The Lenten season both scares me and excites me. It is a grueling, humiliating, repenting, life-giving, soul-grieving, sin-confessing, grace-ridden, mind-transforming, Holy Spirit-empowered, hesed-saturated six weeks of my life. Every year I like this holy season less and less. So what’s exciting about enduring a suffering season? The fruit of the suffering? No. Think about it. How sweet and tasty is fruit grown in barren land?
The fruit of barren land is not tasty. Nothing is tasty, that is, if you can cultivate anything at all.
However, the Lord is good. Taste and see that the Lord is good. I AM the Bread of Life.
The Bread of Life does not need a field to grow wheat, nor a millstone to crush grain or a baker’s kitchen to produce a delicious loaf. The Bread of Life is the Person of Christ Jesus. God in flesh, bone and spirit. What’s exciting about enduring a season of suffering is that one is able to share in the very essence of God; His holiness.We share in this holiness through a personal relationship with the Bread of Life, Jesus. His disciples utterly trust every crumb is sufficient to sustain. Even when taking six weeks to follow Him into the deserted wilderness.
To blindly follow the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tempted will crush and destroy 99.99% of all humans. [The 1% not to be destroyed – but is crushed, Isaiah 53 – is God Himself. See the fourth chapter in Matthew’s gospel.]
We enter into the desert not blindly, but equipped with the presence and Person of the Light of the world. God is light. In Him there is no darkness. If we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
Annually, this spiritual desert highlights two fronts at work in the life of the disciple:
1. God relentlessly defines our mission.
2. Satan relentlessly defies our mission.
A book could be written on those two concepts alone.
On the first concept, Scripture abounds regarding God’s sovereignty, faithfulness, compassion, relationship, intentionality to build His Church, extending a measure of grace to each of His children for the purpose of edification, and even preserving His people – through physical death! – so that we enjoy Him forever. On the second concept, Scripture teaches of a fallen angel working to destroy creatures made to be in relationship with the Creator, forces of darkness waging for our joy in Christ, a spiritual lion on the prowl looking to devour the weak and selfish, an adversary standing to condemn us and keep us paralyzed in our past; preventing us from living an abundant future.
Putting the book outline aside, God has encouraged me in a couple of ways this Lenten season. He continues to graciously reveal areas of weakness, selfishness, and sin. His continual kindness is leading me to repentance. It’s difficult. However, Jesus is the sweet fruit, the Vine. He is the sustaining Bread of Life from heaven.
God has also taught me that when in the desert, Satan will attempt to defy God’s work. See Matthew 4 for the physical, mental and spiritual temptation of Jesus. In the final temptation, Jesus was tempted to have all the reward (Kingdoms) without the cost. I wonder if this is why Jesus called Peter an “adversary” in Greek = Satanas, Satan. Get behind Me, Satan! Jesus had just announced that His God-given mission was to suffer, die and resurrect on the third day. Peter says to Jesus I won’t let this happen! Peter basically infers to Jesus that the reward should be all His sans the cost. Jesus had seen this temptation before…in the desert…in a much deeper way. So when the temptation pops up later, Jesus recognizes that Peter’s (good?) intention does not serve to define Jesus’s mission, but rather to defy. Thus, Jesus can say I’ve seen this before. Get out of here, Satan. You didn’t win in the desert, you certainly won’t win here.
There are people in my life who have (good?) intentions to shape me into their own image. They don’t like the mission God has given me, thus they attempt to defy this mission. Some prefer I remain a musician only in the Church. Some prefer I go back to sales. Some prefer me to adopt their particular brand of religious tradition and Bible interpretation. Some prefer I adopt their method of loving my wife or raising my children or tending my garden. Some prefer I work with this charity or that. There are people in your life who do the same. They want to define your mission. Only God has the authority and ability to define your particular mission within His mission of global redemption. Some people, however, will work to defy the disciple’s mission. They (sometimes knowingly) are being used by forces of darkness. They desire to see disciples distracted and destroyed. Such desire is rooted in darkness. They desire to keep disciples paralyzed in their past. I’ve seen this before. Get behind me, satan. You’ve got no more power over me. Go ahead and throw your darts at me. The Lord Jesus now fights my battle. I abide in Him. And HE through me, bears much fruit.
The suffering will not end on this side of the parousia of Jesus. You and I must wipe away our tears for now. But on the day Jesus returns to make all things new, He will wipe away every tear and remove every ounce of pain, grief and suffering!
There’s one week left in this holy season. Stay focused on Him. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. If you feel like you’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death, don’t lose sight of the reality: you’re walking through the shadow of death. The shadow is not the substance. The shadow disappears when light comes. The True Light who gives light to everyone has come into the world. The dawn of Resurrection Sunday is one week away. The power of the Spirit of Jesus provides all the power disciples need to focus on God and the mission to which we’ve been called in Christ Jesus.
Endure discipline/teaching. God is dealing with you as His full-blooded child…He does it for our benefit, so that we can share in His holiness. No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but healed instead. Hebrews 12.