Jesus is wandering around in the desert, which is where I assume Christians get the phrase “spiritual dryness.”. While I have a great distaste for cliche religious jargon, there seems not to be a more sophisticated phrase to describe such a state as being a Christian and not feeling very “Christian.” Even if there were, at that point, it would just be semantics.
The term “spiritual high” is also often thrown around, which is another one of those oh-so-clever Chrstianese phrases. It’s the opposite of being in a state of spiritual dryness. The issue I take with it is that it’s usually spurred on my a mission trip or going to camp or some event that for whatever reason spurs on your affections for God, sending you into super Jesus mode, during which you can fight temptation harder, read your bible longer, and, if you’re lucky, preach the Gospel more boldly, if at all. When you come down, it’s natural to just wait for the next one.
Forgive me if my tone is at all condescending. All of this is not to question the legitimacy of these spiritual stages. I’m just not fond of the wording, but I am anything but immune to their effects. As the Lord so walked, I myself have been trekking through a dry desert, though a spiritual one and not a physical one. But therein lies the conflict. While Jesus’ feet burned on the sand and His brow sweat under the Middle-Eastern sun, He told temptation off. While I have comfort all around me, old temptations and the feeling of lacking seems to overcome me all too often.
Jesus is offered food, status, and wealth by the devil. Wearily, He was still able to say no, responding to every temptation with scripture. I get hungry after a about 4 hours without food. I can’t begin to understand how you can say no to bread after 40 days. Yet, it was done. I wrote a couple years ago how I felt I was missing so much, but I knew that in Christ I lacked nothing. I often feel like I’m back to where I was those years ago, always questioning what I lack and then taking the bread that satan so joyfully offers me, satisfying for a moment but then leaving my mouth even more parched that before. So I ask for more, or for something else. “If only people thought of me like this” or “if only I had that.” Those are the two other temptations offered to Jesus, and I think it’s by God’s grace that satan has not been given the allowance to grant me those requests. That’s not to say that what I’m asking for is inherently evil. Perhaps I will be gifted those at some point, and I hope that I can steward them well at that time. Still, I think the temptation to make those things my all will always be there.
Today this question was presented to me: if you had the chance to take all of God’s stuff but not have God, would you take it? That’s what the last temptation was. I had to think about it. To have my greatest desire given to me. What a temptation. Then I remembered the times I had traded God for what He had given me. Those are not memories on which I like to linger, and the pain I caused during those times still leave me contrite, years later. But I also remember the grace offered in those times, the lessons learned and the chances given. Such mercy. Remembrance, while having the ability to bring grief and regret, all the more allows you to call to mind the times you were lifted up the most.
I can remember how the villagers in India came to hear about Jesus while I was there and how I saw people healed. I can remember the grace offered to me even after my worse sins. I can even remember something like the eclipse I traveled across the country to see. I think that’s what Jesus did. Temptation after temptation, and he went back to scripture, to remind himself all the ways God had been faithful, and satan fled. One of the greatest discouragements in my life is seeing people I love so dearly make the desert their home. They walk away, and I often wonder what they think of their past and why they used to cling to God so tightly. Maybe they haven’t thought of it, but one of my most desperate prayers is that they do.
I’ll end with Psalm 77, which is a good reminder that from the beginning, people walked through rough patches, crying out to God but not hearing what they wanted. Asaph, at the end of his rope, not getting what he’s asking for, pens this:
Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
Line after line, he writes about what he remembers God has done. He ends by alluding to the story of the Israelites getting led out of the desert.
You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
Let’s be confident we’ll see the same ending.