Listening to God is an art. An art because it’s not something you can empirically prove, intellectually attain, or scientifically produce. It’s about posture, close attention to God’s written word, and God’s voice in the stillness of your own heart.
In these recent weeks, I haven’t actually had to be that still to hear God’s voice, because he has been very obvious, for which I am at once grateful and disconcerted! Day after day, in reading, prayer and other ways, God is inviting me into the desert!
Significance of the desert? Well, manifold! Personally, the call to the desert is a call to personal renewal, spiritual discipline, to seek God as the one thing necessary in spite of the inhospitable nature of the surroundings. I’ve learned over the years that they desert isn’t a place to fear, but it is a place where truth comes into focus and we don’t always like to face truth about ourselves, our relationship with God or with our context. I’ve found, like Jesus, that God tends to you there whilst the lessons come! He sends his messengers and helpers to aid!
The desert Fathers and Mother’s physically fled the emerging Christendom of Rome and headed out into the desert to start afresh with a discipleship not tainted by a gospel tainted by cultural entanglement with the State and the trappings of organised religion. There they founded embryonic monastic-type communities where, like Israel, the sought to ‘get Egypt out’ and be intentionally Jesus-focused simply because people followed them out there!
What does it mean to head to the desert spiritually? Well, it’s not always indicative of spiritual dryness and barrenness in yourself. We know that encounter with God in the wilderness is a strong theme throughout the biblical narrative – Abraham making covenant, Moses’ burning bush, fire by night and smoke by day, Joshua’s encounter with the Commander of the Army of the Lord…fast forward to John the Baptist, Jesus, and the varied sandy and watery deserts of St Paul, or Jon exiles on Patmos. In good company! So spiritually, this is about the richness of God within the desert, nor just about replenishing deserts within!
But what is God saying? Well, I won’t know fully until I submit to the invitation, but in most desert encounters, there’s an undertone of preparing to hear God’s instruction.
In another sense, the church in the UK exists in a bit of a desert exile which is our culture. The Christendom landscape has faded and we need to find new ways to ‘sing the Lord’s song in a strange land’. Where does our need to sharpen our discipleship focus meet with our need to submit to God, and how do we imagine afresh how that relates to the spiritually desert of the modern church and contemporary society?
I’ll be heading into the desert during Lent. As for right now, I’m just getting ready to set out for the desert road!