Graham Heslop
Graham Heslop Graham has an insatiable appetite for books, occasionally dips into theology, and moonlights as a lecturer in New Testament Greek at George Whitefield College, Cape Town. He also serves on the staff team at Union Chapel Presbyterian Church and as the written content editor for TGC Africa. Graham is married to Lynsay-Anne and they have one son, Teddy.

Doodle: Follow Jesus, Into The Wilderness

Doodle: Follow Jesus, Into The Wilderness

Mark’s Gospel begins with a voice crying out in the wilderness (Mark 1:3). This is where John conducts his public ministry (Mark 1:4), where he baptises Jesus (Mark 1:9), and where Jesus is led by the Spirit to be tempted (Mark 1:12-13). A few paragraphs later, Jesus leaves Capernaum to pray in a desolate place, using the same word translated “wilderness” (Mark 1:35). A few chapters further, Jesus takes his disciples on a similar wilderness retreat (Mark 6:31-32, 35).

Why did Jesus do this? What was the purpose behind his withdrawing to quiet, desolate, and remote places? Why did Jesus travel to the wilderness? And are his retreats into the wilderness something we should learn from?

Someone might answer those questions by claiming that—being a man—Jesus was wild at heart. He felt the pull of danger and adventure, desiring risk and freedom. But I don’t think that’s it.

Rather, as Eugene Peterson suggests in the lengthy passage quoted below, from A Month of Sundays, Jesus escaped to the wilderness so that he might experience more of God his Father. Jesus left the crowds and distractions behind in search of quiet, quiet in the presence of God. With Eugene Peterson, I’m convinced that this is something we desperately need to imitate today.

Peterson writes, “When we wish to read a good book and immerse ourselves in it, we do not go to a noisy bus station to read. Reader, we retreat to a quiet, private place to give ourselves completely to the book. When we wish to talk with someone who means much to us, we take him or her to a place where there will be no interruptions. When we study for an examination, we lock the door, turn off the radio, and give ourselves unreservedly to the subject matter. When we want to let the life of Christ make a revolutionary impact on our life, we go to the desert.”

Of course, Peterson admits, “Geographically it is not always possible. But we can do it spiritually by recognising the terrible distraction of the ambitions, the standards, the music, the talk, and the noise of this world to our attempts at spiritual concentration—and then do something about it. The desert we begin in will have to be one of our own making, but it can be made. Some people fast to remind themselves that the bread of this world is not the primary nourishment of their lives. Some people make sacrificial, disciplined acts to train themselves in a mental and emotional way for the spiritual lives they profess.”

Peterson concludes that the wilderness “is a place to sharpen goals and renew perspectives. In the clearer, cleaner air of obedience and discipline, we can see his life impinging on ours…We see the emptiness of all the world and the fullness of the reign of God.”

Most of our lives are frenetic and busy. This seems inevitable. Often we don’t have time to retreat, whether it’s geographically or spiritually—though these things are more closely related than we tend to recognise. However busyness is also something we choose. Most of us prefer the unrelenting life over the wilderness. We opt for pace instead of pause, contemplation, and prayer. So, as Eugene Peterson writes, “The desert we begin in will have to be one of our own making, but it can be made.” Maybe that’s tonight, or this weekend. Switch off your phone, resist your favourite streaming service. Put away the interruptions and immerse yourself in God.

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