Find a quiet space where you can be alone. Now close your eyes and imagine you are in the solitude of the desert. After you have taken a few minutes to settle into this space, read or listen to the passage Luke 4: 1-15. Underline or journal any words or phrases that stand out to you. As you move into this time of reflection, imagine yourself in the loving gaze of God who wants to be with you and remind you of the unconditional love surrounding you as He invites you to be aware of the purposes of your own wilderness experiences.
“Once we have experienced the Holy Spirit in our conversion, the self-same Spirit will draw us into our own wilderness, or desert experience…Like Jesus, if we are going to know the Holy Spirit’s power on-the-spot, we require instruction in the wilderness lessons that the Holy Spirit teaches us off-the-spot.” Trevor Hudson
Preparing for pastoral ministry during my seminary years can be described as a desert or wilderness experience. Not because I was living in the actual desert of Phoenix, Arizona, but because of the rigorous, intense and at times overwhelming amount of studying, writing and mentoring I experienced in a four year period. Like going into basic training when I was eighteen, I had no idea the immensity of the challenges ahead that would forever change and prepare me for what was ahead.
The very first class I had to attend was called Living in God’s Presence. We all sat a bit anxious listening to the professor during the introduction as he shared with us how since we had answered the call to commit our lives fully to the ministry of the gospel and Christ’s church, a big red X was painted on our backs. He told us we would need to make sure we were rooted in the faithful, grace-filled love of God, our identity as His beloved and the power of the Holy Spirit within us so that we would not misuse all the knowledge that would be poured into us over the next few years. Like Jesus we were being “led by the Spirit into the wilderness” where we would be tried and tested. As Richard Foster has said this is a “Sahara of the Heart.”
In Luke chapter 4, after Jesus’ baptism by John we see Jesus, not running head long into Jerusalem to straighten everyone out. Quite the opposite. Jesus is actually “led by the Spirit into the desert” where he named and wrestled with his own particular temptations, ones we now know we too will face. And like Jesus our “Sahara of the Heart is a season of spiritual growth and preparation where we:
Wrestle with temptation
Discern the devil’s voice
Learn to listen to God’s voice
Live by God’s Word through God’s Spirit
Be ministered to by angels
Receiving strength for ourselves
Make space for Solitude and Silence
Trevor Hudson writes, “It was an eye-opening moment for me when I realized that Jesus actually listened to what the Tempter had to say. He heard the devil out. He knew that he would be able to resist the evil one only if he remained aware of his tactics. This hidden preparation ensured that Jesus would pattern his public ministry on God’s way rather than that of the evil one.
This desert preparation is not just for those preparing for vocational pastoral ministry, it is for all who follow Jesus so that as we are all called into ministry we will be faithful disciples in the private and public places of our lives.
This Sunday we will go deeper into understanding why the Holy Spirit leads us into the desert and how this off-the-spot training prepares us for on-the-spot abundant living. Remember to read the Abundant Life letters and testimonies you received, while also praying over your commitment cards as we prepare to invest in a whole new year of ministry ahead. Come Holy Spirit!
In the Desert with You,
Reflect: Think of an experience where you struggled as a result of inadequate preparation. Journal about this situation and what happened due to the lack of preparation. What could have gone differently if you would have had the preparation needed? Imagine what it could have looked like with more preparation.
Spiritual Practice:Think about this experience as the Holy Spirit leading you into the desert. Journal about an area of life where you find yourself tempted. What do you hear the devil saying and what do you hear God saying? Take a moment to pray, “Holy Spirit lead me into the deeper desert of my own heart and shed light on how the evil one might be tempting me at this stage of my life.” Be prepared to write down what you sense God is saying to over the next week or so.
Gather: In your small group share with one another how you spend time alone with God. How do you listen to God? Where do you find renewal and refreshment? How do you currently experience the Holy Spirit’s leading you into the desert?