What is your desert? It could be several things: harsh and severe circumstances, or personal distress–physical, emotional, or moral. Maybe you are wrestling with heightened sexual temptation, or the temptation to hate yourself or another due to a conflicted relationship.
You are probably discovering that there is a link between external hardships and personal distress. In other words, fragile areas in the soul get inflamed by severe circumstances outside of you.
That can also occur when we, Lenten-style, give up certain things that have satisfied or diverted us. Some of you may be hungry due to a food fast of some kind; others may be a bit agitated by letting go of some media-fix. Without your computer or favorite show, you may feel empty, at a loss.
Whether the weakness is native to our humanity or imposed, we may find ourselves this Lent more vulnerable to the hardships outside of us, and thus more vulnerable to temptation.
Name your desert. We all face familiar weakness that can become the ground of the enemy’s temptation. Maybe his voice goes something like this: ‘God isn’t healing you; worship me and sexy idols instead!’
The good news about the desert areas of our lives? God has gone before us. According to Scripture, Jesus faced and refused the seductions of the enemy. In so doing, He sent the evil one out of the desert. He made the burning sand a pool of mercy.
He in His humanity showed weak ones like us the way in which we can endure and overcome temptation, without sin! He gives us His mercy and His truth as the basis for our life in the desert. That must involve looking to Him in our desert moments.
Self-denial means not denying the struggle but rather in the struggle looking to Him and saying: ‘He has gone before us; let us look only to Him who has vanquished the evil one. Right here, right now, He has made a way in this wilderness and released water in this desert!’
That means thriving in, not merely surviving our often complex pairing of severe circumstance and inner weakness. In that way, we can say that Jesus has sanctified the desert; He has made it holy. He has turned the burning valley into a place of cool, pure water.
We are changed as we look to Him and find Him in our deserts.
A few years ago, my then 8-year-old son Sam and I went for a hike in the Mojave Desert. Our destination was ‘Angel Falls’, a small oasis two thousand feet up a rocky desert mountain. What we had not counted on was the trek through ‘Devil’s Canyon’ before the ascent.
The signs warned us: one urged us to carry 2 gallons of water (we had 8oz.), the other alerted us to the threat of mountain lions. Sam’s eyes were like saucers in a face increasingly red and troubled by the blistering sun. I urged him onward, secretly praying I was not endangering him!
We hiked for a good hour in the valley, our uneasy silence broken only by my faltering assurance that it was going to get better. At the end of the canyon were a series of huge boulders. They provided a good challenge for us both, as they had to be climbed to reach the falls! We began to scale the rocks with fresh enthusiasm. We noticed a few patches of green then some wildflowers.
We began to hear the sound of water. Now there was no stopping us. We climbed for another hour or so until we saw a miracle in the desert: a genuine oasis. The falls created a pool of water that fed a lush grove of palms and other desert fruit trees. We raced to the pool, threw ourselves in and just enjoyed the cool water and shade. We had not endured ‘Devil’s Canyon’ for nothing. We endured for the beauty of life in the desert.
Jesus makes the burning sand a spring of water. He endured the desert for the joy set before Him, a foretaste of the death He would die unto resurrection. So too we can take courage as we endure our small temptations, our little crosses. We too persevere for the joy set before us. He intends to lead us into the greater life He has claimed for us in the desert.
‘As You have shown us mercy, O God, in the desert places of our lives, would You show mercy to the beleaguered state of marriage in the USA? As the Perry vs. Schw. case wends its way to the National Supreme Court, prepare for Yourself a victory. We shall render to Cesaer what is Cesaer’s but we shall prayerfully fight that what is Yours, O God. Prepare the hearts of each justice, especially Justice Anthony Kennedy, to uphold marriage according to Your merciful design. Remember mercy, O God.’