Rain -or- Drought
Rich color contrasts -or- Brown
Lady Bugs -or- Scorpions
Garden -or- Desert
Given the choice, which one would you choose?
I’ll go with the garden.
In Scripture, the imagery of gardens and deserts provides for us a vast contrast of settings, themes and spiritual undertones. Many great moments in Scripture happen in gardens: creation, the fall, Jesus’ agony and arrest and the Resurrection. There are also great moments that happened in deserts: the exodus and exile of Israel, the Ten Commandments, John the Baptists’ preaching of the coming Messiah and the temptation of Jesus. During the season of Lent, the Church in her infinite wisdom calls us out into the desert for a time to draw near to the Lord, but do we willingly go?
When I think of the desert a few things come to mind: hot, barren, desolate, miserable, extreme weather, drought, death…and camels. So why is any of this appealing? Why would I want to go to a place like that? For the same reason Jesus did and the same reason the Church calls us out during Lent: purification and preparation for the journey ahead. What I love about the beginning of Jesus’ formal ministry is that the first place He went after his Baptism was to the desert. He could have jumped right into the business of healing and miracles and raising people from the dead, but instead He was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1).
Often we think that the desert is a fearful place. We’d much rather stay in the garden where we can bask in the cool breeze, stay comfortable in the shade and enjoy the beauty of the flowers and trees. But if we always remain in the wellspring and comfort of garden, how easily we forget that the desert is just as necessary for our spiritual journey.
The desert allows us to be stretched and tested in a unique way. It takes away all our distractions and leaves us vulnerable. We are left with our broken hearts and the choices we’ve made. No mountains to hide behind. It is just God and me. For many of us that is very uncomfortable and scary. We don’t want God that close. We’ve become experts at the “if I don’t think about, it is not a problem” mentality, and when the areas of our hearts and lives that need the Lord the most are exposed, we quickly try to cover them and run and hide from God.
During Lent this year when you find yourself in the desert, your first instinct, like mine, will most likely be to immediately find a way to get out of the harsh conditions and extreme temptations, but what if this year we let the Lord find us? What if we stopped doing things our way, we give up running from God, and let the Lord bring us out of the desert His way (Isaiah 55)?
Although the Spirit leads us into the desert, we have the promise that Jesus will not leave us there. We have the promise of the coolness of the garden. We have the Resurrection. We are a hopeful people, and our hope is the Good News that Jesus conquered the grave.
So my prayer for you this Lenten season is that you would let the Spirit lead you out to the desert, face those struggles and temptations with courage, purify your heart, repent of your sins, and let the God of unconditional love find you ready with a heart fully alive to celebrate the Risen Christ.