Imagine that someone has provided you with a mini desert in a sand tray. Run your fingers through the dry dusty surface and think of the empty open spaces the feeling evokes.
Open spaces away from the constant demands of daily living, family and friends. Away from the immediate support of loved ones.
An empty, alien environment where there is just you and God. Essential aloneness that is not lonely. For there is no phone to wish to ring, no door waiting to be knocked on. No expectations of a friendly voice. No-one to long for; nothing to be disappointed over.
There is no sense of time passing and nothing to hurry for. You can take as long as you like and there is no need to stay longer. At any time you can take your fingers out of the sand, push the tray away and return to everyday life.
Or you can linger awhile; pick up some sand and let it trickle slowly through your fingers. Let your mind wander over the dusty, sandy paths where Jesus walked amongst the dry rocky hillsides and stunted bushes. Ponder what life is really all about.
Ponder your place in the vastness of creation; your purpose for God who made all of everything, who knows every detail of everything and loves every person he has made.
Recall that Jesus has done this same thing before you; realising what it is to be human in the face of God the Father.
Contemplate the gifts, powers, abilities you have been given; the resources that are under your control. How might they be used to God’s glory and how might we be tempted to use them in less worthy ways.
We might not be tempted to turn stones into bread to satisfy our own hunger because we haven’t been given that particular ability but we can turn pound coins into bread simply by walking into a supermarket.
How often do we use the money at our disposal to satisfy our own desires without stopping to consider that God might have given us that money in order that we have the ability to provide for someone else’s needs?
Perhaps we are not tempted to throw ourselves from high buildings because we lack the certain knowledge that God can send an army of angels to our rescue. Yet we succumb to the temptation to draw attention to ourselves in other ways.
We almost certainly don’t deliberately get involved in devil worship nor look for the whole world to fall at our feet, yet how often do we let other priorities come between ourselves and God?
Think of the people or events for which we will drop other things; who and what we give our time and energy to. Family and close friends naturally come near the top of the list; so do our favourite hobbies and pastimes.
That’s fine, but we’d do well to consider whereabouts God and our needy neighbour feature on the list.
And while we’re about it, let’s consider the way we go about balancing our priorities. If we debate whether to spend an hour with God or drinking coffee or beer with a friend then we are putting God and the friend on an equal footing and trying to decide between them.
But God is the Almighty Creator whom we have dedicated our lives to so such a dilemma doesn’t make much sense.
Let’s remember that God is always with us waiting to be acknowledged. He will be with us during that hour whether we notice Him or not.
Imagine laying the idea before God; let’s spend this hour drinking coffee/beer with so-and-so, unless there’s something else you’d rather do?
Possibly something else will suddenly seem very pressing but otherwise go and enjoy that hour with God’s blessing and a free conscience.
Consider how much of our time we don’t enjoy as fully as we could because we haven’t consciously shared our everyday experiences with God.
What stops us sharing with God? Is it forgetfulness? Distraction caused by being too busy? Is it fear that He might just give us an answer we don’t want to hear?
If we begin to find some answers during Lent we can emerge from our imaginary sand tray desert with a better knowledge of ourselves and a better understanding of our relationship with God.
Personally, I’m convinced that’s what Jesus’ time in the desert was about; coming to terms with who he was as a human being and who He is as the Son of God.
As followers of Jesus, it behoves us to do the same; to comprehend who we are as mortal beings made of the same carbon and water etc as the inanimate earth and yet spiritual beings made in the image of God.
This understanding equips us to live on this earth as children of heaven; to do God’s work in building the kingdom.