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 40-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.
Matthew 4:3-4 (NRSV)
The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
“You must diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his decrees, and his statutes that he has commanded you. Do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, so that it may go well with you.”
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
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