This was written for one of my church’s magazines in March, 2016, as we prepared to enter the season of Lent. This is the period before Easter, when we remember the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness and when we recall the events that led up to his crucifixion and resurrection at Easter. It begins with a quotation from a hymn that we sing at this time of year.
Jesus, tempted in the desert,
lonely, hungry, filled with dread:
‘Use your power,’ the tempter tells him;
‘turn these barren rocks to bread!’
‘Not alone by bread,’ he answers,
‘can the human heart be filled.
Only by the Word that calls us
is our deepest hunger stilled!’
Although we are probably more familiar with the words of ‘40 days and 40 nights’, this relatively new hymn by the American writer Herman Stuempfle speaks eloquently of Christ’s experience in the Wilderness. It reminds us of how Jesus chose to separate himself from humanity and from all that distracted him, in order to draw closer to God. Most commentators see this as a crucial period in Jesus’ life, as he prepared himself physically and mentally for the ministry that would change his life, and the world, for ever.
As we journey through Lent together, we recall those vital 40 days in the life of Jesus. It is a time when many Christians choose to pray more regularly, study scripture more deeply and perhaps reflect on what it is that holds them back from a closer encounter with God. What is it that tempts us away from true worship and faith? Fear, pride, an unwillingness to let ourselves be changed? It is very hard to go out into the wilderness places, to put aside all the comforting familiarity of everyday life and ask ourselves these deep questions. Much better to stay in the safe town, than risk the dangers of the desert. Yet if we are truly to follow in the footsteps of Christ, we must so do. We must make time and space to hear both the voices of temptation and of God, calling us on to learn more of him and his will for our lives. I pray that we may all open our hearts and minds to Jesus Christ this Lent.
Hymn: Herman G. Stuempfle, Jr. (1923–2007). Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 237. Words: © GIA Publications Inc., 7404 S. Mason Avenue, Chicago, IL 60638, USA. http://www.giamusic.com All rights reserved.
Image: ‘Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness’ (Jésus tenté dans le désert) – James Tissot. Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum. Source: Wikimedia. Public Domain.