The Trials and Triumphs of Life in the Desert — Lenten Meditations

Many of us are led on difficult paths in life that we would have never chosen to trod.  Coming up out of the deep, scary valleys and onto higher ground gives us a better perspective on where we’ve been and on the road set before us.

Holding onto faith in any trial can be difficult.  There are those of us who struggle through the concussive force of death, disease, betrayal, crime, abuse, and by the devastation wreaked upon us by cults and religious frauds.  Despite whatever the trials may be, we can choose to hold tenaciously onto our Christian beliefs, and, by the help of God, come out stronger for our own benefit and for the benefit of others.

For those who are battle-scarred from any variety of trials, the season of Lent leading up to Holy Week, Good Friday, the Crucifixion, and the triumph of Resurrection Sunday holds an extraordinary, enduring poignancy that would otherwise be missing in our lives had we not been led through our own desert experiences.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that Jesus was “led by the Spirit” into the desert for forty days.  Moses and the nation of Israel were led by God in the desert for forty years.  Elijah was led in the desert for forty days.  As difficult as it is to remember in the midst of seemingly unending trials, nothing catches God off guard.  He does, in fact, lead us to and through the desert places, challenging us to trust Him as the seconds, hours, days, weeks, months, and years tick by.  God the Son endured the desert, the loneliness, the hunger and thirst, the extremes of heat and cold, and the coy attacks of the evil one — “If you are the Son of God….”  The same “If you are a Christian…”, “If you say you trust Jesus…”, “If God were truly loving, good, and just…”, and any other assortment of poisonous non sequiturs whispered by the evil one into our traumatized minds or that we hear from self-righteous humans highjacking and twisting Scripture just like satan did against the Word Himself.  Those voices in our deserts can bring us to near ruination, especially if we’re trying to recover from the words and actions of spiritual abusers.  But Jesus showed us the only way to strip power from those who distort Scripture.  He leads us into the desert to learn from Him.   

Matthew and Mark speak of angels attending Jesus after the evil one failed in his tactics. I can, and I know others can, speak of sheer, undeniable graces that come in the midst of those desert moments, reminders that God does exist, that He cares, that He the Light chose to experience even more darkness than any of us could imagine, that He whispers soothingly in the quieted, broken, tired stillness of our battered, famished souls, and He speaks through His people who, led by His Spirit, minister to the spiritually wounded from their own desert experiences.  In my previous blogs and in podcast interviews I’ve emphasized how important it is to practice gratitude and thanksgiving within our trauma experiences because doing so helps us keep the full, bigger picture that good still exists, despite the damage done to us by spiritual abusers.  It’s healing and empowering to remember even the most seemingly insignificant graces we’re given each day.  It’s in acknowledging and remembering these graces and choosing joy that we are then equipped by God to use our desert trials to encourage others as they journey in their desert trials.  The Spirit doesn’t lead us into the desert for no good reason.

Immediately after Jesus’ forty days were over, He launched Himself into healing, exorcising, preaching encouragement, and confronting those with wrong beliefs and corresponding destructive actions.  Luke records that in the synagogue on one fine Sabbath day Jesus read from Isaiah

                        The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed Me

                        to preach good news to the poor. 

                        He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

                        and recovery of sight for the blind,

                        to release the oppressed,

                        to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

This was the message Jesus delivered soon after His forty days in the desert.  The Gospels are rife with descriptions of Jesus ministering to, teaching, enlightening, and healing those who were damaged by the religious Scripture-twisting abusers in His day.  Jesus still ministers in the same way to those of us who have been led into the desert to do battle against spiritually abusive religious frauds in our time.  I have, like so many other people I’ve met, encountered wolves in sheep’s clothing in churches that Jesus and His apostles warned us about (Moses, too, recorded God’s warning about false prophets).  I personally know of church leaders and Bible teachers who have been repeatedly unfaithful to their wives, or were otherwise abusive to women and children, and who showed that they had deep psychological problems, yet they continue to feed their addiction to religious fraud and attention-seeking by charming the undiscerning so as to elevate themselves right back onto center stage again.  In shameless irony, these religious charlatans may at times appear to be oh-so humble, and they point their self-righteous fingers either at other religious frauds or slander innocent people to deflect attention away from their own hideous sins.  How many accounts there are of those addicted to power and attention in the pulpits and at seminary or conference podiums being exposed for their sexual or financial scandals (or both).  I have to wonder if they find it amusing to make themselves parodies of the classic Jimmy Swaggart-styled “I have sinned!” theatrics.  In their deceptive, manipulative claims to be ever so repentant they nonetheless refuse to step down (or at least not for long), address their lust for power, sex, money, and attention-seeking, and instead further enjoy the game of duping people into “forgiving” them.  Thus they go right back to indulging their addiction to power, fame, sex, attention-seeking, and money in the pulpits or seminary or conference circuits without skipping a beat.  And shame on those who allow these ravenous wolves back into powerful positions again under the pretext of “forgiveness.”  If an abusive religious leader really wants to show sincere evidence of repentance, then they need to never place themselves in a position of authority or control ever again, just like you don’t allow a pedophile near children again.  There are people like Ananias, Sapphira, and Simon Magus who are only interested in using religious lingo and practices as a means to a very selfish end, and they seem to relish in doing damage to people’s souls in the process.  Just like in the dystopian movie The Book of Eli, set in desert scenes, the sinister character Carnegie maniacally reveals his motivation for wanting the Bible: “IT’S NOT A ****** BOOK! IT’S A WEAPON! A weapon aimed right at the hearts and minds of the weak and the desperate. It will give us control of them. If we want to rule more than one small, ****** town, we have to have it. People will come from all over, they’ll do exactly what I tell ’em if the words are from the book. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. All we need is that book!”

Yes, all we need is that Book.  But not to use as a weapon, twisting and denigrating it as the evil one did against God the Son in the desert and as he does through soul rapists seeking fresh gullible victims.  Rather, we need that Book to humbly let it shape us.  We need that Book to help us imitate our Lord to encourage people to follow Him, follow Him if need be into deserts.  We need that Book so we can correctly handle the word of truth against those who seek to use it as a weapon (2 Timothy 2:15).  We need that Book because it’s the only way our Lord taught us to get through the trials of the Lenten deserts in our lives, the only way we can take up our cross and follow Jesus, and the only way we can ultimately experience the triumph of Resurrection Day.    

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© Copyright 2021 Paulette J. Buchanan