Jesus is not the only person who has encountered a wilderness. Ancient Israel did as well, but they did not have the focus and intention of Jesus. They were crippled by self-desire, fear, and doubt which all became apparent as they faced various challenges in their wilderness.
- Fear of the Egyptian army, seeing no option at the Red Sea except surrendering.
- Dwelling on the “good ‘ol days“ of slavery, preferring the fleshpots of Egypt.
- Faithlessness about water and food, leading to the giving of manna, quail, and water.
- Desire for a god that fit their expectations, leading to creation of the golden calf.
Wilderness, in and of itself, may or may not, lead one to stronger character and deeper faith. Israel understood this very well, after their bad choices. One of the Psalmists wrote a psalm in which he bemoaned the captivity of Israel in Babylon. “By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept as we thought of Jerusalem,” Psalm 137:1.
There are some lessons that are learned in no other place but the wilderness. These lessons include living without distraction and concentrating on the voice of God. God cannot be heard over the din of electronic noise, phones, media, human voices, and the world in general.
We learn to obey God in the wilderness. After all, there are only two options in the wilderness, obey God or follow your own instincts. When Israel listened to their own faithless spies rather than God, they spent the next 40 years wandering around in confusion. Commenting on obedience, the Hebrews writer said that Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered.” Hebrews 5:8.
The wilderness in today’s parlance is any place where there is no noise, sometimes literal, sometimes figurative. The wilderness is where you feel isolated. Where the choices before you focus your attention and taking stock of your values. Where your addictions do not appear to be a satisfying choice.
Lent, well-observed, is the only antidote to spiritual A.D.D. It slows life down, blunts the noise of self-preoccupation, and increases one’s appetite for a God-centered life. Jesus said as much when he replied to Satan, “People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4.
O God, we hunger for the food that really satisfies. The food that excites the heart and enlarges the world in which we live. Food which gives better eyesight for seeing what is true. Help us to embrace the wilderness, even though it may be frightening or difficult. And by so doing, we can walk with you on the road to the Cross. In Jesus’ name. Amen.