Spiritual Drought

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John R Erickson Author of Hank the Cowdog

 

How long this drought has been running, I guess, depends on when you started counting. Some say months, others say years, yet some argue for a decade. Even with a decent spring, we in Kansas are still way behind in rain and droughtmonitor.com has us at D1 level meaning a moderate. But many others have it worse. John Erickson, the author of Hank the Cowdog, wrote a fascinating piece for American Cowboy at the beginning of April about the drought as it affects his ranch in Perryton, West Texas.

“I hate this drought—the spirit-killing wind, the dust, the dying things…the land has a way of trimming people down to size. I feel trimmed. But I know it will pass. It always has, and I can’t help loving this poor, wind-thrashed ranch.”

Mr. Erickson has a way with words that challenge and inspire. The bond he has with his ranch, the land, is convey in every word. His words describe in narrative, better than I ever could, how droughts are devastating to ranchers, farmers, and landowners. The parched land pants for water, crying of course would waste water. Yet the rain does not come for days, weeks, months, and even years, but still the ranchers hold on.

As detrimental a physical drought can be to the land, how much greater then is a spiritual drought to the soul. In reading through the books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), Numbers is the book that portrays Israel in the midst of testing, a drought to put it more precisely.

The newness has worn off on their little journey. They left Egypt with the plunder of the Egyptians in the knapsacks (Exodus 12.36). They marched to the sea and with the choice of drowning ahead and slaughter behind, God provided option 3 and they saw God’s work in parting the sea (Ex. 14.21-22). This journey started out with excitement and newness. Everyone was getting along and ready for the next chapter of their lives. One without slavery and bondage.

Once they got going, however, there were a few bumps in the road. They were thirsty (Ex 15.24) and hungry (Ex 16.3). Like a car trip with a million middle schoolers with Moses playing the stress out youth minister in the drivers seat of the largest minivan ever. At the beginning of the trip, as your pulling out of your church or getting on the highway, quarreling is tolerated because the future plan is still new, still fresh. At this stage of the trip, Moses sill has his stuff together. Moses hasn’t yet snapped and he keeps the people moving until they reach Sinai after 3 months of marching.

The book of Numbers starts at the base of Mt. Sinai. The same place where Exodus 19 began. This has turned into the world’s longest potty break a people on the move. But God has been at work in Moses and the people giving them the law, building the tabernacle, and preparing them for their future home at the end of this journey. God is still leading them by cloud and pillar of fire (Ex. 40.36-38), its just that He wasn’t going anywhere. After 9 months at the base of the mountain, the cloud lifted and they set out (Num. 10.11) and headed toward the Promised Land. A few set backs, but the trip is still going well.

But when the spies are sent out, the trip takes a sour turn. In Numbers 13, spies are sent out from the Desert of Paran and after looking over the land, came back with a disasterous and sinful report. They don’t think they can take the land. The people rebel because now their whole trip has been worthless, like Family Vacation when Wally World is closed. God is furious to the point that he just wants to strike them all down (Num. 14.10-12). God instead chooses (after talking it over with Moses [14.13-19]) to have the Hebrews wander the desert for 40 years as punishment (Num.14.29-35). That’s how many more renditions of father Abraham?

For the next 40 years, the Hebrews would complain, argue, quarrel, disobey, and fall by disease. Their lives for 40 years would be the long drought spiritually. The word used best for this time of testing, this drought, would be “complaining” (Complaints during the life of Moses). They complained to God, to Moses, to Aaron and to each other. Each time revealing the severity of the drought they were living through.

The Hebrews were in their drought because of their sin. Others experience drought because of others sin. Still others because of circumstances of life connected to Adam’s sin. One way or another we will experience a drought.

In the midst of a drought there is little that can be done. We cant produce rain, can’t make water from where there is none. But we can wait, hope, and persevere. Erickson writes about his attitude toward the drought:

“I know it will pass. It always has…I wont quit, Im too stubborn. It runs in the family.”

John has relegated himself to waiting and hoping. The Hebrews were responsible for bringing on this drought…and now the book of Numbers would be their story of waiting and hoping.

Maybe you know someone in the midst of a drought?  Maybe its you?  My spiritual drought is still very real.  There are times when it feels like years since I connected to God so well that my thoughts were in line with His.  Sometimes it feels so long ago that I don’t remember what it feels like to have the Spirit guide my steps.  I, like the Hebrews and John Erickson, am waiting, hoping, and trying to persevere.  Let your rain come, Lord God, let it come!

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What One Question are you striving to answer today?

Wes Jackson
Wes Jackson

There are men who live a more focused life than others. For some people, everything they do revolves around one issue, one problem, one goal, or one purpose. I admire those people; people who fundamentally change the way the world thinks. Wes Jackson (1954 graduate of Seaman High School, my high school) is one of those men. The problem that he is working on can be described like this: soil is a non-renewable resource that is being exhausted every time a plow is taken to ground. Wes would argue that our dependency on farming over the last 10,000 years has led to our fossil fuel dependency, global warming, and overpopulation. The second issue is that our current crop production and yields are not enough to keep up with our ever-increasing world population.   We will need to double the amount of crops and yield by 2050. Wes Jackson and his Land Institute has made it his mission to solve both of these issues in his lifetime. Starting in 1976, Jackson set out to pattern crop production after the prairie. Looking at the way the prairie sustains its self and is constantly producing, Jackson wanted farming to take those patterns and emulate them. For almost forty years now, he has been working on cross breeding grains and crops in order to remove the plow from our farm lands. By looking for the genes that provide for great annual yields and genes that cause plants to grow perennially, he can protect farmland from run off, emissions from tractors, and soil loss due to plowing. For 40 years now, Jackson has pushed forward farming and agriculture around the world because of his research. Hybridizing and crossing different types of crops…and you thought your job sounded fun. I wonder how many kids want his job when they grow up. It may not be exciting, but Jackson is a plodder. He knows his purpose, he is committed to his work, and he wakes up every morning devoted to finding an answer.

As you read through the end of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, the last 40 years of Moses life was focused on leading a group of former slaves from bondage to freedom. When God calls him from the burning bush in Exodus 3, he is given this manifesto:

“I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorite, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go, I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3.7-10)

Moses life goal, his purpose arrives to him when he is 40 years old (Acts 7.23) and he becomes Wes Jackson. But what was he in the 80 years prior?

He certainly wouldn’t be a jr. achievement advisor. After 40 years of being taught the history of Egypt and the knowledge of the greatest civilization on earth at the time, a possible heir to the throne of Egypt, he threw it away by killing an Egyptian and fleeing his own people to Midian (Acts 7.23-29). Midian wasn’t a destination place; it was a choice of exile for Moses. Midian was where Moses went to forget himself. The next 40 years was spent as a shepherd, learning to lead a group of really dumb animals, and learning all the things that the school of Egypt didn’t teach him. Now at 80 years old, an ordinary bush became the kick in the pants for Moses.

The last 40 years would be day-in-day-out devoted to the purpose of “serving God by leading His people out of Egypt to the Promised Land.” The previous 80 years was spent in preparation of “serving god by leading His people out of Egypt to the Promised Land.”

I admire people like Jackson and Moses; men who devote their lives to solving problems, creating solutions, and leading those around them to do the same. But often times, I find myself where Moses was in the desert chasing sheep; nothing seems to be moving forward, nothing seems new. The future is so far away, and nothing was built on the past.   I wonder if Moses ever felt like the pause button was hit on his life (he didn’t even know what a pause button was!)? I wonder if he enjoyed his anonymity? Hindsight being 20/20, Moses would need these experiences as shepherd and the lessons learned in Sheep Herding 101, to survive the book of Numbers. There are experiences in the book of Numbers that I’m sure he would look back to his time with literal sheep with fondness and jealousy, wishing he could have that time back.

So where are you journeying right now, at this very instant? Everyday Wes is one step closer to prennial crops with annual yield amounts…what mission are you on?  Do you have a clearly defined purpose? When your feet hit the floor, do you know the direction your toes are pointed? What question are you striving to answer today?  Or are you like me, living in the land of the shepherd, not knowing how long this phase will last, but hoping and praying that this learning will someday be utilized towards one goal, one purpose?

Answering yes to one or the other doesn’t make you a better or worse follower of Christ?  Nor does it make you closer to God?  It simply shows the different parts of the journey we are on.  Everyday contentment and everyday joy, I believe transitions us through the stages as we journey.  What question are you striving to solve today?

Traveling Partners

244040_10150262933341335_5666271_oA few years ago, I traveled with a guy to rodeos that would fall asleep with his mouth wide open. He snored so loud that everyone else in the car couldn’t sleep, and the driver just wanted to bang his head against the wheel of the truck hard enough to inhibit his hearing. Like clock work, the moment his head fell back in the back seat, he would be zonked out. Since the rest of us weren’t going to get an ounce of sleep on the trip anyhow, we decided to make a game of it. The moment he would fall asleep, we would began throwing spitballs at his open mouth, seeing who could hit the target first. When the first one would go in, we just wouldn’t stop. After an hour of killing time by shooting baskets, his mouth would be full of paper wads and our life would be full of joy. Whether its leaving someone in the bathroom of a truck stop, taking pictures of them drooling, or taping them to the seat, traveling partners are part of what makes rodeo fun.

For some guys, their traveling partners know them better than their wives do. Every month in ProRodeo Sports News, there is a page asking questions to a contestant, his traveling partner, and his wife, to see who knows them better. The results are sometimes shocking.

Traveling partners make the late night drives, the taxing travel, the monotony and the celebration that much more fun. If you had to rodeo alone, so much would be missed.

The same can be said for our faith journey. Too many times we try to go it alone in our walks with God. I don’t know where we got this from but it certainly doesn’t appear to be from scripture. Elijah’s ministry wasn’t running full bore until Elijah came along. Paul had Barnabas and then Silas for his travels. Moses had Aaron (Ex. 4.14ff.), and just like Paul, we get to ride in the backseat during their journeys.

Aaron would accompany Moses at some of the most important times in the history of Israel. He was there when they performed the miracles of the plagues before Pharaoh to leverage their release (Ex. 11.10). When God explained the Passover, Moses and Aaron were there (Ex. 12.1). Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron to tell them to get their people and leave Egypt (Ex. 12.31). The Israelites took their complaints to both of them, when they wished they had died in Egypt than go on this little getaway (Ex. 16.2). It was Aaron who held up Moses hands to bring victory as they fought the Amalekites (Ex. 17.12). Like the unnamed individual, who after a bullfight, helped me set all the watches at the Kearney, Nebraska Walmart to go off at three in the morning…we were real rebels! We also got a 12 pack of Mountain Dew and 2 boxes of Gushers.

But just like every traveling partner, sometimes he causes Moses some headaches. It was Aaron who led the uprising and the creation of the Golden Calf (Ex. 32). Aaron’s family, who were vital to Israel’s worship, was completely out of control (Lev. 10). It was Aaron who teamed up with Miriam to oppose Moses when they got jealous of God speaking through him (Num 12). Like the IHOP fight that my partner started, or the time I ended up in an arm wrestling match with our waitress. Some of your best friends get you in the most trouble.

A few weeks back I tried to burn a couple brush piles. My help ended up having to take care of their own chores so I was left with the decision of burning on my own or scrapping the whole deal. Calm spring days in Kansas are rare, so I decided to take advantage of the still air and burn. The moment I lit the pile, the wind shifted. I saw the smoke swirl, the flames grow, and felt the heat increase. I immediately called a buddy of mine at the fire department and said: “Its not out of control yet…but it will be soon! Come quick!” They got there in 10 minutes had it contained in two and were gone soon after. In those ten minutes, I fought the grass fire by myself, burned my leg, and got very frustrated. When the Fire Department showed up, I felt God saying: “This is why you don’t start fires alone…this is why you don’t fight fires alone.” He was pointing out my ministry and discipleship style of being a lone ranger, doing it on my own.

How many people walk into churches isolated every Sunday? How many people are serving alone? How many are trying to follow Jesus but neglecting relationships? How many are doing ministry with out partnering with others?

God gave us community, partnerships, traveling partners, to make the journey more fun, to bear each other’s burdens, and to challenge each other, and keep us going. When we work in isolation, walk in isolation, and worship in isolation, we miss out on all these gifts of relationship that God has in store for us.

Who’s your traveling partner? Who’s doing ministry alongside you?