Go to the Wilderness

 In Featured, Pastor Jason's Blog

by Pastor Jason Kramme 

One dramatic consequence of the on-going pandemic is a mad rush to our nation’s national parks. Recently, ABC aired a story detailing this trend noting that Big Bend National Park in Texas which saw roughly 4,000 visitors in 2015 welcomed nearly 2.2 million visitors in the past year.  

When these new patrons were asked about why they chose to head to the wilderness, many of them answered with some variation of “to escape from reality” or to “get away.” There was also a significant number of people there for the perfect shot to post on their Insta. There is a great Instagram account you can follow called Insta Repeat that shows just how many people are going to the same places for the same pictures.  

These journeys often have the effect people hoped for and do leave them feeling like they’ve had a holiday from real. So, if you’re hoping to escape from normal, head to the desert for a weekend!  

If you didn’t know, Christians have been retreating to the desert for quite some time. Fr. Richard Rohr writes about them at length here. These men and women stand on the shoulders of people like Moses and Jesus who themselves spent time in the desert in order to grow in their closeness with God. As you can probably imagine, their experiences and the intended experiences of tourists in America over the last year are quite different. Let’s look at Jesus’ experience for a point of reference for how we can encounter the desert as a tool for spiritual formation in our time.  

Matthew 4:1-11 

4 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[b]” 

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: 

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[c]” 

7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]” 

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’[e]” 

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. 

Relying on God vv. 1-4 

A big chunk of today’s tourists are led into the wilderness by Instagram likes. Jesus was led to the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Just imagine how that invitation came up in his prayer life.  

Jesus: Hey, father in heaven, what’s next on the agenda? 

God: Well, I’ve got a trip planned for you.  

Jesus: Oh, cool, where to? 

God: The wilderness.  

Jesus: Exciting, hiking? 

God: No, the devil.  

Jesus: Oh.  

If the wilderness is good for anything, it is good for exposing your smallness, neediness, and all of the weak stories you tell yourself about your control of things. The wilderness is wild. Jesus’ first experience on his 40-day journey was through hunger. We can read that to mean literal food, but we can also read it to signify that he was stripped of all the things that sustain him so that, like the Israelites waiting on manna each morning, he had to rely on God.  

The next time you head out to go backpacking in Banf or for a walk through Lebanon Hills’ Jenson Loop, consider the ways you do or don’t rely on God. In what ways are you pretending to have control over things you don’t control? What do you need to surrender?  

Consider the Lillies vv. 5-7 

A lot of the time I’ve spent in the wilderness has been devoted to processing relationships. I’ve thought about my evolving relationship with my parents. I’ve ruminated on dating relationships from the past. I’ve dwelt on relationship mistakes. I’ve considered friendships I want to end or begin. My guess is that you have, too. When you’re alone, it’s easy to think about who you want to be with when you get home! 

Jesus’ time in the wilderness was a similar situation in that he spent his time considering his relationship with his Father in heaven. This interaction suggests that the issue was God’s care for him. The Devil wanted Jesus to doubt it by testing it. What Jesus teaches the Devil, and us, is that God’s care for us is secure. A quick walk through scripture demonstrates this. When God creates us, God calls us “very good.” While we are in our mother’s womb, God knows us. In our baptism, God claims us. Jesus, pressing the point to his disciples later in his ministry asks them to consider the lilies of the field. If God cares to dress them up, then how much more does God care for us! 

As you prepare to head out on your next wilderness adventure, consider God’s pre-existing and on-going care for you. Let the wildflowers and beauty of creation remind you of God’s care for you. Let the sense of being known and loved by God in this way overflow into your thinking about your relationships. If God loves you in this way, then certainly God loves the people you care about, too! 

LinkedIn vv. 8-10 

Almost everyone I know has taken a trip to think about their career. Heck, I spend most of my vacations trying NOT to think about work and yet I’ll find myself checking email or cruising LinkedIn between casts. It’s no secret that Jesus’ career was something special. It could have been easy to leverage his position for power in the way the Devil encouraged him to do here, but that’s not what he does, is it? Instead, Jesus demonstrates here and elsewhere that his career, his vocation, is to be led by his Father in heaven.  

I think I spend so much time thinking about work on vacation because I have spent so little time surrendering it to God—and I’m a pastor! Your life is a gift. Your skills, strengths, and everything on your resume is a gift from God to be used in the context of your work to witness to the gospel. In other words, work at everything you do as if you are working for the Lord (Col 3:23).  

On your next adventure into nature what if instead of thinking about how you’re going to angle for a promotion, think about how you might make the best of your current situation. Instead of thinking about you you can be in control, think about how you might be a servant to all. Finally, for those of you in power, instead of demonstrating your power for the sake of flexing on people, what if you gave power away? What if like Jesus, you emptied that power out? 

Perspective v. 11 

Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness are typically understood to be a time of preparation for his vocation as the Messiah and we all know where that goes. It isn’t easy! And yet, following this experience, we see vignettes of his determination, peace, and acceptance of his work. He is able to experience the presence and care of angels because of the hard work and self-exploration he did in the wilderness.  

If you are a Christian hoping to use an adventure in the woods to grow in your faith, then I think you can learn a lot from Jesus’ 40 days. It may not be good for a selfie, but you will certainly have a better sense of self. Your child of God Self.  

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