“The Wilderness”- An Excerpt from a Pastoral Studies Lecture

Posted: November 30, 2012 in Leadership/Pollitics, On Being Apostolic, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church
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The wilderness played a central role in Jesus ministry, especially in the formation of his ministry.  Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptist, was a product of the wilderness.  In fact, the ancient prophets had identified John long before his birth as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness”.  John had that wildness in him; clothed in leather and camel hide, living an ascetic lifestyle, proclaiming without fear or favor the message of repentance…John was a wild man.  Later on Jesus would challenge those who had heard John’s message but disbelieved him by saying, “What did you go out to see? A reed shaking in the wind?” The very question implied that John was far from that image.  And it was John’s ministry that Jesus chose to identify himself with in baptism…the ministry of that wild man of the wilderness.

It’s interesting then, that immediately after being baptized by the great prophet of the wilderness, that Mark records (Mark 1:12-13) Jesus as being “driven” of the Spirit into the wilderness.  Jesus was driven…an emphatic verb denoting force and speed, of moving with determination toward an intended goal…into the wilderness.  Luke records him returning in the power of the Spirit from the wilderness. (Luke 4:14)

The wilderness continued to play a very important role in Jesus’ ministry; he taught there, he rested there, he prayed there, he retreated there.  And I guess that should come as no surprise, after all, the great evangelist of the Old Testament, Isaiah (that great prophet of the Incarnation) would say that the way of the wilderness was the “way of the Lord.” (Mark 1:3, Isaiah 40:3)

We, on the other hand, are not lovers of the wilderness…either in reality or metaphor.  We neither appreciate or value the place of loneliness, nor understand the significance of being alone.  Our ministerial self-talk is replete with battle imagery and the language of conflict.  But we don’t know how to handle wild places.  We understand conflict because it reflects our lives; busy, active, frenetic, noisy, frightening, and exhilarating.

But the wild is different.  It’s alternately quiet beyond death, and thundering to shake the world.  And it’s big…immense…and its immensity suffocates you.  In the wild you are insignificant.  There’s no battle there; you’re simply squashed like a bug.  Or, you are left utterly alone, with no voice, call, or cry coming to your ears.  No hum of traffic and honking horns, no busyness of errands and labors; nothing but the quiet.  There’s nothing to distract you from being aware of yourself, of your own condition.

We’d prefer the battle with its attending noise and clamor over the big empty of the wild.  The quiet frightens us, seems intrusive and oppressive.  The stillness seems a kind of death.

We Pentecostals are creatures of the world of noise, and we’ve worked hard to program the quiet out of our gatherings.  Our worship time is a rumpus, with every moment filled with voice, song or music.  Even the most humble of service-chores is performed to an accompaniment.  And in those rare moments when a pause drops unexpectedly into our gatherings, there is either an awkward shifting to resume the proper noise or a pregnant expectation for the Spirit itself to break the silence with a burst of heavenly sound.  Even our private devotion is filled with the busy rattle and hum of our chants and our cries.

We are discomfited by wild places, yet they are the most significant and essential proving grounds of ministry.  Every pastor must know what it is to walk in wild places.  Wild places teach you to know yourself.  Wild places are the birthing rooms of prophets.  Wild places are where you find the paths of the Lord, the highway of holiness. (Is 35:1-10, 40:3) The prophet Habbakuk declared that God came from the wild places, (Hab 3:3), and those who will know Him best must all take their turn in the wilderness.

Wilderness can be a place…or wilderness can be a condition.  In either case it forces a quiet desolation upon you, and there is nothing of the hurly-burly of ordinary life to keep you from listening to your own soul, to keep you from seeing your own heart. Those who will be among God’s greatest shepherds will be those who have walked in wild places.

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