The usually blisteringly bright sky slowly darkened as we sat together in the living room. Each of us periodically flicked our eyes from the pages of our books to the windows, not daring to even acknowledge the difference in the light. The clouds rolled in.
The first lonely roll of thunder brought all our eyes up at the same time. We had missed that sound for so long that we couldn’t be sure if it was some noise from the road or the drumroll before rain.
The next clap of thunder brought another in quick succession. We started to fidget in our seats. I finally got up to walk the few steps to the front door and inspect the sky. “It looks like it’s coming.”
As the thunder became more frequent we relaxed into a giddy anticipation. When the first few drops fell from the sky, with infrequent heavy sounds distinct in the quiet, we giggled. The drops become more regular and we clapped and exclaimed, ran to the windows, sat on the stoop. The rainstorm was short, but it brought with it a wonderful breeze that blessedly broke the heat. Each heavy drop raised a puff of dust where it fell, like some bizarre upside-down firework.
The rains are coming.
It’s been dry season here where I live in northern Uganda. The ground is as cracked as it ever got in Oklahoma. Water tanks are running low. Those without water tanks wait in long lines in sweltering heat for a single jerry can of water to wash their food, bathe their babies, give their children a drink. The weather here shapes our lives and sets the rhythms of our day.
But the dry season doesn’t just shape our physical lives; it wears on you mentally, and takes a toll on your spirit. The heat saps your strength. Washing dishes in a trickle of water from your sink takes longer than it normally would. Taking a bucket bath instead of a shower, and taking one less often than you would have preferred, adds a stress. Trying to strike a balance on the edge of dehydration is a constant mental strain. You have to plan ahead to live with fewer hours of electricity per day than you can count on one hand because the hydro-electric system is down.
But the dry season is also a season for the soul.
We’ve all felt that before, whether or not we’ve lived somewhere with a dry season or drought. We use phrases like “water to my soul,” or we explain how we’ve been spiritually dry. Moving to a new place, starting a new job, or trying not to sink under an overwhelming schedule parch us. Our vitality drains away in exactly the same way as I can watch the level in my water tank slowly but inevitably drop. There are seasons in our lives when we use up more resources than we have available to us. And just like the wells and streams and bore holes here have slowly run dry, we watch our energy dwindle, our hearts dry up, and our focus evaporate like stray drops of water on a thirsty ground. Our tanks are empty because we have more to drain them than rain to fill them.
We can, of course, overdo the metaphor (looking at you, Hillsong) to the point where we can sing about oceans or talk about thirsting for God without any thought for the reality they represent, but Scripture is very in touch with the physicality of dry season life. The Bible resonates with a lifestyle that is much less… electrified, air-conditioned, or indoor plumbed. Scripture connects our spiritual walk to a reality filled with deserts and dry seasons and overwhelming thirst.
Psalm 63 was one King David wrote from an actual desert. He was on the run for his life, and he understood the thirst, the heat, the longing for shade, and the drive to find water.
Psalm 63: 1-8
You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land where there is no water.
I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than my life, my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.
I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
With singing lips my mouth will praise you.
On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.
I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.
Earlier today we had an encore rainstorm here in northern Uganda. As I waited for it to come, I sat on my back stoop with my eyes closed, feeling the deliciously cool breeze blow through my hair. The thunder rumbled while I absent-mindedly chewed on my chapped lips and hoped for a big storm that would last more than two minutes.
The rains came and went quickly and left me thirsty for more. I sat on the step to enjoy the breeze as long as it lasted and thought about Psalm 63. I thought about being dehydrated and how my whole body feels wrong, how easily my thoughts drift away from anything else towards water. David longed for God’s presence like that. He looked for God, spent all his energy to find him. He was as single-minded in his pursuit of God as a thirsty man is for water in a desert.
David envisioned God in his sanctuary and longed to be filled with his presence just like I have envisioned the day when the rains come, when I can dance in them and be drenched through to the skin. David said the Lord’s love for him is better than his very life. He longs for it more than water, so much so that he’ll used his chapped lips to praise God from a desert. Just like I can lift my hands in prayer for rain, or for the happiness of catching raindrops on my palm, David lifted his hands in worship.
The Lord’s presence for David fills him up, satisfies him completely—just like I itched to feel the rain on my skin, called out that it was coming in a sing-song voice, and longed to feel full instead of that disappointed emptiness I felt when the rain didn’t last. I have lain in bed awake in the middle of the night, wondering if the breeze would bring a rain cloud, sweating and longing for relief. I have felt the immediate drop in temperature the shadow of a tree can bring, and the hesitation to leave the little island of shade. David connected all of these emotions to the Lord and described what it means to yearn for his presence deep in your bones with the same single-minded focus with which we crave water with every fiber of our being in the dry season.
Do you long for the Lord like that?
I can’t say that I do either. Do I depend on him as a necessity for my life? Do I understand that it’s even more impossible to thrive without him than it is to thrive without water? Do I really feel in my body how wrong everything is, how everything moves slower and feels off-centered without being soaked through with the Lord’s presence through prayer all throughout my day? No. Sadly, I don’t. But maybe we’re making progress. Maybe day by day I’m learning to rely on him more and to mentally reach for him just as reflexively as I reach for a water bottle in dry season.
Do you remember where Jesus was tempted at the beginning of his ministry? It was in the wilderness—a desert—after 40 days of fasting. He was hungry, thirsty, and at his weakest, just like those of us in a spiritually dry season. It seems like that speaks to how vulnerable we are, and how much more likely we will be worn down enough to give into temptation easier.
But sometimes it seems like dry season is inevitable. It comes with the changing of the years and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. How then should we live?
Jesus answered that during his temptation. Settle and sell your soul for bread, or for water, or for whatever will satisfy your dried up soul? I don’t think so. “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” When we feel ourselves drying up, making compromises or becoming less gracious because we’re tired or worn out, we MUST soak ourselves in the Word of God and in prayer. Those two things put us in his presence. Hebrews 2:18 even tells us that because Jesus suffered when he was tempted, he knows what it’s like for those of us in the dry season, and he knows how to help us.
We can’t always control our dry seasons, but we can control how much rain we catch in our spiritual tanks, in a manner of speaking. We can’t control the physical weather, but we have nothing to keep us from seeking the Lord’s presence. I can thirst for him just as much in Uganda’s dry season as you can through burnout in ministry or in grief and loss, or in the midst of a stressful schedule. Jesus IS the living water. If his Spirit is in us he will well up inside us a spring of abundant life no matter our circumstances. He never promises to pluck us out of our dry season, but he holds out to us the offer of a spring in a desert. Abundant life. Flourishing life. Rainy season life that is brilliant green and bursting with fruit and freshness and fullness.