Two great quotes from a recent book I have just finished on the lives of the “desert fathers” of Egypt :
“…The desert was a place of death, testing, repentance, and spiritual warfare. It was not a place of escape as much as a place of countercultural engagement. It was not a retreat but the frontlines of spiritual warfare. It is a place where the victory of Christ over sin, death, and the devil was proclaimed, fought, and won. Under the power of the risen Lord, it is where the heart was purified, the passions conquered, sin destroyed, and humanity renewed….”
“…Ironically, the greatest of these humble monks wielded enormous power in the ancient world. Their reputation for humility and holiness inspired crowds of pilgrims to flock to remote regions of the desert. The poor and needy, as well as emperors, generals, and politicians, would travel long distances by foot or donkey just to see the face of one of these elders or obtain a word of wisdom and healing….”
The first quote reminds us that their "flight" to the desert represented a deeper inner spiritual inversion. Living in a physical desert allowed them to spiritually put to death habits that were in conflict with their new life in Christ. The physical desert became a place of spiritual purification rather than despair. Indeed, it is the case that from Moses to Jesus, many of the Biblical figures where at one point tested in one physical desert or another. God often uses spiritual desert moments (moments of trials and isolation) to bring us closer to him. Are you in a spiritual desert right now? A place of wilderness or struggle? The message then is that if you have trusted Jesus, God may be using that desert moment to mould you and fashion you in the image of His Son. We need not fear the desert experiences, for in it lies the power to bring about a deeper transformation! Interestingly, the second quote reminds that by fleeing to the desert, the desert fathers brought the world to the desert. Quite ironic, but unsurprising. As we live through the desert, we are purified and become more closer to God - it is then we have a greater impact on our secular culture. It is a total opposite of what the world preaches. The world says, the church is not liberal enough thats why it has no influence. The Bible says, get closer to God and you will impact the world!
Quotes from Bringing Jesus to the Desert (Ancient Context, Ancient Faith) by Brad Nassif, Gary M. Burge (2012, Theology) - Part of the 'Ancient Context, Ancient Faith' series.