Joy in the Desert

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,

the desert shall rejoice and blossom;

like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,

and rejoice with joy and singing.

… And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,

and come to Zion with singing;

everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;

they shall obtain joy and gladness,

and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

-Isaiah 35:1-2, 10

I have a couple of containers with herbs on my patio. The basil has been growing abundantly. I have been feasting on pesto sauce and caprese salad. The last couple of weeks of August were pretty rough on my basil, though. Between the heat of the summer and the chaos of back-to-school, I wasn’t watering enough. One evening last week I glanced out the kitchen window at my basil. It was so sad. It had wilted. The leaves were curled up. It was like the whole plant had slumped down under the weight of, well, everything.

Heat and dehydration can suck the joy right out of plants and people alike. And that’s not all that can diminish joy. There are big and little things that try to take our joy all the time. Many of these things are far beyond our control. When Isaiah first proclaimed the words above, the Israelites were enduring many years of captivity away from their homes because of foreign invasion. They described their exile like being lost in the wilderness, dry and barren. Hope and joy were the last things on their minds. What hope can be found in the desert?

Back to my basil. It looked pretty terrible. When had I last watered it? Had it rained any time lately? I couldn’t remember. I went out and gave it water, hoping it wasn’t too late. The next morning, my basil was alive! It was refreshed and restored! All it needed was somebody paying attention to its needs, along with plenty of water.

Who is paying attention to your needs? I certainly hope you are, but you can’t do it on your own. My basil was left to my memory and the chance of rain. It can’t water itself. Basil needs a gardener, and you need God.

You need God because what God has done, is doing, and will do is this: bring hope like water into a desert, turning the wilderness into blossoms of joy. That joy might come in words: “I forgive you” or “I’m sorry.” That joy might come in good news: the surgery was successful or the job was offered. That joy might come in the simple act of someone sending you a funny meme when you’ve had a bad day. All these things are God’s gifts for joy.

Most importantly, you receive the joy God gives in Jesus Christ. This is the joy that revives you when you’re as good as dead, restoring you to life. It’s the joy that comes with knowing that your sins don’t define you. Only God can do that, and God defines you as worthy of joy and hope.

God, bring the blossoms of joy to the dry and dusty parts of my life. Refresh me when I am weary and worn, and restore to me the joy of your salvation. Amen.