The Desert of God's Love

A Cancer Diagnosis

The following prayer-poem swirled in my mind as I awakened one morning. I jumped out of bed to write it down so I wouldn't forget it. 

You say there's a plan and a future for me?
I'm lost in the desert and cannot see.
I try to follow and understand your will.
I have no answers---just wait, be still.

Running away to no avail.
Resisting the desert, God will prevail.
Turning and running is futile at best.
His plan beckons, his promised rest.

His plan of love to draw me close.
The Desert of Love for me He chose. 
Vaguely I see my desert gloom.
Repent, rejoice, God's will to bloom!

God's Desert of Love, his plan for me.
The Desert of Love, he brings to me.
A journey to shape the void in me.
The Desert of Love, he'll make me see.

At the time I wrote it I was at spiritual peak in my life—an oasis of sorts. I had reached a place in my spiritual journey to understand, and even appreciate, some of life's disappointments, the rejections and the suffering God had brought me through to get to this point. It was all beginning to make sense. These verses were a balm to my heart. 

Four weeks after I prayed those words, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I didn't ask God, "Why me?" like I had on many, or most, occasions, but in the midst of my panic I had a nagging question, "Why now, God? Why can't I enjoy a short time of refreshing, a stay at the oasis? Why must I get back on the desert trail. . .again?! What good am I there?" But this time it was different, this time the desert wasn't as scary, it wasn't as dry. This time I understood the desert held something I couldn't learn any other way. But why was my perspective so different, this time? This wasn't normal. It could only be explained by God's supernatural power! 

It doesn't matter if you have an ingrown toenail or a herniated disc, once you've developed an ailment, the stories of others having the same thing and how to treat it come out of the woodwork! Cancer is certainly no exception. The first week of my diagnosis, I remember hearing a woman say that her cancer was a blessing. "A blessing?" I thought. "How's that possible?" I found her response very annoying. Surely she's exaggerating! But that desert prayer-poem kept nagging at me. Had God given me those words to prepare me for this? The thought made me shudder and pray, "Lord help me to trust you in this."

The thought of having cancer was shocking, it meant possible death. But why are we so shocked to hear of someone's death? We spend so much time living our lives as if they'll go on forever here on Earth. The fact of the matter is, we are all on the way to dying. It's odd, but this thought actually gave me comfort during my cancer treatment, because even if God were to heal me now, I will die eventually. So why do I hold on so tightly to this life? Then the thought came to me, we are hardwired for eternal things--God has programmed eternity into our DNA! Because of sin, physical death has made us forget this most basic fact, so we desperately deny death, to get back what we lost.

Apparently, we are also hardwired to learn important life-lessons in difficult ways (must be a result of our sinful nature). I know in my life and countless others I've spoken to, the most difficult events have taught us the most about life and spiritual matters. In fact, these "life-lessons" become our teachers to receiving the harvest God intends for our lives; they help us understand what Jesus went through for us. They help us learn to trust God, so his desires become our desires! Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4.

Sadly, our tendency is to respond to the trials and tragedies of life by thinking God is out to get us, hurt us, or has forsaken us, and as a result we might turn away from God and then use it as an excuse to explain away our own sinful failures and think: 

If this hadn't happened to me, then I could have been successful. 

If this hadn't happened, then I would be happy. 

If this hadn't happened, then life would be different and I would be different. 

If these things hadn't happened, then I could trust God. 

Why does suffering take us by surprise? Where do we get the idea that if we pray enough and trust enough, then we'll be free from suffering? It could be a result of our western entitlement mindset, but it certainly isn't what the Bible teaches us. Think of Isaac, whose father held a knife over his head or Joseph who was sold into slavery. And of course there's Job who lost everything, his children died, his worldly possessions were taken away, and his health was destroyed. What about Steven, and Paul, and Peter? Their lives ended in horrific ways! Yet, many Christians today expect to have worry-free lives. Is it false teaching or preaching that makes us think this way? Possibly, but maybe it's a remnant memory that God programmed into our hearts at creation, because life wasn't supposed to be like this. We were created to live pain-free, suffer-free, and mourn-free lives, but sin has ruined God's good creation! 

Read Hebrews 11. The point of this chapter is not how these great people of faith suffered. The point is they trusted God through their suffering. It would be grotesque to welcome pain and suffering into our lives, but it is necessary to expect it. Don't call it friend, call it teacher. And don't ever think that God makes us suffer out of cruelty; we suffer because we live on a corrupt planet. 

God sent his Son to redeem us from Satan's death-grip. Jesus willing suffered on our behalf. He has a better plan for us than we do. While we live here on earth, we can never be totally satisfied. In fact, don't get too comfortable here; it is temporary, because for Jesus' followers, our true home is in heaven with him. 

The prayer-poem, I believe, was intended to prepare me for the desert journey of having cancer. I can now say it was indeed a blessing, because God taught me to trust him more fully through it. Even though I am now cancer-free, the fact of the matter is my body is still terminally ill, and so is yours. The good news is Jesus is coming back in our lifetime! Either he's coming for us one by one in our deaths, or he's coming back for his whole church at one time. Are you ready for his return? Are you ready to trust him, no matter what?

When you are "in Christ," meaning you trust him as your Savior, your trials will have purpose. It may feel like a desert, but it is the desert of God's love. God uses that desert trail to make us into the people he intended us to be, so we can reap the harvest of his blessing! The comfort that Jesus promises is partially for here and now, but ultimately God's children will be fully comforted in the arms of The Hearer of Cries." There is coming a day when God will wipe away all our tears and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain" (Revelation 21:4). Come, Lord Jesus, come!

Copyright 2006 S.A. Keith - All Rights Reserved

BE-Attitudes for Adults
Article adapted from, and is more fully expanded in, The BE-Attitudes - Live Life Approved by God!


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