The road through the desert is a well-traveled path for God’s people. About a week ago, we were making the 3000 foot descent from the mountains of Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. About half way down, our guide motioned to the driver to pull over. There beside the road, with not a drop of water in sight, was a sign that read, “Sea Level.” The Dead Sea was another 1300 feet below this marker, the lowest place on earth! As we got out of the bus, we saw an impressive looking camel and his owner…ready to give rides to a bunch of eager out-of-towners. One by one, or sometimes two by two, the camel driver gave us a ride for 20 shekels each (about $6). Lisa and I finally got our turn, and it’s something you don’t forget. Unlike a horse, you get on board while the camel is in a kneeling position with legs tucked beneath its enormous body. Once on top you immediately notice the long neck and odd shaped head. Then it gets up. First come the hind legs, which means you instinctively lean backward, holding on to the saddle horns to keep your balance. Then the camel gets up on its front legs… one, two, with a sway to the right, then to the left, up up up it rises, snorgeling and snorting to let you know it’s earning its pay, and then it hits you, “I’m riding a camel, the ship of the desert!”
When a picture was posted on Facebook of me and Lisa on this beast, an old friend and fellow-pastor who has been to Israel many more times than I have commented, “This camel's name is "Shoo-shee". We are old friends.” “Wait, you’re telling me you know the name of this camel?” I asked. It turns out he most certainly did, and that he has stopped here by the road at this precise location with his fellow pilgrims many times and for the same reason. It shouldn’t have surprised me. When we travel anywhere, there are millions upon millions who have been there before us. The cobble stone steps of Jerusalem’s Old City are worn smooth by the travelers who have walked the Via Dolorosa for hundreds of years. The road through the desert is another well-traveled path. Many have gone down into the desert before us, and many will follow us there as well.
I found this thought to be comforting for another reason. The journey into the desert places of life, can feel like a journey that we must take alone. It can feel like a journey that no one else understands. The truth is that the journey into the desert is one which all of God’s children have taken or will take. Think of Joseph who was carried against his will through the furnace of Egypt when he was sold by his brothers into slavery (Gen. 37:28); or consider Moses who led God’s people for forty years through the desert until arriving at the border of the Promised Land (Deut. 2:7). Then there was Jesus who was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days before inaugurating his public ministry (Luke 4:1). And let’s not forget Jesus’ mother Mary who along with Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene kept the lonely vigil at Golgotha (John 19: 25). When God calls us into the valley, we do not go alone. He provides great “ships of the desert”, to help us with our burdens. There is the power of the Spirit to accompany and empower us. There is the living word God provides to feed our souls. And there is the gift of God’s people who can say to us, I’ve been to the desert too. I have journeyed below sea level to dry and dusty lands and returned to tell the story. I’ve ridden on Shoo-shee and can say, “Now there is a trustworthy beast.” How much more will the Lord himself be a faithful friend to us in desert places.
On the journey with you…