I’ve been thinking about the desert lately…

About all the people I know who are seeking deliverance from our various challenges and trials.

Over the last year, one of my favorite social activities has been participating in a powerful women’s prayer group. We surround each other, support each other, share promises and encouragement when someone is down.

sarah+mcdugal+desert+author+speakerAnd we intercede for each other, too.
Passionately.
Powerfully.
Purposefully.

But lately, I’ve been pondering the way we approach our trials.

Are we praying for the right things?

I wonder if we haven’t been praying the wrong prayers regarding our individual journeys in the desert. Or perhaps not praying the WRONG prayers, but rather, only a piece of a fuller prayer?

What if, as we intercede with God for each others’ deliverance from our individual desert, we were also urging each other to lean into the isolation? What if, instead of pushing the trial away, we pressed into it, instead?

That’s a big bite to chew on.

What if we should be adding an additional element to our group’s prayers? Something along the lines of….  “Father, transform me into someone who is safe and ready for the deliverance I long for. Deliver me from my desert, but let me not flee from the transformation which the desert is here to accomplish.”

All my favorite bible heroes experienced a desert season. And eventually, when they were ready to humbly and trustingly do the work God was calling them to do, He brought them out of it.

In Good Company

Take Moses, for example.

His mother taught him well, and he stayed faithful despite living in a pagan palace of corruption and excess. But he needed transformation before he could lead the people of Israel out of bondage. He had to be humbled and mellowed out — for FORTY FREAKING YEARS.

God could not have taken Moses, hotheaded and prideful, straight from the palace of Pharaoh and placed him directly as patriarch of the Israelites. Moses trusted himself too much. He was too quick to fix things with his fists. He was self-reliant and arrogant and entitled from his years as the posh palace prince. sarah+mcdugal+desert+author+speakerHe saw his Hebrew brothers as objects he could rescue on his own, not as individual human souls who needed to take experiential ownership in their own freedom.

 

Moses needed the burning bush.
And the parching heat of the desert sand.
And a few thousand farting sheep for company.

He needed the isolation.
The reordering of priorities.
The restructuring from inside out.

The Desert Exists to Transform

And then there was Joseph. His desert followed a crushing sense of trauma, rejection and betrayal. He plummeted from exalted favorite son into a decade of being nobody at all — first as a slave and then as a prisoner — before he was given access to his true purpose as the second ruler of the kingdom.

First he had to travel from the point of anger and bitterness and confusion toward his brothers — through trust and surrender and character development — until he was fully God-reliant and Spirit-dependent and deeply willing to forgive the ones who had hurt him the most.

Joseph was the favorite. The idol child. The pampered and petted and spoiled one. No doubt his brothers didn’t only hate him because he was daddy’s favorite. He was probably also a bit of a brat.

Our desert is here for our transformation. Our journey into trust. Our mellowing from pride. And yes, we are already saved by grace. The desert does not save us — only the cross can do that. The desert exists to change us. I’m talking about the tortuous path of becoming safe to entrust with a powerful calling.

In our own lives, we are walking through deserts that have been handed to us due to our own choices perhaps, or our innate character flaws. But could we also possibly — POSSIBLY — be responding along a journey  that is intended to invite us to let God break the curses that have been inherited from generations behind us?

Breaking Generational Curses

Think about it…. in many ways Joseph was born into a fractured and degenerate family – his dad had taken four women, all fighting with each other for status. His uncle Esau had married multiple heathen, idol-worshipping wives.

His eleven brothers were mostly outright jerks — deceivers, murderers, con artists, sex addicts. These were not a group of righteous and unselfish servant-leadership types. They were hotheaded, impulsive, defiant, dangerous.

Reuben slept with his step mom.
Judah got his sons’ wife pregnant.
Dan was sneaky and poisonous like a snake.
Asher was described as loving rich food and may have been a glutton.
Simeon and Levi schemed premeditated mass murder and gratuitous violence, and they tortured animals for fun. Sociopaths, anyone? (See Genesis 49.)

These guys were a HOT MESS — generationally. Cursed from their lineage all the way back. Abraham pawned off his wife, lied to save his own skin, slept with the maid to make sure God kept His promises during his own season of desert.
Isaac was weak-willed and played favorites with his twin sons.
Jacob repeated the cycle by favoring Joseph and Rachel.

And then Joseph gets shipped off to Egypt, sold as a slave into what appeared to be a life sentence of invisible servitude. His dignity and humanity are stripped away as his identity is sucker-punched from favored son to forgotten slave.

Yet he remains faithful to what he knows.
Faithful to complete his duties with honesty.
Faithful to reliable trustworthiness.
Faithful to sexual purity despite coming from a family riddled with immorality and residing in a country devoid of any principles of purity. He could have indulged freely without feeling judged by Jehovah’s onlookers.

He could have followed the example of his own brothers and ancestors back home.
He didn’t.

He could have been slipshod and negligent.
He wasn’t. 

Joseph’s years of invisible faithfulness to duty while no one was watching him on things that didn’t seem to matter — it changed him. Rewired him. Removed his bratty youthful risk-taking and replaced it with steady and strategic responsibility.

More than that, Joseph — the rocket-star real life fairy tale, the revered young man who could have had anyone and anything he wanted — chose to live as the husband of one wife. Joseph breaks the cycle of sexual promiscuity inherited from half a dozen generations. And he does it despite maturing into full manhood while living in a pagan land obsessed with fertility worship.

Despite his season in the desert (or perhaps directly because of it?) Joseph defies the odds. He embraces purity of mind, body and soul.

Recreated in the Desert

Clearly both Moses and Joseph were born gifted leaders. They had extraordinary potential. They were noticeably capable.

But they weren’t ready.
They weren’t reliable.
They weren’t humble.

They weren’t safe to turn loose in a role that might bring reward, because they hadn’t let go of their own self-dominance yet. Until they did.

And who do they become?
Joseph — the most powerful influencer in the then-known world.
Moses — the rescuing hero of God’s chosen people.

Despite being God-worshippers, theirs was not a healthy ancestry. Generations of internal dynamics were rife with toxic envy, shame, hatred, deceit, addiction, betrayal. For Joseph it was his immediate family, for Moses it was the result of being surrounded by paganism, power and wealth.

Interestingly, God brought Joseph out of the desert and into Egypt to achieve his identity transformation. Four hundred years later, God did the reverse and brought Moses out of Egypt and straight back to the desert in order to make him ready to fulfill his calling.

Most everyone I know is in some kind of desert.

We are all waiting on God in some way. Learning to embrace that tenuous balance between delight in the fullness of life as it is, and pleading for deliverance from parched desert into the lush gardens sarah+mcdugal+desert+author+speakerpromised to those who surrender.

We collectively and individually rattle Heaven’s Gates, asking God for miraculous deliverance. And so we should. But we shouldn’t stop there.

For me personally, I’m feeling called to ask God to show me how to lean into each desert instead of recoiling. To immerse myself in the transformation of each challenging experience.

To embrace the lessons He intends for my good, so I can carry them forward with me into the Calling that awaits. To the service He has divinely appointed for present and future ministry.

It’s a change in heart posture.

As my friend Kortnye often reminds me, it’s all about the heart posture. But it might also include practical changes we are each being called to embrace. If you’ve been pleading for deliverance a whole lot more than you’ve been pleading for transformation — then ask yourself if God is moving you to alter your approach.

What if your prayers began to include transformative and insightful character questions about your desert, such as:

For what am I being shaped? What needs to go? Which weaknesses need to be strengthened?
Do I need to intentionally cultivate more compassion?
More empathy?
Better boundaries?
Fuller trust?
Greater moral purity?
Stronger intuition?
Deeper forgiveness?

If you’re in a desert right now, keep praying for deliverance. But while you do so, ask God to show you how to make the most of this season as well.
Lean into it instead of pulling away.

You never know what your desert is shaping you to become.

The Lord will guide you continually,
    giving you water when you are dry
    and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like an ever-flowing spring.
Isaiah 58:11


Want to become a more active force for good in your community?
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