Prayer In the Desert Times

A friend of mine from Malaysia recently described to me a dust storm she saw while visiting Australia on business. I think of Southeast Asia as having the two extremes – the monsoon season or the dry season. It is like the two types of prayer in the Christian life. There is prayer in the dry season and prayer in the time of revival.

Do not forsake the desert. Prayer in the dry times is too often neglected. Yet prayer in these times is more important than when God seems to be blessing us. People who dig down deep in the desert eventually find water. Take the Arabs for example, Ishmael was sent out into the desert and he learned to survive. Finally, some of his descendants dug down very deep and found oil. Now they are among the richest nations in the world.

In the dry times, I pray for deliverance, for material things, for direction and encouragement. In the times of abundance, I am a dreamer like Joseph thinking about all the good things God is doing and imagining what He is about to do. It took me a long time to understand that God wants us to dream all the time. He wants us to see the greatness of the destiny He has planned for us. Joseph dreamed when he had his father’s favor. He dreamed in Potiphar’s house. He dreamed in prison. He never stopped dreaming and interpreting others’ dreams. He held fast to the vision of glory that God showed him and always pressed in for more until he finally ruled the whole known world.

Here is another counterintuitive yet true statement. Prayer does not move God. God is already moved. Prayer just puts us in the position to receive the abundance that He has already promised us before the foundation of the earth. The problem is that we often lose sight of the big plan. It is always an impossible plan that God has for us. If it is not an impossible plan, then we don’t need to have any faith in God to fulfill it. If we can just do it by ourselves, then we will praise ourselves and we will always receive less than what God intended for us. God wants us to have abundant riches – both materially and spiritually – and He has called us to do the impossible.

If we concentrate too much on deliverance and prayer for basic needs, then we forget that God wants us to be full-time dreamers and not to look ever at our natural circumstances. We are predestined to rule and reign with Christ. What could possibly be more exciting than that?

True prayer is pressing into God’s will to know Him and to see His face. Prayer isn’t only intercession, but it is also experiencing His presence and knowing Him. There are so many riches that we never tap into because we don’t take the time to dig down deep in the desert times. And then because we forget God’s miraculous provision in the desert times, we forget to seek Him desperately in the times of rain.

Just prior to moving to Florida in 1989, I was a teacher at a private school for students with learning disabilities. I lived on campus with students in a dorm as part of my assignment. It was a lot of stress for a first year teacher and I grew to hate my job. I felt spiritually oppressed and prayed every night in my little room for God to deliver me. Then on December 31st, 1988, I decided to go into jail as part of a peaceful prayer rescue at an abortion clinic in Brookline, Massachusetts with over 100 other Christians. I experienced a time of spiritual revival on New Year’s Day such as I had never known before. During those three days in a holding cell, I understood many things about the calling God had placed on my life. I then thought my ministry would be a continual resistance to abortion until legalized child-killing was finally driven back to hell from where it came.

I later understood that I had experienced God’s sovereign direction in that season of my life. The plan included pro-life activism, but was much larger than that. The vision was for the “Cultural Mandate.” This is summarized by Nancy Pearcey in her book, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity:

In Genesis, God gives what we might call the first job description: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” The first phrase, “be fruitful and multiply” means to develop the social world: build families, churches, schools, cities, governments, laws. The second phrase, “subdue the earth,” means to harness the natural world: plant crops, build bridges, design computers, compose music. This passage is sometimes called the Cultural Mandate because it tells us that our original purpose was to create cultures, build civilizations-nothing less.

In 1989, I began to understand more clearly that the reason why evil seemed to be abounding in our culture was that the church had abandoned the Great Commission and instead had been concentrating on building the numbers of those who merely attend church. Now the Herculean task was to reclaim the vision and teach the new generation to embrace the “total truth.” The words of Jesus came to mind, “Behold, I have set before you an open door, and no man can shut it.”

I have had only a few experiences like that in my life. I can literally count on one hand the times when I have encountered God’s presence this strongly. I also want to emphasize that when I use the words “dream” and “vision,” I am referring to a prayerful thought process, not a literal open vision. It might seem harsh to say, but I believe that people who feel they need to constantly have deep spiritual experiences and who make claims of frequent open visions are usually in gross disobedience. The Cultural Mandate is never preached or understood. Christianity is reduced to an exercise in pietistic monasticism.

I believe strongly in the necessity of spiritual experience (which the Puritans called “experimental religion”). Too often experience becomes a substitute for obedience. God’s blessing is meant to equip us to become more obedient to His will. Many times, there are some basic behavioral issues that block us from receiving everything that God has for us. The rain will come, and so will deliverance from bondage and oppression. In the meantime, we are not to forsake the desert. In the “desert times,” we need to just be obedient with what we already know.

Several days after I was in jail with Operation Rescue, I got a letter from Lee Grady of The Forerunner in Gainesville, Florida saying he enjoyed some newsletters I had been publishing with my cousin Keith Johnson. Lee asked in that letter if I ever thought of interviewing for a staff position with The Forerunner. I looked at the date of the letter and it was written prior to my jail time. The glory of God hit me so hard at that moment that I nearly fell over.

After that experience, I wanted to move to Gainesville, but decided to finish out the rest of the school year. The campus of the boarding school where I lived and worked was on the ocean. Very late at night I would climb up on the rocky cliffs and I would think of Moses who was in the desert (twice!) for forty years. It was there that he saw God’s glory on the mountain side.

Instead of praying for “things,” my prayer life consisted of being able to bask in God’s presence for a while before I finally made myself leave to go to bed. I pretended that I was Moses and hid myself in the cleft of a rock and asked God to let His glory pass by me so I could see Him. I was no longer praying for things. I wasn’t praying with words – I was just visiting with God and having my natural mind transformed by the experience.

There I saw many things that later came to pass and some that still haven’t been fulfilled. I began to understand that The Forerunner wasn’t just an editorial staff position with a newspaper, but the vehicle to accomplish a vision. I saw that I would be able to reach people all over the world with all types of media including video and eventually feature films. I saw that I’d be working as close friends with a few people I admired at the time, but had never met.

When I came to Gainesville a few months later, our church was heavily involved in the charismatic “personal prophecy” movement. (I have mixed things to say about that practice, but much of what I heard during that time for me I accept as valid, because it merely served to confirm what I already had dreamed.) In short, I began to get words about a coming future Revival on Northeast college campuses, that I’d take The Forerunner to the Soviet Union – which was still impossible at that time – and many other amazing things that sounded equally impossible.

The pro-life ministry was part of this plan. If you told me in 1989, that I’d come to 2010 and we would still have legalized abortion in America in all 50 states through all nine months of pregnancy for any reason, I would have been greatly discouraged. Nevertheless, I am convinced that we will see legalized child killing, which like slavery is a curse as old as the human race, come to an end in our lifetimes. It won’t be accomplished through political or social activism, but all will understand that when legalized abortion comes to an end, that it is the hand of God moving sovereignly in history. In the meantime, we are not to sit back and watch. We are to walk through open doors and believe we can accomplish what seems in the flesh to be impossible.

Throughout the 1990s, I used this vision as a road map to guide me through doors that would open and close. Not everything happened as I thought it would, but many times providential circumstances were arranged to make it clear what I should do. It was as though these opportunities found me. What I’ve discovered is that I can never force the vision to come to pass, but I need to be looking for doors that God himself had opened.

There were lots of trials and stresses during this time as well. Much of that was financial pressure. Although all of my basic needs were always provided for, I never really had a consistent success cycle that would have allowed us to propel The Forerunner to the worldwide impact that I know is part of God’s plan. Now many years later I understand that sometimes the desert times are needed prior to receiving a promised abundance. It’s important during these times not to merely survive, but to dig down deep.

To this day, I’ve accomplished some, but not all of what God has shown me. None of it was as glamorous and exciting as I thought it would be – although it was remarkable to an extent. But it is what I have not seen come to pass that has always bothered me. I’ve always felt as though I either received half the vision and then it got cut off.

In the past few years, God has started to do some things again in my life and in the lives of people around me that I know is going to be awesome. It is going to be international news and we will be at a loss as to how to explain how we won so many victories in so short a time.

In 2001, I found something I had prayed about for many years, a wife, but soon after that much of my former vision was clouded. God provided our basic financial needs with jobs, but I felt frustrated in that I knew He had more for me. Much of what I had hoped and dreamed looked blocked. Up until then I had a clear vision for my life and ministry. By 2002, I was going through a desert time that lasted several years. I could no longer say that I had a “ministry” for several reasons, but that too, I came to understand is part of God’s plan as well.

In 1989, I understood that The Forerunner was not to be just a newspaper, but a worldwide media ministry. Now I understand that it is not a single ministry, but the calling of God on an entire generation. Almost everywhere I go now I hear the word “Forerunner” and “Forerunners” spoken of in terms of this calling. What I understand now is that I am to provide a model for many young people in the upcoming generation who will impact their world. This won’t be just one ministry, but many. This won’t be one organization, but a company of many people throughout the world who understand that the Great Commission is not just about saving souls, but is a Cultural Mandate to transform the whole world.

As an example of this coming model of cooperation, another door has opened. Three years ago, God showed me I was supposed to pull together all the pro-life activists in central Florida so they could network, get to know each other and work together more effectively. Up until that time, there always seemed to be a lot of resistance to that model of cooperation. We pro-life activists are a very independent, opinionated and outspoken motley crew. So this seems to be an impossible dream. At least I am constantly being told that by others.

Since 1997, we’ve seen some amazing developments begin to unfold on a frequent basis. There is a fresh breath of air in the pro-life movement in central Florida. At the same time, we understand that the judgment of God on the abortion industry in Florida and throughout the nation is accelerating. There is still a lot of work to be done, but what we have seen recently is encouraging.

Last year, I was praying about a change with my job. I felt as though God showed me, “There is going to be an open door, walk through it.” Then the assistant superintendant of schools called me in July saying she wanted to reassign me to a new school. Since I already knew it was coming, I accepted it gladly. The school where I was teaching was experiencing a lot of problems. It looked like it was going to get more difficult before it could get any better. I was delivered from that without asking or trying. I am now in a position that is many times better than my job before.

These are all just minor fulfillments of the big picture that God showed me in a little jail cell and in the cleft of a rocky cliff over 20 years ago even before I came to work with The Forerunner. It is as though these things found me and I didn’t have to seek them. The difficult part of dreaming is when the dream is partially fulfilled, but isn’t moving toward a quick conclusion. Then I have to remind myself that this is just the beginning and God is getting ready to do something big. In these times I am more than a little bit skeptical because I have been waiting so long for things to happen. Then I am not too impressed by it all, but even from the cynical vantage point I have sometimes taken in the desert, what God has done is still amazing. So I know what He is about to do will cause the whole world to stand in awe and wonder.

So my advice is to anyone who is struggling in a desert time is: Start dreaming again and be encouraged!

Right now, God is doing a preliminary work of repentance and renewed faith in many people who are called to an important role in a coming move of God. We will see a Great Awakening in our nation once again. God is raising up an army. He is getting us prepared for all out war. We need to revisit everything that God has ever shown us. Then we must “re-dream” it and get ready for the next chapter.

1 Comment

God is so good!
I did a Google search with a desert time in a Christians life. I clicked on it and read your article… It was just what I was looking for. Our son in law is brokenhearted. Tonight he is at his father's side in a New Hampshire hospital where they will be performing surgery on Mon. His Dad was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer just three weeks ago. His demise is precipitous. He and his sister were raised by their Dad. His mother left the family to enter the seminary!!! She abandoned two little kids and her ailing father to pursue her hypocritical interests.
He is such a good young man and we are so proud of him.
As I was reading your desert article I was struck on many different levels on how your story is so similar to his story.

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