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Hope in the Dry and Weary Land

Here I am, 20 years since I began my “pilgrim’s progress” in 1997, when I received Christ as my personal Savior. As I look back, I am amazed at how God has displayed His grace in knitting the strands of my life together. He has matured me through difficulties in my studies and career, through marriage and motherhood, job changes, financial strain, and an intercontinental move. Yet these past few years, I have struggled in my spiritual life more than during any other time in my life.

There have been days when I did not want to worship. And I didn’t. There have been times when I couldn’t pray. And I didn’t. And reading the Bible and scripture memory were “just another thing to do” on an already overwhelming to-do list.

The Psalmist knew my situation well.

O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water (Psalm 63:1 NASV).

I have been in the dry and weary land! My heart has been heavy with unfulfilled desires for my extended family members for whom it seems impossible to embrace the Christian faith, for my loved ones whose marriages are falling apart, for several dear friends who are battling terminal diseases, and for my own brokenness because of sin. Discouragement has made me weary to the point of exhaustion and given me good reason to lose hope. I longed for the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel!

While in this weary land, down in my heart, I knew there was something fundamentally wrong. Where were the spiritual muscles I had exercised over the years? Hadn’t the trials I faced brought about a richer, deeper walk with God? Where had my hope gone?

I knew the answer: I needed to return to that simple faith and confidence in God’s goodness that I knew as a brand-new believer.

Here, my fellow pilgrim, are some of the lessons I learned in the dry and weary land.

Look up and not down

Thankfully, life is not always a trial, but at times, all pilgrims must travel through dry and weary stretches. At these times, when we are searching for hope, security, and strength, it is good to look up and not down.

The Book of John tells the story of Jesus’ disciples in a boat, in the sea, in the dark—and a great wind was blowing. They were afraid. Then Jesus came walking to them on the water, and when they received Him into the boat, they immediately arrived at their destination.

What great hope this gives us! When fear, anxiety, or frustration rise up, the best thing to do is to look up to Christ, rely on His strength, and remind ourselves of His promises. No matter how far off course we may feel we are, when we let Jesus back into the situation, He is faithful to redirect the course of our boat and help us get to His intended destination. And as we keep our eyes on Jesus, our eyes will gradually be taken off our circumstances.

Hebrews 12:2 says that we should be fixing our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (NASV). Looking to Jesus helps me relate to others with a heart ready to love, give, and talk openly—rather than point my finger and make demands of others.

Look far and not near

My husband and I believed that three sons were all that God wanted us to have, so we didn’t plan to have a fourth child. My life was stressful enough parenting three active boys under seven, as well as teaching and settling in from a recent move from another continent. In my eyes, I couldn’t handle another baby. The timing was just not right. Money was tight, my life was busier than ever, and the children, oh, they really knew how to push my buttons! How much I had hoped that I could just focus on one course in life, be totally dedicated to it, and never get distracted by others (including my own children!)

But God interrupted anyway...and He reminded me that I must choose hope, look far, and imagine what He will do 10 years down the road! As a Christian, I knew that God knew my future, but the present was confusing and challenging. God wanted me to look far, far ahead—in the light of eternity. When we do this, we can always find hope—not because we are confident of a future we can create, but because of the One who holds our future. Peace and joy can be ours when we settle our hearts before the Lord.

Refuse to stay stuck…and move forward

There have been times when I questioned where my hope was. I questioned my faith—and God’s wisdom and love—in trusting me with motherhood and missions. I questioned how to move forward. I have dwelt on negative thoughts and stayed in the “dry and weary land” far too long. In my weakness, I have not given God glory during trying times. The small steps needed to propel me toward a better destiny didn’t seem worthy, and I have chosen to do nothing and remain in the comfort of the familiar rut.

But thankfully, when I was stuck, God didn’t leave me there. In the midst of my struggles, He reminded me again and again from His Word that I can trust Him, move forward with Him, and that in Him there is hope for the future. Just as He challenged Moses, Jonah, and others who were having “pity parties,” He wanted me to get up and keep going and leave the negative thoughts that consumed my energy and poisoned my life.

One of the best choices we can make in the dry and weary land is to empty out the negative and let God’s Spirit fill us with good things—the positive truths which come from His Word, just as the classic hymn, “Count Your Blessings,” tells us:

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

When we count our blessings through difficult and dark days, we find that God is worthy of glory anytime because of Who He is—not just in the good times we experience.

Hope in the parched and weary land

Looking back on the unexpected trials that have come my way, I am filled with gratitude. In God’s goodness, the “worst” parts of my life have been used to bring about a greater richness in my inner life as a pilgrim. God has used pain to grow me up in Him, to change my character, and to grow my love for Him and others. And I’m still a work in progress!

Sometimes, it’s easier to embrace an unwanted outcome and live without hope than to keep hoping for God to fulfill long-held desires. Unfulfilled hope can lead to bitterness and separation from God. When this happens, it is time to re-evaluate the way we have come and to count our blessings. More importantly, it is a time to hand our burden over, to look up, and to move forward with the One whom we can trust. Our gentle Lord and Savior will always carry us through.

Kaili Zhang is a married mom of four, Ministry Representative of International Students, Inc. of New Zealand, a senior lecturer in education, and a freelance educational consultant.

Article Link: http://ccmusa.org/read/read.aspx?id=chg20180102
To reuse online, please credit Challenger, Jan-Mar 2018. CCMUSA.