Nearer to God
We know through the Gospels that in the time prior to His passion and death Jesus withdrew to the desert for forty days and forty nights. The biblical references to Jesus’s solitude, prayer, and fasting trigger discussion about how each of those elements should impact our lives as followers of Jesus.(Mark 4:1-12, Luke 4:1-13, Luke 5:16) We need reminders of the benefits that are attributed to each of those three elements in both the religious and secular dimensions of our lives.This pre-Easter period in March is an appropriate time to focus on the religious dimensions. This is a time to nourish our engagement in quiet time, prayerful time, and self-discipline.
- We commonly associate quiet time with meditation, and whether we are or are not comfortable with the formality of meditation, we may not always acknowledge that all of us are able to meditate in our own personal ways when we are quiet. The challenge lies in finding time and space to genuinely experience moments of quiet. This month presents an opportunity to make a conscious effort to be immersed quietly in the presence of God, and, in doing so, to reflect on the essentials of our Christian Faith in terms of how we are individually and collectively trying to live them in a deeply personal way.
- Quiet time encourages prayer time. But prayer need not be quiet. We can pray musically, we can pray with the sounds of nature, we can pray in the midst of busy traffic, we can pray during celebrations, we can pray verbally in worship together. While meditation usually implies quiet over an extended period of time, prayer can be spontaneously expressive and momentary, anytime. Paul said it so beautifully and simply to the Thessalonians . . . pray continually. (1Thessalonians 5:17).
- The fasting referenced in the Gospels is more complex because it is un-natural. It is challenging, because it involves an orientation that we don’t embrace easily . . . self-discipline. It is unlikely that any of us could endure forty days without eating; but, in a contemporary way we can understand that hunger has both physical and religious dimensions, and in that context we can focus on how periodic deprivations of simple things that we like to eat, or that we like to do, can actually feed our deep spiritual hunger for a more meaningful, purposeful, and personal experience of God.
As in all things, Jesus is our model, our strength, and our hope. His forty days strengthened Him against worldly temptations that were much more intense than what we experience. He subsequently sent us His Holy Spirit to instill within us that same power that Jesus was filled with in the desert.Let’s be more determined this March to understand how solitude, prayer, and self-discipline can help strengthen our religious resolve, nourish our natural hunger for God, and draw us nearer to God as we re-engage in the memory of our redemption in Jesus.