“Even when we are not called to the monastic life, or do not have the physical constitution to survive the rigors of the desert we are still responsible for our own solitude. Precisely because our milieu offers us so few spiritual disciplines, we have to develop our own. We have, indeed, to fashion our own desert where we can withdraw every day, shake off our compulsions, and dwell in the gentle healing presence of our Lord.”
Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart
Our pastor is preaching on Moses this week. I sat in on his sermon recording yesterday to help write a few discussion questions for our small groups. He taught on Moses and I’m pretty sure I’ll be thinking about the sermon for weeks.
He asked what changed Moses from a sheep herder to a man with such an unquenchable desire for God. His answer? The desert.
Moses left Egypt at age 40 to work with sheep in the desert. He was called by God at 80 and goes back to Egypt and then back into the desert, wandering with grumbling people blaming him and expecting him to be leader. “It’s through the journey in the desert that Moses has come to know that his only hope is the Lord,” my pastor said. And in Exodus 33, after the golden calf situation, God tells Moses to leave the place where they were. Moses then admits, in my paraphrase, ‘You’ve told me to lead these people but you haven’t said who is going to help me.’ God assures Moses his presence will go with him, and I love Moses’ response (also my paraphrase): Good, because if you aren’t going to go with us, we don’t want to go.
Our pastor again, “Moses’ desire to know God more intimately is fueled by the realization that without the presence of God in his life, his life is meaningless.” Moses, who regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward and who persevered because he saw him who is invisible.
Jesus also spent time in the wilderness. John Mark Comer did a teaching and included this passage, giving other phrases and meanings for the Hebrew word for ‘desert’ in that passage: the lonely place, the deserted place, the quiet place.
I read a lot of Henri Nouwen in 2021 and the phrase I quote above is one that tumbles around my mind often. If the wilderness, the lonely place, the deserted place, the quiet place, is an environment that cultivates greater intimacy with God then I need to practice fashioning small ones of my own.
Especially in a time where silence, solitude and self-control seem impossible, what with a computer in my pocket and modern expectations to be available at all hours of the day because it’s easy to. Right?
John Mark wrote this line in his book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, “In the end, your life is no more than the sum of what you gave your attention to.”
And then I read Isaiah 30:15, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength.” Or Psalm 27:4, “One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.” One thing! He has made my heart a home we cultivate together, and abiding in Him on a random Tuesday I can behold His beauty and have a conversation with Him. Do all my other desires pale in comparison to this one thing? Not yet. But it’s real and doesn’t it sound like THE BEST way to be in this uncertain, wonderful, always-changing life?
Then I stumbled across this article about our attention and had to read it twice.
Professor Barbara Demeneix, a leading French scientist who has studied some key factors that can disrupt attention, told me bluntly: “There is no way we can have a normal brain today.” We can see the effects all around us. A small study of college students found they now only focus on any one task for 65 seconds. A different study of office workers found they only focus on average for three minutes. This isn’t happening because we all individually became weak-willed. Your focus didn’t collapse. It was stolen.VIA
Moses communed with God “as one speaks to a friend.” Jesus was the God-man who also shows us just how close we can be with God if we want it (John 5:19-23; John 17; Hebrews 4:14-16).
Jesus asks, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?”
The question for me is, what gains am I willing to sacrifice by going, for a little while or for the rest of my life, into ‘the deserted place’? The place not flooded by the masses. The place of quiet, of maybe hearing His voice, of being steadied by His love, of rest and purpose and focus. The different (*cough* Kingdom) way of living, of spending time and money, of being entertained, of making ordinary choices that are more significant for my soul than I realize.
I have a pretty good idea and yet maybe I’ll always be asking for more clarity and courage. While trying to offer more of my attention to the Person and Way that keeps me from feeling more at home in this world than in His.
Is there a big decision on your shoulders? A stressful situation? A lack of joy? A struggle with sin? Maybe fashioning your own temporary desert with a fast or new spiritual habit would be meaningful.