A Desolate Place

As we continue to seek to imitate the service and suffering of Jesus in this season of Lent, I want to exhort us this morning to humble ourselves by entering desolate places.

The language here of “a desolate place,” comes from Mark 1:35, where for the first of many times depicted in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus withdraws from those he is with, to enter into quiet and seclusion. This action was not for peace and quiet in and of itself, but so Jesus could enter into deeper intimacy with his Father. Thus, in desiring to emulate the character and nature of Jesus, should capture our attention, especially in thinking through what this means for us in our current context.

But before we talk about the goodness of solitude, we have to do some work to understand how Jesus was being humble in distancing himself from people.

Philippians 2 is one of the more helpful explainers of Christ-like humility in Scripture. The apostle Paul writes:

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

One quick observation to make is that Jesus, described in v. 6, “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped…” One of the difficulties with this verse is making sure we understand and contemplate what v. 6 is saying. Jesus had equality with God, and he set it aside.

Without diving too deeply into various theories regarding the Trinity and the incarnation, Jesus, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1). Thus, the act of giving up that equality could be described as the most incomprehensible, powerful, act of self-forgetfulness in the history of the world.

This is because humility is self-forgetfulness, which, in turn, made the actions of Jesus truly humble. Humility is not some twisted form of self-deprecation, or a falsified sense of inferiority, it is forgetting one’s self. Jesus exemplified this on the Cross, he "forgot" who he was, for our sakes.

But this was not the first time Jesus practice self-forgetfulness in his life, because any time he entered into the aforementioned “desolate places,” he also practiced a form of humility. Why? Because entering into deep intimacy with the Father means forgetting our selves. Not in the sense that we surrender all aspects of our individualism (although this true in some form), but that we seek to be one with our God.

And the physical distance that is included in the text in Mark points towards how we ought to understand this forgotten discipline, the discipline of humble solitude, in our day and age. We all are aware that we live in a “loud” time. We have a constant flow of stimulations vying for our attention, we are easily distracted and overwhelmed by our responsibilities. So the importance to unplug is increasingly relevant.

But we also must recognize that when we give ourselves over to these seekers of our attention, we may be losing ourselves, but we are not forgetting ourselves. Speaking personally, my frenetic desire for noise is rooted in my need to feel control, or to feel shallow comfort in anxious times, or to know as much as I can, or if I’m really honest it’s because I do not really want to submit to still small voice of God.

To re-iterate, humility is really self-forgetfulness, it is forgetting ourselves in the presence of a God worthy of our attention and devotion. Therefore, when we do not submit ourselves to this quiet disposition, we practice a covert pride, an elevation of ourselves. As we go from feed to feed, and link to link, and podcast to podcast, our lack of quiet reveals a heart that is unwilling to submit to a God who is there.

From a practical standpoint, this discipline can seem overwhelming. But we do not need a four hour block of time to have a disposition of quiet before our God. And I would encourage you to think about the spots within your rhythms, where you can be quiet before your God.

This week I tried two simple things. At stoplights, I paused what I was listening to and isolated myself from the noise. I was just quiet and prayed that I forget myself and know God more throughout my day.

And in the quirky rhythms of life where I, often without thinking, take out my phone for no reason. I tried to spend a moment, a singular, solitary moment of giving up my status as a consumer. 

So, my exhortation is this. Humble yourself before God, and find a desolate place.

Prayer of Confession

Father, we confess that we need help knowing you more. We often turn to shallow comforts, rather than the depth and goodness of your intimacy, and at the root of this is pride. Rather than being self-forgetful, we elevate what we believe is important for our own advancement and our gain. This is a great sin against you, God. So especially in this Lent season, make us more like Jesus. The one who did not count equality as a thing to be grasped, help us be like Him to forget ourselves.

Father, we have sinned against you. And we know, that if we in the church regard sin in our own midst, our prayers will be ineffectual. So we confess our individual sins to you now.