MONDAY // PSALM 46:1-11
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
TUESDAY // THE DESOLATION OF GOD
Desolation is a powerful concept—it is a state of emptiness and destruction, or misery and loneliness. It is the absence of goodness, or joy, of peace. Desolation is the point at which we are no more and have no more. Where all else has failed and we are left wanting. Like a parched desert crying out for rain, the rumbling of little stomachs, the shivers of cold skin, the pangs of wasted time or the tears of lost journeys, desolation is there to greet us and wrap us in its cold, dark arms. This is the reality of life—we are orphans to love, anxiously wandering this space, oblivious to the trials and tears of strangers passing in the night. And like ships in the night, their pain—our pain—goes relatively unnoticed, less we mask in some kind of artificial joy and material fulfillment, or drown it at the bottom of a bottle. Whatever our pain, desolation offers a vice to save us. Such is the measure of life.
But that can’t be all—it isn’t all. We look around and we see the sunrise, the trees, the flowers; we see smiles and joy, love and peace and hope. And surely in light of all the goodness we find, there must be something more, hence the desolation of God.
A more apt understanding of desolation might be the absence of that which is needed to thrive. Where we traditionally define desolation as emptiness, we neglect that we are never empty. Where we define it as loneliness, we forget that we are never alone. Where we define it as misery, we fail to reconcile the peace of Christ. When God brings desolation to the world, he ends wars, breaks arrows, shatters spears and burns shields. When God introduces an absence of that which is needed to thrive, he creates a void that he can fill. Whereas we fill our lives to offset desolation, God introduces desolation. His world has learned this: where there is desert, life learns to survive with little; where this is fire, life becomes healthier. Until we have need of him to end our wars and fill us with himself, we have neither room nor attention for Christ. Life is hard—whether rich or poor, healthy or sick, strong or weak—we all have our own miseries. Thus we all are need of desolation.
WEDNESDAY // CHALLENGE
Is your life a collection of ways to offset emptiness? So often, we seek out entertainment, stuff, bottles or empty promises, in a fleeting effort to fill some void we can feel deep inside. We can’t always pin the emptiness down, but we know it’s there. We don’t always understand, but we feel it. We have no solution for it, so we desperately try to replace it. We are very effective, as such, at distracting ourselves from the emptiness.
We need the emptiness, however—we need to have a reason to want. It is in this emptiness that God is most powerful. It is in our need for him that we understand him best. What good is the Peace of God if we don’t feel the emptiness without God? We are very good at filling ourselves with busyness and tasks and people and places and things to distract us from the pain. But we’re only distracting ourselves from God. And wasting time. There is relationship in abundance outside of our desolation, when we accept our emptiness and embrace God’s desolation. This is certainly not to say we must sell everything we own, or cut off all of our ties with people, or leave our lives behind. It’s not bad to have good jobs, good relationships, things and stuff and entertainment. These things, in and of themselves, are neither good nor bad. They are, instead, observers of our desolation and the subjects of our anxieties. It is the intent of heart that matters, and in what we place our hope. Are we looking to people or places or things to fill us, or are we looking to God and sharing life with those people and places and things?
Can we accept that we are empty by default, and need filling by something?
For what purpose do we exist?
Absent of God, is there any meaning to our lives?
If we aren’t filling out desolation with God, with what are we filling it?
How do our lives exemplify an emptiness filled by God?
How do our dreams reflect the cavern that is our heart?
THURSDAY // REFLECT
FRIDAY // THINK & PRAY
The Christian who is seeking better things and who has to his consternation found himself in a state of complete self-despair need not be discouraged. Despair with self, where it is accompanied by faith, is a good friend, for it destroys one of the heart's most potent enemies and prepares the soul for the ministration of the Comforter. A sense of utter emptiness, of disappointment and darkness can (if we are alert and wise to what is going on) be the shadow in the valley of shadows that leads on to those fruitful fields that lie further in. If we misunderstand it and resist this visitation of God we may miss entirely every benefit a kind heavenly Father has in mind for us. If we cooperate with God He will take away the natural comforts that have served us as mother and nurse for so long and put us where we can receive no help except from the Comforter Himself.
–A.W. Tozer, The Divine Conquest
Herein lies the secret, I believe, of the inner life of Jesus. Christ's communion with Abba in the inner sanctuary of His soul transformed His vision of reality, enabling Him to perceive God's love and care behind the complexities of life. Practicing the presence helps us to discern the providence of God at work especially in those dark hours when the signature of Jesus is being traced in our flesh. (You may wish to try it right now. Lower the book, center down, and offer yourself to the indwelling God.)
–Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus
Lord, remove the walls we assemble and display vibrantly within our hearts the emptiness that life offers. Then fill us with the Peace that is you.