The wilderness is often thought of as a quiet place, far removed from the bustle of the city or the roaring of the ocean. You might think of beginning this time of prayer as being like entering an inner wilderness. Of finding a quiet place inside yourself where you can encounter God. Take a moment now to let your attention move inwards, letting the outer world go about its business.
Notice, in that inner space, the rhythm of your breathing. Don’t try and change it! Just breathe in and out quietly… Rest in this pattern for a few moments as you prepare to hear the reading from the Gospel of Luke.
Luke 4: 1 – 13
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.” ’
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.” ’
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you,
to protect you”,
“On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’
Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’ When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
As this story starts, Jesus has just been baptised. God’s Spirit has come down upon him, and God the Father has publicly recognised Jesus as his Son. What might Jesus be feeling as he leaves the bank of the river Jordan?
We’re told that the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness. Perhaps Jesus needs time now to think through the implications of all that has happened. Can you remember a time when you’ve needed to be by yourself, to get a clearer sense of all that’s going on around you?
Jesus wants to dedicate his life to helping other people know the God he calls Father. He recognises, though, that there are bad ways of doing this as well as good. He can be tempted to take short cuts, or opt for easier paths. Can you see what’s wrong with one or other of these tempting paths?
Jesus rejects the idea of simply meeting people’s material needs. He’s going to keep in mind that this is God’s project, and he’s not going to rely on spectacular demonstrations of God’s power. How would you describe the way that Jesus does decide to carry out his mission?
Imagine, for a moment, that you’re sitting beside Jesus on his first night in the wilderness. Perhaps it’s late evening, beside a warming fire. What would you want to say to him as he prepares to think through how best to spread God’s word?
In that same place, try to explain to Jesus the way your own life is turning out at this time. Bring your feelings about this to him too.
In the temptations, Jesus comes to recognise some of the wrong paths he could take. Can you see yourself as having taken wrong turnings at times? Can you bring those to Jesus now?
At the end of the story, Jesus seems to be clearer about how he is going to carry out his task of proclaiming the Kingdom of God. As he prepares to leave the wilderness and return to the towns and villages of Galilee, do you feel drawn to go with him, or to wish him well? Perhaps you want to respond to what you’ve seen in this time of prayer in some other way.