When Your Identity Is Attacked: Lessons From The Judean Desert

This post is part of a series reflecting on my Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The Pilgrimage was a guided experience called “The Footsteps of Jesus”  – every Friday, I’ll be posting a “Footsteps Friday” reflection (see index here). I look forward to your sharing your thoughts and comments. 

When Your Identity Is Attacked_ Lessons From The Judean DesertThe desert is the place of testing; the place of refining.  It is where suffering burns away the trivial and the artificial, leaving behind that which is pure and solid and steady.

You’ve experienced desert seasons in your life. How have they shaped you? What has it confirmed for you?

In our pilgrimage through the Holy Land, we bundled a visit to the Jordan river with a visit to the Judean desert.  We went from the site of Jesus’ baptism to the place of Jesus temptation.  In His baptism, Jesus received the word of blessing from the Father: “You are my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”

But then Jesus went to the desert and there, his identity as the beloved was tested. And in His response to that testing, we find great encouragement for our own desert periods.

The landscape is dry, intimidating, but beautiful.  As I observed at Qumran, for those who seek solitude, God provides beauty and wonder.

View from the top of the Wadi

The Judean Desert, descending to the Wadi Qelt

On our trip to the Judean desert, we visited St George of Choziba monastery, nestled deep in the Wadi Qelt.  It is a tiny oasis fed by a small spring that creates a trickle of water through the rugged desert valleys.  Monks began settling there as early as the 4th century.  They gathered around the spring, which is the only one for miles around.  This site is traditionally associated with Elijah being fed by the ravens in the wilderness (I Kings 17:2-6). Our leader, Bob, told us that this spot is a strong candidate for the location of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.

Monastery Gateway

St George of Choziba Monastery

As we meditated on the story of Satan testing Jesus, Bob pointed out the tempter’s strategy: in the time of weakness, Satan raises questions about what we hold most certain.

“If you are the son of God….”  Satan questions Jesus identity.  He tempts Jesus to prove himself.  If you really are the beloved, if you really are who you say, then prove it.  This gives us great insight into our greatest point of weakness: our identity.

Identity is where we are most vulnerable, where we have our greatest emotional investment.  It is where we are most sensitive.  There are so many things that compete to define our identity: our nationality, our economic group, our clubs, our sexuality, our politics, our family, etc.  But the strongest identity we can possibly have is the one God gives us: the identity of being His beloved child.

This is precisely the identity that Satan attacks.

Satan attacks three times: first with appetite (make bread out of stones), then with approval (throw yourself from the height of the temple and receive the ministration of angels and accolades of men), finally with ambition (I will make you ruler of all without you having to suffer and die for it).

Jesus answers each time with scripture.

Jesus teaches us to defend our identity with our reliance upon the Father.  To live as the beloved is to be nourished by the Father, to have our approval come from the Father, and to have our ambitions line up with the Father’s.

Jesus shows us how to live in submission to the Father so that the power of the Father would flow through us.  As Bob said: “In the Jordan we learn who we are, in the desert we learn what to do.”

Reflect on your own seasons in the deserts of life.  How have they shaped you to rely more fully on God?

Soli Deo Gloria


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