"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 singing...
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped,
and the lame man shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy."
This morning, I sat outside and read my Bible. It was early but the sky was already blue, the sun was shining, and it was warm. The European Starlings sang and chirped as they dashed about getting food for their little ones, occasionally stopping to rest at the top of the neighbour's orange tree. That tree is laden with oranges hanging like Christmas tree ornaments. That is about all that is reminiscent of Christmas. This is a snow-free zone where winter is forbidden. Despite my allergy to bee stings, I observed, with genuine pleasure, the busyness of bees gathering nectar from blossoms atop the cactus' (cacti?). What a wonder to me that bees are making honey from flowers here in the middle of the desert! A nest of blue herons began squawking as one of the adults returned with food for the hungry little ones waiting eagerly up high in the Sycamore trees. From my chair, I could see about forty palm trees surrounding one of the numerous little lakes that have been strategically placed throughout the city of Scottsdale, Arizona. Mallard ducks spread their wings and lower the landing gear of their webbed feet as they slide across the surface of the water where they will spend the day quacking and cruising with their compatriots. It takes a real conscious effort to remind yourself... this is the desert.
This is one of the many lessons that the Lord has been teaching me. If people can make a dry, hot, barren land into a beautiful oasis, how much more can the Lord transform the dry places and moments of our lives into a place of flourishing and fruitfulness? If God is able to make life flourish in the midst of the deadness of the Arizona desert, is His hand too weak to produce life from the deadness of soul that we often feel when times are tough and journey seems endless?
Not every morning in our lives is like this one that I am experiencing today. Not every stage of life is like the one that I have been enjoying lately. I am keenly aware that this is a unique and special moment for MariAnne and I. I am deeply grateful to the Lord for this sabbatical that we been privileged to share. I rejoice in people like Nariman and Faith, Stan and Jean, Paul and Marcia, Jim and Jan, Gary and Lyndell, Mom and Dad, and others who have lovingly invited us to stay in their homes or vacation spots, to rest and study while we prepare for the next stage of ministry. When we set out on this little journey, we had no idea where it would take us. We really didn't know how we would make it work. However, we have learned that the Lord was already ahead of us. He was laying down the path. He was preparing people's hearts. He was arranging all the details. Most importantly, He was inviting us to spend time with Him away from the noise and busyness of everyday life.
It seems rather apropos to me that our sabbatical seems to be nearing an end in the desert at the time when it is blooming. It is the Lord's way of reminding us that He specializes in bringing life out of death, flourishing out of wastelands, refreshment in places that are dry. It is not my intention to cling to the idea that the best thing about a sabbatical is the opportunity to escape life's challenges. Even in sabbaticals, that isn't completely possible. The best thing about these times is the presence of God: walking with Him, talking with Him, listening to Him, and leaning on Him. It is access to God that Jesus Christ opened up for us when He died on the cross for our sins. He took away the guilt that separated us from the joyous privilege of intimacy and accessibility with the God of the universe. He transformed our relationship from foe to family, from stranger and alien to follower and friend. The triune God of the universe is now my Father, my elder Brother, and my Helper.
It is an enormous privilege to look to God and to trust Him to lead us forward. It is a comfort to be unconcerned about what the future holds so long as God goes with us. The joy of this life and the hope for our eternity is to know that fruitfulness and flourishing is the certain gift that God brings to all who draw near and abide with Him through Jesus. As King David once sang, "You make known to me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forever." (Psalm 16:11)