March 10, 2011

Come Out the Wilderness

 As we started this journey of Lent yesterday with Matthew, we entered the place of wilderness and watched as Jesus wrestled verbally with the devil.  It was a rich dialogue of temptation and power and scripture... with some magical teleportation thrown in there for good measure.  But as Keith Mcilwain reminds us, the devil is not all pitchforks and fireworks. (For yesterday's Lenten Blog Tour reflection click here)

Today, though, we find ourselves in the gospel of Mark.  He is terse with his words.  He is urgent. In less verses than sum up the verbal banter of yesterday, we get Jesus' baptism, the wilderness and the first description of his ministry.

About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. And there was a voice from heaven: “ You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness. ”

At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.

After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, saying, “ Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news! ” (Mark 1:9-15, Common English Bible)
I find myself caught up in a whirlwind when I read Mark. I find him taking me places faster than I am prepared to go. I am still back in the wilderness... heck, it's only the second day of Lent - I'm barely IN the wilderness!

And here we go rushing back into the world again?

My own life has been so chaotic lately, that to spend time with this hurried verion of the gospel exhausts me. And yet, here I sit, with this passage assigned.

(deep breath)

The wilderness keeps calling out to me. 

And in Mark's text, the wilderness was somewhere Jesus was forced to go.

Other translations have used words like "sent," "impelled," "pushed," "drove."

But "forced" feels different.  Just because you are sent doesn't mean you have to go.  You chose to obey.  To be impelled or driven gives me the sense that there is something that urges you on, be it internal or external, and your own will aligns itself with that push.  But to be forced...  it means I don't want to do something but I don't have a choice.

Did Jesus want to be in the wilderness?

Did he want to spend forty days wrestling with Satan?  Sure, there were angels watching out over him, but it was also the wilderness!  Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

I get the sense that any rational person wouldn't choose this situation. Jesus didn't want to be there, but he had to do it.  He had to spend this time apart.  He had to get ready for what was to come.  Jesus had to make sure his head and heart and body were aligned before his ministry started.  It was going to be a rough journey and he was going to be working with some knuckleheads of disciples... not to mention the cross that would loom before him. 

He had to be forced to take this time apart, because after the wilderness, there was a job to do.

I sometimes have to force myself into the wilderness of Lent, too.

I'm really too busy to spend any extra time in prayer and fasting and study... I've got a job to do.  I have important ministry that takes place. 

But when I force myself to stop... when I hand a piece of my life over to God for a while... I find that all those priorities re-align. I suddenly remember it's not about me.

Maybe it is a good thing that before we can even blink Mark has led us through the wilderness and back out again into ministry. 

When I stop to think about it, I am comforted by the fact that the wilderness is not forever.  It is not something we do just for the sake of doing it.  We don't even spend time in the wilderness to please God... as our passage reminds us, Jesus has already done that before the time "out there" has begun.

This time apart gets us ready to come back out of the wilderness.

I have recently re-discovered that old song, "Come Out the Wilderness."  Unlike some versions that are jubilant, I prefer this rendition that is minor and plaintive.


It reminds me that I'm going to come out of this time in the wilderness.

It reminds me that sometimes the wilderness will make us want to weep... or pray... or shout. 

It reminds me that most importantly... when we come out the wilderness, we do so leaning on the Lord.

My ministry is not about me.  It is about proclaiming something that is far greater than I will ever be. I am only one small part of a much bigger body. Even Christ when he came out the wilderness didn't point to himself, but to God's kingdom that was coming our way.

We sometimes have to force ourselves to spend time in the wilderness to get our heads and hearts screwed on straight.  We have to force ourselves into this time of discipline, this time of waiting, this time of dependence upon God and God's mercy, so that when we come out the wilderness, we will remember it's not about us.


  1. Katie! Such a refreshing and delightful post on wilderness. I appreciate your honesty and transparency. Your post is cool like the rendition of the song you chose. Thank you. My day got instantly so much better. Blessings!

  2. Katie, your words were meant for me today! They have given me hope and affirmation and stirred my soul! I have been waiting to be a UMC pastor for a long time, and it seems that the closer I get to what I think is the goal, the more waiting I end up doing. I have been in the wilderness for what seems like forever, but has only been about 5 years, but through that time, and mostly in the past 3, my heart, mind, and belief system have had a pretty good overhaul. I had a lot of work that I needed to do before I get to the business of serious ministry. I feel like God has spoken to me about that through your words and told me to hang on, there is a bit more work to be done, and I will be coming out of the wilderness soon!
    Thank you!

  3. Thanks for your kind words, Mari-Anna.

    Many prayers for you during this "wilderness time" of the ministry process, Becky! It is a crazy journey and I pray that you will come out of it ready for all God has called you to!

  4. Thanks to the CEB translators for choosing a richly evocative word-- "forced"-- in this context. It's also the same verb used for "casting out" demons throughout Mark (who records more exorcisms than any other gospel writer).

    And thanks to you for reminding us that if we expect to renounce and resist Satan, in every form he presents himself, we also have no choice. It's to the wilderness... or its to the mouth of the roaring lion, waiting whomever he may devour.

    And by the way-- it was this version of "Come Out the Wilderness" that got me hooked on that song as well!

  5. Thx for the reminder of the gift of the wilderness...greatly needed for me! Thx!

  6. isn't it interesting how God uses the wilderness and even at times leads us into it? great thoughts, thanks for sharing!