I awoke in the desert on Easter morning. Through the window of my tent, I could see branches of a pinion pine, the sharp tines of a yucca, and beyond them soft, rolling sandstone — in full daylight the color of oatmeal, but glowing golden now with first light. The birds were up, rejoicing, flitting to and fro in the pinion, but, thanks be to God, not another living thing could be seen or heard. I had awakened on my fifth morning in Arches National Park, hidden near the northeast corner of Utah, but it could have been Palestine around ad 33. This desert is not a wasteland, as many people wrongly picture when they hear the word, but a vibrant place full of grasses, cacti, juniper, and pinion, and wildflowers scattered across the landscape, a place where you can find puma prints in the soft, wet sand down in the canyons, where springs nearly reach the surface. A place of life in many ways.
It was cold enough to see my breath when I stepped out of the tent, so I cranked the Coleman stove to set water boiling for coffee and cocoa before I roused the boys, cocooned head-and-all down in their sleeping bags. Savoring moments that were mine alone, I climbed to the top of the rocks behind our camp to drink in the vast beauty of the desert at dawn. To the west, gigantic mesas, Navajo sandstone, rose like ancient fortresses from the desert floor, their sheer red cliffs radiating back the rays that had not reached the sands at their feet.
I turned to the east to take the glad warmth of the new day head-on, surprised to see the La Sal Mountains covered in snow, a hundred miles away. My heart was at home in this place of wild beauty and staggering vistas. But it was an awkward time to have come. On this resurrection morn, Stasi was in Los Angeles, holding the hand of her dying mother. She would be gone in less than a month. Strange timing to up and go camping. But God brought me here.
Like many pilgrims down through the ages, I discovered my spiritual life in the desert. I found solitude and silence in the Mojave of southern California, far from the numbing sameness and suffocating density of the suburbs that warehouse millions of people. The desert awakened my heart, and I discovered freedom of spirit walking across the arroyos for hours upon end, haunted by stark beauty and the thin veil of heaven there. No wonder Moses, Elijah, and John the Baptist spent their free time in the desert. And though the desert meant so much to me, spoke to my heart, I left it behind many years ago. You know how life pickpockets you of these things, slipping them away so subtly you never even notice they are gone. I simply stopped going.
In the spring of 2001, Stasi was making frequent trips to southern California to be with her mom, whom we were losing to multiple myeloma, and I was doing my best with the boys and the bills back home in Colorado. To be honest, we were simply waiting for “the call,” when we would jump a flight to attend Jane’s funeral. So I did not believe it was God when first I heard him say, Go to Moab. Go to the desert. It took several confirmations to get my attention. At a coffeehouse I ran into a young gal who in the midst of chitchat simply dropped into the conversation that she’d just returned from Moab. I did a sort of double take, then asked calmly, “How was it?” “Great,” she said. “You have to go.” The next day I was on the phone with a pastor from Denver, making plans for a men’s retreat. “I just got back from Moab,” he said, out of the blue. “It was awesome.” I’m simply confessing that I came to the desert borne not on the wings of my own wisdom, but hesitantly, reluctantly, pushed along by God.
Moab. Okay. The boys are missing Mom and the distraction would be good and there’s really nothing more we can do from here anyway except pray, which I might give more devotion to out in the wild, and so we came. I was surprised at the level of warfare I had to fight through. For about five hours of the drive I was forced to bring the work of Christ against an overwhelming oppression that made it hard to concentrate, a really awful veil over my spirit. Over a camping trip? It seemed so stupid. But the thief comes to steal and kill and destroy any movement toward freedom and life. We battled through, got there late, and discovered that God had held the last campsite for us.
I’m not sure I can even put into words all that Jesus restored to me in those five days, but some part of my heart long forgotten was given back, along with some deep words I desperately needed. I came alive in the vast, wild desert. And it began to sink in.
My heart matters to God. My heart has always mattered to Him.
It is one thing to say we believe that; it is another thing to discover it is true. This was a gift unique to my heart, and it could not have been given in any other place. I awoke that Easter morning more alive than I have been in a long, long time.
Treating Your Heart for the Treasure It Is
Above all else, guard your heart. — Proverbs 4:23
We usually hear this with a sense of “keep an eye on that heart of yours,” in the way you’d warn a deputy watching over some dangerous outlaw, or a bad dog the neighbors let run. “Don’t let him out of your sight.” Having so long believed our hearts are evil, we assume the warning is to keep us out of trouble. So we lock up our hearts and throw away the key, and then try to get on with our living. But that isn’t the spirit of the command at all. It doesn’t say guard your heart because it’s criminal; it says guard your heart because it is the wellspring of your life, because it is a treasure, because everything else depends on it. How kind of God to give us this warning, like someone’s entrusting to a friend something precious to him, with the words: “Be careful with this — it means a lot to me.”
Above all else? Good grief — we don’t even do it once in a while. We might as well leave our life savings on the seat of the car with the windows rolled down — we’re that careless with our hearts. “If not for my careless heart,” sang Roy Orbison, and it might be the anthem for our lives. Things would be different. I would be further along. My faith would be much deeper. My relationships so much better. My life would be on the path God meant for me… if not for my careless heart. We live completely backward. “All else” is above our hearts. I’ll wager that caring for your heart isn’t even a category you think in. “Let’s see — I’ve got to get the kids to soccer, the car needs to be dropped off at the shop, and I need to take a couple of hours for my heart this week.” It probably sounds unbiblical.
Seriously, now — what do you do on a daily basis to care for your heart? Okay, that wasn’t fair. How about weekly? Monthly?
Yes, we do have a cultural scrap of this called vacation. Most working-class folks get a week or two off each year, and that is the only time they actually plan to do something that might be good for their souls. Or they squander the scrap on some place like Miami, as a poor man spends his last dollar on a lottery ticket. And you know how it goes when you get back. The attitude among your family, friends, and colleagues is usually something like, “Great! You’re back! Hope you had a good time ’cause, boy, everything fell apart while you were gone and we’re expecting — now that you’re rested up — that you’ll really put your nose to the grindstone.” Whatever that week gave you is devoured in a matter of moments or days.
But God intends that we treat our hearts as the treasures of the kingdom, ransomed at tremendous cost, as if they really do matter, and matter deeply.
Excerpted with permission from Waking the Dead by John Eldredge, copyright John Eldredge.
* * *
Are you guarding your heart like it matters, even that it is a treasure? It’s Holy Week… a week of remembering our Savior and the final events of His life here on earth. What do you think He is saying to your heart this week? Arise! Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily