Monday, June 8, 2009

Time and Training in The Desert

A few months into our stay on this land I was really starting to lose focus. Most of my focus was on suffering. It hasn't been bad, but it has been hard. And I was ready to move along. Move along to obtaining water....move along to getting a road....move along to having a house....move along to having a shower....and a washing machine...and a comfortable bed. I was tired of hauling five gallon buckets around to water animals, and gallon jugs to cook and wash dishes. I was tired of the mud. I was tired of packing a shower bag, and hauling it and laundry across town. It took too much time. I was tired of my back hurting, and wondered how it was ever going to get better while I was hauling buckets of water, and sleeping on that springy bed. I was whiny!

But most of all I was surprised. After all, doesn't God want us all to prosper? Doesn't He want only the best for his children? Surely we missed the mark, because there is no way He would have sent us out here to suffer. Right?

But I was led to read about the temptation of Jesus. Remember when Jesus was sent out to the desert to be tempted by Satan? Ever wonder why he was sent out to the desert with no food or water? No comfortable bed to sleep in? Or friends to help him in his battle? Just him and Satan. And Jesus, though a God, was also a man. He was a hungry, thirsty, tired, lonely man. And he was sent into the enemy's camp.

Where was his focus? Initially, it may have been on himself. It would be hard to start out such a journey and not be focused on hunger, thirst, or discomfort. Jesus looked around and there was no one there to cover his back in his battles against Satan. Or was there?

Jesus was not only sent out to be tempted by Satan and learn to rely on God. Jesus was sent out to the desert for a battle of the minds with Satan. Without the distractions of comfort, he had no difficulty hearing the voice of Satan. Satan's voice was constant...taunting him....trying to lure him away from fulfilling his purpose. See, it was through personal suffering and resisting the temptations to serve himself (food, power, glory) that Jesus learns to deny himself for our sake.

One of the first things that you learn about Christianity is that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and asked us to take up our own cross to follow him. It is a great story. We claim to believe it. But do we live like we believe it? Do we live our life burdened with the weight of our cross on our shoulders? Are we willing to die for our enemies? Are we willing to truly go without so that others may have? Do we serve others first? Or do we serve others after we serve our own needs and desires?

Living and thinking along such lines doesn't occur naturally. We naturally lean toward self preservation. We naturally meet our own needs and help others with what is left. We naturally help others if it can occur without harm to ourselves. But Jesus didn't. He gave it all.

There have been other great people through history who gave it all for others. Mother Teresa is often cited as someone who lived her life according to the Sermon on the Mount. But do you think she was born someone who loved to sacrifice for others? No. It took years of training. She spent time in the desert, training to resist the temptations of Satan. She learned how to see the world through the cross. Then she took up her cross and followed Jesus...every day of her life. I read that someone near her stated that her feet were crippled because when shoes were donated she gave all the best to others. Yet she hobbled along serving the least of these with a smile. To her it wasn't a sacrifice. That takes training.

Even Jesus had to undergo training to change the way he saw the world. For that training his time in the desert was necessary. It is necessary for any of us if we are to see the world through the cross, and take up our own cross and follow him. It is necessary to dislodge our automatic instinct to serve and preserve ourselves before others. It takes training to see serving as a gift instead of a sacrifice.

So, after all this contemplation, I have arrived at the conclusion that we are in the desert. We are being trained to go without so that others may have, and to see it as an incredible opportunity instead of as a sacrifice. We are being trained to follow the leading of God even if it results in our own discomfort. We are being trained to see the world through the cross. I assure you it is beginning to look quite different. We are being fitted for our crosses.

Matthew 4:1-11
1Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread."
4Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

5Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6"If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written:
" 'He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'"

7Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9"All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."

10Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'"

11Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Mark 8:34
34Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Matthew 10:38
38and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

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