Posted on April 17, 2016
Posted on April 17, 2016
Have you ever been driven into the wilderness by the Spirit?
It was a significant time in Jesus’ life, but these days most of our experiences of being driven into the wilderness lead us to rebuke the devil. Now, I don’t believe that God is causing all the suffering in our lives, but often we’re not paying attention to the purposes of God in our discomfort.
When Jesus is in the wilderness the scripture says that he is with wild beasts. People who have studied period of history know that there were no such wild beasts in the deserts around Palestine & Israel during those years.
So what could it mean? Well I wonder if you have ever tried to be silent and alone for an extended period? Soon, your mind is rushing with things that you have a long sought to be distracted from. Issues and anxieties that have never been dealt with and that have consistently been pushed aside through busyness.
When we go to the wilderness we experience these wild beasts. The anxieties, accusations, the desolateness and the fear that accompanies that. In a place where we are apart from the comforts that the world around us creates. The comforts of ego, position, celebration, affirmation. All of the things that life in the city offer us. Those things become uniquely attractive in the wilderness.
In the aloneness we can be tempted to run from finding a truer inner voice that wants to take hold of the authentic desire to become better without the audience of others. We are tempted by the ego to use the time to devise instruments of manipulation and projection for when we return from our wilderness. These temptations are the wild beasts of the wilderness.
To live out our kingdom call we do need to know we are loved, celebrated, know we have a good father in heaven; all the things that are so readily accessible in times of consolation and fullness. But when we are consistently nourished on a diet of felt-nearness we quickly wither and realise how fast this spiritual manna passes through us and leaves us once again empty.
Just as in the lives of children, endless comfort does not build the resources needed in them physically or emotionally to live a flourishing adult life. In our Christian walk we cannot just reside in ghetto’s of christians comfort and enjoyment. Sacrifice, and the surrender that it brings in healthy mature people builds muscles of reliance and trust in God when he cannot be felt or seen. It develops muscles of trust, expectation and longing that orders our inner selves to look for the coming kingdom of God, even when it isn’t immediately satiating our felt needs.
In this season I don’t feel like I am in a season of wilderness, but I am spending time pastorally with followers of Jesus who are often experiencing this. Sometimes for the first times in their lives, others in ways more profound and feeling more deeply abandoned than ever before. The physical signs of God’s goodness; possessions, direction, relationships and health quickly evaporate and we discover that at least in part, things from God have become our gods, in that we cannot have life without them.
In that sense I feel like this season is a season of living on the edge of the city of the spiritual life looking out onto the desert. The desert where many friends currently are and I catch the passing fragrances of this desert time. I catch them at least enough to empathise the weight and struggle of these times. Counter-intuitively this is also another gift of the wilderness, our ability to empathise. Even though each person experiences the desolation of desert times in their own way, there are issues that are common to all humanity as they experience it. In the wilderness we build capacity to navigate our spiritual desolation, we learn something of the way home and the longing to get there. This at least can offer some gift of empathy and understanding, even if it can’t be fully communicated, a loving hug, a knowing look can be offered.
Often we can find a sense of God’s pleasure and presence in the desert in ways we could never experience it in the city. I often think of the parable of the prodigal son as a beautiful allegory of the Spiritual life that God has given us. Our times in the city can be full, but an excess of the city leads us into deep soul sickness (such as in the case of the prodigal son). The long walk home through the desert to the homestead, is often the detox we need to truly experience the riches of the simple homestead we once despised.
The older brother in the homestead shows us that too long in the homestead as well leads us to take simple yet powerful things for granted; the love of Father, a grounded vocation, a community, an identity. When we spend too long taking the homestead for granted we experience the things that should be more truly understood as gifts, and transfigure them in our minds as rights. And rights are what we deserve.
This rights mentality in the kingdom leads us quickly to a place where everything we receive is what we deserve and things held back from us are injustices and a violation of our rights. Receiving the goodness of the homestead as gift instead of rights mean we have the resources to cultivate true joy. Gratitude is the watering of the soil that leads to plants of joy bursting forth. I know from personal experience, joy cannot be made up or brought forth through sheer willpower, it is only the discipline of gratitude that can bring it forth. It is a discipline I am struggling to conform myself to.
So, the deserts of our spiritual lives both detox us from the excesses of the city and sharpen our appreciation of the simple realities that we can often take for granted in our lives in God.