The season of Lent is upon us, beginning last week with Ash Wednesday. In many churches, clergy traced ashes across recipients' foreheads, reciting the words, "Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return." This somber reminder led us into a forty-day journey, mirroring Jesus's time of being tested in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11).
We enter into the wilderness acknowledging that even the desert has lessons to teach us. We will face our own temptations, perhaps sounding similar to the Devil's taunts. But like Jesus, this time of testing could let us strengthen our allegiance to God. It will give us the opportunity to boldly claim alongside Christ, "God is the bread that sustains me." "God is all powerful and cannot be tested." "I will worship and serve God alone."
The wilderness may sound like a scary, barren place. It conjures up images of lack and emptiness. But as we attempt to let go of our attachments to the things of this earth, we practice attaching to God. Then, even in the desert, we can discover wellsprings of life, new growth, clearly laid roads (Isaiah 43:18-21).
Many people choose to give up something for Lent—a food or a habit—and replace it with a spiritual discipline, like prayer or Scripture reading. A focus on penance and fasting helps us make space to recognize and encounter God. We let our hunger and thirst emerge so that we can stop relying on things that cannot ultimately sustain us. Our physical hunger can remind us of our real spiritual hunger for intimacy with our Creator. It can redirect us, moment-by-moment, back to our heart's true longing.
Relying on Scripture
For centuries Lent has been a deeply formative church season in people's lives. But how does one navigate their time in the desert? Here are some tools to get started.
Begin by identifying a focus for this time of spiritual growth. Some people enter into Lent with a question, a character trait they are developing, or a desire to nurture deeper intimacy with God. What new place of being do you hope to reach by the end of your journey?
As you spend time in the wilderness, make a point of fostering greater dependency on Scripture. The following passages will help you dwell on Scripture in relation to the Devil's series of tests pointed at Jesus. Meditate on these words as responses to undergird your own journey. Rely on them when you face your own temptations.
Then the Devil came to him and said, "If you are God's Son, order these stones to turn into bread."
But Jesus answered, "The scripture says, 'Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but need every word that God speaks.'"
The LORD says,
"Come, everyone who is thirsty—
here is water!
Come, you that have no money—
buy grain and eat!
Come! Buy wine and milk—
it will cost you nothing!
Why spend money on what does not satisfy?
Why spend your wages and still be hungry?
Listen to me and do what I say,
and you will enjoy the best food of all."
"I am the bread of life," Jesus told them. "Those who come to me will never be hungry; those who believe in me will never be thirsty.
Then the Devil took Jesus to Jerusalem, the Holy City, set him on the highest point of the Temple, and said to him, "If you are God's Son, throw yourself down, for the scripture says, 'God will give orders to his angels about you; they will hold you up with their hands, so that not even your feet will be hurt on the stones.'"
Jesus answered, "But the scripture also says, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"
"Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you did at Massah. Be sure that you obey all the laws that he has given you. Do what the Lord says is right and good, and all will go well with you."
"My thoughts," says the LORD, "are not like yours,
and my ways are different from yours.
As high as the heavens are above the earth,
so high are my ways and thoughts above yours."
Then the Devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in all their greatness. "All this I will give you," the Devil said, "if you kneel down and worship me."
Then Jesus answered, "Go away, Satan! The scripture says, 'Worship the Lord your God and serve only him!'"
"The new covenant that I will make with the people of Israel will be this: I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people."
"So do not start worrying: 'Where will my food come from? or my drink? or my clothes?' (These are the things the pagans are always concerned about.) Your Father in heaven knows that you need all these things. Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things. So do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own. There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings.
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