I was shocked to recently learn that the largest desert in the world is the Antarctic Desert. Yes, like the south pole and all that. The 2nd largest is the Arctic Desert (aka where Santa lives). They qualify as a deserts because they get less than 10 inches of precipitation each year. Usually when I think of a desert I think of sand, cactus, and tumble weeds. But the largest deserts in the world are full of ice, wind swept rocks (no sand), and are cold.
Whether the frigid polar deserts or the sand dunes of the Sahara, deserts are not comfortable places. Typically people who are caught in a desert want to get out as soon as possible. In movies when someone is caught in a desert, they are shown trying to walk out as soon as possible. We even use the metaphor of the desert to describe unhappy or uncomfortable times in our lives and in our faith.
So it is a bit shocking in the gospel this Sunday when we read that, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert…” Capital “S” Spirit. It is the very Spirit of God that drives Jesus into the desert. In the desert Jesus will be tempted and tried by the devil. Jesus will suffer and sacrifice for 40 days while in the desert. Yet this is all part of God’s plan. God chose for Jesus to be put into a deserted place and to be subjected to temptations from Satan.
The thing is Jesus doesn’t run from the desert. Jesus could have walked out in 40 days. Jesus didn’t flee from God’s will even when it was uncomfortable and challenging. Jesus even allowed himself to be challenged by his enemy in that place.
I think this teaches us something about the role of desert in our life and how we should respond to it. First we shouldn’t flee. When we encounter hardship and dry times in our life, we may be tempted to flee from them. This may lead us to seek comfort in the world. Instead, I think the answer is to be still. Rather than run, we should quiet our hearts and minds and be still right where we are. This will allow God to find us. This puts us in the place to experience what God wills for us in the desert. It also demonstrates that we trust God. If God wills a desert time, then show we trust God by leaning into it instead of running from it.
Secondly, when we encounter a desert period in our life, we should be bold. When Jesus does leave the desert following the arrest of John the baptist, he begins to boldly proclaim his role and mission in the world. Jesus comes to call us to repent, join the movement of the Kingdom of God, and boldly believe in the good news that Jesus is here to save us from death. Whatever reason the Spirit of God has for driving us into the desert, we are being formed to go and boldly proclaim the good news that Jesus is Lord.
If the desert is ultimately a gift from God to form us into courageous sons and daughter in faith, then when we experience it, we must be still and when we exit, be bold.
Live It: Take out our phone, open whatever calendar app you use, and schedule a 30 minute meeting with you a God for sometime this week. During that time, sit in silence, be still, and wait for God to speak to you. Make some intentional desert time this week. (If you haven’t figured out what you are doing for Lent this year, maybe commit to this once a week or 15-20 mins a day?)