David Harris

Seeking the Lord in a Desolate Place

God’s attributes are on display in the natural world: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Creation is a testament to His attributes, and understanding the world He’s made can help us understand Him. When we are surrounded only by the things that man has made, it is much harder to focus on God, but when we are surrounded by nothing but what God has made, there is little else to focus on but Him. We are not capable of handling the noise of life perpetually. Jesus had to “withdraw,” partially because He was being intentional about spending time with the Father, but also because of the crowds that were increasingly seeking Him out. 

Matthew 14:10-13
…He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus. Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.
There are a number of passages that mention Jesus seeking solitude in a “desolate place,” but not just in moments of sorrow or pain. We see a pattern of Jesus routinely looking to get away from the crowds and spend time alone with the Father. As people who bear the name of Christ, it’s worth asking: what does Jesus’ pattern of withdrawing to desolate places mean for us?
What Does It Mean to “Spend Time with God?”
If you’ve been in church more than a few days, then you’re familiar with the terms “quiet time” and “devotions” to mean a specific time set aside each day for reading the Bible and praying. Unfortunately, when “having devotions” is discussed, it’s typically in a negative sense, referring to our lacking and inconsistency. This isn’t necessarily the same across all age levels – some are going to have more time flexibility by default – but in typical conversation, we lament the endless “struggle” of trying to maintain a consistent devotional time.
There’s no direct command in scripture that says, “Have a quiet time every day at 6 AM.” Instead, there are examples and patterns of men of God spending time alone with God, often in wilderness settings.
Here are some biblical examples:

 Enoch, who “walked with God, and was not for God took Him.” We can only speculate what his relationship with God looked like, but it resulted in a premature exit from this earth without dying.
Abraham is called the “friend of God” and speaks to God face-to-face in the desolate places of Canaan.
Moses is approached by God in the barren wilderness of Horeb in the form of a burning bush.
Job, it is said, would “rise early” to offer sacrifices specifically for his children.
David spent much time alone tending to his father’s sheep before he was King of Israel. The Psalms that he wrote contain many of the verses that we use to remind ourselves of the importance of spending time with God, alone.
Jesus is often found praying alone in a “desolate place.”
Peter goes up to the rooftop to pray in Acts 10 right before receiving his vision.

Why Seek a Desolate Place?
While trying to maintain a “quiet time” is a crucial spiritual discipline to cultivate, we would do well to set aside time to withdraw to a desolate place – a place where all or most of what can be seen is of God’s, not man’s handiwork. Specifically, places that are devoid of development and people. Desolate sounds like a negative term in English – like a barren wasteland – but it really just means “solitary,” and “lacking in population.” Here are three specific reasons why it’s worth withdrawing specifically to a desolate place to pray, meditate on scripture, and seek God on a regular basis:

We are trying our best to follow Christ’s actions and patterns. We pray as He prayed (“pray in this manner”), we fellowship with others as He did, and most importantly, we strive to model the sacrificial love that He demonstrated for us by dying on the Cross for our sins.

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The Surprising Fruit of Cultural Christianity

If you live in a part of the country (or world) that’s more “culturally Christian,” don’t merely look down on those who you live among as being “inauthentic Christians.” That’s your mission field, and the fields just might be ripe for harvest.

Several months ago I had the opportunity to visit some family friends who recently relocated to rural, East Tennesee from NYC. The couple (I’ll call them Tony and Susan), both in their sixties, are as quintessentially New York as it gets. They talk, sound, and act like New Yorkers, and as someone who was raised not more than 60 miles from NYC, being around them feels familiar and comfortable.
I thought it was super strange that they chose to move to a relatively remote part of Tennessee instead of a more suburban area of Knoxville or Nashville. While having dinner, we learned that they had started going to a local Baptist church. I was intrigued. What were a couple of lapsed Italian Catholics doing with a bunch of backroad Baptists? Further conversation revealed that Susan truly understood the gospel, and was planning on getting baptized. This was independent of any influence coming from us, as we hadn’t seen them in years.
“That’s what people do”
When I asked what prompted them to start attending church, especially after having no involvement in any church for most of their lives, Susan said something like, “Well, down here that’s what people do – so we figured we would as well.” She went on to explain that after attending church for a few months, she started reading the Bible and was convicted that she was a sinner in need of God’s grace. We had the privilege of being at her baptism this last Sunday (we’re still working on Tony).
What initially struck me after hearing her story was how somebody on the right politically that had chosen to relocate to a place primarily for its support of their value structure had found their way into saving faith in Christ simply by following the logical flow of the cultural Christianity around them. Now, obviously, salvation is a work and gift of God, and He had no doubt been working on Susan for some time. It’s probably just a coincidence because, after all, we’re often warned about the dangers of Bible-Belt, cultural Christianity.
A Similar Pattern
However, Susan’s story isn’t really an outlier. In fact, I’ve heard and encountered similar stories for several years now – most of them since the great paradigm shift that began in 2020. It sort of goes like this:

Either because of covid-19 restrictions, the 2020 BLM rioting, or an increasing number of local drag-queen story hours at the local library, an individual or family decides that the blue area they live in isn’t ideal anymore.
They relocate, either to a red state like Idaho, Tennessee, Texas, or Florida, or they move to a more-red area inside their blue state.
While getting acclimated to the area, they start to deal with the normal things that happen when you relocate: isolation, loneliness, lack of familiar community – so they decide to start attending the local evangelical church (be it Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, or a hip non-denominational church with a name like “The Hill,” “The Eastside Chuch,” Or “Church at the Grove”).

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