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Day 5 – Numbers 11:4-9

As we continue to consider the movement from expectation to trust, we now turn to the first example we are given 1 Corinthians 10. In verse 6, we read: “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.”  This may seem like a general statement of what happened in the wilderness and that is likely part of what is going on here. However, the wording here also suggests a reference back to Numbers 11 where it is said that “the rabble that was among them had a strong craving.” The words “strong craving” are interesting when you examine the Hebrew language in which they were originally written. Literally, the two words are “desiring desire,” and the idea is intensity as the word desire is doubled. Hence, the word “strong.” Other English translations offer “wanton craving.”

To be clear, desire is a good thing. We were designed with desire. Desire is what shapes us and motivates us. At our core is desire for God, but there may be other desires that have built up over the years to the point where our desire for God is almost unnoticeable. One of the reasons that God brings us to the desert is to expose desires that have become more prominent than our desire for God. The word that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians for desire is a compound word that literally means “over-desire” or intense desire, much like the doubling of the word “desire” in Numbers 11. In other contexts, it is translated as “lust.”

The danger of this “over-desire” is that it is desire that is misdirected. If we think about desire having an object, like an archer would aim at a target, “over-desire” is desire that aims at the wrong target. This kind of misdirected desire is shaped by and directed toward evil. This is how the Apostle Paul explains it in 1 Corinthians 10:6 with phrase “that we might not desire evil.” Evil is one of those words that we may resist. No one wants to think that they desire evil. We may think: evil describes dictators from previous generations or serial killers, but not me!

Part of that sort of response is because we don’t fully understand desire. G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “Every man who knocks on the door of the brothel is looking for God.” Underneath every desire is our desire for God. The goal is not to get rid of desire but to redirect it. In addition, evil is another one of those words that may need some redefining. It can be helpful to think about goodness. What is good? Simply put, good is that which is experienced in the context of trusting, loving relationship with God. As we listen to God and trust what He says about life and trust how He is leading us, we are living in the good. Micah 6:8 famously walks us through the question, “What is good?” The answer is justice and mercy as we walk humbly with God. Often, people identify with the first two elements and forget about the third. However, the third part is the linchpin … it is what effectively leads us into the other two. Walking humbly with God, we might say, is the essence of goodness. In contrast, evil is not walking humbly with God … not trusting His heart and what He has to say about life and love. Evil would be defining things on our own … living independently of God. This is what the serpent in Genesis 3 was leading our first parents toward … “you can’t trust God. He’s holding out on you. He is trying to manipulate you.”

Essentially, we might say that the contrast between desiring evil and desire goodness can be understood respectively as independence from God and dependence upon God. We see this displayed in the words of Psalm 106, “But they soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel. But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness.” (vv. 13-14)

A note of caution: we often focus on sins as actions instead of looking at sin which is an independent heart which can stir and shape the desire for sinful actions. Not that actions and behavior are insignificant, but in the desert, God is leading us to look at our hearts, to examine desire. Two more notes of caution: it is not our responsibility to determine what is going on in someone’s else heart (Matthew 7:3-4); and we also must take evil actions seriously (Isaiah 5:20). However, on the road of our own transformation, it is ourheart that is the focus. Indeed, following Christ is a journey of the heart.

In the wilderness, we are often tempted to focus on behaviors and actions. Perhaps, this is simply another way to stay in control or live independently from God. We may be tempted to try to figure out what we need to “do” in order to get things back to normal, but it is examining our hearts that leads to the freedom and transformation for which we long. 

Maurice Nicoll asks the question, “Why should a [person] leave the familiar and go into a wilderness? … [because] without temptation, there is no transformation.” Wilderness can both surface over desire as well as be the context for redirecting it.

Questions for reflection: As we move on this path from independence to dependence, are you willing to be uncomfortable? Are you willing to walk through the suffering rather than trying to fight it? Are you willing to look at your heart and desires instead of simply your actions?

Prayer: Lord, today, give me the strength to abide with you in the wilderness, noticing my heart and seeing misdirected desire. As I see, I trust you to reshape the direction of my desires. Amen.

First Sunday – Remember God’s Goodness in the Previous Week

On Sundays, we are invited to pause in order to remember God’s goodness and His work in us on the journey thus far. In Psalm 106, the history of Israel’s time in the wilderness is recounted and it is said that they “forgot his works” (vs. 13) and “they forgot God” (vs. 21). Remembering is vital for abiding with God on the path of love.

Use the following to engage in a time of examen prayer:

  • Begin by quieting your heart before God and simply taking a few deep, slow breaths as you remember that you are in God’s presence. 
  • Review the week with gratitude. What is the Spirit bringing to your awareness?
  • Notice the ways that God has been present to you in the previous week.
  • What are you thankful for? What might God want you to see that you didn’t previously notice? Perhaps a place to repent?
  • Select a part of your reflection from the week to pray over.
  • Pray for the coming week.

Write out a prayer of thanksgiving and celebration as you look back and look forward.

Day 4, The Voice of the Wilderness is Love

In the wilderness, there is a quiet produced by the stripping away. It can be wonderful, and it can also be maddening. One of the reasons that God takes us into the wilderness is to speak to us. It is in the quiet that we can hear His still small voice. It is also in the quiet that we may begin to notice things in us rising to the surface … things that had been suppressed or stuffed down by the noisiness of life as we’d known it. In Hosea 2:14, God speaks to the people of Israel, “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” He is never forceful or demanding but gentle and inviting. We hear His voice as we embrace the wilderness and all that it brings.

Listening and hearing from God is often a struggle. In speaking of what happened in Israel’s wilderness journey, God says in Psalm 81:11-13:

“But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. So, I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels. Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!”

God will not force us, and He will not shout over all the other noise. He desires so deeply for us to hear His tender voice … to listen to His heart more closely than the other voices that we might believe will give us clarity. The challenge for us can be a “stubborn heart,” or in the words of Psalm 95, a “hardened heart.” What might a hardened heart look like? Put very simply, we might say that it is a heart which is tuned in to other voices … for example, the voices of the past, the voices of expectation, the voices of other people. When we are listening to these voices, it can be noisy and frustrating, especially if we desire to hear the voice of God. But God never stops speaking. He is always present and always communicating. 

The invitation is to detach from the other voices. Hardness of heart becomes a factor when we are attached to the other voices, when we have given them the space to lead us and take us off the path. The goal is not to necessarily get rid of other voices but to let release them … to not hold on to them. The other voices may linger but the noise lessens when we are no longer trying to manage them or control them or indulge them. We can do this by practicing a prayer of quiet. We simply sit quietly, seeking to be present to God’s presence with us. As various thoughts or impulses come into our awareness, we let them float on by like driftwood in a stream and center our attention again on God’s presence with us.

Over time, the voice of the Lord and our awareness of His presence becomes clearer and clearer. What we hear and what we begin to notice (often in ways that are beyond words, cf. Ephesians 3:19) is that He is present and that He loves us. 

This brings us back to the third part of the rhythm of repentance: remembering. As we reflect on the various voices that may have our attention and then release them, God graciously speaks to us the truth of His love and our call to that path of love. 

When everything else is gone, we find that we are left with love. And what we realize is that His love is enough. His love is our sustenance, our identity, our reference point. To try to define the love of God can be difficult because it is something beyond knowledge. At the same time, we might best equate it with the word “presence.” He will never “leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5). Jesus said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) The name Jesus was given before His birth was Immanuel which means “God with us.” Presence … His abiding presence … is His love. As we grow in the awareness of His presence, we become more and more grounded in His love. 

And it is presence in the midst of the mess … in the middle of the wilderness. It is not something we experience after things are cleaned up or when we have act together, but something now. The very things (our sin, our failings, our distractions) which we have believed keep us distant from God become the points of connection. Jonathan Maury, SSJE, says it so well: “Through repentance and faithful belief in the good news, we acknowledge our own failings –which become the paradoxical means to union with God and one another through Jesus’ call.” 

As we reflect and release, then we begin to remember the truth. The truth that He is with us. He loves us. He sings over us with joy and quiets us with His love. (Zephaniah 3:17) The one who is leading us is the One who is always present … always loving … always speaking to us.

Questions for reflection: are there other voices to which you listen? What is it like for you to consider that God speaks to you tenderly? How might you begin to detach from other voices so you can more clearly hear the voice of love?

Prayer: Lord, I want to listen to Your voice above any others. I desire to live in Your love. Give me eyes to see that You are singing over me with joy. Amen.

Day 3, Matthew 4, Jesus learned obedience

Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8) It may sound odd to say that Jesus needed to learn obedience, but it starts to make sense as we understand the nature of obedience. The word itself may sound harsh to many ears and certainly the concept of obedience has been used to manipulate and abuse. However, in the Gospels, obedience is connected to love and trust, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) Of course, the word “commandment” is often thought of in harsh terms as well, but the commandments of God, as described in the Scriptures and especially the Psalms, are seen differently. In particular, Psalm 119 records, “I find my delight in your commandments,” “Your law is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces,” and “your precepts have given me life.” The commandments of God are not oppressive but freeing, precious, and delightful.

Obedience is a loving, trusting response to God. God doesn’t desire for us to just conform to some rigid list of moral standards. He desires for us to walk with Him in love and trust. His commandments give us discernment for walking the path of love. They are a compass that guides us into loving response to the God who loves us. So, in what way did Jesus learn obedience? While He was perfect and continually in fellowship with the Father and the Spirit, an obedient response in the context of His humanity was something that had to be learned, or experienced. In the wilderness of Matthew 4, Jesus’ responsiveness to God the Father was tested and it is no coincidence that in each of the three temptations He responded with Scripture.

Hebrews 4:15 tells us we have a great high priest who has been “tempted just as we are” … tempted to take matters into His own hands, tempted to escape the wilderness, tempted to define His life outside relationship with the Father. Make no mistake, for Jesus the 40 days of wilderness were a time of vulnerability and danger. Mark 1:13 notes that Jesus “was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to Him.” He was fasting during this time as well which would have had its own sense of vulnerability. 

When we are in a wilderness season, God’s heart is that we would “learn obedience” as well, that we would experience a deep sense of trusting responsiveness to Him.  Our responsiveness is tested significantly when we are left without our usual resources for making life work. Whether a health crisis, a relational crisis, or perhaps a financial crisis, one of the temptations is to redouble our efforts … to go to those old ways of managing life once again, trying harder.

The reality is that all of our efforts don’t solve the problems and we are often left wondering if we can trust this God who is leading us and showing us the way. The stripping down and the emptiness of the desert can feel far more vulnerable and dangerous than we believe we can stand. Robert Mullholland suggests that “Like the Hebrew people in the desert [we long] for the comfort and security of Egypt. [We cry] out to God, ‘Did you bring me out here to kill me?’ The answer of course, is yes.”

Yes? Really? God, you want me to be stripped down to nothing. You want me to die. And, if we are willing to be that honest … that willing to bring this question to God, we might just simply hear those words of Jesus: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25) It is when we are willing to be in the wilderness space, vulnerable to all that it brings that we find the life that is truly life. As we let go and release trying to make things work, we find that, like Jesus, we are learning deeper responsiveness (or, obedience) to God.

It can feel lonely in this place and that is by design because, as Adele Calhoun writes, “Solitude is a formative place because it gives God’s Spirit time and space to do deep work. When no one is there to watch, judge and interpret what we say, the Spirit often brings us face to face with hidden motives and compulsions. The world of recognition, achievement and applause disappears, and we stand squarely before God without props.”

Finally, because of the loneliness and disorientation, we can find ourselves in a place of resistance, still not sure that we are interested. Are there ways you find yourself resisting the wilderness? Consider the counsel of the prophet Isaiah, “And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. (30:20–21)

Question for reflection: how might the Teacher be speaking to your heart and pointing out the path to walk along? Pause and listen. Ask God to speak to you in this wilderness season.

Prayer: Lord, I am willing to abide with You in the wilderness even though I feel resistance. I want to trust that You are up to something good … for Your glory which is also what I desire. Give me strength to listen, to notice how You are with me and leading me. Amen.

Day 2 – 1 Corinthians 10:1-5

A wilderness season is usually not something we would have expected. While we know difficult seasons can come, they are generally not on our bucket list. What we usually expect is that our lives will be fun and satisfying. While we may not consciously think about it this way, this is what is often happening in our hearts. The deep work of God in the wilderness is to lead us through expectation into deepening trust. 

While the people of Israel seemingly did everything but trust God in the days of their exodus from slavery in Egypt, God’s heart was to nurture trust in them. They had been shaped in particular ways in their years of bondage and the journey through the desert was the gift of being re-formed and transformed into the kind of people who would flourish in the land of promise. 

Like the people of Israel, we may have idealized notions of what the promised land is like. We hear “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8) and may hold expectations that milk and honey are just there for the taking to enjoy. However, milk (coming from goats who fed on the often fickle grasses of Canaan) and honey (which would be found here and there as the environment was fruitful) are both images that represent an abundance that was dependent upon rain. Unlike a lush, tropical paradise, the weather was inconsistent and unpredictable. Truly, it was a land of promise but it was a place of deep faith and trust. 

In the journey from Egypt, God took them into the wilderness where water and food were in short supply if any was to be found at all. Why would God do this? Because He loved them and was shaping them for life with Him. In many ways Egypt had shaped their hearts and minds away from trust. Being slaves, they would have had no trust in or love for their masters. In addition, they had been shaped to expect that their lives were in their own hands. If they were going to make it, it would not be because the “system” cared for them but because they knew how to work within it. Finally, as slaves, any sense of worth or identity would have been rooted in what they could accomplish and how well they could perform for the Egyptians.

Read how their wilderness journey started … 

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. (1 Corinthians 10:1–5, ESV)

They had all the spiritual resources needed to experience the transformation of the wilderness just as we do. They were delivered from slavery to Egypt … we are delivered from slavery to sin. They were “baptized” into Moses … we are baptized into Christ. They were given the cloud to guide them … we are given the Holy Spirit. They had spiritual food and drink … we have the bread and wine of communion.

God had taken them out of Egypt and now he wanted to take Egypt out of them. The wilderness would have reshaped their hearts, if only they had let it. In Christ, we are given all the spiritual resources we need to experience formation into people of deepening trust, walking in love … and it is a journey. It means releasing expectations and the ways we’ve been shaped to think life works. Releasing is not easy work. It is often painful and disorienting. 

Author Gerald May wrote, “Expectations are premeditated resentments.” Unexamined and unseen, our expectations can lead us toward all the same resentful responses that were present for the Israelites: anger, discontent, fearfulness, and striving.  

I first taught through this passage 25 years ago, and at that time, I called the teaching “Out of the Wilderness.” Now, I see more clearly that it is not about getting out, but trusting God in the wilderness. My expectations had been that God was supposed to get me out of difficult seasons and that a difficult season couldn’t be the plan. Examining our expectations is one of the first steps on the journey of deepening trust. 

Questions for reflection: in what ways are you (or, have you been) in a wilderness season? What expectations might the Spirit be leading you to release? What might be the invitations to trust? 

Prayer: Lord, give me the wisdom to release expectations and ways I’ve been shaped that do not lead to trust and love. I need your wisdom to know what trust looks like right now. I want to trust, and I also confess that often I don’t. Thank you for the ways you are at work in me, leading me. Amen.

Day 1 – Repentance/Ash Wednesday

As we begin this journey with God in the wilderness, we start on a day that has been set aside in the church for roughly one thousand years – Ash Wednesday. Today marks the beginning of this 40 Day fast leading up to Easter in which we are invited to intentionally enter a wilderness as Jesus did in Matthew 4. Ash Wednesday is an invitation to prepare our hearts for the journey. To stop and wonder about the path ahead. C. S. Lewis commented that lent is a season of “wonder that makes you serious.” In this, we can move toward understanding the gravity of the wilderness because wonder means that we don’t have it all figured out. Wonder is an invitation to ask: what I am being invited into? What do I need to notice? How is God at work in this season? 

The specific invitation of lent is to engage in spiritual practices that will open ourselves to a gracious God who desires for us to be able to respond to Him with our whole hearts. More than anything, it is the practice of releasing our notions of “knowing” as we release our dependence on self and what we think we know. We release self-determined action and receive spirit-led response to God and what He is doing. As Jesus entered His 40 days, we read that “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness.” (Matthew 4:1)

This leads us to consider the Ash Wednesday practice of repentance. While the word repentance is often thought of in very harsh terms and may conjure up images of preachers holding signs on a street corner that say “repent” as they yell at people and their sinful ways, repentance is actually one of the most beautiful words in all of God’s word. The Greek word for repentance means to have a change of mind. As we are moving down a certain path, repentance is the gracious invitation from God in which we see things differently and change our mind about our direction. In thinking about a journey, to repent is to realize that you are not on the right trail or path, to step off that path, and then to remember once again the path the Lord has designed for you. 

But how do we know the path the Lord has designed? The prayer of Psalm 119:105 proclaims “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” The imagery is clear that we can know the path through God’s word to us, and the imagery of the lamp suggests that it is only enough light to see our feet and the path right before us. Certainly, there are many specific things that the Scriptures to do not address and this leads us to other half of knowing the path: through the Holy Spirit. The prayer of Psalm 143:10 requests “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” The Holy Spirit may use God’s word to prompt us toward us repentance or He may lead us through that quiet whisper we read about in 1 Kings 19. Either way, our response is to have a change of mind, to repent … to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. In this way, repentance is indeed a beautiful invitation. 

And, we might also say that repentance is a way of life. We are invited to constantly notice and listen, step off the path, and remember or reorient. This is a rhythm and a spiritual muscle we can develop. And, that repentance muscle is so needed in the wilderness. In a space or season where we are frequently confused, often discouraged, and sometimes angry, the gift of being able to notice the Spirit’s leading and adjust the way we are walking is grace upon grace. 

In Ephesians 5:1, we are encouraged to “walk in love as Christ loved us.” However, there are so many obstacles on the journey and the Apostle Paul challenges us to “awake, O sleeper” (vs. 14) because of the very real possibility that we are sleepwalking without an awareness of where we are and what the heart of God is for us. In the very next verse, we read “Look carefully how you walk” (v. 15) which is followed by “be filled (or, led) by the Spirit.” (v. 18) 

Based on this, let me suggest a repentance rhythm of reflect, release, and remember. When we noticed we’ve fallen asleep (i.e., not walking in love), we can awaken as we reflect on what’s going on in our hearts, release that which is not love or trust, and remember the path that honors the heart of God and our design.

Question for reflection: are there ways in which you have been sleepwalking? Ask the Spirit to search your heart and show you ways you have not been on the path.

Prayer: Lord, today, give me eyes to see those place where I can repent. I thank you for your kindness in repentance and invitation to come back over and over again. Give me strength to live into the truth of who I am. Amen. 

Trusting God in the Wilderness, Introduction

As we journey through life, we often find ourselves in a desert kind of place. A place that feels desolate, lonely, harsh, and perhaps unfamiliar. And we might even feel the compulsion to escape and run to more familiar landscape. However, we are invited to resist that temptation for it is in those dry, desolate, lonely places that the Father does some of His best work. It is in those places where our souls become dry and thirsty that we unwilling to settle for clichés and easy answers. The stripping and unmasking of the desert are so good for our souls. If we desire God, the wilderness is where transformation occurs. 

The 40 days of the Lenten Season (which starts tomorrow) is an invitation to journey like Jesus did in His 40 days of temptation in the wilderness. In many ways, Jesus’ wilderness time was a redemptive “redo” of the 40 years that the people of Israel spent in the wilderness. He faithfully endured temptation, danger, and fasting in order to model something for us. He was giving us an example of how to faithfully navigate the vicissitudes of life. In Lent, as we engage in a fast or discipline of some kind, we are following “in His steps.” (1 Peter 2:21)

In 1 Corinthians 10, the Apostle Paul encourages us to learn from the example of the people of Israel and not do what they did. As we engage with God over these next 40 days, we are able to experience faithful response to God as Jesus did, (Hebrews 5:8) leaving behind the ways in which we are tempted toward the lack of trust that typified the people of Israel.

In these next 40 days, we will walk through this passage step by step:

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrownin the wilderness. 6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Each week, we’ll explore one of these situations which confronted the people of Israel. We will pray through issues like willfulness, idolatry, lust, doubt, pain, and suffering. That list may sound daunting, but God is “abundantly present” with us and will walk with us step by step on the journey as we navigate the terrain toward faith and trust.

Sundays are not traditionally included in the 40 Days of Lent and are usually a bit of a respite from one’s fast or discipline. So, on Sundays, we will stop and pray through an examen prayer and celebrate the grace and love of God that we are noticing throughout the previous week.

The pandemic of this last year that continues on is a kind of wilderness in which we’ve been uprooted from the familiar and are now in a waiting kind of space. What is next? When will “next” arrive? How will this new life be? In addition to this communal wilderness, many of have also experienced the wilderness of loss in other ways as well. 

As we enter into these 40 days together, let’s begin by noticing desire. More than being rescued from the pain and finding life on the other side of the wilderness, let’s begin by noticing the deeper desire to know God and trust Him in the wilderness.

Question for reflection: are there ways in which you have located your desires outside the wilderness? Ask God what it might look like for you to be present in the wilderness with Him.

Prayer: Lord, by your mercy and through your grace, give me eyes to see that what I desire more than anything else is to know you and trust you. I entrust to you my pain, my confusion, my frustration and ask that I become more and more aware of your good presence with me. Amen.

Trusting God in the Wilderness: an invitation

The 40 days of the Lenten Season (leading up to Easter) are a time in which we are invited to join Jesus in His 40 days of temptation the wilderness. Mark 1:13 offers the note that Jesus was with the wild animals during this time which is certainly a detail to remind us that it wasn’t a sweet little time of resisting temptation. The environment alone was wilderness as was the experience of temptation and fasting.

Adele Calhoun shares: 

“Jesus began his ministry with forty formative days of solitude. No doubt Jesus intended to commune with God alone, but he also encountered the tempter in that desert place … Solitude is a formative place because it gives God’s Spirit time and space to do deep work. When no one is there to watch, judge and interpret what we say, the Spirit often brings us face to face with hidden motives and compulsions. The world of recognition, achievement and applause disappears, and we stand squarely before God without props.”  Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, p. 129

We often find ourselves in such a desert place. It feels harsh and unfamiliar. We might feel the compulsion to escape and run to more familiar landscape, but we are invited by God to stay where we are for it is in those dry, desolate, lonely places that the Father does some of His best work. It is in those places where our souls become dry and thirsty, unwilling to settle for clichés and easy answers. The stripping and unmasking of the desert are good for our souls. If we desire God, the wilderness is where transformation occurs.

Whether we are on a wilderness season currently or not, the Lenten season invites us to be in the wilderness with Jesus and to shaped by the Spirit through introspection, releasing, and deepening trust. This year, during the 40 days of Lent, I’d like to invite you to daily journey in the wilderness with God.

In 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, we are encouraged to revisit Israel’s time in the wilderness and how such a season did not go well for them. This passage in 1 Corinthians walks through various areas such as desires, relational patterns, trust, and expectations. 

If you decide to join me on this journey, here’s what you can expect … a daily devotional, weekly prayers, and weekly invitations to various spiritual practices.

Sign up to receive the daily devotional starting Feb 17:

If you get a response to this “registration form” which says you are already on this list, you are likely on our general list for Let me know ( and we’ll make sure you are on this list well.

The Extravagance of Advent … in Freedom

Part 4 of a weekly Advent blog written by Doug Kelley and Ted Wueste

The movie, Braveheart, indelibly etched the words of William Wallace in the minds of many of us: “they may take our lives, but they’ll never take…OUR FREEDOM!” Wallace keenly recognizes that what happens to us physically does not absolutely determine what happens to us mentally and spiritually. The extravagance of Advent is that waiting and letting go (see Blogs 2 & 3 in this series) can actually result in freedom.

Freedom, like many other words and phrases in modern Western civilization (e.g., success, progress), has many unhealthy associations. Some associate freedom with doing whatever you want, regardless of its impact on others. Others associate freedom with capability – the ability to engage in certain behaviors or tasks. Still others see freedom as freedom from certain obligations and responsibilities – “I don’t have to do that if I don’t want to.”

However, Paul tells us that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17). This is not a freedom that comes from volition, or ability, or sidestepping obligations and responsibilities. In fact, just the opposite. The freedom Paul is talking about is one that comes as a result of being in the Spirit. God’s Spirit. In Christ. Counterintuitively, it is a freedom from all those other “freedoms”. We are freed from what has been called the hedonic treadmill – the constant chasing after pleasure. We discussed this in the last blog, mistaking striving for the good life. In essence, we are freed from the constant striving of trying to make ourselves happy. And, as such, we are freed to release the tyranny of constantly looking for the next fun or interesting thing, or finding our worth through what we do, or avoiding those things that are inconvenient or distasteful to us. This is the freedom that God’s Spirit brings.

Indeed, we are now freed to wait for and wait in Emmanuel, God with us. Think about this for a moment. Find a quiet spot. Take a couple of deep breaths. Relax. Clear your mind. How would it change your life, right now, if you were aware that you are with God, in Christ? Not aware as in you know intellectually that you are in Christ. But aware as if your senses are reeling with it. 

In Living in Bonus Time: Surviving Cancer, Finding New Purpose, Alec Hill, emeritus president for Intervarsity Christian Fellowship USA, distinguishes between the Greek words chronos and kairos. Chronos is chronological time (“See you Thursday at 1:00.”). Kairos, however, represents moments that somehow change our lives. Moments where we sense God’s presence. 

In his book, Alec describes how cancer reoriented him from chronos to kairos. Ted and I (Doug) have experienced that, too. But you don’t have to experience something traumatic to know God’s presence. As Ann and I walked today, she stopped to smell some roses (I’m not making this up. We literally stopped to smell the roses). She spoke of how great they smelled and I could see her countenance brighten as a result of inhaling the aroma. Then, even though I’ve smelled roses before and intellectually know what they smell like, I decided to go over and take a deep whiff of one beautiful little blossom. Transformation, my friends. The aroma was life giving. My spirit wasn’t freed by believing something about the rose, but by experiencing the rose – just being there with it, engulfed in it, for a moment

Alec Hill shares an old French saying, en peu d’heure Dieu labeure, which means God works in moments. In that spirit, consider the following words from the classic German carol, Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming:

This Flow’r, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor
The darkness everywhere.
True man, yet very God,
From sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

Letting go of our own striving, we wait. We wait for the presence of the Lord. For moments where we sense the Spirit of the Lord. For freedom. Extravagance. Advent.

Prayer: Lord, give me courage and strength to let go and wait. Help me to experience true freedom in moments where I sense the presence of the Lord. Amen.

Question for reflection: What intentional choices can you make to experience the presence of the Lord this advent? 

Reflect on the words of 2 Cor 3:17, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Sit with those words and repeat them slowly until they sink down into your heart.

The Extravagance of Advent … in Letting Go

Part 3 of a weekly Advent blog written by Doug Kelley and Ted Wueste

Advent reminds us that extravagance and abundance come in unexpected packages. Sometimes those packages are bright, shiny, tied with ribbon. We anxiously wait as they sit under the tree or peek out of our stockings waiting for the time to be opened. (True confessions. One of my [Doug] guilty pleasures was watching our young children wait to open their presents while I readied the “adult” part of the morning – fixing freshly ground coffee and warming delectable morsels to snack on during our gift opening ritual.)  And, sometimes those packages come in surprising shapes or forms. So surprising that we may struggle at first to see them as gifts. The key lies in waiting for their giftedness to emerge. In fact, some of our most memorable gifts may not have seemed like gifts at all when we received them, but endedendedd up being something that changed our lives in a significant way. In this sense, Advent is about waiting for the gift to emerge, surrendering our expectations, and letting go. 

For most of us, we’ve been led to think that “the good life” is about having what we want now (not waiting), conquering (not surrendering), and getting what we can while we can (not letting go). The ancient psalm writer called this way of thinking: “striving” (Ps. 46). When the world doesn’t make sense, often our instincts are to push ahead, to fight, to go for it … to strive.

In that same Psalm, God is presented as the Lord of Hosts. The word “host” might conjure images of hospitality, but the ancient word “host” speaks of angel armies. It is an image intended to conjure hope of God’s power and resources.  The idea is that we can stop striving because God is powerful, at work, present with us. That’s the good news. The other news (let’s not call it “bad” news) is that we’re now on God’s timetable, which often means waiting and letting go of our expectations.

We (Doug and Ted) have shared about our common experience with cancer and stem cell transplant over the last few years. When the “c” word gets mentioned, it strikes fear into the strongest of people. The temptation is to fight, to strive, to do anything to remove the difficult situation. However, there is a different path. While it is fashionable to talk about “fighting” cancer and, of course, understandable to want to take things into our own hands and “fix this mess,” what if we are being invited into a space that let’s God do the fighting, the fixing? Of course, none of us wants to receive cancer, but if we wait and watch we may eventually see certain gifts emerge. I (Ted) had a clear sense that the battle was not mine to fight. It was in God’s hands. It was a gift to wait with Him, surrender to His goodness, and let go of trying to make things happen. And, I (Doug) saw this time as one of journey, with God, toward uncertain outcomes, a gift to quiet my heart and journey with God more deeply.

As we discussed in our last post, waiting can be life giving. Letting go is part of what makes waiting life giving. As we wait, we can become aware of fears, impulses, and difficult emotions and, over time, let them go. 

The invitation to let go isn’t just about letting go of the hard stuff, it is about being present to what is already there. It represents a significant shift in how we see God and ourselves. Instead of thinking we need more of God or more faith or more hope, we begin to realize that we already have all we need.

Ephesians 1:3 tells us that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing, and 2 Peter 1:3 reminds us that we have been given everything we need for life and godliness. The challenge is to let go of strategies (like striving and fighting) that may obscure our view of God’s presence and how He is with us, now. As we release those things that we do in the hopes of fixing our lives, we become able to see and fully access the reality of life with God. Remarkably, we find that when we are able to see Him, we become like him (I Jn 3: 2-3).

Meister Eckhardt said that growth occurs “not by addition, but subtraction.” Could this be why the psalmist in Psalm 46 writes, “Be still (cease striving), and know that I am God.” As we let go of our strivings, the subtraction (the letting go) leads us to see what we always sensed was there. God isn’t prodded into action by fervent prayer nor persuaded with right words. He is always with us (Emmanuel). And perhaps as we unwrap the remarkable gift of his presence, tossing off all the ribbons and wrappings and bows that we use to dress up our faith and make it look glittery under the tree, we shall see him “as he is” and be transformed (I Jn 3:2) from death into life.

Brother Sean Glenn (SSJE) notes: “By our holy waiting we will learn to rely on God, who alone has the power to change our minds. For if it is God to whom we surrender the final word about ourselves, we will come to know that this thing that feels like death is actually the way into Life itself.”

Prayer: Lord, give me eyes to see me as you do so that I can see you as you are. And then, give me strength that let go of what obscures my vision so that I can see you clearly. Amen.

Question for reflection: What might you release? Is there something that you might let go so that you are able to see Him as He is? 

Reflect on the words of Psalm 46:10, “Cease striving and know that I am God.” Sit with those words and repeat them slowly until they sink down into your heart.