Every Lent we talk about going into the desert with Jesus. Sometimes, I swear it becomes trendy to share with others that we are in “a desert season.” The anticipation of Lent lasts throughout the year. One time someone told me during the summer what they were planning to give up in Lent. Really, six months ahead of time?
That is so silly! Why are we waiting for Lent to get our lives in order and give up the things we knew we should not have been doing all year long, only to return to them after Easter? Now let me clarify, I am not saying that we should not give something up during Lent, but I am wondering if we understand what it means to go into the wilderness (the Judean Desert) with Jesus.
Jesus is led into the wilderness/desert by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil. After fasting for forty days and forty nights, he is hungry. Maybe even hangry, who knows?
He is tempted three times: sensual pleasure, power, and glory.
These are basic temptations. We face them every day.
We are told to indulge.
We are told to control.
We are told to seek the praise of others.
However, there’s something much deeper going on in the desert between Jesus and the devil before he is tempted.
The opening phrase of the devil’s first two temptations begins with a small but powerful word that bullies us: IF.
“If you are the Son of God…” (Matthew 4:3,6)
He says it twice. The devil tries to undermine Jesus’ identity by implanting a question, a seed of doubt, where God has grown certainty. He attempts to disrupt Jesus’ tired, hungry, and vulnerable soul by questioning the one thing he knows to be truer than anything else, who he is.
Gulp. This is too real.
So often, it’s the times when I am weary, stressed, and feeling lonely that the devil creeps in with the temptations of pleasure, power, and glory, but prior to that temptation, he inserts an IF. The “ifs” vary for each of us because he’s crafty and manipulative, but for me, it sounds something like this:
What if you really didn’t hear the voice of the Holy Spirit in your prayer?
What if you’re not really meant for this?
What if God doesn’t fulfill the desires of your heart?
What if you fail?
It keeps going, but you get the idea. What follows? Temptation.
Temptation to take matters into my own hands. Temptation to mask the discomfort and uncertainty with immediate gratification in the indulgences of the world. Temptation to make a full proof plan that will ensure success, adventure, romance, beauty, and security.
I see the value of removing the things we turn to in the midst of temptation during Lent. But it’s not enough. If we don’t get to the heart of the matter, it’s like putting a band-aid on an exposed wound that lies above a broken bone. We have to be willing to feel and recognize what’s underneath the surface.
Going into the desert with Jesus means wrestling with our “IF” moments in the midst of feeling tired, hungry, and exposed. So here it is:
Will you expose yourself to the Lord?
Will you let him enter in to the questions, doubts, and “IF” moments that seek to undermine the beginning and end of who you are?
This is where healing begins and where restoration dwells. Do you hear the voice calling out to you in the desert? He’s been there, he’s walked the same path, he knows what it feels like, and he will give you what it takes to endure. Beyond enduring, “he refreshes our soul” (Psalm 23:3).
Jesus came to reconcile the Father to his beloved – not a small task. He couldn’t afford to have a moment of doubt in his identity as he began his ministry on earth, and neither can you! We are called to participate in Jesus’ mission on earth, and we can’t do it without knowing and believing that he is the beginning and end of who we are.
And remember, sister: Jesus makes the darkness tremble.
A desert season prepared Jesus for his ministry, and it is a desert season that will equip you for your mission on earth. The purification of the refiner’s fire makes us a new creation, deepening our identity, and convicting us of who God is calling us to become.
Who are you becoming this Lent?