Category Archives: Lent 2021

Day 23 – The Temptation of Certainty

A common phrase often heard among churches and people of faith is: “God showed up.” This is uttered when something inspiring or seemingly miraculous happens, or it is heard in prayers: “God, we really need you to show up.” The idea of “God showing up” was also a feature in one of the temptations Jesus encountered in Matthew 4. The enemy challenged Jesus to throw Himself off the temple because “He (God) will command His angels concerning” which is a quote from Psalm 91. Jesus resolutely responded with “you shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Deuteronomy 6:16)

So, how was this about testing God? Essentially, the devil suggested that Jesus could demand from God the Father … that He could expect Him to “show up” in a certain way. This was testing God in the sense that it took something known about God from the Scriptures and presumed that God would necessarily be present in that way. Presumption is dangerous because it assumes that we know what God will do, when He will do it, or how He will do it. Oswald Chambers teased out this issue: “Have you been asking God what He is going to do? He will never tell you! God does not tell you what He is going to do; He reveals to you who He is.”

We can only know the who of God, not the what, when, or how. The phrase “God showed up” puts us in dangerous territory because we presume to know the what, when, or how. In addition, the phrase is generally used to describe good or favorable things that have happened. The phrase generally isn’t used to talk about God’s presence with us in difficulties or His presence with us when He seems silent. The presumption is we can expect God to bring about good or favorable things. The problem is that usually our definitions of good or favorable are not the whole picture. The assumption in “God showed up” is that God is present only at certain times and in certain ways. Yet, He is always with us and always loving us.

In a wilderness season, when there is so much we just don’t know and even things that are confusing, we need a sense of security. Rather than finding it who God is, we often reach for it in certainty … desiring some certainty as to what God will do and how He will do it. We see the danger of pursuing certainty in 1 Corinthians 10:9 as Paul warns: “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents.” The incident with serpents is found in Numbers 21:4–6: “From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.’ Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.” This question about being brought to the wilderness to die surfaces again, and God disciplined them with the serpents in order to wake them up. And in fact, they did wake up and confess they had spoken against God. This is described as testing God because they were presuming that God would and should show up in a certain way.

Ironically, this complaint occurred just after God had given them victory over a Canaanite king who had attacked and captured some of the people of Israel. Clearly, He was with them and was involved in protecting them. But, it can be a temptation to presume that because God acted in a particular way in one situation that He will do it again. Specifically, we may transfer what we know about God, His attributes and character, onto what we don’t know with certainty about God, which is a lot. Of course, we have all the knowledge we need to love and trust God, but sometimes we can be tempted to think that it is not enough. We want to know what, when, and how, and either presume He will be present in certain ways or that He should have been present in certain ways. A life of faith is not about certainty but trust – specifically, trusting a person. When certainty is the pursuit, we interact with God based on what we want to be true rather than what is. It is not true that God heals every sickness or protects us from every danger in life. What is true is that He is good, He love us, He is holy, and the list could go on.

Finally, in Exodus 17:7 we read: “And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, ‘Is the LORD among us or not?’” This question reveals a heart that is both not trusting and not humble. In a reference to this account in Exodus, we read in the prayer of Psalm 95:7-9: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.” God graciously calls us to listen to Him moment by moment and this puts us in a place of trust. If we pursue certainty, we are seeking (perhaps unintentionally) to be without a need to trust. Trust leaves us in a place of vulnerability and need, and if we could have certainty, we would have no need of God.

Certainty in the what, how, and when of life is an illusion. This week, we explore the movement from certainty to humility. Humility rises when we lay down our pursuit of certainty and we trust what we can know about God. Surviving in the wilderness is not about God showing up but us showing up. God is always present and our invitation is to keep our hearts open to Him rather than having a hardened heart shaped by presumption and expectation. We “show up” with humility, knowing and embracing our vulnerability and need.

Questions for reflection: when are you tempted to seek certainty? In what ways is the Lord is speaking to your heart today?

Prayer: Lord, I come to You with a heart that is open. Give me wisdom to see places where I presume upon You, and may I move toward humility. Amen. 

Fourth 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. Psalm 63 reminds us that our souls thirst for God. Notice the ways you are becoming more and more aware of this reality.

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 22 – Embracing Silence to Draw Close

As we have examined the admonition about sexual immorality, you may have noticed that we have not dissected the issue of sexual immorality but have instead looked at the issue of intimacy and locating our desire for intimacy in the context of our life with God. While there may be other factors in play, sexual immorality is primarily an intimacy issue. At the end of the day, sexual immorality is not the problem … it is a perceived solution employed to deal with an intimacy problem. 

When we experience isolation and loneliness, our needs and desires for intimacy come to the foreground of awareness. The invitation in loneliness is to remember that you are not alone. In the repentance pattern of reflect, release, and remember, we reflect on the experience of feeling alone or lonely, we release strategies to meet those needs on our own terms, and then remember that we are not truly alone. This is simple but not easy, especially if we have developed and habituated strategies from decades of life experience. As we reflect, we have to feel the loneliness and stick with it … seeking God in it in order to meet Him there and let Him love us and reassure us. As we do this, we are developing an orientation of listening to His voice as the way we interact with the loneliness and isolation of a wilderness season. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his classic Life Together, offers this counsel: “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.” This describes the push and pull of loving God and loving others. The greatest commandment, which is to love, contains both the love of God and love of neighbor for this reason. We can’t love others unless rooted in and fueled by a loving relationship with God. Without this grounding, we will likely experience significant unhealth in relationships because we will need people to be who they can never be … the source of eternal life. On the other hand, as we grow in our comfort with and commitment to being alone with God, the love we experience needs to be expressed and poured out to others. 

We have a tendency in difficult relational seasons to scan the landscape and imagine the worst … to feel overwhelmed. For the people of Israel as they were leaving Egypt, Pharoah and his army came against them at the edge of the Red Sea. Observe their reaction: “the people of Israel cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away into the wilderness to die? What have you done to us?’” (Exodus 14:11) When confronted with challenging human relationships, we often respond with some variation of “I’m going to die … this is just too much for me.” Notice Moses’ response: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”  (v.13-14) 

Moses clearly names what can happen to us in relational wilderness seasons: fear. The encouragement is to look into the eyes of God … to see Him in all His glory. He affirms that the Lord is present with them and they don’t have to run. The only thing required: be silent. Incorporating silence into our regular rhythms is a gift that we learn to appreciate in the wilderness. David Vryhof, SSJE, reflects on this: “Seek the gifts that come from time with God alone. Develop the inner quality of solitude of heart. Learn to abide in the hermitage within. Love your cell. ‘The cell will teach you all things.’” One of the desert fathers commented that if we discipline ourselves to spend time in our prayer cell, we can begin to take our prayer cells with us. This is the pattern that Jesus modeled for us: embracing silence in order to draw close.

For Jesus, there were times when the demands of the crowd became incredibly significant. In Mark 1:33, we read that “the whole city gathered together at the door.” The next “morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” (v. 35) We see this pattern in Jesus over and over again. He would withdraw to quiet and solitude so that He could then return to be close to others … to engage with them, teach them, heal them, love them. This was not always understood by those around Him. In the following verses, the account suggests that the disciples searched for him and in bewilderment said, “Everyone is looking for you.”

Living into the fullness of human relationships without demanding more than they can offer and also not letting them demand more than you can offer necessitates that we embrace an intentional rhythm of retreat and engagement.

What might that look like for you? The rhythm of retreat/engage can be a gift in moments when a simple ten-minute retreat with God could offer the needed centering in various relational circumstances. And certainly, a larger rhythm of retreat is a vital aspect of relational, spiritual, physical, and emotional health.

Questions for reflection: sit quietly with what we have considered this week. What stands out to you? What has resonated? What is the invitation you are sensing?

Prayer: Lord, I confess that You are what my heart desires. Thank You for Your grace in meeting me again and again and inviting me to connect with Your heart and look into Your eyes for what I most need. Amen.

Day 21 – Gentleness Amidst the Harsh

Wilderness seasons are harsh … a dry and weary land that can leave us feeling beat up, bruised, and thirsty. The wilderness can lead us to wonder if anyone cares. It may seem easy to stay on the path when there is a cool breeze and green grass next to us on the path along a beautiful ocean.  However, when we feel like we are the only ones who are continuing on the path in the wilderness season, the solitariness of it all can really take a toll. Then, the despair may feel a bit thicker when we see others experience a depth of pain that comes from the consequences of their sin. 

After the incident with the sexualized worship in Moab, significant consequences came to those who engaged in this sin. We read: “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the LORD, that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.’ And Moses said to the judges of Israel, ‘Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.’” (Numbers 25:4–5) The harshness of this consequence baffles the mind. There is a gravity and sadness as we consider it. It can feel like there is no hope in the dusty, death-filled landscape of the wilderness. 

Our longings for love and comfort are exposed even more in these days. In the wilderness, we desire so desperately to hear that it is going to be ok. And not just a glib pat on the shoulder but a gritty kind of presence that is with us in it. The kind of presence that speaks tenderly with tears in the eyes and pain in the voice. We want to know that we are not alone. We need to know that we are cared for. Is it worth it? Is this going somewhere?

As we allow ourselves to be present to the quietness of desolation, we may hear the quiet words “I will never leave you or forsake you.” These words bounce around our soul and we may begin to notice some hope bubble to the surface. In this space, we start to become aware that the wilderness is not a problem to solve or an environment to master and control. In the releasing, we begin to see that there are streams of water imperceptible to the human eye … streams of life and hope and joy and peace. 

God employs such imagery through the prophet Isaiah: “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing … for waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.” (35:1-2, 6-7) Seeing this truth of what God does in the desert breathes freedom into our spirit. Instead of the wilderness being another prison, our imagination is enlivened to see that the desert is a space where God redeems and transforms and heals. As we begin to see, we begin to live. We begin to lose a preoccupation with self and with producing our own sense of comfort. We taste the “glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21) The apostle Paul speaks of this freedom in the context of suffering and he also puts it in terms of the “groaning in the pains of childbirth.” (8:22) Indeed, there is a great hope in the days of pregnancy, even in the pain, because of what is coming. But what if the pregnant woman didn’t know she was pregnant? It would seem to be pain for no reason. 

Michael Card, in his song In the Wilderness, sings: “Groaning and growing, amidst the desert days, the windy winter wilderness, can blow the self away.” In the wilderness, the birthing process is marked by subtraction as the false self is shed. The pain of the pregnant wilderness is not something to numb but an invitation to hope and anticipation. It is in these moments that the tenderness of God’s love becomes quite real. One of the elements of an intimate relationship that emerge during the birthing process is the ritual of naming. A name is selected that represents hopes and desires. God does the same with us. In Revelation 2:12-17, we find a letter written to a church that was dealing the same things as the people of Israel in Numbers 25. (note the references to Balak and Balaam as in Numbers 24). God shares that He gives to those who overcome (i.e., stay on the path) “a white stone with a new name written on it.” (Rev 2:17) 

Spend a few moments with the One who will never leave you or forsake you. Pray a simple prayer: Lord, what is Your name for me? Listen and receive what the Lord has for you in this season. 

Questions for reflection: what is the name on that white stone? What does that name communicate to you? How does it enliven hope?

Prayer: Lord, here I am, dry and thirsty – desiring You more than anything else, trusting that You are with me and at work in me. Give me eyes to see what You see, and ears to hear what You hear that I might perceive that stream in the wilderness. Amen. 

Day 20 – Voices that Confuse & Hearing God’s Voice

As we experience healing in those places where we have been hurt and traumatized, we are able to move into deepening intimacy with God. But even in our healing, one of the ongoing features of the journey is that we stumble and fall along the way. The people of Israel in the wilderness definitely display this reality. When we trip along the way, failing to respond to God’s presence and the way He is leading us, we can retreat and isolate or it can become a place for intimacy and growth. 

In the wilderness, the experience of isolation and loneliness is an invitation to intimacy. In Christ, we have an intimacy and closeness to God that is already in our possession. 1 Cor 2:16 tells us that “we have the mind of Christ.” Indeed, it is our inheritance, and yet we often do not move toward that intimacy because of the patterns of isolation we may embrace as a response to our own sin. In the messiness of the desert, our sin and our brokenness are often more apparent and our abilities to distract, hide, or deny are not as available. So, we may isolate and retreat from God in order to go it alone. This, in turn, may lead to further independence in thought, choice, and action. From there, feelings of failure can lead to further isolation … creating a vicious cycle. The voices and questions we often hear in these spaces are get it together, everyone else seems to be doing just fine, what’s wrong with you?, or do you even love God? The space of isolation can feel like too much to bear so we seek to find intimacy and love in things that can’t meet the need. 

This can be our pattern and yet God invites us to turn our gaze to Him, to look into His eyes, and perceive His heart … to experience His love. We may have misconceptions about how to approach God or even our worthiness to do so. Because we’ve been shaped by relationships in which we have perceived the need to measure up, perform, or please, we may have transferred these perceptions on to God. In their book When Prayer Becomes Real, John Coe and Kyle Stobel make the observation that “prayer is not a place to be good, but a place to be honest.” God knows where we are, what we’ve done or left undone, and how we are thinking about things. He is not intimidated, repulsed, or any other response that is anything but love. Because of this, we not only can come to Him as we are but we should! Psalm 145:18 reminds us that “The Lord is near to all who call on Him.” Of course, He is always near and always present but our experience of Him as near and our movement toward intimacy only occurs as we turn to Him, call on Him, and seek to look into His eyes. Lord, what do you see? What are you noticing?

The challenge of living in a place of isolation and independence is that we are left with our own thoughts and perceptions. Isaiah 55:8 describes the isolated soul: “for my thoughts are not your thoughts.” Intimacy is to know and be known. The invitation to intimacy is to share and express where we are, and then to listen to God’s heart about where we are. This could seem like a scary proposition, and numbing ourselves or trying to escape the desert may sound safer. The truth is that God does respond in love, He is for us, “there is nothing that can separate us from His love.” (Romans 8:39) Pause here for a moment. Can you believe this about God? Can you believe it? It is incredible. There is nothing (not even my sin) that separates me from His love. We can go even a step further and say that – our sin – can be a connecting point to His love, a place to experience His love. What would it be like, if rather than isolating and going it alone with your sin, you stopped and went to Him?

“If we confess our sins,” we experience the reality that He is faithful in grace toward us. (1 John 1:9) The word confess is a word that means “to say the same thing as” or to share the mind of another. Confess is anintimacy word. How do we say the same thing as God? We listen to Him. The invitation in confession is not to merely say “I know what I did or didn’t do is wrong” but to listen to what God has to say about it – to share in His thoughts. If His approach toward us is in fact love, then He doesn’t beat us over the head with our sin but gives us His wisdom and His insight. He shepherds us. He tenderly walks us forward and holds us close. An intimacy with God like this begins to shape us away from sin and isolation.

Intimacy is about conversation, talking to God about anything and everything … sharing our hearts with Him and asking Him what He sees and what He hears in our lives. We also ask: how are you loving me God in this moment? How are you with me? As every day, real things from our lives are touched by the love of God, His love moves from the theology book into our hearts and minds. Things like sexual immorality are no longer the temptation they once were because His love becomes more powerful. Sexual immorality, or other forms of immorality, are pursued because we have a lack of intimacy. But this a burden that is too heavy for sex, or any other created thing, to carry. The design is for us to experience a depth of love with God that can then give meaning to every part of our life.

Question for reflection: what might shift in the way you interact God? If you haven’t already, pause for a few moments and talk to God about the first thing that comes to you mind. Then, ask Him what He sees and hears in what you are experiencing.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for giving me the mind of Christ so that I might know your thoughts and perspectives on all that I experience. May I draw to close to your heart and listen in all the circumstances of my life. I desire the intimacy that you offer. Amen. 

Day 19 – Healing and Our Capacity to Love

Certainly, the people of Israel had been traumatized during their 400 years of slavery in Egypt. Their capacity to trust and receive the love of God was altered and diminished on some level. We’ve seen this portrayed in these last weeks as they struggled to receive all that God was providing. From their struggle to receive God’s care (with the manna) to the timing of His provision (Moses’ delay) to the misdirected desires for connection, they didn’t fully know how to receive the love of God. The journey in the wilderness … feeling alone and abandoned and disconnected … was being used by God to draw them to His heart. The wilderness is a place of healing … of finding God to be our everything. However, it is a process. Transformation is not overnight. 

Thomas Merton, in Thoughts in Solitude, highlights this: “The desert was created simply to be itself, not to be transformed by men into something else … the desert is therefore the logical dwelling place for the man who seeks to be nothing but himself–that is to say, a creature solitary and poor and dependent upon no one but God, with no great project standing between himself and his Creator.” So, this leaves us with the question, is that what you seek? Pause here for a moment. Are you seeking to be nothing but dependent upon God? Are you desiring for the wilderness to strip you of your learned responses to life so you might experience a “reshaping” of your capacity to love and be loved?

There may be a level of desire in which we just want to numb our capacity … to get some relief. This is likely what was going on with the people of Israel in Numbers 25. Sex is often used this way. God’s heart is that we find His love to be enough, but that can mean that we experience a bit of pain along the way as old relational strategies are laid bare so that new ones can emerge. It will likely mean letting go of some old strategies, involving some starts and stops along the way.

We are designed for intimacy … to love and be loved … to know and be known. Our design includes a beautiful capacity to attach to others in love. Attachment love (hesed) is God’s love (agape in the New Testament), and it transforms us. It shapes us. This capacity is seen in the young child who looks to her parents to see how to respond to falling while trying to walk across the room. A seasoned married couple begins to know what the other is thinking without a word. In 2 Corinthians 5:14–15, we read about this kind of love: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” The word “controls” is a Greek word (sunexo), meaning to hold together or hold fast. His love “controls” us in that it attaches to us – we experience a bonding with Him. 

When we are aware that our capacity to know and be known has been diminished in some way (and this is true for all of us – to varying degrees), we are ready to experience the inner healing and formation that comes through the presence of Holy Spirit in our lives. Our woundedness could be from trauma, addictions, or other sufferings brought into our lives either because of harsh things that have happened or nurturing things that didn’t happen. 

As we intentionally hold fast to the One who holds us fast (i.e., look to Him), we experience this love. However, we often spend much of our lives unaware and nonattentive to His love in a practical way … letting it touch the actual circumstances of our lives. Awareness and attentiveness begin most effectively as we integrate God’s presence and activity into our story. Much as the child looks to the parent’s eyes, we look to the eyes of the one who loves us more than we can imagine. 

How does this work?

We begin with looking at those places of pain that we are tempted to numb or forget. In a wilderness season, by His grace, we are often more aware of these places than at other times. This is a grace even though it usually does not feel like it. We know from trauma research that trauma and pain often get stuck in our body and inhibit the ability to receive love. The “stuckness” happens when we are not able to process the pain the way our brains are wired to process and make sense of life … through integrating the events of life into our story. As children (sons and daughters) of God, we need to look into the eyes of God to see how our experiences (especially those painful ones) fit into His story … the larger story of life. Our small stories generally struggle to hold and give context for deep pain. So, as we bring our pain and hurts to God, our capacity to receive love finds healing and restoration. To put it simply, His story is the reality of His presence and work in our world to connect with His creation through Jesus. 

So, we start with awareness. From this place of awareness, we move into attentiveness as we engage in a process of talking to God … asking the questions: how were You present with me in this part of my life? God, what do You want me to see and understand about this part of my story? Then, we listen … seeking to be attentive to what God brings to our hearts and minds. It can be helpful to write things down. As we become present to God’s heart (what we says to us), we respond with gratefulness. In the great prayer book of the Bible (the Psalms), we see the people of God rehearsing their stories in the presence of God (integrating their experiences into His story) and the response is gratefulness and praise.

Question for reflection: is there an experience from the last day or week, or perhaps further back which God brings to your awareness? Take a few moments to sit with it and walk it through this process of integrating it into His story.

Prayer: Father, may I look into your eyes the ways a child looks to a parent to know what to think and how to respond. I desire to attach myself to You in love. Thank you for attaching Yourself to me. Amen. 

Day 18 – Attaching to God

When we encounter deep longing for connection and love, we need discernment … especially as it relates to the sexual temptation which can be present. We need to be able to understand the processes and patterns that shape us and direct our thoughts and behavior. In addition, our discernment needs to be grounded in an experiential relationship with God. In his book, Discernment, Henri J.M. Nouwen offered: “God has created you and me with a heart that only God’s love can satisfy. And every other love will be partial, will be real, but limited, will be painful. And if we are willing to let the pain prune us, to give us a deeper sense of our belovedness, then we can be as free as Jesus and walk on this world and proclaim God’s first love, wherever we go.”

In most of our communities of faith, we are familiar and comfortable with the idea that we are in a relationship with God. And we are likely not resistant to the idea that God loves us. However, we may have little to no experience actually encountering the love of God as more than an idea or theological truth. The love of God contains implications, in terms of truth and ideas, that are incredibly compelling and even helpful for framing things and developing an understanding of God and our lives. At the same time, the love of God is something to be experienced in such a way that we don’t just say “God’s loves me, this I know,” but “yesterday, God loved me as I sensed His presence during my time with a friend” or “God said that He loved me this morning in my time of listening prayer” or “I didn’t know what to say in a meeting yesterday. I paused and listened and heard a still small voice reminding me of something.” When we are experiencing God in an interactive way, His love becomes a part of our lives in more ways than simply a truth perspective.

When we are experiencing and listening to God throughout our day, we are being transformed by His love. The primary word in the Hebrew scriptures for love is the word hesed which speaks of loyalty and connection. In Psalm 103 and 117, we read a description of this hesed: “great is His steadfast love toward us.” The wordgreat is a word that means “powerful” and is often translated “prevail.” The idea is that His love is not just a powerful idea but has a real, shaping power in our lives. How exactly does this work? 

We are shaped by our attachments. As we understand God’s love as an attachment kind of love, we can rightly assert that His love is powerful. In his book Renovated, Jim Wilder writes: “in the human brain, identity and character are formed by who we love. Attachments are powerful and long lasting. Ideas can be changed more easily. Salvation through a new, lasting attachment to God that changes our identities would be a very relational way to understand our salvation: we [are) both saved and transformed through attachment love from, to, and with God.” What is being highlighted, with the help of neuroscience, is that we are brought into a relationship and held in that relationship because God has attached Himself to us. Then, as we actually live in that relationship, we are being loved by God and becoming attached to Him. 

This is why Paul was so concerned about sexual immorality. The relational processes that create bonding and attachment are enhanced significantly by the sexual experience. Chemicals that wash over our brain as a result of sex supercharge the bonding process. And that is a good thing – a gift from God. However, when that bonding process is mixed with false beliefs/false gods, it can wreak havoc. And, if the bonding process occurring in sex is ripped apart by casual sex or not in the context of a covenant relationship, it does damage to our attachment capacity. Trauma, addiction, and other kinds of relational hurt can affect our capacity as well.

In the coming days, we will explore more about finding healing and restoration where damage has occurred. For now, let’s stay with the reality of God’s attachment love toward us. In Psalm 63:1, 3, David wrote: “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” There is a connection between our longings and steadfast love (hesed) being better than life. Do you see an experiential connection to this in your life? Not, do you believe this? But, are you experiencing this? Sit with this reality and this question for a few moments. What do you notice? What is God bringing to your awareness? How is God shaping your understanding of His love? What practical implications are you noticing?

As you experience a longing for connection, it is important to discern several things. First, it is helpful to discern and distinguish when we experience this kind of longing that only God can fully meet … so that we can name it and not just respond mechanically. Second, what are the ways that you tend to respond to the longing for connection and attachment? What might it be like to develop a habit and pattern of bringing those longings into a prayerful awareness with God? 

In this context, Henri Nouwen shared: “The real work of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me. To gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear the voice of blessing – that demands real effort.” Take a few moments and ask God to bring your longing for connection and attachment to your awareness. What questioning voices come to your awareness? Gently let them go and stay present to how God wants to connect with you. Notice His voice and presence with you.

Being established and renewed in the love of God does not happen overnight, but through consistent, patterned response to our longings for connection. Then, God becomes our all and the foundation from which we encounter all other relationships.

Question for reflection: how is God speaking to you? If you haven’t already, sit further with the questions above. 

Prayer: Lord, I desire to know Your love – not just intellectually but in my bones. I desire for You to be the one to whom I am attached before all others. May all other relationships flow from the love I experience with you. Amen.

Day 17 – Numbers 25

As we explore the next account of Israel’s time in the wilderness, we move a bit deeper into trust as we examine the issue of intimacy. The word intimacy itself elicits various emotions and thoughts. Perhaps fear and confusion or perhaps longing and anticipation. Maybe curiosity. No matter your initial response, may you grow in your responsive to the Lord’s invitation to move from isolation to intimacy.

Once again, in the wilderness, the people of Israel struggled to trust God with their hearts … to follow Him in the dry, desolate desert. Specifically, Paul alludes to an episode from Numbers 25 as he challenges the Corinthian believers with: “we must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.” (1 Cor 10:8) Before looking at Numbers, it is helpful to understand that the religious climate of Corinth in the first century included worship of false gods that mixed worship and sexual expression. In Corinthian temples, worship which included sex with prostitutes was a temptation and was seducing followers of Christ. 

In Numbers 25:1-3, we read that something very similar occurred with significant consequences: “While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.” The word “whore” in verse 1 and “yoked” in verse 3 speak to the sexual immorality that was occurring, and it was occurring in a religious context. The people were attaching themselves through ritual, sexualized worship of false gods.  

Before you tune out and wonder about the relevance of a discussion like this, hang in there for a few more minutes. While there is much that could be said about the context and design for sexual activity in general, the specific context in both 1 Corinthians and Numbers is worth noting. What is being addressed is the mixture of sexuality with worship. Again, you may wonder about the relevance. Certainly, in today’s world, we don’t seem to be tempted in quite this same way. However, the connection with worship might actuality be pointing to something more significant about sexuality than we might perceive at first blush. In fact, understanding the link with worship might open our eyes to the beauty and gift of sexuality in transformative ways.

 If we look at the broader context in 1 Corinthians, we see that a discussion of sexuality is laced throughout the pages of the letter. In particular, 1 Corinthians 6:13-20 uses the phrase sexual immorality (as in 10:8) several times and also draws some helpful distinctions that can help us see the relevance to our lives:

“’Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

Note the statement: “food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food.” This was a common saying in that first century context, and a metaphor for saying “It’s a natural function of the body to engage in sexual activity.” The response was not to say that sex is unnatural or not a part of our design, but that we need to direct our gaze a bit higher. Our bodies and sexuality have to be understood in the context of our relationship with God. Specifically, our body is designed to be enjoyed and experienced “for the Lord.” Even more specifically, our body is a temple (a dwelling place) of the Holy Spirit. Our body is a place designed to glorify God. 

To glorify something is to extol its essence. To glorify God is to bring honor to who He is. Another way we might say it is that to glorify God is to reflect His image, His essence. Our bodies were made to reflect His essence, and, of course, there are so many things we could say about the essence of God but perhaps the most relevant in this context is the connectedness of God. God, existing in three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, lives in eternal relationship and connection. This is why we can say that God is love. (1 John 4:8) What all of this points to is that perhaps the most significant way to glorify God is to experience a connectedness in our bodies. The immorality of the ancient people of Israel is that they were connecting/attaching with false gods. God desires that we connect with Him. 

In the wilderness, as we look for comfort, love, and connection because of the disconnection and isolation we feel, the temptation is to look toward sex to dispel the disconnectedness. However, immorality results because this reverses the order of divine and human relationships. The sexualized worship of these Biblical passages presents a pattern which is all too common in our world today: use sex to attempt to find intimacy and ultimately become connected to something other than God. The divine pattern is finding intimacy, love, and connection with God which becomes the context for all other relational connections with others. When our experience of love is rightly ordered, sexuality (and really any relational connection) is a beautiful gift that points us back to the love of God and is also an expression of God’s love.

So, our exploration this week is an invitation to search our hearts … to examine our feelings of disconnection and isolation and also to consider how intimacy finds its fullest realization. How do we bond with God in ways that are a fulfillment of our created design?

Questions for reflection: what is standing out to you in this movement from isolation to intimacy? Are you noticing any resistance to exploring the issue of intimacy?

Prayer: Lord, I acknowledge the messiness and confusion that often surrounds sexuality. Give me ears to hear what You desire to say to me this week and provide deepening insight into the ways that my body can connect with You. Amen.

Third 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 Isaiah 30, we read: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” Notice the ways that God is leading you into deepening rest and trust.

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.

Would love to hear how God has been using “Trusting God in the Wilderness” so far in this Lenten season! Share a reflection by emailing me at

Day 16 – Awake When the Sun Rises

Over the last week, we have examined the ways that idolatry might be present in our lives. Rather than understanding idolatry as the worship of something physical or external to ourselves, we have looked at the ways that idolatry is primarily an issue of the heart. Idolatry occurs as we rely upon things (including ourselves) to provide things that only God can provide. We were made for Him and we are His (Psalm 100). Idolatry is not merely a sin against God. It is a sin against ourselves and our created design.
In the wilderness, we are exposed. We experience an emptiness, nakedness, and vulnerability. Christ offers Himself to cover and protect us. This is why we read in Romans 15: “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” In the desolation of wilderness, we become aware of all the old clothing that we put on to cover our nakedness and shame. We see more clearly and sense the invitation from God to: “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires … and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:22-24) A clothing metaphor is used here and in other portions of Scripture. Clothing serves a practical function – it covers and protects, and it also has an identification aspect – it signifies who we are. We generally choose to wear clothing that fits – both our body and our identity. 
For Adam and Eve, when they became aware of their nakedness – they picked up fig leaves and began to hide – hiding not only their nakedness but hiding themselves from God. (cf. Genesis 3) The tragedy of the false self is that we think we’re covering and protecting ourselves (and in a sense we are) but more than that we’re hiding ourselves from God.
In so many ways, this is an unintended consequence. As we worship (give ourselves to) the gods of the false self, we are hiding from God because the attention of our heart and mind is on what we do, what we have, and what others think of us. 
Over the centuries, there have been those who have intentionally inhabited a desert space. Commenting on the motivation, Belden Lane observed: “The desert monks were hardly naïve despisers of culture. What they fled with greatest fear was not the external world, but the world they carried inside themselves: an ego-centeredness needing constant approval, driven by compulsive behavior, frantic in its effort to attend to a self-image that always required mending.”  (The Solace of Fierce Landscapes)
As we choose to abide in the wilderness, even when our entry was not a choice, and intentionally remove the clothing of the false self, we pick up the clothing of God’s presence, provision, and proclamation. He is our covering, our protection … our identity. Wilderness is, in this sense, a deep grace … a gift that we couldn’t receive any other way. It is a gift that we could never imagine or even know how to ask for. The movement from striving (what the false self demands) to rest (what God offers in true self) is not something we achieve, possess, or earn. In fact, those are the strategies of the old clothing, the false self. This rest is something we receive as gift. It is something that we enter into as we are aware. 
Thomas Merton offered a perspective on the wilderness that roots us in the gift that it truly is: “The Desert Fathers believed that the wilderness had been created as supremely valuable in the eyes of God precisely because it had no value to men. The wasteland was the land that could never be wasted by men because it offered them nothing. There was nothing to attract them. There was nothing to exploit. The desert was the region in which the Chosen People had wandered for forty years, cared for by God alone. They could have reached the Promised Land in a few months if they had travelled directly to it. God’s plan was that they should learn to love Him in the wilderness and that they should always look back upon the time in the desert as the idyllic time of their life with Him alone.”
Our task in the desert is to stay awake and alert in order to be aware of the invitations. An ancient story illustrates this beautifully. An apprentice asks his spiritual master about the value of spiritual practice. “What can I specifically do to reach enlightenment?” The master responded, “As but as much as you can do to make the sun rise.” A bit perplexed, the disciple asks, “Then, why pray?” “Ah, so that you are awake when the sun rises?”
Ah, that we would be awake when the sun rises! That we would receive that awareness of His love and rest there in delight!
Consider these words from Psalm 37, “dwell in the land … and befriend faithfulness … delight yourself in the Lord … be still before the Lord … wait patiently for Him.” Sit with those words for a few moments. What stands out to you? How is the Lord shaping your heart right now?

Question for reflection: how are you waking to the Lord’s love and activity in your life?
Prayer: Lord, by Your mercy and through faith, may I be awake to Your love and the ways You are shaping me in this season. Give me the wisdom and courage to release the idols to which I tend to cling … that I might attach more fully to Your heart. Amen.