Isaiah the prophet in Isaiah 40:3 precedes his comment “prepare the way for the Lord ” with the words “a voice calling in the desert”. John the Baptist, when asked by the priests and Levites who he was repeats the words of Isaiah: “I am the voice of one calling in the desert”. “Desert” is very descriptive of the kind of land both Isaiah and John lived in – or at least nearby. When you think of desert, you think of dry wasteland – a place where life is a struggle for anything living there – where live doesn’t thrive. There surely is a spiritual story behind the use of the “desert” metaphor. The Israelites in exile were certainly living in a spiritual wasteland – exiled for their disobedience – their wayward spirituality and idol worship. The spiritual environment John was confronting was surely a wasteland as well – the religious had perverted the ways of God; the Pharisees sought the approval of men and not God. What about today, in this country – are we in a spiritual wasteland?
Thom S. Rainer writes in his recent book “I Am a Church Member” that based on surveys of 557 churches from 2004-2010 “nine out of ten churches in America are declining or growing at a pace slower than that of their communities.” Worse yet, only 15% of Millennials (born 1980-2000 – the largest generation in America’s history) are Christians (compared to two-thirds of the Builder generation (born before 1946). Surveys have also found that though the search for spirituality is at an all-time high, that search is all over the map – the spiritual search is directed down a myriad of paths – Christianity is just one option in that search – and an increasingly neglected or ignored option. And even within Christian communities there is a troubling lack of commitment and devotion. People seek out churches like it’s a search for membership in a country club that comes with membership privileges – being a part of a church is more about how “I or my family can be served, be fed” than about serving and growing in faith. It’s easy to make the case that today we live in the “desert” as well – a spiritual wasteland.
Christians are called to carry on the work of John the Baptist – to make the way straight for the Lord – to bring Jesus’ light into a dark world – to be living representations of the living Lord – to share the blessings of what God did for us through His Son – to serve others. Are you going to be “a voice calling in the desert”? – surely God is calling out to you in the desert to spread the “Good News” of Jesus Christ!