The crucible of the wilderness…

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Mark 1:9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

What happens with Jesus immediately following his baptism? He is called into the wilderness where he is tempted by Satan. What happens after his time in the wilderness? Jesus goes on to live the most remarkable three years in history, die on a cross, and be raised up in three days to secure eternal life for all who call on his holy name.

But it started in the wilderness.

Jesus’ story reminds me of other biblical figures who endured a season of hardship before coming into their destiny: Abraham leaving his homeland of Ur, Joseph incarcerated for alleged attempted rape, Moses fleeing Egypt as a young man guilty of murder, the Israelites wandering in the desert wilderness for 40 years, David hiding in the Cave of Addulum, the apostle Paul being struck with blindness, and so on. In each case one could describe the season of struggle and adversity as “wilderness”.

Wilderness is often where transformation begins.

There is something about the challenge of the wilderness that shapes people for God’s purposes. One could describe our current situation as a wilderness season. It’s uncomfortable, disconcerting, disorienting. No one likes the wilderness, including me. On a personal level, I am missing the company of friends and family who are not under my immediate roof. I wonder if any of us will get sick, or how long this crisis will last.

As a pastor I am working with my team of staff and volunteer leaders to figure out new ways of doing ministry. No doubt many of you are doing the same in your own vocation. It is hard. It is stressful. I would never have chosen this on my own, nor do I suspect would you. But here we are. In the wilderness.

Since we are going to be here for a while I find the nature of my prayers has changed. Instead of asking the Lord to helicopter me out of this situation, which is not gonna happen, I’ve begun to ask the Lord for grace to lean into it. How am I being shaped by this experience? What new capacities are growing in me which will be useful when this time of crisis is over? How do I embrace the changes underway rather than resist them? What opportunities are presenting themselves if I only have eyes to see?

Lord Jesus, you know what it’s like to endure the wilderness. It’s a painful place, but often a place of transformation as well. Give us grace to learn, to grow, to be shaped by these challenging days in ways that give you glory. We pray this in your holy name. Amen.

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