Solitude and infinite majesty dispel any notions of self-sufficiency.

From its edge, I stood looking out over the Judean wilderness. In the summer evening, maroon shadows spilled across the hills. The desert was empty of man.

Two thousand years earlier, Jesus had fasted and faced Satan in this arena. Few New Testament passages are more familiar than that 40-day sojourn, and as I looked out into the crucible of sand and rock, I recalled other, lesser-known gospel accounts of Jesus venturing alone into country perhaps not as remote as this, but still mountain and desert beyond the outskirts of villages:

“And he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed” (Luke 5:16).

“And … he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12).

“And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone” (Matt. 14:23).

“And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (Mark 1:35). Or, as related in Luke 4:42, “And when it was day, he departed and went into a desert place”.

On these occasions, Jesus was not seeking simply a refuge from the crowds, though wilderness could provide such a sanctuary (as recorded in Mark 1:45 and John 6:15). Rather, Jesus was here using the mountain and desert for a purpose the gospel writers make explicit: prayer. The country beyond the edge of civilization was the setting Jesus chose for prayer.

These verses provide more than topographical color or a bridge in the gospel narrative. They offer, I believe, a clue to prayer and the way wilderness—both first-century Judean and twentieth-century American—can serve as a house of prayer. ...

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