I look out the window of the plane and the desert landscape falls away from me. The few days I spent in Oregon last week encouraged, refreshed, and equipped my heart for the unknown days ahead – days of waiting, praying, and expecting great things of our good, good, Father.
But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid. Josh and I have now been facing a very difficult family situation for almost six weeks. We continue to pray, to seek, to knock – but even in the seeking and the knocking we know that God is sovereign, and His timing is not ours. The thing we’re asking for is good. But we have yet to receive an answer to our prayers.
It would be easy to compare to the people around us. Many of them have the very thing we’re waiting for! But we know that their lives are not ours. Their grace-story will not look the same. So we continue to walk into the wilderness, sometimes lonely in the exclusivity of what we’re experiencing, sometimes afraid – but still holding on to faith.
I’m often asked how to deal with loneliness in single seasons, and I always respond with the truth: loneliness is a human condition. It won’t go away once you’re married. You will have seasons of incredible loneliness whether you are in a relationship or not – and Josh and I are experiencing that right now. So to face loneliness without losing heart, we must see it for the spiritual condition it is – and seek the spiritual solution offered through Jesus Christ.
Even Jesus Faced the Wilderness
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. ” (Matt. 4:1)
Matthew chapter four illustrates just how sympathetic Jesus is to our seasons of loneliness. He has experienced them deeply – not just in this passage, but throughout all of the gospels when He was misunderstood, pressured on all sides, and surrounded by the demands of sinful, fallen people. As both God and Man, Jesus was distinct even from His inner circle. No one could fully relate to Him. No one could understand the depth of His sacrifice. The road to the Cross was a lonely one.
Yet even in this isolated world, Jesus fixed His eyes on the purpose He came to fulfill:
“Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:36-38)
Jesus’ purpose led Him down a road of loneliness and pain. We are not promised an easy path simply because we put faith in God; but we are promised the presence of God on the journey. If our faith were in our circumstances, desert seasons would destroy it. But our faith is in the person of Jesus Christ, who sympathizes with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15) and sustains us in the wilderness.
The Testing of Your Faith Produces Steadfastness
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you encounter trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Allow perseverance to finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything…” (Jas. 1:2-4)
How can we consider loneliness joy? When we see it for what it is. Loneliness tests our faith! Waiting seasons demand more of us than seasons of comfort. They demand we look beyond our circumstances to the face of God – not seeking Him simply for His hand to save, but for His presence. These trials of life test our faith: they force us to take a hard look at what we believe about God, determining if our discipleship is simply lip service or something deeper and more lasting.
As our faith is tested, we develop perseverance. This takes time. In order to “finish its work” – the end goal of which is our maturity and completion – perseverance must continue over the course of days, weeks, months, and even years.
That amount of time is frightening when you’re waiting for a job, a relationship, a child, or anything else. But once again, this comes back to faith. Where is our faith? Is it in a job, a relationship, a child? Or is it in the person of Jesus Christ?
Trusting God Aligns You With His Will
“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Heb. 11:6)
I’ve often heard Mark 11:22-24 quoted to support a form of prosperity theology. It’s a verse many of us know well:
“And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. “
At first glance, this does look like a “name it and claim it” model of prayer. But Jesus always spoke within the greater context of the Law and the Prophets (the Old Testament), which have already informed us of God’s nature and intent. One of my favorite OT verses on the subject of our desires and God’s will is Psalm 37:4-5:
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.”
I prayed this verse often as a single woman. But for many years, God didn’t bring me a husband. Does that mean God wasn’t faithful? Absolutely not! What the psalmist and Jesus are both articulating is that prayer itself draws us into communion with God, where our desires are transformed to match His. And as our desires and will align with those of God Himself, those desires are then fulfilled – in His timing.
This kind of prayer requires surrender. It is the pouring out of our hearts and our desires like costly perfume on Jesus’ feet (Mark 14) – giving everything we have, even to the last drop of hope within us – with no promise but God’s presence. No guarantee that our desires will be returned to us.
It’s pouring out our joblessness even when the weeks drag on with no response.
It’s pouring out our infertility when everyone around us seems to have babies.
It’s pouring out our hope for marriage when time is still ticking by.
Sacrifice hurts. Loneliness hurts. But Jesus identifies with both. Praying in faith means not giving up on the pouring out. Perseverance keeps asking, but is also conscious of the sovereign will of our loving God – able to say “But even if you don’t, You are still good.”
Idolatrous prayers do not result in abundant answers. It is the humble cry of our hearts that God hears. It is our drawing near that turns Him toward us. As we persevere in prayer, God changes the desires of our hearts. He makes the wait more bearable. He transforms our character, tunes our hearts to His, and helps us see the long term reward of this present trial.
The desert is lonely, that’s true. But we have comfort in the dry places: Jesus not only went through the wilderness, He never left it. He is still here, striving with us. Even when our prayer is, “Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23-25)
The first chapter of Fruitful: A Year Long Guide to an Abundant Single Season will dive deeper into this topic! The book launches September 1st, 2017. Be first in line when it launches AND get your free 30-Day prayer guide by signing up below!