Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating with Jesus into the wilderness, Day 33

Day 33, Friday, March 30, 2012 

Moses Sees the Promised Land from Afar, as in ...

Moses Sees the Promised Land from Afar, as in Numbers 27:12, by James Tissot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have a lot to learn not only from the wilderness experience of Jesus, but also from the Israelites, as their experience has a plenty of similarities with Jesus. Out of the crucible of the wilderness experience God has an amazing way of producing some godly leaders. For example, Moses and Jesus both chose their disciples before finishing their earthly missions.  For today’s devotional, please read Deuteronomy 31-6-8. These are Moses’ parting words to the people of Israel and to his beloved disciple, Joshua. What a great legacy Moses left for his followers—to be strong and courageous along with the promise of God who will not leave, fail, or forsake them. A whole generation of young leaders was inspired to cross over to the Promised Land by Moses’s words. They become more significant if one considers that they are spoken by a veteran leader who has been trained by God mainly through the crucible of a series of wilderness experiences. You might imagine that Moses must have become a very bitter, frustrated, and negative person after all the wilderness problems he has been through. In spite of being faithful and a man who did as the Lord commanded him, Moses was barred from entering the Promised Land. On the contrary, we find that at the end of his life, Moses oozes confidence and courage in God through his presence and words. He challenges and motivates the new generation to press on to the Promised Land to make it theirs.

Jesus, too, came out of the wilderness full of the Holy Spirit and the confidence of God’s power and presence was reflected daily in his ministry. Immediately after return from the wilderness, Jesus also chose the Twelve and prepared for the ministry ahead (see Luke 5:1-11). It is a given that the wilderness experiences of our life can make us bitter and negative. What is the crucible of wilderness doing to you and your confidence? Are you turning your negative thoughts into positive ones so that you, too, can become an instrument ofencouragement and motivation for others to follow Christ? If you are in the leadership position, are you doing your best to develop a second line of leadership who will carry out the mission of God? May God turn our crucible of wilderness a matter of His glory. Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 30

Day 30, Tuesday, March 27, 2012

 You may have heard of the popular saying, “good is often the enemy of best” and some people add, “the best is the enemy of better!” This truly is a relevant saying if we apply it in the church and even in own our spiritual lives. We need to remember that the wilderness of Sinai stood in the midst of Israelites’ slavery in Egypt and the Promised Land of Canaan. And if you read the account of their experience in the wilderness as recorded in the book of Exodus, you would realize that, all through the journey, most Israelites were looking back instead of looking ahead! They complained about food and water and the so-called “comforts” of a life of slavery in Egypt than focusing their energies and imaginings on what was to come for them in the Promised Land. They ruminated on the past that was behind them, than envisaging about a better future that awaited them in Canaan. Therefore, many were ready to settle for the “good” that they had seen in Egypt, rather than moving ahead to claim the best of everything promised to them in land flowing with milk and honey.

 Jesus Christ, in contrast, endured the suffering, hunger, loneliness, and incessant temptations of the devil, even the cruelest death on the cross, “for the joy that was set before him.” He believed that the Resurrection—the-victory-over-death-forever—was just around the corner. So, let us heed the exhortation of the writer of Hebrews: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV). You and I need to persevere in the wilderness until we reach our Promised Land and be Christ-like in our spiritual pilgrimage. There may be several things on the way that may seem good and adequate to us, but let us not be content with the mediocre Christian life. Our calling is higher and better than what most Christian seems to have settled in. Pray in the rest of these ten days of the Lenten season that God will help us keep on moving to the best and not be content with the good that we may have seen thus far. The best is yet to come! And we’ll not settle down for anything less than the best that God has in store for us. 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 21

Day 21, Friday, March 16, 2012

 Jesus calmly confronted Satan in the wilderness and was able to come triumphant out of this experience because of His dependence on God’s Word. In the last temptation, Jesus had to finally rebuke Satan and charged him to leave Him alone (see Matthew 4:10). Satan left Him, but Luke adds a very significant little detail that is not found in any other gospel. He writes: “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). You might recall that at the beginning of this Lenten devotional we saw that Jesus’ temptations were not limited to just three mentioned here. In fact, He was tempted throughout His earthly life and yet remained sinless. There is an absorbing theological debate about the issue whether Jesus could have sinned or not or whether he was capable of sinning. We don’t want to digress into this dispute now. I would rather leave it for some other day, God willing.

 Luke 4:13 is clear that Satan only temporarily departed from Jesus in the wilderness, but just because Jesus prevailed over him does not mean that Satan threw up his hands and quit forever. Jesus encountered the devil and His tricks all through His ministry in one form or the other. Sometimes the temptations came in the form of His enemies and occasionally in the form of His own disciples. For example, do you remember what Jesus once said to Peter, when he wished that Jesus would not die? – “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16: 23 NIV). Temptation is not a sin, and in Jesus’ case God’s Spirit initiated and permitted Satan to tempt Jesus. Luke also tells us that temptation is not a once and for all event. No temptation is resisted permanently not to be tempted again by the same kinds of temptation or to fall into a similar one time and again. Luke says that Satan always looks for an opportunity to tempt us at the point when we may be in the most vulnerable situation. For example, at the point of Jesus’ most vulnerability in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked his disciples to “pray that you may not enter into temptation.” However, he went further ahead of them and prayed for the removal of the cup of suffering that he knew He had to come to drink (Luke 22: 39-44). The book of Hebrews (4:15) tells that Jesus was tempted in every area and thus He is able to help us when Satan brings before us the temptation that we thought we had resisted one and for all. May we take refuge in Jesus when we are tempted and learn from His experience? Amen.

English: Christ is tempted by Satan. The engra...

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.

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.

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.

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.

Lenten reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 4

#4. Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012

We saw in the scriptures, yesterday, that wilderness is integral to the spiritual life of believers. It works like a furnace to refine us and to make us stronger Christians. Keeping with the long tradition of the Old Testament, Jesus, too, was led into the wilderness experience. We need to be clear though that it was not the devil but the Holy Spirit who led Jesus into the wilderness. All three gospel writers are quick to point out this fact (read Matthew 3:16, 4:1, Mark 1:10-12, Luke 3: 21-22, 4:1-2). It teaches us that God permits suffering and pain in our lives for a purpose.

Jesus being fully God did not need penitence. He did not need to repent of any sins, as He was completely sinless even when he was completely human in His earthly days. Even though Jesus was sinless, God the Holy Spirit led God the Son to experience wilderness in order that He will be completely dependent on God the Father. Thus, the triune God was involved in the  wilderness experience of Jesus Christ because it was so significant for the salvation of humanity. That’s why we read in the book of Hebrews 5: 8—“Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (KJV). Through Christ’s suffering which began in the wilderness and continued throughout his life until his painful death on the cross, He completely identified with us human beings. Therefore, He fully understands whatever your wilderness experience may be today—be it pain, sickness, death of a loved one, financial crisis, uncertain future, concern for your loved ones, unemployment, underemployment, insecurity, misunderstandings, marriage on the rocks, and so on. Whatever it may be, Jesus Christ, our Lord knows and understands it fully because He has been in the wilderness Himself. He knows what you are going through today; He knows that God has permitted this time in your life. But He also knows that God is omnipotent to bring you through it and through this experience, make you a better vessel suited for His purposes. Once again, the book of Hebrews says in 4:14-16:

“Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (New Revised Version). Amen.