Desert Trials – Part 1 of 3

Posted on 22 Feb 2010 in Reveal | 0 comments

This post will be the first in a series of three. My original single post wound up far too long, so I figured wisdom dictated breaking it up. All three posts are grounded in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 4, verses 1 to 24.
There are two portions to this text – the testing in the desert, and Jesus’ return to his hometown.

You can Read Luke 4:1-24 here

Jesus and His Trials in the Desert
There are three tests here:

  1. the temptation to turn a stone into bread (here in Part One)
  2. the splendour and authority of the world (read more in Part Two)
  3. a wild leap of faith (read more in Part Three)

Henri Nouwen, in his In the Name of Jesus, deals with these three trials.  If you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend it.  I’ll be working somewhat from his work, and also moving forward from my own reflections.
Test 1: A Stone into Bread
Jesus has been fasting for 40 days (which in the Bible normally translates as an inexplicably long time).  And wouldn’t you know it, he’s hungry.  We’re in the beginning of Lent, in which we can give up things or take up new disciplines in order to come closer to understanding God’s purpose and presence in our lives, as well as the things that Jesus gives or takes up in his journey to the cross at Easter.  Lent can be a special time.  But have you ever noticed that the more that you cannot have something, the more that you want it?  For example, I don’t eat pork or shellfish.  In general, I have a cheeseburger about once a month or so – if not less frequently.  But one year I went kosher for Lent.  I hoped that I would learn more about a Godly perspective on food – which I did. But I’ll tell you, I also craved bacon and cheeseburgers and just about everything that I couldn’t eat while being kosher.  It didn’t matter that I didn’t eat them regularly, it just mattered that I wasn’t supposed to eat them.
And Jesus was hungry.
Nouwen talks about this beast inside of us as the relevant self: “the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things” – the self that literally sets about meeting the needs of others.  And I’m learning more and more about this coiled dragon that sleeps inside me, longing to be relevant.  For me, I like to be a people pleaser, and constantly have to remind myself that it is not about people liking me or wanting me to help.  I like to help.  I like to be someone who can meet the needs of others.  But the more I learn about myself, the more I see that these feelings are like the hot breath of a preying animal, bathing over me with a lulling warmth and heat – not realizing that death is at the door.  Occasionally, when cornered, when afraid, my dragon rises up with a roar and tries to defend the poor little vulnerable me that is inside as well.
When Jesus is hungry, he’s already able to meet his own needs.  He very easily could have turned the stone into bread.  We already know that he was filled with the Spirit of God – full of God’s very own power.  Yet, Jesus doesn’t bother to feed himself here.  He didn’t even bother to feed himself the 40 days previously.  His life is built around fasting, prayer, and the presence of God. Nouwen also identifies this answer to the Adversary’s claim.  “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Prayer is not simply me talking to God.  Prayer is listening.  Jesus already has the word of God dwelling richly in him – otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to respond so quickly with a scripture.  But it’s more than that.  Because Jesus is indicating that in conversations with God, he believes that God will 1) take care of him, and 2) let him know when it is time to eat.
I think that culturally, we are so conditioned to know all the ways in which people need to have their needs met that we forget the most basic need of all – the need for God’s presence.  I’ve been reading a great deal on the nutrition-food-processing industry, and in the process learning that in a generation of more knowledge, more food, more obesity, and more food-related illness, we also as a highly-developed culture are literally starving ourselves to death by eating food-products devoid of nutritional value.  And I think our spiritual lives are a reflection of that.  We spend all our time helping the poor, working with the needy, doing doing doing and helping helping helping, that we’ve lost sight of our true nutrition.  Caring for others is like an insulin spike, bringing us a rush of endorphins, but without proper nutrition, it can be devastating to our lives.  But we miss out on the really good stuff.  The stuff that will sustain us in hungry times.
It’s better to not eat than to try to satisfy ourselves.
I feel like I need to repeat that.
It’s better to not eat than to try to satisfy ourselves.
In the months leading up to December, I entered a wilderness period.  Not a big one, not a long one, but definitely a preparation for what I call my ‘boot camps’ – when the Spirit leads me into the desert.  Instead of preparing myself by fasting or waiting on God, I simply ate spiritual junk food.  I read good books – but they weren’t the Bible.  I prayed – but they were fleeting prayers.  And I did loads and loads of spiritual research.  I just didn’t wait on God’s presence.
So I arrived to Bognor Regis, where I was overwhelmed by God’s presence, and felt like vomiting up all the spiritual rubbish I had been ingesting.  I was crying my eyes out all the time, as God washed all that crap out of my life.
When we don’t say No to things in our desire to be relevant and helpful, we cannot say Yes to the things that God has for our lives.  Our hands become full of trinkets and candy, so that we cannot feast at the table with open hands.
When Jesus returns home to Nazareth, he opens the scroll, and offers “Good News to the Poor”.
I think the Good News is this:
Stop it. Stop doing, stop helping, stop giving.  Receive my loving-kindness, my chesed (covenantal loving-faithfulness), my grace to wash over you. Stop pouring out of the junk food reserves you have stocked up and allow me to pour into you all my life-giving fullness.  Let the Word of God dwell richly in you and fulfil you and strengthen you.  I am WITH you. You are my beloved, and I’m already well pleased with you.

Continue Reading Part Two Here