One particularly difficult night, as I spilled my hurting soul onto the pages of my journal, I listened to one song again and again. The chorus resounded, "I will trust you. All my hope is found in your love. I will trust you. My whole life is found in your love. And your goodness, kindness, faithfulness persist through the night." Yes, I thought. In the end, God, it's all about your love, even through the night. Show me.
The next morning I woke up with these words running through my mind: "I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her." I knew it was from a Bible text; I had seen a friend post a Facebook status about it several weeks ago. A quick Google search gave me the verse.
"Therefore, look! I will now allure her. I will make her go out to the wilderness, and I will speak to her heart. There I will restore her vineyards to her, and the Valley of Achor will become a doorway to hope." Hosea 2:14-15 (International Standard Version)
In that moment, as my heart responded to the text, I knew God was speaking to me.
I knew God had been leading me, but...I hadn't expected to be led into the wilderness. Such a barren, difficult environment is hardly somewhere you would expect to be allured to. Yet perhaps it was here that I would be in a better position for God to speak "tenderly" to me, or speak to my heart, as the translation above puts it.
The Hebrew word translated as "tenderly" (v 14) is literally leb, meaning "heart." God was saying he would have a heart-to-heart with me -- an intimate conversation from his heart to mine.
The Bible commentator Barne's notes on this passage threw some further beautiful light on the meaning of God speaking to the heart:
"Literally, on her heart, making an impression on it, soothing it, in words which will dwell in it and rest there... God speaks to the heart so as to reach it, soften it, comfort it, tranquillise it, and, at the last, assure it...
"It is in solitude that he so speaks to the soul and is heard by her, warning, reproving, penetrating through every fold, until he reaches the very inmost heart and dwells there. And then he infuses hope, kindles love, enlightens faith, gives feelings of childlike trust, lifts the soul tremblingly to cleave to him whose voice she has heard within her.
"Then his infinite Beauty touches her heart; his holiness, truth, mercy penetrate the soul; in silence and stillness the soul learns to know itself and God, to repent of its sins, to conquer self; to meditate on God."
That, I knew, was what I wanted. To hear God more clearly, to have my walk with him be even more real and personal. At that moment I felt that although I wasn't quite sure how, I would get through the wilderness if I could hear him speak to my heart like that.
"...There I will restore her vineyards to her, and the Valley of Achor will become a doorway to hope."
Beyond the assurance that God would speak to me in my wilderness, this verse reminded me there was good to come. Although the desert place may be full of trouble and hardship (as the Hebrew name Achor signifies), God would somehow use it as a doorway to hope.
In that moment, my heart felt peace. Somehow, ultimately, everything would be OK.
In fact, reading the next verse showed me more of what God would be doing through this experience.
"'At that time,' declares the Lord, 'you will address me as 'My Husband,' and you will no longer call me 'My Master.'" (Hosea 2:16)
Our wilderness experiences can lead us to a more intimate view of and relationship with God.
I think that's beautiful, I wrote in my journal, because after all, that is what my whole life is about, and what I ultimately want most.
As I wrote down more of my reactions to the verses in Hosea, I looked them up in the original Hebrew (yeah, I'm geeky like that). I was struck to find that the word translated as "lead" or "make her go" into the wilderness can also be translated as "come" or "accompany."
So God goes with me into the wilderness, I noted. Then my eyes fell on the Bible texts printed at the bottom of the journal pages I had been filling:
"May the God of peace Himself give you His peace at all times and in every situation." (2 Thess 3:16)
"Let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts." (Col 3:15)
"Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you." (Isaiah 43:1-2)
Oh, the kindness of God. He knew what I needed to hear.
I knew I was still going to struggle through a difficult time, through my own wilderness, but I wasn't going to be alone. God was up to something. God was speaking to me, and he would continue to speak to me. I simply had to wait.
The God who speaks his heart to me, who cares about the details of my personal life, and who relates to me as if I were the only one on earth to have his watch-care, feels exactly the same about you.
In the middle of your wilderness, he is with you. He wants to speak to your heart. He waits and works to turn your difficult place, your "valley of Achor," into a doorway of hope.
"To all who grieve, He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory." (Isaiah 61:3)