Isaiah 40: 1-10
“O Zion, messenger of good news, shout from the mountaintops! Shout it louder, O Jerusalem, Shout, and do not be afraid. Tell the towns of Judah, “Your God is coming.” Isaiah 40:9, NLT
As we struggle through the climate of fear in the pandemic, each one of us will respond to our trials and problems differently – some may see the pandemic as a judgment from God while some are drawn more closely to God. The best antidote to the fear of Covid-19 is the good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand:
‘Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the Lord! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God! Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills. Straighten the curves, and smooth out the rough places. Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The Lord has spoken!”1
Our Heavenly Father yearns to comfort us and to assure us that our sad days are gone for our sins have been pardoned. 2 We are invited to journey to the Kingdom of God that is deep in our hearts. Like the Jews, we have to go through a time in the spiritual wilderness to purify our hearts. The 40 years in the wilderness of the Jews was not a punishment but a time of training and preparation – to teach the Jews to practice the Presence of God so that they can experience the Power of God and be witnesses of the reign of God in the Promised Land.
Jesus himself was led by the Spirit after his baptism into the wilderness where he was tried and tempted by Satan.3 It is in the wilderness of our spiritual journey that we can examine and expose the sinful desires, ulterior motives and hidden agendas in our deceitful hearts. For example, Psalms 91 has many promises that give us much comfort when we face times of dangers and apocalyptic crises like the Covid 19 pandemic. However, we need to remember that Satan used Psalms 91:11-12 to tempt Jesus to jump off the temple.4 This will help us to be vigilant and aware of our human inclination to seek God’s providence and protection in worldly terms. It is only when we have an intimate relationship with God that we can overcome the temptation to seek miracles in our lives to strengthen our faith.
Jesus spent much time in solitude in the wilderness as he communed with God, his Heavenly Father.5 When our heart’s desire is to know “how do I want to live so that the Holy Spirit can have more of me?” we will be led to the discipline of solitude to meditate on God’s Word. The social distancing measures in the pandemic are in fact golden opportunities for the practice of solitude. At the same time, we need to be careful of becoming isolated and disconnected with a one sided spirituality focused only on solitude.6
We need a community of fellow pilgrims to journey through the wilderness of our hearts. Without a community, those who seek solitude runs the risk of “perishing in the bottomless pit of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.” However, without solitude, we will “flee from ourselves by taking refuge in community and misusing it to indulge in empty talk and distractions.”7 Without solitude, community leads to co-dependency and without community, solitude leads to self-righteousness. Covid-19 is a blessing if it leads us to form communities of compassion through a balanced rhythm of spiritual practices.
All of us will encounter trials, testing and temptations in life. We can see such times as challenges to say “yes” to God rather than times of fighting the devil. In such times we are to remember that we are pilgrims in the wilderness, called to be voices in the wilderness, like John the Baptist, who called the people to repentance for the Kingdom of heaven was at hand.8 We are to be messengers of comfort and joy and to declare the glory God.
As voices in the wilderness we are to invite others to join us in the journey from death to life – the exodus from Egypt to the Promised land. As a palliative physician I have the vicarious privilege of seeing many miracles of the triumphant crossing from this physical life to eternal life. At the same time, I have seen so much suffering that arises from the denial and fear of death.
Jesus died and rose from the dead to set us free from the fear of death.9 The corona virus may in fact be a voice in wilderness calling us to seek Christ rather than happiness. For it is only when we seek God alone, that we will gain happiness.10 It is only in the love of God that we will find true meaning in life. The world in darkness need to hear the song of the pilgrims in the wilderness – to prepare the way for Christ to touch the hearts of those whom God is calling to Himself:
“O Christians, you bring good tidings;
get up to the heights and sing!
Proclaim to a desolate people
the coming of their King.
Like the flow’rs of the field they perish;
like grass our works decay.
The pow’r and pomp of nations
shall pass like a dream away.”
Lord, help me to be Your faithful voice in the wilderness to declare that Your Kingdom of Heaven has come.
How is the Holy Spirit leading me to cultivate a rhythm of spiritual practices?
How can I encourage others to journey with me as pilgrims in the wilderness?
Song of Praise
There’s A Voice In The Wilderness Crying
- Isaiah 40:3-5 NLT
- Isaiah 40:1, NLT
- Matthew 4:1 NLT
- Matthew 4:5-7
- Luke 4:42 NLT
- Ruth Haley Barton, in her book, Sacred Rhythms, noted that we need a rule of life to address the question, “How do I want to live so that I can be who I can be?” She drew attention to the need for a balanced effective rhythm of spiritual practices and the danger of a one sided spirituality.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes the point that the Christian community is not a spiritual sanatorium and that many people seek community because they are afraid of loneliness. (Life Together, The Day Alone)
- Matthew 3:1-2 NLT
- Hebrews 2:10-15
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer shares the following insight:
“For may it not be the case that it Is none other than God who sends us these hours of emptiness and dryness, so that we might once again expect everything from God’s Word? “Seek God, not happiness” – that is the fundamental rule of all meditation. If you seek God alone, you will gain happiness – that is the promise of all meditation. (Life Together, The Day Alone)