Over this Lenten season, the Spiritual Formation team at First Presbyterian Church in Bend put a call out to all to submit writings for a Lenten Devotional. I will do my best to post those here daily. You can also go to our website and access all of the devotions on a pdf file.
Here is the first submission:
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” –Luke 4:1-2
Jesus began His public ministry by being baptized by John in the River Jordan, hearing the Voice confirming His call: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Many people gathered for baptism on the shores of the Jordan on that day, along with Jesus. All were taking new steps forward in their commitments to God.
Had we been there, we might have expected Jesus to start His ministry with preaching, healing, and teaching. But God had another sequence in mind. Rather than flourishing amid admiring crowds, continuing on in public places, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. Wilderness is a place of struggle for survival, and so it was for Jesus. Wilderness is a place of silence where the external noise of surrounding culture ceases, replaced by one’s own inner thoughts. There in the silence, Jesus was tempted by the possibility of immediate security, by becoming a popular leader, by power. Jesus rejected these temptations and more clearly understood His call as God’s person whose words and actions invited others to: 1)live in God’s ways, and, 2) to pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom. How does Jesus’ desert experience, His forty days in the wilderness, relate to us, His followers, today?
Wilderness journeys and singular experiences are wonderful settings for spiritual formation–not easy to enter, but necessary to be transformed as the Holy Spirit moves within us. We need to still the outer noise of our lives in order to come to God just as we are–with our own inner struggles and temptations. In silence, we come face to face with the realization that WHO WE ARE in relation to God is more important than WHAT WE DO for God. For many of us, silence isn’t an attractive way to spend time. Our culture doesn’t support silence, and to experience it, we need to choose to practice it, to simply be in God’s presence without doing anything.
Centering prayer is one way to enter the silence. It’s our consent to be in God’s presence, willing for God’s agenda–not ours–to lead our lives. Centering prayer is surrendering to God, relinquishing to God each thought that comes. Centering prayer is spending 20 minutes or so in silence, available to the Spirit without imposing our thoughts. And it’s letting go of our thoughts as they come, surrendering to God’s silent agenda.
Jesus experienced 40 days in the silence of the wilderness before turning outward to serve others in Love. Let us find silence before extending ourselves to others. If God’s Love for Jesus included leading Him into the silence of wilderness, God’s Love for us includes beginning with silence. There, the presence of the Holy Spirit forms and blesses us for whatever call comes next.
Holy Spirit of God, Your Gracious Love for Jesus came to Him in the Voice saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved.” Your Love for us extends to us as well. Help us to be open to the next step leading through the wilderness, and to realize that even there, in silence, You are with us and that we are Your Beloved Ones also. Amen.