Monday, February 10, 2014

Where Is Your Wilderness?

Life of Christ 20

          I do not know if Jesus planned to head into the Judean wilderness for a month when he set out from Nazareth a few days before, but I suspect He did. I think that He knew it was time for His public ministry to begin, and He chose to launch it on purpose with the formal ceremony of baptism followed by a lengthy period of time alone with God.
          I'm a Baptist through and through, but one of things I've come to respect about Catholicism is its historical emphasis on withdrawing periodically into a quiet place, where you can be alone with God and the world He created. Please don't misunderstand this, for I'm in no way positively referencing Roman Catholic theology, but they have long grasped this as an essential concept to include in a ministerial life, and I believe it comes straight from the life of Jesus Christ. We see Him do it here (Matthew 4.1-2) and elsewhere (Luke 5.16).
          Several years ago one of my church members returned from a vacation in Wisconsin and spoke of seeing a prayer cabin on their travels, a place specifically set aside for those who want to be alone with God. Intrigued, I did a bit of research (the fancy way for saying I googled some things) and found a number of these within driving distance of me. I settled, finally, upon a place in Western Illinois that is designed specifically for those who want to be alone with God. It is 80 acres of wooded hills way back off of some dirt roads in the middle of one of the most rural counties in the state. (You may find it here.) On this property are three tiny, one room cabins in which, for a nominal fee, anyone may come and stay for a while. I went for the first time about four years ago, and I have returned every year since, and, frankly, it has become one of the highlights of my year. Cut through the woods and fields are walking trails, and scattered along these trails are various benches and chairs. For hours I just walk and pray, occasionally stopping to sit for a while, my only company the deer and wild turkey, and the hawks soaring in slow circles above me. These times alone with God, so far from the rush of the busy city I live in, have become exceedingly precious to me, almost, if you will allow me to say it, sacred in the memory of my mind.
         I think it was something precisely like this that Jesus was seeking to accomplish. His entire life was about to turn upside down, from the quiet life of a village carpenter, into a whirlwind of miracles, sermons, attention, opposition, and ministry. He had long enjoyed the most intimate of relationships with His Heavenly Father, engaging, I am sure, in lengthy conversations with Him while at His workbench, or laboring in quiet dignity amid the scent of freshly worked wood. But this was different. This was a time set aside to do nothing but be with God, to turn a page, so to speak on one life, and to embrace the next while placing His Heavenly Father in the very center of it.
          The applications of this are startlingly obvious. If Jesus Christ, Almighty God, and the Saviour of men, could not hope to engage upon His great work without first going alone to be with the Father, how can we frail creatures of dust hope to do so? Especially is this true of His men, those called to walk with Him and then stand before His people and share with them what He has said. Do you have a place like this? More importantly, do you have times like this? I am not now speaking of the chair where you read your Bible of a morning, but of getting alone, far away from the call of the world and of your phone, with just you, your Bible, and God, for a few days.
          Before Jesus ministered in public He withdrew into the Judean wilderness.
          Where is your wilderness?

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