I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
Isaiah 43 v 20
Lord, I am comfortable in my desert
I found a place where I feel safe
A place where I can meet with Thee
If only I will wait.
But Thou dost send me forth
To a strange world of growing things
A place to die
In order to live.
The desert is not an end in itself and we must be prepared for change. Perhaps we need the desert experience to acquire a thirst for the living water.
Forget the rolling sand dunes, This desert is harsh, hilly scrub-land. It’s where Jesus went after his baptism by John.
Follow his footsteps and come to a place to be alone; a place to take stock of life; a place to be alone with yourself and get to know who you really are.
There’s nothing like spending time alone with someone in difficult circumstances for really getting to know each other. We may take it for granted that we already know ourselves, but whenever unusual and difficult events come into a conversation people tend to admit that they don’t actually know how they would react in such circumstances. If you were really hungry and knew you had the power to turn stones into bread would you succumb to the temptation to prove a point and fulfill your own need or desire? It’s a matter of using God’s gifts for selfish reasons instead of for love.
On other occasions, Jesus fed huge crowds. He turned water into wine. Although these events did act as signs of his power, they were done out of compassion for people in need.
The reason or motive behind an action can sometimes be as important as the action itself. Yet, at other times, what matters is to just get on and do what needs doing without a lot of introspective speculation on the whys and wherefores. Knowing which response is called for in any given situation is a matter of how well we know ourselves, how well we know God and how much we allow God to know us.
Of course, in the sense that God is all knowing and we are his creation, then he knows all about us anyway. But there is a big difference between this knowledge and the knowledge that we deliberately lay before him and invite him to share with us. When we open our inner selves to God in this way, we get to know him better and, because he knows us better than we know ourselves, we also get to know ourselves better as he shows us things that we hadn’t noticed about ourselves. Armed with this knowledge, we can start to become the person that God really wants us to be.
Lent is a good time to embark on such a journey of self-knowledge and deepening relationship with God. A time to consider the place that our faith occupies in our daily lives.
It often seems as though Lent falls into two parts. At the beginning comes the preparation for ministry and towards the end the preparation for Good Friday. The time in the desert and the time in Gethsemane. Facing life, facing death.
As we metaphorically follow Jesus up from the Jordan into the desert wilderness, there is nothing and no-one to come between us and God. Nowhere to hide. No excuses. Just our own self, open and exposed.
Consider setting aside ten or twenty minutes a day to place yourself alone with God in the desert. Picture the scene. Own the space. Look around. If you’re going to spend some time here, you’ll want somewhere to sit down. Perhaps a scrubby, stunted tree will provide some welcome shade, or the mouth of a cave. Or a flat rock might make a good seat. Wherever you find, this is your space. Your space to simply be before God, as unencumbered and naked before God’s gaze as the stones around your feet.
We often think of giving up something edible for Lent, but how about giving up some time instead for prayer and meditation and see what it does for your relationship with God and with yourself.
Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Take some time to picture the scene; put yourself in the crowd at the water’s edge and observe from there; note the atmosphere, the mood of the people. Watch the expression on Jesus’ face as he hears the Father’s voice.
Follow in his footsteps as he heads off into the wilderness; the vast empty landscape. Look at the sky, the horizon. Feel the essential aloneness.
Lord, I see you sitting
Sitting on a rock in the desert
Sitting alone in the wilderness
Sometimes, when I pray, I see you there
Sometimes I sit on your rock
Sometimes I squat beside you
But always I wonder, what do you see?
What do you find in the desert?
I sit on your rock and gaze around
I see a twilit sky
All else is vague, I know not what is there.
Some years ago I attended an Ignation style meditation where we were encouraged to visualise a desert wilderness of the sort where Jesus retreated to following his baptism by John in the Jordan.
This imaginary scene became very familiar to me over the weeks of Lent as somewhere I could go to in my personal prayer time.