Burning bushes and streams in the desert
Finding God in unexpected places
I read a post this morning about finding God in places of space, unexpected and comforting. The Canadian author wrote about living in the heat of south Texas for a time and never adjusting to the weather. Texas had proved a challenge for her in ways beyond the weather, and by the time she made her way back north, she was broken and discouraged. The desert does that. I am from the California desert and lived a short time in the wide expanses of Nevada’s desert. The desert is unforgiving, and unless you are prepared, it will absolutely drain your soul.
This author felt abandoned by God, and just when she was at the brink of despair, she heard the sound of running water, and running down a path, she discovered a tiny stream behind a gas station in the middle of nowhere. Her full story is best in her words, and I will provide a link at the end of this post.
Streams in the desert made me think of burning bushes. Moses spent 40 years wandering the deserts of Midian, chasing after someone else’s sheep. He certainly felt abandoned by both God and the Egyptian culture in which he was raised. He had made himself a place there, but it wasn’t home. The Bible doesn’t say what Moses was thinking about the day he led Jethro’s sheep to Horeb, but he hadn’t forgotten the God of his people. Something unusual caught his eye, a bush on fire that wasn’t burning. Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned” (Exodus 3:3). From there the familiar story extends to Moses leading the Hebrews out of slavery and toward the Promised Land.
In both accounts, God was already in the wilderness. The stream was flowing; the bush was burning. The author who heard the water needed to listen and then follow the sound. Moses needed to look up at the spectacle and then turn aside from what he was doing to investigate. Both looked outside of their circumstances to investigate something they didn’t expect. Both found hope and restoration when they recognized God where they least expected him.
Wildernesses and deserts can be metaphorical, too. We might be lonely in a crowd of people, surrounded by modern architecture. God can seem far away no matter where our physical selves may be. Feeling isolated from God is common to every believer. Kings and prophets alike cried out to God in desperation, feeling abandoned and alone. God always answered them when they looked outside of their circumstances and into the heart of the Lord.
It is in the active looking to God that we see his hand. When we dwell on our circumstances or focus on the busyness of life, we miss blessing. When we turn inward because we are hurt or confused, we miss peace. It’s so easy to get lost in the deserts of liminal spaces we imagine when we spend time in-between. The pandemic of the last two years has been a massive wilderness of in-between what was and what’s next. Is it any wonder so many Christians are seeking solace in the traditions of liturgy after decades of evangelistic free expression?
Seeking tradition, however, is not the same thing as seeking after God, himself. There are plenty of solid Bible teachers in evangelical, liturgical, and orthodox settings. No single church denomination or tradition has a monopoly on the Living Word. No, God does not live in a building or tabernacle. His people gather there to worship and learn, but God is omnipresent, and often chooses to reveal himself in unexpected places.
Sometimes it’s a burning bush. Sometimes it’s the whisper in a storm or the unanticipated fragrance of honeysuckle in the rain. And sometimes, yes, he reveals his presence in a literal stream on a desert road. All we have to do is look up, listen, and follow.
To read the essay that inspired this one, click here.