Entering the Wilderness

I pulled a bowl of warmed chili from the microwave. The clock reminded me that I must leave in ten minutes for a volunteer job. I gulped down a spoonful, but the phone interrupted with a beep and triple vibrations stressing the message’s importance,  Buzzzzz, Buzzzz, Buzzzz. These startle me once a month or so with an Amber Alert usually miles away or an occasional thunderstorm warning nearby. The phone lay on the kitchen island, so I got up to make sure it wasn’t something local. 

The alert stunned me.

I read the text again with the memory of the insistent alarm still ringing in my ears. This was the real deal.

Training from emergency drills at work and weathering storms kicked in. The dog slept in a back room, so he was inside. I thanked God that I kept our doors locked when alone. I headed quietly to the powder room off an interior hall, then caught a glimpse of my chili on the table, a sure sign that someone was home. I dashed into the kitchen in socked feet and edged the bowl into the refrigerator, then tiptoed back to the bathroom.

No one could see me unless they entered the house so I stood with the bathroom door open. This way I could listen for shots fired and for anyone trying to break in. I needed more information, but searching online landed nothing.  I texted my son working four miles away.

He replied, “I’ve not heard anything     Lock the door.”

I texted my supervisor at the volunteer location a mile and a half away. She texted back, 

“Oh no I haven’t heard a thing. Stay safe.”

I concluded that the shooter must be in my neighborhood. I rethought my position. The powder room, though without windows, was a death trap with no other exit or quick access to flee outside. Which other room do I go to? Should I drive to the volunteer location? It was close and wasn’t threatened, but could the shooter be in my carport or next door? Our house sits on a corner. Which of the four directions should I go? 

“Lord, what should I do?” I asked. Immediately the assurance came. I was safe at the moment, so my home was the surest bet. I decided to sit tight.

A dozen minutes later, my phone pinged twice. “Public Safety Alert! ALL CLEAR ALL CLEAR False Alarm of Active Shooter at__________.” The news later reported that someone hacked into the system with a threat, and the emergency center botched the response in their texts they sent out. 

The False Alarm downplayed the event, but for twenty minutes, an active shooter In our area and on the loose was real to those of us who received the text. During those minutes, I waited in a wilderness with wild animals. I did not care about my abandoned lunch or my volunteer obligations. Survival was my highest priority and isolation forced me to depend wholly on God. 

Some wilderness experiences clear our lives of important, yet secondary, concerns. God allows these moments or seasons to test and cleanse us, to clarify and teach us, and perhaps to prepare us for a greater work than our current focus. He also uses the wilderness as a place for rest and communion.

The Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness for forty days before He began His ministry. The Spirit’s leading was similar to His leading the Israelites into the desert for forty years. His cloud led them by day and His fire by night. They were forced to follow His lead to escape their bondage and to be cleansed to enter the Promised Land. Jesus was not bound by sin or Egyptians as we and the Israelites are captive, but by necessity, the Spirit led Him into the desert for a time of testing, of proving, and preparation for His ministry.

Lent begins tomorrow. Is the Spirit leading you into the wilderness for a season? The exercise can only bear fruit if He is the driving force for spiritual change. We must cross the river of life-as-usual and enter into the desert, surrendered to face what comes, but we do not enter alone. The Spirit goes before us and will remain with us. He leads with light and power. He communions with us and feeds us spiritual food, and He stands between us and wild animals.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Churches offering services will call worshippers forward to receive the sign of the cross made on their foreheads with ashes. This act identifies us with Jesus Christ and reminds us of our mortality and God’s contrasting eternality. It is a returning to dust, a dying to self and removal of all the clutter in our lives so that we live more fully in Him and He alive in us.

“The Spirit immediately drove Him (Jesus) out into the wilderness. And He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And He was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to Him.” Mark 1:12-13

If you choose to journey through Lent with me, this week’s theme is Entering the Wilderness. I encourage you to attend an Ash Wednesday service, then look for Thursday’s blog to give further structure to your Lent for this week. Below is a hymn to contemplate. You may want to listen to a traditional or an alternate tune.

Hymn: Lord Who Throughout These Forty Days (Public Domain)
Music: St. Flavian     Lyrics: Claudia F. Hernaman, 1873

LORD, who throughout these forty days   For us didst fast and pray,

Teach us with Thee to mourn our sins,   And close by Thee to stay.

As Thou with Satan didst contend,   And didst the victory win,

O give us strength in Thee to Fight,   In Thee to conquer sin.

As Thou didst hunger bear, and thirst,   So teach us, gracious Lord,

To die to self, and chiefly live   By Thy most holy word.

And through these days of penitence,   And through Thy Passiontide,

Yea, eremore, in life and death,   Jesus, With us abide

Abide with us, that so, this life   Of suffering overpast,

An Easter of unending joy   We may attain at last!   Amen.

9 thoughts on “Entering the Wilderness”

  1. Entering the wilderness & staying committed is not easy but I can do it with the help of the Holy Spirit. I just need to apply myself to making it happen & stay at it until it becomes a natural thing. It is simply mind over matter for me.

    1. “With the help of the Holy Spirit,” is a main purpose of Lent–to rely on Him in our daily living. Our fast reminds us, each time we’re temptated to break it, to turn to God for help. After 40 days of repeatedly seeking God, the hope is that it becomes more of a “natural thing.” Holy Spirit over matter.

  2. “He also uses the wilderness as a place for rest and communion.“ What a beautiful perspective! Thank you for sharing this deep truth so well.

  3. Thank you for sharing and challenging us, Suzy. I was not familiar with the hymn, and I appreciate your including the text and music links with your post. I have heard the traditional tune also used with the hymn “Dear Angel Ever by my Side” but I had never heard the lyrics about Jesus’s 40 days in the wilderness. Yesterday I read another Lenten devotional, from a book, about that same passage. Is Jesus’s 40 days of prayer, fasting, and tempting traditionally one of the first passage’s used at the beginning of Lent?

    1. I don’t know for sure if Jesus’ 40 day prayer and fast is generally used at the beginning, but it has been in my experience. Early Christians fasted and prayed for forty days before they were baptized on Easter Sunday. If Jesus needed to commit this time, seems like a good idea for us! 🙂

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