Using the Tools for Walking Through the Wilderness

The first question most believers receive when the subject of Lent arises is about giving something up for Lent.  The usual are often discussed:  chocolate, coffee, movies, sweets in general, going on a diet, etc.  Yet in the ancient tradition of the Christian church, Lent was intended to move believers from the joy of the revelation of the Savior of all into the wilderness experience, much as Jesus moved from his early years into the wilderness of fasting and prayer and even temptation.

In all honesty, we all go through wilderness experiences, some more often than others.  Relationships go flat or die altogether.  Financial stresses arise and those are always terribly uncomfortable.  Many battle depression and struggles of the spirit and mind, while there are health struggles many contend with for days, months, or years.  Perhaps the most hidden for many of us is the struggle with spiritual issues, doubts, fears of the unknown, worries over the eternal destiny of loved ones, and more.  And perhaps the greatest challenge of all is wondering how we can move closer to God in all this.

The Scriptures for the Lenten Season give us tools for gaining spiritual strength even when we are walking through the barren wilderness times.  When we consider the life of Jesus and his wilderness experience, we know that fasting was one of the tools of his life.  In many religious traditions, abstinence from food or even limiting water is seen as a way of moving away from the demands of the body in order to become more sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit.  In Jesus' time, fasting was practiced often throughout the Jewish Tradition.  So as Jesus was preparing for his earthly ministry, he went into the desert for 40 days, fasting all this time.  

We know that Jesus also spent hours in prayer to his Heavenly Father all through his ministry.  There is no reason to believe that these barren days of preparation were any different.  Even as he body grew hungry, even to the beginnings of starvation, his spirit grew strong as he communed with God in prayers.  

Any careful reading of the Gospels in the New Testament reveal that Jesus was steeped in the Biblical text, that he quoted Scripture often, that he studied the Law and the Prophets, that he regularly attended services at his Synogogue.  When tempted by the Evil One, he responded with Scripture.  Throughout Christian Tradition, the study of Scripture has been paramount to growing in grace and in the knowledge of God.  Many believers never take time to simply read portions of Scripture each day.  Lenten devotions are rooted in the reading and study of Scripture.  It is perhaps the easiest devotional practice any of us can do, and it takes only a short number of minutes to accomplish each day.

So as we process the questions about Lenten "giving up," let us remember that the idea of giving something up is rooted in the traditional devotional practice of fasting, of moving away from the addictions to comfort, or from food or drink, or possibly even video games or TV.  It means making a deliberate move toward God through the use of the tools of Scripture Study, prayer, fasting, daily devotions, etc.  May we all be blessed with a deeper sense of God's presence this Lenten Season.

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