And in the morning, rising up a great while before day,
He (Jesus) went out and departed to a desert place,
and there prayed.”
Mark 1:35 KJV
Sometimes I experience what I call dry times. These are times when I feel like the Lord has deserted me and I am in a desert. In reality, I know God never leaves me or forsakes me (Deuteronomy 31:6), but when I am struggling, it seems like I am alone. As I read Mark 1:25, I find it interesting that the author used the words “a desert place” to describe where Jesus prayed. Although I know Mark was referring to a location, I think it could also have described Jesus’ emotional state. Prayer was a priority for Jesus. I suspect Jesus had the habit of beginning His day by talking with His Heavenly Father in a place separated from people and activities. I also believe Jesus sought out His Heavenly Father when His heart was heavy regarding an imminent situation. An example of this is found in John 17 when Jesus prays for Himself, His disciples and all believers prior to His arrest and crucifixion. No one has ever felt more deserted than Jesus on the cross when He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Regarding the scripture found in Mark 1:35, most translations use the words “solitary place” rather than “desert place” but the meaning is similar. Jesus went to a quiet place where He would not be distracted when He felt the need to speak personally with His Father. I think that there are times when God allows me to experience difficulties which cause me to feel deserted so that I will seek Him more diligently. Through these verses, Mark allows Jesus to set an example for me. Jesus has shown me what to do when I feel like I am in a dry desert regarding my spiritual life. Jesus has shown me how to seek God through prayer in a solitary place or desert place. There are times I need to separate myself from other people and their opinions. There are times when only the Lord can truly understand what I feel and need. There are times when I must rely upon God and God alone.
A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God
Isaiah 40:3 NIV
A s I search the scriptures for other references to a desert, I am reminded of Isaiah 40:3. In this passage, God informed Isaiah of how to relate to the Israelites who were in exile. When God told Isaiah to make “a straight highway in the desert,” He was referring to the task of removing obstacles that prevented the people from recognizing the Lord’s presence in their lives. The desert is a symbol or picture of the troubles and sufferings of the Israelites. However, this scripture also has prophetic meaning. When Matthew and Mark wrote their gospels, they both quoted Isaiah when referring to John the Baptist.(Matthew 3:3 and Mark 1:3) John the Baptist came from a desert region and preached the need for forgiveness of sin (making the paths of their lives straight).
From Isaiah, Matthew and Mark, I see the word desert applying to emotional feelings of suffering as well as to a physical location. When I feel like I am in an emotional desert because of challenging situations, I must remember to seek Jesus in a deserted place and follow His guidance along “the highway to heaven” that He has planned for me.
At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert,
and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan.
He was with the wild animals, and angels attended to him.
Mark 1:12-13 NIV
Here is another scripture that talks about a desert place. Once again, I discover the desert to be a place where Jesus is deserted or separated from His disciples and friends After John the Baptist baptized Jesus and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, Jesus was led into the desert where He was tempted by Satan for forty days. When Jesus went into the desert, not only was He in a dry and arid environment but He was also separated from the crowd of people who surrounded Him at the time of His baptism. Again, the desert is a deserted place regarding the absence of people. Jesus had to battle satan alone without anyone’s support. His source of strength was God’s Word which He quoted each time satan tempted Him. With every temptation, Jesus was strengthened and satan was weakened. This is something I need to remember. A desert time in my life is not bad if I do not yield to temptation. God can use these deserted times to strengthen my faith if I seek Him and apply His Word while in the desert.
In conclusion, deserts can be both physical and spiritual places. I realize the three scriptures I have quoted are all found in the first chapter of the gospel of Mark. If I arrange these verses according to placement within the chapter, I begin by looking back to the Old Testament. I guess deserts and desert experiences are nothing new – just ask the Israelites! Then I proceed to Jesus being in a desert with satan. Finally, I read about Jesus using a desert place as a location where He could withdraw from other people. The primary thing I learn from all these passages is that the Lord is always present whether He be with the Israelites, Jesus or me. Although I may feel deserted, this is not the reality of the situation. The Lord may even cause me to spend time in an emotional or spiritual desert in order to reveal to me that I am not deserted. And, He may need to take me to a physical desert to get my undivided attention. Praise the Lord for His presence, even in the desert!
Challenge for the week: Read Exodus 3 to find out how God revealed Himself to Moses through a burning bush when he most likely felt deserted in the Sinai Desert while tending the sheep of his father-in-law. Take time this week to look for a burning bush if you feel like you are in a desert situation. You might prefer to reflect upon a former burning bush if you are not currently in a dry place. I like burning bushes!