Into the Desert – A Lenten Reflection by John Van de laar

Today’s post comes from John van de Laar, a professional spiritual seeker who loves facilitating times of playful prayer with fellow travellers. He lives in Cape Town, South Africa, with his wife and two sons, and loves words, music and unexpected beauty. He is the author of The Hour That Changes Everything – How worship transforms us into the people God calls us to beand blogs at


Into The Desert
From a biblical perspective, Lent begins with these words:

Now Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wild. (Luke4:1 The Message)

The picture painted here has always felt deeply incongruous to me. Jesus has just been baptised, is “full of the Holy Spirit”, and has had the most amazing affirmation from God. But, at exactly this moment he is led by that same Spirit into the wild – the place of deprivation, suffering and temptation. Why would God do this? Why take Jesus from this moment of triumph, into isolation and struggle. Perhaps the answer is already in the question.

It is not a new thought to say that the desert was a time of preparation for ministry forJesus. He needed to be tested and strengthened in order to face and fulfill the ministry hewas called to. And this needed to happen right at the outset, before any easy success, or spiritual euphoria could divert him or dilute his message and conviction.

The unstated, but obvious, truth in this passage is that difficulty and suffering are necessary ingredients for a life of value and contribution. Comfort and ease do not easilydevelop spiritual or physical strength, and they do not easily build the determination that isnecessary for the work that Jesus did – justice, sacrifice and transformation.

Perhaps this is why Lent is sometimes seen as a time of “giving up” things – especially ourlittle comforts and enjoyments. The journey into the desert is more than most of us cantake. We know the pain and wrestling that we will find there, and we would rather avoidit. So, we water it down, and go through the motions, pretending that we are embracing the discipline and sacrifice of following Christ, while ensuring that, in reality, we remain unchallenged and unchanged.

This is, of course, our choice. But, if we seek real transformation, if we long to know a lifethat vibrates with the energy and passion of the Spirit, if we yearn to make a difference in the world, and participate in God’s saving work, we must journey – regularly – into the desert. Lent, at its best, is just such a desert, and our mindful participation, is an invitation to be tested, strengthened and prepared for a life of world-changing contribution. The question is: will we be courageous and committed enough to make the journey?

The disciplines of Lent are designed to lead us into our own temptations. Fasting confrontsour rampant appetites and addictions, and transforms them into healthy simplicity. Prayer confronts our independent and egotistical need to be in control of our own lives, and transforms it into responsible trustfulness. Giving (which includes service – the giving of time and talents, as well as money) confronts our compulsive desire to possess,accumulate and consume, and transforms it into generous sharing. The Lenten desert is not the place to wander, if we are unprepared to face these dark corners of our souls.

Our worship, however, provides a place of refuge, rest and encouragement during thistime. As we gather we find companions for the journey. As we join in adoration, our faith in and vision of, God’s reign is strengthened. As we confess and pray, we find comfort andhope that the journey means something, and that we have resources beyond ourselves tosustain and equip us.

Beyond Words
Lent is a call into the desert. It’s not for the faint of heart, but for those who choose to endure it, it offers a trail that leads through the cross to the joy of resurrection.

5 Responses

  1. Great blog.

    I love that definition of Lent:” Lent is a call into the desert. It’s not for the faint of heart, but for those who choose to endure it, it offers a trail that leads through the cross to the joy of resurrection.”

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