But He searching the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit Romans 8:27
But – There is no more important word in prayer vocabulary than this one: de. “But” God knows. How we need to dwell on this word! Lost in the wilderness, terrified by our loneliness, we can only answer one of the two great questions that the Lord asked Hagar. We only know where we have been. We do not know where we are going. Just like Hagar, our pain has driven us into the wilderness. Left there, we will die. Our lives will shrink from lack of spiritual refreshment and our bodies will decay from lack of nourishment. We may still exist, but we will be the walking dead, wandering a wilderness that we carry with us in a world afraid to trust. How we need to hear the voice of God saying just this single word: de, but. There is hope. It comes from outside us. We know that the emptiness within has no answer. That road is long, dark and deep. But God knows. He stands on the mountain in the heart of the wilderness and calls us. The amazing event of His presence is found there, where no man can live. And there we must go if we are to have the life only He can give.
“Let the dead bury the dead,” He said. “Follow me.” Jesus knows these paths too. He spent a great part of His life in the wilderness. He knows that God who lives there, and He is willing to take us to Him. He wants to replace numbing emptiness with terrifying goodness. Will we let Him?
The wilderness is a very important part of the gospel story. We would rather hear about the triumphal entry, the healings or even the cross than the accounts of the wilderness. The wilderness frightens us. First, the wilderness is the place of wild beasts. Men are not masters of the world in the wilderness. In the wilderness, men confront the reality of their insufficiency. Second, the wilderness is the place of demons. Temptation is most terrifying in the wilderness because it is palpably real. The devil is in your face, pointing our just how fragile your life really is. Third, the wilderness is the place of tragic disobedience. Most of us have lost our way among those thorns and thistles. Most of us have tested God or disregarded His warnings. Most of us carry our shame in the wilderness and like Cain, we know that the punishment of isolation is more than we can bear. Like Cain, we build a city around us to keep the monsters out. But city walls were never thick enough or high enough to dispel the monsters within. Finally, without the grace of God, the wilderness is the harbinger of death. It is not a quick and painless demise. It is death by moral and spiritual starvation. Without manna, without water from the rock, anyone left in the wilderness is without hope.
But . . .
God searches the hearts of those who cry out to Him. He finds those who know their terrible desperation. He listens to those who have given themselves into His hands. In the wilderness, where no delusion or distraction can seduce us with the ploy of power, we can encounter His glory. Israel went into the wilderness to escape destruction, but in the wilderness encountered the God of salvation. Jesus went into the wilderness to confront the enemy. He went into the wilderness to converse with the Father. He reclaimed that place for us. Now it is safe to go there. You have His word on it.
Prayer seems to drive me toward the wilderness. Perhaps that’s why prayer is such a frightening prospect. It strips me of my false security and my pretentious control. It won’t let me avoid my shame or my disobedience. It drives me to the edge of myself. And as much as I know that this is where I must be to see Him, I am still afraid. So, He searches my heart and leads me by still waters through the Spirit. I can do nothing else but follow.
Topical Index: Romans 8:27, wilderness, prayer, de, but