“The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.” Mark 1.12-13
I grew up in the “woods” of north-central Arkansas. We lived with acres upon acres of woodlands all around. I remember at night how the insects and birds would compete with one another as if to see who was the loudest. After school, I would often spend the remaining hours of daylight hiking through the woods taking pictures and enjoying the adventure of discovery. It was not uncommon for me to see copperhead snakes enjoying the fall sun on rocks and reddish-brown scorpions scattering for cover under a fallen tree branch that I rolled over.
Looking back, I’m surprised that I was so often on my own. After all, the woods were a dangerous place. In this part of Arkansas we had poisonous snakes, black bears, cougars, wild boars and the occasional coyote. What was I thinking to just go and wander off by myself in the woods—and without a cell phone (we didn’t have them back then!).
In today’s scripture passage, we see the Spirit of God leading Jesus into the “wilderness” in the backwoods of Judea. Really, the term “wilderness” would better be translated ‘desert wastelands’. Imagine hot temperatures during the day plunging to cold extremes at night. Imagine outcasts, thieves, and bandits. And then try to get some sleep while the dangerous creatures come out at night (lions, poisonous snakes, scorpions, jackals, etc).
Here’s the takeaway for you.
Sometimes, God will lead you into desert places as a form of preparation for the next chapter of service to Him. Jesus was on the verge of beginning his ministry. And so God leads him into a time of spiritual preparation like no other. He is isolated from the safety of family, friends, and creature comforts—to be surrounded by a hostile environment with threatening creatures.
When we look at this episode, we can see several metaphors being played out.
First, like the nation of Israel, Jesus must go through his own desert experience of “wandering” before he is on task with God’s mission to Israel. Just as Moses led the people of God through the desert, Jesus will sometimes lead you through a desert. The desert is a place in which you are confronted with your own limitations. You are stripped bare of what you have come to rely upon—even finding basic food and water to be in jeopardy. In other words, God sometimes leads you to be stripped bare of all the things in this life that you rely upon if you are to really follow Christ.
Second, the prophet Isaiah spoke of a new day in which the wolf would dwell with the lamb and the lion would eat hay like the ox (see Isaiah 11.1-10). This day would be ushered in by the Messiah. In other words, he has the power to take hostile elements and tame them. In the same way, when we follow Christ into our desert places, he can take the hostile elements in your life—and bring peace. He does this not by human reason or power—but by his Spirit (and only by his Spirit—see Zechariah 4.6). The key here for survival is to develop a life of humble praise. Stay humble before God and others—and develop a lifestyle of thankfulness and praise (even for the little things). When you are in a desert, and suddenly see a little flower in a rocky crag, you are thankful for its courageous beauty to bloom in such a place. In the same way, bloom in your desert by accepting your limitations and resting in the plans that God has for you—even when you don’t understand.
Third, to follow Jesus, sometimes less is more. Our lives have a tendency to get cluttered with activity and things. But often the path to renewal is once again finding the simple joy of simply knowing Christ and resting in his love and forgiveness for you. Period. When that is your center, then as you move out into the world around you, you are operating from a mindset of peace and simplicity instead of sophistication and complexity (which requires enormous amounts of human energy to maintain).
The key is to embrace your desert places. Ask the Lord to transform them. Don’t run from them, but truly allow the Spirit of the Lord to work in you during those times, trusting that Jesus will never let go of you—just as the Father never let go of him.
1. Are you in a ‘desert place’ right now? What is it? What do you despise about it? How can you surrender this time to the Lord instead of fighting against it?
2. What is God trying to teach you during this desert-place experience? What is He putting His finger upon in your life? Can you identify those key areas?
3. In a real desert the key to survival is finding shelter and having water. How is your intake of God’s grace to you through reading the scriptures helping you? Have you shared your struggle with other Christians so they can pray you through this time of trial and suffering? Remember, Jesus was alone in his desert so you would never have to be.