What does it mean to enter the wilderness?
It is very easy to be uncomfortable with the word ‘wilderness’ and its implications. If we are honest we like (and possibly expect) God to work in a fashion that allows us to live pain free and trouble free lives. We don’t like discipline, we avoid hardship if we can, and discomfort is surely downright wrong!?
When we enter a difficult phase of life we can very quickly question God. Where is He? What is He doing? Why won’t these troubles end? Perhaps like me, you have found yourself shouting at the goodness of God on occasion. In wilderness circumstances it can feel as if God is not really with us. For all kinds of reasons the sense of God’s closeness can be hidden from our sight and senses at times. We may lose sight of Him through hardness of life, difficult circumstances, neglect, or for no reason at all.
Crucially though, we must remember that God may himself initiate a wilderness experience, and such experiences may actually be of use to my spiritual growth. This was certainly the case with Jesus; He was led into the desert by the Spirit.
Currently I am working through Luke’s Gospel and have recently read Luke 3 and 4, which has been incredibly timely as we enter the season of Lent. Having been baptised, affirmed in His Father’s love and filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus is led into the desert to be tempted. However, this is not a bad thing, for it is in and through the wilderness experience that Jesus gets clarity on his mission, and grows in his dependency upon God and nothing else.
Luke chapter 4 tells us that Jesus was tempted by the devil in three ways: to satisfy hunger (turning stones to bread), avoiding the cross (worship the devil in exchange for the kingdoms of the earth), and testing God (throw yourself off the cliff and the angels will catch you). Furthermore, Jesus’ very identity is questioned in these exchanges as the enemy provokes Jesus and says to him ‘If you are the son of God...’ We know this story well, and a lot goes on in these 40 days! But, ultimately, this time is a process that allows Jesus to receive God’s equipping for his ministry, and life in God’s fullness. As someone once said ‘it is one thing to receive, but quite another to depend on the gift of God as our only resource.’
Because God is far more concerned to draw us into deeper reliance upon Himself than simply to give us a comfortable experience of life, He is prepared not only to allow us to go through testing times but even to initiate wilderness times for us to cultivate true dependency on Him.
This Lent, perhaps we can follow God into the wilderness and lay down things that are blocking us living in dependency on God alone, and living in His fullness. They will be different for each of us, but why not ask God to illuminate them for you. John 10:10 says “I have come that they may have life and life in all its fullness”. That is our vision, may it also be our prayer.
Grace and peace
N.B: For practical ideas for Lent for individuals, small groups and families please check out www.40acts.org.uk