The Mirage and the Oasis: A lesson on uncertainty and the presence of God

Today's guest post is by Whitney Standlea. You can find more of her writing here

The Lord leads His children through the wilderness often. The “wilderness types” we might walk through are many:
My husband and I have been walking through the wilderness for the last several years embodying the latter two. We had health, joy, fellowship, and many other blessings, but we lacked direction. My husband was walking through life with a deep desire to minister fully to God’s people. Several years post college graduation with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical Studies and a growing family, he cut back on his major responsibilities of volunteer ministry at church to meet the demands of three children, a wife, and a home. Of course he was still ministering at the church, but his passion and his calling to do more was constantly burning… with nothing to be consumed by it except his own heart.

Stepping out in faith we began (just over a year ago) to search for a vocational ministry position for my husband. This time period seemed to be a climax of the directionless and unfulfilled desire from the preceding years.  As we prayed and waited, painstakingly search for a church that was solid in theology and a good fit for his gifts, it seemed that nothing was certain around us. We put our house on the market, but it wouldn't sell for what we needed. We got close with one church, but then weren't chosen. We were constantly questioning whether to proceed with putting resumes out or to wait until our home sold.

At Christmas time I remember telling my husband how crazy the future seemed. As we considered pulling out Christmas decorations we knew we could sell our house and be living with my parents before it was time to open presents. We didn’t know where we would be celebrating Christmas the following year. Still in our home? Living with my parents still searching for a job? Living in Florida, Utah, Kentucky? Would we have two mortgage payments? Would we be able to come home and see family for Christmas? Where would he be working? How much money would he be making? Would there be snow or beaches for Christmas? 

Would we be floundering to build new relationships in an overwhelmingly large church or welcomed into the homes of others from our newer and smaller church family? Uncertainty about the future never seemed so extensive to me.

It was during this time that I learned my first lesson in the wilderness: The future is always uncertain. What changes is our perception of certainty.

The Christmas before we had established our first Christmas traditions in our new home. We went through the whole season assuming it would always be the same. Our Advent Calendar would always be hung in the empty wall in the family room, we would always watch the snow out our picture window, and family would be less than an hour’s drive away. In reality, although not in the forefront of our minds, our house could burn down December 26. My husband could lose his job December 27, we could be called to leave for the mission field December 28. A crisis could hit our church December 29 leading to a church-split and forcing our family to find a new church “home. “Each day brings a circus of uncertainty that we aren't even aware of.

When we stop to enjoy the temporal blessings that surround us (a loving church family, a safe neighborhood, a stable job), it is like a little oasis in the middle of the wilderness. The sand stretches around us endlessly, but we are oblivious to the wasteland around us because the overgrowth from our little paradise is too thick to see out. It doesn't take much, just a machete, to hack a little whole in the bushes, and we see what lies on the other side: wilderness. Untamed, unbridled, unknown.

God leads us into the wilderness, no doubt. Sometimes he walks us out of our little oasis of refreshing pools and out into the sand. My husband’s aching desire to minister more provoked his dissatisfaction with our “oasis” and led him out past its overgrowth. Sometimes our oasis is stripped from us as God sends trials, death, and other kinds of loss that remove whatever “oasis” we were clinging to. It is in the wilderness that he teaches us, refines us, and sanctifies us. And in the wilderness, I learned a second lesson which answers every struggle:

Above all else, He gives us Himself.

In times of uncertainty, or whatever else we may be struggling with in our wilderness, God has chosen to give us Himself. Remember the Israelite wanderings in the dessert:

    And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. (Exodus 13:21-22 ESV)

They did not know the way. But Almighty omnipotent God was leading them. Not only did He lead them, but He put His presence in the midst of them.  We certainly don’t walk around with a pillar of fire guiding our steps anymore, but how remarkable is the salvation that Christ has purchased for us! We have been promised that He is with us always. That nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, that His spirit abides in us if we abide in Him. What a precious hope it is that as we walk through the dessert! Whether we are friend-less, mate-less, job-less, money-less, direction-less, or health-less, we are never God-less. We are never hope-less.

We are getting ready to walk into a new “oasis.” My husband starts a new job soon that will allow him to fulfill the burden God has placed in him. We have direction about big life decisions like location, income, and living arrangements. As we walk out of this “wilderness” these are the most important lesson I have learned: Nothing is really certain. The oasis is truly a mirage. All the good things in life come from God and we should certainly enjoy them. But if we will reach out and touch them they will crumble. We will find they are only a mirage, unable to stand the attacks thrown by life in a fallen world. But as we walk back out in to the sand, we will find with certainty that God is certainly present with us. He is certainly enough. As I enjoy this new season of seeming certainty and blessing, I hope I can keep my eyes set on the greatest joy of God’s presence, knowing that everything else can be gone in a moment.

May we walk with joy in any wilderness He leads us through, knowing that He will give us Himself.

Excerpts from Deuteronomy 8 (emphasis added):
“And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.
 “Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end.
(Deuteronomy 8 ESV)