Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 35


Day 35, Monday, April 2, 2012

Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey

Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 We’re in the last week of Lent and we should be excited about celebrating soon Easter—Jesus’ victory over sin and death. However, there’s a series of things that Jesus did during His last week on earth that should teach us several spiritual lessons. Today, I’m reminded of a 1500 year old Celtic missionary song—Be Thou My Vision:

 “Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise: be thou mine inheritance now and always;

be thou and thou only the first in my heart; O Sovereign of heaven, my treasure thou art.”

 Perhaps this prayer was inspired by Jesus’ attitude to the reaction of Jewish people particularly during His triumphant entry into Jerusalem (see Matthew 21:1-17, Luke 19: 28-44 ). People were ecstatic and shouted with joy their hosannas and halleluiahs. They spread their clothes and palm branches on Jesus’ way and appeared to hail Him as the king of Israel. However, there’s a little but meaningful verse in Matthew 21: 17 (NIV): “And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.” Jesus was unmoved by the praises and popularity and quickly withdrew from it all, as He fixed His eyes upon the cross. He would not let empty human praises, and hollow popularity among them come in the way of His clear vision and His mission. He would not trust people’s praises, as He knew that in just a few days these very people would also be joining the chorus, “crucify him, crucify him!” Therefore, He kept His eyes fixed on the sovereign God and the calling He had received from His Father. No worldly gain or calling could divert His attention from fulfilling what God had called Him to do for the salvation of humanity.

 When we hear people praising us how do we feel? When we get a little popularity among our folks, do we allow it to go to our heads and sit there? Where are our eyes fixed today? What is our vision? If God is not the center of our lives, may be, it’s time to pray the Celtic prayer and mean it:

“Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise: be thou mine inheritance now and always;

be thou and thou only the first in my heart; O Sovereign of heaven, my treasure thou art.” Amen.

Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 29

Day 29, Monday, March 26, 2012

We have noted earlier on in our Lenten retreating into the wilderness with Jesus that His experience is like that of the Israelites in the wilderness of Mt. Sinai. Today, I’m reminded of their response to a bump in their journey as found in Numbers 21:4-9 (NIV): “They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

This is very often our reaction when the Lord leads us into the wilderness of wants and discipline. Most of us become too impatient too quickly without taking a moment to ponder the purposes of God for us. And yet, the Lord is gracious and long-suffering with us in our rebellion. When we think we are lost and lonely in the wilderness, as the Psalter often says, “God’s steadfast love endures forever” (see Psalm 118, 136). When we become ungrateful for God’s provisions, God’s love endures forever. When we only look at the negatives—the wild beasts, desert, lack of material comfort and entertainment that we have become so used to, even for a short period—God still continues to be gracious and forgiving to us for a long time. When our attitude is reflected only in murmuring and grouchy words in spite of God providing us with daily manna in a miraculous way, God overlooks it and constantly showers us with His mercies that are new every morning. God’s mercies are unfailing, His love is steadfast, and His provisions never wanting. That’s why the Psalmist declared, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8).

What is your response today to the difficulties, pains, privations, sicknesses, not getting your own way, and so on, as you may be experiencing them now? Are you able to see beyond these things and fix your eyes on the Savior and His experience in the wilderness? That’s what Lent is for—an opportunity to look within and beyond ourselves—to focus on Christ and His passion. And move forward with a new perspective on our life on earth. May the Spirit remind you today of God’s steadfast love that endures forever! Amen.

Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 16

Slices of French Bread

Image via Wikipedia

Day 16, Saturday, March 10, 2012

 In the first temptation when the devil wanted Jesus to make bread out of stones because He was hungry, Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4: 4, Luke 4:4). Interestingly, Jesus cited Deuteronomy 8:2-3 from memory. If you recall, we saw how Jesus’ experience is very similar to the wilderness experience of the Israelites. Deut. 8:2-3 (NIV) reads,

“Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”

 Jesus must have been reading the Word of God and contemplating on Israelites’ experience in the wilderness of Sinai. That’s why, in the face of hunger and temptation, he could tell Satan that there is more to our earthly life than just our physical needs. If we go deeper in the Word of God and do in our life what it says, we, too, will soon realize that the Word is life-giving. Compared to the worldly things surrounding us, the Bible says:

“‘But the word of the Lord endures forever.’ Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you. Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Pet 1:25-2:2 NewKJV).

The Word of God can satisfy our spiritual hunger and thirst and thus we should grow spiritually. There are millions of people today that call themselves Christian, but aren’t growing at all. God has blessed them physically, financially, and in every other way, as He did the people of Israel. But as far as the Word of God and their spiritual life is concerned, they are at the same stage today at which they were 25 years ago or so. They haven’t grown. As a result, they have grown in their dependency on the material stuff that has been accumulated around them. Therefore, in the face of testing of their faith, they will not have the spiritual resources to draw from and cannot win over the tempter. Today, let us look within and in the past. What is the source of your life? Is it the Word of God? What’s exactly the place of the Word of God in your life? Is it only to be kept under the pillow, on the bookshelf, or in the suitcase when you travel? Or, has it just become a habit that you read the Word and then forget about it? How much have you grown in the Word since you became a follower of Christ? God bless! Amen.

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.