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Lenten Reflection 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 13.

Day 13, Wednesday, March 7, 2012

We saw yesterday that Christ’s followers’ fasting is different from other fasting. It’s different in one more way: Lenten fasting requires not just giving up of food and stuff, but offering ourselves completely to the Lord. Repentance is a prerequisite when we fast from food. However, what is even more important during fasting is that we learn to offer ourselves, our sins, imperfections, shortcomings and all to God the Father. It is for the purpose of Him accepting us as we are and then working on us as a Master Craftsman according to His perfect will and use us for His glory. So, God desires that we present to Him our whole beings. However broken our lives may be, God can and will still work on it, as the Psalmist David wrote out of his experience: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). 

When we are ready to give up ourselves completely at the feet of our Master, we will acknowledge our powerlessness. We will also give up our illusions that we are the masters of our own destiny and our world. This will help us give up control that we so strongly want to have over not just ourselves but also over others. Surrendering ourselves will bring us to the acknowledgement that we are not really the masters of this universe; rather, it is God, the Creator, who is the Lord of the universe. Such a realization is truly humbling because we resent so much being told that we are powerless and not in control. But when we are brought to this point, we too can say along with the Psalmist: “In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame” (Psalm 71:1). Another Psalmist promises that, “No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame” (Psalm 25:3). May God help us during this Lent to bring ourselves at His altar and give up our self, control, and possessiveness and to start believing that Jesus became powerless for our sake. And that it was through the surrender, weakness, and vulnerability of Jesus Christ that God worked out the salvation of humanity! He can fulfill His purposes when we give up ourselves at His feet. Amen.

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Lenten Reflection 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 11

Day 11, Monday, March 5, 2012

During Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness, though the Bible doesn’t clearly state, it’s believed that He fasted from food, but must have drank water during this period. According to the gospel of Matthew, chapter 4:2-3: “After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’” Jesus could endure His long fast from food because He depended upon the grace and strength of God. God the Father was the source of His inner spiritual as well as physical strength. Indeed, the main purpose of fasting is to teach us complete dependence on God than on our own material power and resources. Just as the main purpose of wilderness experience in the Bible was to bring the people of God to a point where they could look beyond themselves and their own resources, and fixed their eyes upon God—the eternal source of power that will never run out. That’s why, God was distressed with the Israelites when, after settling down in the Promised Land, they built their own unsecured cisterns (gods and shrines) and forgot the eternal Cistern—Yahweh—as the source of their infinite power. It is clear in the words of the Prophet Jeremiah:

“Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord,

for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me,

the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves,

broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:12-13).

If you find yourselves in the wilderness today, try fasting with prayer. Fasting in the wilderness, that is, in the time of your sufferings, troubles, pains, loneliness, abandonment, rejection, misunderstandings, etc., will help you assess your life and your dependence on your leaking resources. What are the cisterns in your life that you trust? Are they dripping? Do you feel the need to draw from the Cistern that is infinite and will never be depleted? If so, let us determine to depend upon God alone and He’ll help us in the rest of our journey and lead us victoriously out of it. I’m reminded of a story I read a while ago. Once, a boy and his father were walking along a road when they came across a large stone. The boy said to his father, “Do you think if I use all my strength, I can move this rock?” His father answered, “If you use all your strength, I am sure you can do it.” The boy began to push the rock. Exerting himself as much as he could, he pushed and pushed. The rock did not move. Discouraged, he said to his father, “You were wrong, I can’t do it.” The father placed his arm around the boy’s shoulder and said, “No, son, you didn’t use all your strength—you didn’t ask me to help.” Amen. 

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Lenten Reflection 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 10

Day 10, Saturday, March 3, 2012

Jesus’ prayer in the wilderness was accompanied by fasting (Matthew 4:1-4). He gave up eating for forty days and forty nights in keeping with the traditional significance of the number forty in the Bible. Several important events in the life of Israelites happened in forty days beginning with the time of Noah (see Genesis 7:12; 8:6) to Moses (see Exodus 24:18), and finally, to the time of Prophet Jonah (see Jonah 3:4). The number 40 appears about 146 times in the Bible. Most often it symbolizes trial, testing, and/or probation of God’s people. Jesus set an example by fasting that we might follow in His steps. Along with prayer, fasting is one of the best spiritual disciplines one can nurture not only during the Lent but also as a regular practice. Like prayer, fasting teaches dependence on God and fortifies us spiritually to face the temptations of the devil. Fasting also makes it easier for us to listen to the voice of the Lord. Many believers, therefore, give up eating certain kinds of foods or meat altogether or partly during Lent. Some give up drinking alcohol or other beverages. In today’s culture where gluttony is not a sin anymore, we often sit down to eat and drink even when we are not hungry. In eating and drinking in this way, we tend to waste a lot of food, which is also not reckoned a sin anymore in spite of Jesus’ example of picking up the leftovers (see Luke 9:17). Let us give up eating and drinking out of just habit. And let us start honoring God and glorifying Him even in our bodies, as Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 10:31 (RSV): “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

Moreover, what we often fail to recognize is that fasting shouldn’t be limited to just giving up certain foods and drinks. Since the purpose of Lenten fasting is spiritual and it should bring us closer to God, then, we should also be ready to give up a few other major things during the Lent. Some of them could be: our annual vacation, eating out often, superiority complex, our enemies, and inner desire to control stuff and people, slavery to time/goals/planning, unstated wish to be popular, narcissism, and so on. This list could go on and on, and I know it’s easier for many of us to give up food than to give up one of these things listed above. But if our purpose is to glorify God, and if we determined with prayer to surrender such things at God’s feet, He will strengthen us as He did His Son—Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Lenten Reflection 2012: Retreating into the wildernss with Jesus, Day 9.

Day 9, Friday, March 2, 2012

In His wilderness experience, Jesus spent most of his time praying. From this exceptional prayer time, He learned total dependence on God the Father. This is such an important aspect of the whole wilderness experience, which God wanted to teach the people of Israel, too. That’s why instead of supplying plenty of food for all their journey, God gave them fresh manna daily that was only enough for the day. Through this experience, God wanted the Israelites to learn to cultivate not just dependence, but a daily, habitual, and utter dependence on God. Through Jesus’ wilderness, He learned this lesson well, and afterwards, He was able to teach His disciples the most important prayer. This is known as the Lord’s Prayer, but in reality, it’s’ the “disciples’ prayer” (read Matthew 6: 7-13; Luke 11: 2-4). Therefore, it is yours and mine for us to pray daily.

One of the most significant prayers in the “disciples’ prayer” is: “Give us this day our daily bread.” In this prayer, Jesus is asking us to learn to recognize that the source of everything in our lives is God and He wants us to ask Him everything we need for our daily sustenance. However, in the wilderness of our lives, the stress of our greatest needs leads us to depend upon our own strength. When our own strength diminishes, we often look elsewhere and seek the help of our friends and relatives. God usually comes only as the last resort. But when we do finally come to God asking His help and provisions, He embraces us lovingly and answers our prayers. But, Jesus wanted us to learn that we need to daily and habitually depend upon God for everything. When we fail to learn that, God may teach us again by bringing us into the wilderness. It is in the wilderness experience we find ourselves at the end of our own strength and resources. Any other sources that we had learned to be dependent on have also been depleted. This makes us pray the “disciple’s prayer” in the most meaningful way and then learn to be dependent on God. When we do so, God has promised us to renew our strength in such a way that Isaiah (40:31) wrote:

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;

            they shall mount up with wings like eagles;

they shall run and not be weary;

            they shall walk and not faint.”

May God help us to learn utter dependence on Him sooner than later, so that we may be able to not just walk but soar in His strength daily. Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 8

Day 8, Thursday, March 1, 2012

 Jesus’ wilderness gave him plenty of time in solitude. He made the best of this solitude by fasting and praying. Now prayer is a discipline that Jesus practiced all His life even in the midst of His very hectic ministry schedule. At times, He spent whole night in prayer seeking the will of God (see Luke 6:12-16; Matthew 14:23). His last night on earth, before Jews crucified Him, was spent in prayer in Gethsemane (see Matthew 26: 36-46; Mark 14: 32-42; Luke 22:40-46). Even when His chosen disciples could not stay awake, He continued to pray.

Prayer teaches us complete dependence on God. Prayer is not just asking what we want from God because Jesus said, “for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). Rather, prayer is a precious time of communion with our Creator. Prayer is cultivating an intimate relationship and a meaningful conversation with God. More than asking, it is focusing on Him and listening from God about what He has to say to us. Every time we pray, we’ll find God is always new and different and yet the same who does not change in His essential nature. However, we will realize that prayer can move God—even an unchanging God can be moved by our prayers to show mercy and compassion and to give us what we’re seeking. Therefore, in every prayer, God calls us to be renewed, to take our fears and anxieties away, and to trust in Him completely. However, in every prayer God is also asking us to respond to the call of serving His people around us. Prayer doesn’t necessarily mean that we spend time with God instead of spending time with our fellow beings. “Rather, it means to think and live in the presence of God. As soon as we begin to divide our thoughts into thoughts about God and thoughts about people and events, we remove God from our daily life and put him in a pious little niche where we can think pious thoughts and experience pious feelings” (Henry Nouwen). So instead of coming to God in prayer, it should become an unceasing way of living a Christian life.

 Let’s pray and confess today: Lord, most of our life I spent time in prayer begging for gifts I want. Forgive me Lord, and teach to focus on you, the Giver of gifts and to pray unceasingly. Amen.

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Lenten Reflection 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus

Day 7, Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012

In the wilderness experience of Jesus, only Mark narrates in his gospel that there were “wild beasts” in the wilderness with Jesus (please read Mark 1: 9-13). It is not unusual for the wild beasts to be present in the wilderness. However, what is most remarkable is that Jesus was among the wild beasts for over a month, and yet, none of them touched Him, as He came out unscathed from the wilderness. This reminds us of Adam at the beginning of the creation in the book of Genesis. Before the fall, Adam, too, was in the Garden of Eden surrounded by all sorts of wild beasts and yet unharmed. Daniel was also unhurt in the lions’ den. So also, the second or last Adam, as Apostle Paul referred to Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:45-47), remained unharmed in the midst of wild beasts. He knew that those wild animals were gentler with Him than His own fellow Jews among whom he dwelt! It must have revealed to Him the vicious inhumanity of the people of that generation in whose midst He was to live and minister. He learned that they could be worse than the wild beasts in the wilderness when swayed by the sins.

We have seen from the Scriptures that wilderness experience is a must for the followers of Christ. Today, we realize that wilderness times have their wild beasts! The wild beasts represent the temptations and problems we often face as we try to draw closer to God. The wild beasts of aridity, despair, distractions, doubt, fear, loneliness, sickness, temptation, and so on, raise their ugly heads, and are just waiting for the opportunity to pounce and strike us. They will try their best to dissuade and discourage us from walking with Jesus. These wild beasts each present us with seemingly insurmountable challenges in our spiritual walk. However, when we find ourselves surrounded by such wild beasts we need to remember that Jesus’ innocence regarding sin, holiness, as well as the favor of God upon Him during this time helped Him overcome these wild beasts. He not only walked out unscathed from the wilderness but, afterwards, He also became a channel of blessings to many. Just as the heavenly Father cared for Jesus, protected, and preserved Him from the wild beasts, God will be with us when the wild beasts taunt us. God’s protection and security are ours when we completely trust Him and his provisions. Aren’t your wildernesses times complete with wild beasts? Take them as challenges to be overcome by your holy living and complete dependence on the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Let God slay each one of these beasts and make you and me a blessing to others when we have come out of our wilderness times. As Apostle Paul writes, “We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don’t know what to do, we never give up. In times of trouble, God is with us, and when we are knocked down, we get up again” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 Contemp. Eng. Ver.). Amen.

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Lenten reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 6.

Day 6, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012

Jesus’s time in the wilderness afforded Him a period of solitude that is so vital to one’s spiritual growth. Jesus knew He was soon to embark upon a very busy and demanding schedule of ministry. Particularly in the gospel according to Mark, Jesus is portrayed as a very busy person moving rapidly from one place to the other. In Mark, Jesus is almost always involved in urgent action, which is obvious in the very frequent use of the terms such as “immediately,” “right away,” “at once,” and as soon as,” at least 42 times in the gospel (read a few passages in Mark to get the feel of it). Therefore, Jesus made the best use of the solitude He found in the wilderness by conversing with His Father. His time alone with God made Him completely depend on Him for everything in His life. The Father became the only and constant source of His might, ministry, and miracles in the coming days. The power of silence and solitude also equipped Jesus to face the temptations Satan brought before Him, to resist him, and ultimately to overcome and defeat Satan. Later on, Jesus cherished the time of solitude in the wilderness. In fact, seeking solitude became one of His spiritual disciplines. He sought time alone with God just before making significant decisions for ministry, such as choosing the Twelve Apostles (see Luke 6:12-16). Whenever He was grieved and troubled, Jesus withdrew to spend time in solitude with God, such as when He heard the beheading of John the Baptist by Herod (see Matthew14:10-13). Even when he felt the pressure of fame, Jesus immediately withdrew to spend time alone with God in prayer (see Matthew 14:23) because that is what he sought more than popularity.

Solitude and silence, therefore, is one of the best disciplines that you and I could cultivate this Lent. This is actually essential if we want to draw near to God in our busy, busy world of activities and programs. In the midst of myriads of responsibilities and doings in our fast paced world, the Lenten season offers us an opportunity to seek tranquil times of quiet to be just with God. It will certainly help deepen our intimate, personal relationship with God. Solitude will also help us get rid of the illusion of our possessiveness. It will help us look within and then to look up to God for everything, as we learn dependence on Him rather than on our material possessions. As Henri Nouwen, one of my favorite authors, says:

It is in solitude that we discover being is more important than having, and that we are worth more than the result of our efforts. In solitude we discover that our life is not a possession to be defended, but a gift to be shared. It’s there we recognize that the healing words we speak are not just our own, but are given to us; that the love we can express is part of a greater love; and that the new life we bring forth is not a property to cling to, but a gift to be received (Renewed For Life, p5).

Lord, help us, therefore, to seek solitude and silence with you in the rest of our retreat with you. Amen.

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Lenten reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, day 2

#2. Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012

As we continue our retreat with Jesus into the wilderness, please read the Gospel of Luke 3:21-22 and 4:1-2. When Jesus was baptized at the Jordan River, Luke says, he was “full of the Holy Spirit.” And then, it was the Holy Spirit that led Jesus in to the wilderness (4:1). Once there, the devil tempted Jesus for forty days. It’s not that the devil tempted Jesus only at the end of His fast; rather, it was a relentless temptation from the devil throughout this period of lent. And towards the end of the fast, the devil intensified his temptations as he wished to break Jesus during his frailest point in life and thus thwart the plan of God for humanity if he could. It seems quite odd here. How could Satan tempt Jesus, the Son of God, who has just been baptized thus fulfilling “all righteousness,” on whom the Holy Spirit has just descended, and whom God has declared publicly as his “beloved son” and with whom He is “well pleased” (Matthew 3: 15-17, Luke 3:22)? How could God let that happen, we ask.

Most of us feel that if we draw near to God during Lent, if we grow spiritually, and if we fulfill all the external things during the Lenten season, then, we would not face any temptation or suffering. We assume that God should not let problems and pains come in our lives. Many prosperity preachers also tell people today that just believing in Jesus will solve all their problems and heal all their diseases. Friends, it doesn’t work that way! As we just saw, none of us have done or can ever do what Jesus did and yet, the Holy Spirit led Him into the wilderness by  to be tempted by the devil!

Beloved child of God, if today you find yourself in the wilderness of pain, suffering, disease, loneliness, lack of financial resources, marital discord, or any other trouble, please ask the help of the Holy Spirit. Even if we draw near to God, we will still face problems and temptations in our life on earth. But the good news is that God has given us a helper and even an advocate called the Holy Spirit (see John 14:16-17). God has promised His Spirit to those who ask, as it is written: “As bad as you are, you still know how to give good gifts to your children. But your heavenly Father is even more ready to give the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks” (Luke 11:13 Contemporary English Version). So, the Spirit will help us in our walk with God and help us overcome our troubles and temptations. Therefore, let us travel with Jesus in the rest of this season with the confidence that the Spirit is with you to the will of God. Amen!


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Lenten reflections 2012: Retreating Into the Wilderness with Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11)

Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012.

The English word “lent” comes from some European roots that simply mean “spring” because of the season of the year in which observance of the Lent falls. However, in the original Latin and Greek languages, “lent” meant “fortieth” day before Easter. Lent is observed from the early days of Christianity for six weeks or forty days excluding Sundays. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday). The Sundays are excluded because each Sunday is a mini-Easter that reminds us to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. These forty days remind the believers of their Lord’s forty days spent in the wilderness of Israel just before he began His earthly ministry. Therefore, the theme of our Lenten devotionals will be “Retreating into the Wilderness with Jesus.”

The church has historically set aside the Lenten season for a time of soul-searching and repentance. It is a season for reflection and taking stock of lives. It’s a preparatory time for the celebration of Easter, when the faithful rededicated themselves and when converts were instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism. By observing the forty days of Lent, believers try to follow Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness to spend time in solitude with fasting for forty days (Read: Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13).

Thus, Lent helps us take Jesus’ life and death more seriously, and celebrate his resurrection more fully. Let us resolve, therefore, that with the help of the Holy Spirit we will set aside some time in our clogged schedules to read the Scriptures, meditate on it, and pray. Spending time in the Word of God is significant for Lent because you will notice in the passages above that in every instance of temptation Jesus fought back Satan by saying: “It is written!” As we journey together with Jesus during this solemn season, let us begin by asking ourselves a few questions today, such as: When I wake up on Resurrection Sunday morning, April 8, 2012, how will I be different? Is there sin in my life that gets in the way of loving God with my whole heart? What am I going to do about that sin in the next forty days? Is there anyone in my life from whom I need to ask forgiveness or pursue reconciliation? What are some things in my life that I can give up for Lent that will help me draw near to God? How does giving it up draw me closer to God and prepare me for Easter?
May God be with you in your forty days spiritual journey! Amen.

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