So, Again, Why Are We Here in the Wilderness?

Jesus tempted in the wildernessScripture Text:  Matthew 4: 1-11

 

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

 

We’re past the mid-point place in the journey and it’s becoming tiresome. Is it all worth it?  We haven’t really seen any sign of where we’re going and things have gotten so incredibly uncomfortable (and some of it is beginning to get a little personal!).  We’re ready for all of this to be over.  At the beginning of the journey, we heard that Jesus had gone into the wilderness.  We already know that.  But the writer known as Mark didn’t really elaborate on the temptations that Jesus encountered.  This version of the story seems to focus on just that.

First of all, Jesus was fasting.  Now it doesn’t say what kind of fast—there are fastings from all meals except breakfast, there are fastings from everything except water, there are fastings from everything that enters one’s mouth.  There are also other fastings—fastings from certain input into one’s mind, fasting from doing certain things, perhaps fastings from human contact.  Maybe that’s what Jesus was doing.  Because forty days and forty nights by oneself doesn’t provide a lot of company.  He probably was famished.  But whatever Jesus’ fast entailed, it was long and it was hard and he was famished.

So Jesus is tempted when he is the most vulnerable, when all of his guard and his shields were down.  He is tempted to guarantee having what he needs, tempted to impress and be liked, and tempted to be in control.  Henri Nouwen said that the temptations were to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful. Oh, he could have made excuses.  We all do it.  After all, think how much powerful his ministry would have been.  Think what WE could accomplish if we were relevant, spectacular, and powerful.  The truth is, those things are not bad in and of themselves.  Relevance, spectacularness (probably not a word!) and power can do great things when they are harnessed in the right way.  But when they get in the way of who God calls us to be, when they become the reason we are doing things, when they become our primary focus and goal in life, then they have pulled us away from who God calls us to be.

See, Jesus knew those temptations and knew to resist them.  I think the whole reason that Jesus was tempted at all was not to prove that he could resist temptation but rather to put these things in their proper place.  They are not bad; they are just not the main thing, should not be the goal that we are trying to accomplish.  The truth is, this wilderness journey does not beg for us to accomplish; maybe in some way it calls us to famine, to being famished, so that we know exactly what we need.  So, again, why are we here in the wilderness?  We are here to empty our lives of ourselves so that they can be filled with God.  We are here to realize how our souls hunger and thirst for God.  We are here to finally know that nothing fills our emptiness, nothing fills us up, nothing fills our souls but God.  We are here to finally know that longing for God is our main thing because our longing will lead us to what we most need.

One needs to keep on thirsting because life grows and enlarges.  It has no end; it goes on and on; it becomes more beautiful…[One] cannot be satisfied until [one] ever thirsts for God. (Alexander Baillie)

FOR TODAY:  Long for God.  Write down what that means.  What emptiness do you feel?

The Call to Prayer

Call to PrayerScripture Text:  Luke 11: 1

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”

Teach us to pray…we still ask that.  Prayer seems to elude us.  We know that it is part of our spiritual journey but, yet, we still ask how.  When I was in Jerusalem a couple of years ago, I was struck by the Muslim Call to Prayer, Adhan, in Arabic, that rang out across the city five times a day.  I remember thinking that these people seemed to pray a lot more than I do, so I started praying at those times.  It was meaningful to feel a part of that rhythm, that call to return to God in the midst of life’s ritual and to journey with others who are called to the same thing.  I’m afraid that many of us tend to limit our prayers to our needs and the needs of others.  Our lives are wanting for prayer.  We want to know how to pray.  We want to have a deep and abiding prayer life that connects us with God and makes our lives richer and fuller.  How do you pray?  Who taught you to pray?  Why do you pray? What makes your prayer meaningful? Maybe that’s our problem.  We’re trying so hard to bring meaning to our prayer life that we’re not allowing our prayers to bring meaning to our life.  We’re trying so hard to find God that we don’t expect to experience a God who is already there.  God does not need our prayers; we do.  God does not have to be invited into our lives; we just have to open our eyes to God’s Presence that is already there.

The truth is, Jesus knew that.  He knew that people struggled to experience the real Presence of God and because of that, they also struggled with how to acknowledge and live with that Presence in their lives.  He knew that we struggled continuously with doubts about God and about what God wanted from us.  He knew that we struggle with what prayer should be.  So he begins where we are—in the midst of that silence that is God.  He began by showing the disciples what was at the very core of his own life—his relationship with God.  Because remember that Jesus had made prayer an integral part of his life.  How many times do we read of him “withdrawing to a deserted place to pray” or “going to the mountain to pray” or “spending the night in prayer with God?”  He prayed before he chose the disciples, when he fed the five thousand, and on the night before he was led to his death.  He even prayed on the cross, a prayer of centering and forgiveness.

The prayer that Jesus taught us to pray has nothing to do with knowing the right words.  It really is more about persistence.  Jesus continues in this passage by reminding us to keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking.  Far from characterizing God as some sort of celestial Santa Claus who always brings good little boys and girls the things for which they ask, Jesus seemed to assume that God is already in motion, that God has already answered every prayer, and that God has already opened every door that needs to be opened and is standing at the threshold inviting us to enter.  So praying opens our lives to the presence of the God who is always and already there and gives us the realization that God provides life’s minimum daily requirements so that all we need to do is open ourselves to being with God.

The truth is, most of us starve ourselves for God.  We search and search for meaning and neglect to realize that there is but a bountiful feast laid before us for our consumption.  And yet, we continue to live on the junk food that we have created in our lives.  We just have to become aware of how badly we need nourishment.  And we need to pay attention to the rhythm that is part of us all.  Prayer is becoming a part of that rhythm, part of that creative Spirit that is God.  Prayer is more than words; prayer is being with God.

To pray is to go down into a deep well where the sound of the voice of God echoes in the darkness.  (Joan Chittister, in Listen With the Heart)

This Season of Lent is about re-patterning our lives to that Rhythm that is God.  Prayer is part of that.  As part of your Lenten discipline, why not set up your own “call to prayer” schedule.  Feel the Rhythm that it holds.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

Come to the Waters

This Week’s Lectionary Passage:  Isaiah 55: 1-9
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.2Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.3Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.4See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.5See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.  6Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near;7let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.9For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Most of us do not really know what it means to thirst.  I mean, really, really thirst.  After all, the shortage of clean water in many parts of the world is lost on us.  We just go to the faucet (or the automatic water spout in our refrigerator door or the waiting bottle of water in the bottom fridge door).  Thirst, real thirst, eludes us.  But Timothy Shapiro claims that “hope is preceded by longing”.  You see, God is not requiring us to be right or moral or steadfast.  I don’t think that God is even requiring us to lay prostrate at the feet of God in good, old-fashioned repentance.  God’s only requirement is that we thirst for God, that we desire to be with God so much that we can do nothing else but change our course and follow God.  It is our thirst that draws us closer to God and closer to each other.  We just have to desire something different enough to be part of making it happen.

So, what happens with those of us for whom thirst can be so easily quenched?  How do we learn to hope at the deepest part of our being if we never truly long for anything?  How do we discover what true need is when we often live our lives over-filled and over-served? How do we hunger for something better in a life where we are so satisfied?  Perhaps that is why people like us need this season of Lent, plunging us into the depths of human need and profound grief.  Maybe the point of it all is to teach us how to thirst and, therefore, to show us that for which we long.

God’s abundance, God’s quenching of thirst, God’s feeding of hunger is greater than anything that we can offer ourselves.  But those of us whose lives are already filled to the brim, already stuffed beyond what we need and beyond what we can really manage, often convince ourselves that we need nothing more.  There is nothing more that we can cram into our time or our budget or our houses or our bellies or our lives.  And, yet, we are never satisfied.  Maybe what we’re missing is not something else to fill us; maybe what we’re missing is the longing for something that we cannot quite grasp.  But that longing, that deep, deep, profound longing will only come when we realize that we cannot fill it.  In other words, we do not need something more; we need to learn to thirst, to long. 

So, in this Lenten season, let us clear away the things with which we have filled ourselves and learn to thirst–really thirst.  And there we will find our true hope.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli