This past weekend together with three young people from our congregation, I was honored to attend Winter Celebration, the faith formation retreat for senior highs. Our theme for the weekend was “Not By Bread Alone.” Using Matthew 4:1-11, the temptation of Christ, as their theme verse, the planning group (made up seven seniors plus adults) contextualized the story by setting it in ski lodge and adapting it for a modern telling. A snow storm is coming and they will be stranded at the lodge and their ski vacation will be disrupted.
This theme was born out of the planning group’s elevated sense of danger and conflict as well as natural disasters that have characterized this past year. Life risks are real, inevitable and sometimes unavoidable. On the one hand, you’re going to be tempted a lot and fail a lot – perhaps God isn’t looking out for us. On the other hand, if all we do is succeed and come out on top, our self-confidence can lead us to arrogance and we forget our need for God or the call to live humbly by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
In both cases, as in all of life, there is always the risk that your goals will take the form of costly thrills, material possessions and power that will set you on a path away from Christ. The weekend was spent identifying things in our lives that threaten to draw us away from trusting God and following Christ, as well as those things that God provides to strengthen our faith against those alternative ways of living.1
Two times in the Greek, the word “diabolos” or “devil” is used rather than Satan. Not only that, the word can mean “sever a relationship” or “cast through.” Satan’s main objective in this story was to sever Jesus from God and to come between Father and Son.
There are many things in this world that seek to sever our relationship with God and come between Jesus and us. Many times this is our own doing, all that Satan has to do is sit back and enjoy the show. And we find ourselves in the wilderness with nothing to eat and an untested faith that is limp and inadequate to support us in time of need. We feel that there is no way out. More often than not, we blame God and turn away. Or we get mad over something small when there is really something bigger going on in our lives that we don’t want to face. We leave our faith communities in a huff and cut off. Or worse, we reject the Christian faith altogether.
There’s more to faith than just bread. Jesus tells us it’s the very word of God that will sustain us, lead us out of our personal wildernesses, fill us with good things and minister to us, just as the angels ministered to Jesus at the conclusion of his encounter. We are to worship God and serve only him. I have found when I begin to serve things other than God and listen to other voices rather than God’s is when I find myself in the wilderness. And my wilderness can look like anxiety, shame, guilt, snappiness, rejection of those who are doing angel’s work.
As we make the turn toward Lent, let us be mindful that God, above all, wants a relationship with us, to hold us so close that we can hear God’s heartbeat, have our very hearts. Be aware of those things that can “cast through” our relationship with God and tear at the very heart – worries, distractions, temptations to put God second and the business of our lives first.
God is here providing more than just bread. He provides the wine of compassion and waters of new birth and wants so very badly to be a companion on our journey.
The journey through these personal faith wildernesses is not going to be easy. In the bible it never is. But we can use these wilderness times to remember our beginnings and better understand our complete dependence on God.
1Winter Celebration “Not By Bread Alone” Small Group Leader’s Guide, Delaney, et. al., January 2018.