads, but our hearts tell us that He must be displeased or we would be able to feel His nearness. Almost every time that God has spoken to me when I was in that desert place, His first words to me were, "Don't be afraid, Teresa, I am not mad at you and I have not disqualified you..."

The truth is that everyone goes through spiritual "down times." The Bible tells us that even the "super-heroes of the faith" went through them. The Psalms are full of David's cries when God felt far away, such as "My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You In a dry and thirsty land where there is no water" (Psalms 63:1 NKJV). Joseph had a huge spiritual down in the midst of slavery and prison. Jacob had desert experience as well. So did Moses and many of the prophets. John the Baptist when through such a severe desert experience after he was arrested that he even questioned Jesus' deity (Matthew 11:2-3).

Look at the Apostle Peter. The bible tells us that he had a severe spiritual slump right after he denied Jesus. It was so bad that he gave up all hope of full time ministry and went back to his secular job of fishing. His spiritual senses became so dull that when he saw the resurrected Jesus, he did not even recognize him. One of the other disciples had to tell him that it was Jesus standing on the shore. (That is recorded in John 21:3-7.)

Peter did not understand his desert experience. He was confused because he had enjoyed close intimacy with Jesus. God the Father had given him a supernatural revelation about Jesus' deity (Matthew 16:16-17). He had been one of the inner circle of disciples. He had seen Jesus transfigured on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 17:1-8). He had all of these amazing spiritual experiences under his belt, and his heart was in the right place. He loved Jesus so much that he thought that he was willing to die for Him (John 13:37) He could not imagine how he got from that place of intimacy with Jesus to spiritual destitute.

Yet he ended up there, and so will we from time to time. Sometimes God lets us feel like He is far away, but the reality is that He is always close to us. He hears our every thought and prayer. He watches over us and protects us even when we don't feel very spiritual. Peter did not feel spiritual. He had given up on his spiritual destiny, but Jesus did not give up on him. We see Jesus meet him personally to restore him in John 21:15-19.

Look at what happened afterwards. Peter preached a sermon and three thousand people get saved (Acts 2:37-41). He preached again shortly afterwards, and another 2000 were saved (Acts 4:4). He passes a crippled beggar on his way to temple and heals him (Acts 3). In fact, the Bible tells us that he had a mega-healing ministry. Acts 5:14-16 says, "14 And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. 16 Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed."

When Peter was in the midst of his desert experience, his assessment of his spiritual state was pretty bad. He thought he'd been disqualified and he started to return to his old vocation. However, Peter's self- assessment did not line up with God's assessment of him. Peter may have felt far from God and disqualified, but God was actively grooming him for important ministry. Peter's heart and emotions lied to him while he felt spiritually dry. But that lie did not prevail in his life; it was God's truth and reality that prevailed.

It is the same for each of us. We are so quick to give up, to disqualify ourselves or to assume that God is displeases with us. But God knows our destiny and He is carefully and actively grooming us for it.

So, back to your question: "How can I get back there?" The answer is "I don't know." But I do have some ideas that might help.

There are a lot of reasons that we end up in spiritual wilderness experience, where God feels far away. Some of them are totally in God's hands and others of them are caused by our behavior or on our response to God. If we are in the desert because of something we did (or something we failed to do), then there are some actions we can take to correct that situation. But if we are in the desert because God sovereignly decided to withdraw the sense of His nearness to grow and mature us, we have no control over that. All we can do in that case is to keep on crying out to God like David did in the Psalms, and wait for Him to meet us again.

Things That Can Put Us In The Desert

There is no simple answer about how to get back into that close place with God. However I want to explore some of the reasons that we can end up in a desert experience.

  1. Sometimes God sovereignly decides to take away the sense of His nearness to test us (e.g., to see how well we do in our relationship with Him when we don't have all those wonderful feelings of His presence). In those cases the best thing we can do is to remain faithful in our spiritual disciplines. We need to continue reading and studying His word, continue tithing, continue praying, continue worship, continue attending services at church, etc. We need to try and remain as yielded to His Spirit as we can and do all the things we know He wants us to do.

  2. Sometimes God sovereignly takes away the sense of His nearness so that we are forced to stand in faith or to mature in some area. In that case, we simply have to complete the course of the lesson, then He will restore that sense of intimacy.

  3. Sometimes He withdraws the sense of His nearness as a response to sin or rebellion. If God tells us to do something we don't want to do, and we refuse to do it, that will hurt our intimacy with Him. If We engage in something that God has explicitly told us not to do, that has the same effect. Anytime we are separated from God by sin or rebellion, the solution is easy--repent and change our behavior. Then God will restore the intimacy.

  4. Sometimes He withdraws the sense of His presence when we are actively resisting Him in some area. Maybe He wants to do inner healing and we don't want to go there because it is too painful. Or maybe He is calling us to a higher level of holiness or obedience and we resist Him in it. If that is the case, then we will probably end up staying in the wilderness until we stop resisting and start cooperating with God's agenda.

  5. Sometimes He just wants us to press into Him or ask Him to draw us close. Perhaps He is no longer satisfied with the level of intimacy we have with Him and He wants to call us deeper. Then He might temporarily withdraw the sense of His presence to entice us to press deeper into Him and to seek Him more.

  6. Sometimes God chooses a new way of meeting you. If you continue to seek Him in the old ways that used to work, you will find that they don't work anymore. You have to find what His agenda is and then start interacting with him the new way He chooses. It is sort of like toilet training. Up until a certain stage of our maturity, it is perfectly normal to use our diapers when we have to go potty. But we reach a certain point and it becomes necessary to change our behavior. That same type of thing happens in our walk with God. As we grow and mature, things that used to work for us may stop working because He is calling us to a higher level of maturity in our walk with Him. Then we have to learn the new "correct" way of interacting with Him and experiencing His tangible presence in our lives.

Again, it is normal for all of us to go through desert experiences form time to time. The good news is that they don't last forever, and when we come out of them, we are usually closer to God than we were before we went through them.

-- © GodSpeak International 2006 --
-- Do not republish without written permission from copyright@godspeak.org --

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