So, we have reached the season of Lent.
We might see this time as a kind of
spiritual detox, where we give up chocolate and pray a lot instead.
Or we might see it as a drudge, or a
duty, or just as irrelevant.
Or we might think it’s all a bit too
depressing and downbeat, with all its talk about temptation, struggle, sin, suffering
These aren’t subjects we like to dwell
Who, given a choice, wouldn’t prefer a
life full of comfort and ease, with no problems to worry about, to a life with
sorrow, hardship and pain?
But sometimes we need the wilderness.
WILDERNESS AND TEMPTATION
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus is
out in a physical wilderness alone, single-handedly fighting off the devil.
If this was a film, we’d get scary
music, gloomy lighting and ominous rumbles of thunder.
Now, I haven’t been to the Judean wilderness but I’m told
it’s a place in which the sun shines relentlessly, nothing much grows for most
of the year, and there’s no shade to protect you from the temperatures of over
40 degrees Celsius.
It’s a place where the only things that really matter are
life and death.
And Jesus comes here, away from all distractions, for a time of testing and preparation.
A time in which he must decide who he is,
whose voice he will listen to, how he will live his life, and how he will carry
out his ministry.
In short: what kind of Messiah he will be.
Will he be God’s Messiah: someone who
heals, forgives, restores, loves, suffers and dies?
Or will he take Satan’s option: a life of self-gratification,
worldly power and spectacle?
is facing the biggest, most significant questions of his life and ministry, and
his answers will shape his future – and ours.
being offered the most tempting, delicious, irresistible alternatives to a life
of obedient service, suffering and sorrow.
Jesus dismisses the possibilities that the devil offers him.
he chooses the difficult road that leads to the Cross.
road that leads to our salvation.
there may come a time for us when we need to face our own wilderness and make
our own life and death decisions.
don’t believe God visits bad things on us to make a point, or to teach us
something, but I do believe he constantly works to bring good out of the bad
things we encounter through living in a fallen and broken world.
so in times of suffering we may be brought face to face with issues which we
would normally avoid.
of hardship may force us to make choices about what is really important in our
And our own decisions to follow Jesus can mean much more when following him is costly.
ordinary human friendships, it’s not surprising that people who enjoy each
other’s company spend time together.
the real test of a relationship is what happens when things are difficult.
people are in trouble, and need help, rather than just being fun to be with…
that’s when they learn who their real friends are.
the decision to spend time with someone even when that’s a difficult thing
rather than a fun thing… that’s a decision to be a true friend.
what makes a real, deep friendship possible.
same is true of our relationship with God.
we seek to be friends with God only when he’s fun to be with?
will we persevere through difficult times?
we obey God and do the right thing, even when it hurts?
we love God, and long for God, or just for the good things he gives us?
we live for God only when he makes us feel happy, or will we follow him even
when there’s no obvious reward?
even when being a Christian makes life difficult?
responses can determine whether we lead half-hearted lives of lukewarm
Christianity, or adventurous lives in which we discover more and more about
But even when there’s not a crisis, sometimes we actually have to deliberately set time and space aside to face important questions.
might be questions like:
is my purpose?
could I become?
I moving towards greater wholeness, hope, love, joy, peace and faith in my
relationships with God and others?
this is why Lent is not a detox, a drudge, a duty or irrelevant.
is it just a depressing time of going round feeling bad about ourselves.
Lent is, above all, an opportunity.
an opportunity to take time out to reflect on what’s important and make sure
we’re on the right path.
an opportunity to be honest with God about our sins and weaknesses so that they
can be dealt with and moved on from.
an opportunity to renew our commitment to God, to spend time listening to him
and loving him, and to confront the things that keep us from putting him first.
an opportunity to think about the big questions that so often get pushed out by
the day to day ones.
all, it’s an opportunity to encounter the God who walked in his own wilderness
and still accompanies us when we walk through ours.