In a sermon preached last Lenten season, my pastor mentioned that the 40+ days of Lent often seems like a desert place. Not only does the act of participating in Lent require sacrifice, it can also become a time that feels dark. Observing Lent is a way of peeling back the layers of our hearts and doing spring cleaning, so to speak. Fasting screams that we cannot do it all (no matter how hard we try), and that we are inherently incapable of saving ourselves (again, no matter how hard we try). Actively participating in the season of Lent gives us a greater understanding of who we are- significant in the Father’s eyes, yet so small. It reminds as that every fiber of our being belongs to Jesus. It also gives us a self-created wilderness.
Sometimes hardships strike unwarranted, and sometimes we usher them in – prepared to sacrifice all for the One who sacrificed for us. Lent has often been a reminder to me that sometimes we are called into a period of hardship. Reading Matthew 4 solidifies this belief.
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Matthew 4:1
Whoa. Those few little words change the entire context of the story highlighting the temptation of Jesus. This 40 day emptying of self was Spirit led. Besides His crucifixion, this was the most physically demanding period that Jesus endured recorded in the Gospels. I don’t know about you, but missing just one meal makes me want to cry. A whole day of fasting, and I can barely hold a conversation (am I being a baby? *all nod in unison*). Jesus was weak. He was tired. I’m sure He was really freaking hangry (He was human, after all). And yet, He was also led. Led into the wilderness, into the dryness of the desert place, and into the arms of the tempter.
If Jesus was clearly asked to undergo such hardship, what makes us so sure that we can go scot free? Please hear me: I am not insinuating that heartbreak and loss and grief and ugly-sin-world-problems are all from the Lord. I am not claiming to be an expert on the thoughts of the Lord, or the reasoning behind the brokenness that weaves in and out of all stories. I am not going to say the cliché “but this was His plan for your life!” statements that are often so hurtful.
Heartbreak for our Father’s kids is NOT part of his plan. Despair is NOT what was ordained good in Genesis. Deep loss is a result from a lot of horrible sin issues derived from a broken world.
But what I am trying to explain is that sometimes we are led into a season of sacrifice. Sometimes we are given the gift of the desert so that we can grow in the way of Jesus. And ALWAYS, the result of the desert is a space where we are tenderly cared for. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t difficult, or damaging, or demanding. That doesn’t mean that we won’t be faced with the guttural cry in our throats how long, Oh Lord, must I wait?! But it does mean that we will be taken care of.
“Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him.” Matthew 4:11
And despite the pain, we are being used.
“From that time Jesus began to preach…” Matthew 4:17
The hope of the Kingdom spread is the gift that Lent gives to us. The reminder that we are not the end goal, but we DO have a place in the story. That out of aching, purpose is often birthed.