Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ 4Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.”
What do you think of our wilderness time? The Lenten season is a time of reflection and wandering in commemoration of Jesus’ wilderness time. Wilderness time is difficult time, it is a trying time, and it is a challenging time. Wilderness time is a test of faith and endurance and perseverance. Wilderness time can be frightening, exhausting, dispiriting time. But wilderness time is rich, fertile, creative time as well. In the wilderness we see what we are really made of. Our depth and breadth are tested. Our coping skills are challenged. And by the grace of God, we rise above our weaknesses and temptations to emerge stronger and better.
The forty days that Jesus journeyed in the wilderness were a time of preparation, training, and grounding. They were a proof of who Jesus was and what Jesus could do through the power of God’s guidance and spirit. Through this time and experience, Jesus was affirmed that his faith was greater than a desire for power, for control, for creature comforts, or for basic needs. God provides, and when God gives, we lack for nothing of value.
Do we believe this? Do we truly trust that God will provide all that we could need or hope for? Is our faith greater than our fear? Is our trust more solid than our doubts? Do we ever worry that the devil might be powerful enough to lessen our faith or weaken our resolve? Let us be honest, because we are human.
Our United Methodist Church is currently in a wilderness time, a Lenten season. We do not see a clear way forward. There is anxiety. There is animosity. There is frustration and confusion and exhaustion. It would be so easy to just give up – to sit down on a rock in the desert and quit. We are tired and hungry and cranky and unhappy. At such times it may be almost impossible to say, “thank you, Lord!” It may be hard to stand firm in our faith and say to God “I am ready for whatever may come next!” It may stick in our throat to proclaim, “no I am fine, I have all I need.” It is much easier to focus on what we don’t have, what we can’t do, and how we are not content, than it is to humbly say, “not my will be done, but yours, O Lord.”
I do not believe we can fully appreciate what Jesus did in his forty days when we stay comfortable and content in our daily routine. I believe that Lent is a time for some discomfort, for some sacrifice, and for some deep and honest reflection. I encourage us all to pray as often and as hard as we can “thy will be done, O Lord.” I encourage us all to fast – if not from food, then from noise or screens or entertainment or snacks or phones or email or any of a thousand things that distract us and encourage a chattering “monkey-mind” to keep us agitated and unfocused. Give more time to God this Lenten season. When you feel angry, turn to God. When you feel empty, turn to God. When you feel anxious, turn to God. When frightened or discouraged or exhausted, turn to God. Don’t give in; don’t give up. Life can be hard and challenging and even tempting, but God is with you every step of the way.
Most of us cannot even conceive of living “by bread alone.” We mostly enjoy good food, warm clothes, adequate shelter. Our lives are so filled with stuff. Our days are packed with activity. Our inboxes are overflowing with messages and requests and demands and offers. We are connected to devices from sun-up to sundown. We exist in a wilderness of sorts each day, every day, wandering without time or space to rest, to reflect, to empty out, and to prepare. When God offers to fill us, we are not ready – like Martha, we are distracted by many things.
During our Lenten journey, I encourage us all to take seriously God’s gift of Sabbath – time away from everything. Make space – true wilderness space – to let go. Let go of hurt. Let go of control. Let go of fear. Let go of distrust. Let go of anger. Let go of desire. Let go. Empty yourself. Fast. Prepare. Pray. Breathe. And know that the very Spirit of the living God will provide everything you need and will strengthen you for all that is to come. Thanks be to God.
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).