40 Days in the Wilderness - A Bible Discussion Guide for Lent
For Lent or any time you feel like you're lost and alone
Although you can use it any time of the year, this Bible study has been designed to remind us of the reason we recognize the six weeks before Holy Week as Lent. Between Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday there are 40 days. The same number of days that the Israelites scouted in the promised land, the same number of years the Israelites wandered in the desert and the same number of days that Jesus spent in the wilderness/desert after His baptism. We can use this time to reflect on all that God has done for us.
Some Christians use this time to "give up something" to remind them of what Jesus "gave up" for us on the Cross. You are welcome to give up something important during this time if you'd like. However, it's not necessary. In the next six weeks we'll be looking at some "wilderness" experiences from scripture and comparing them to some of our own so that the next time we feel "lost in a desert" we will be able to draw encouragement and strength from the scriptures in this study. At the end of each study we'll look at what was "given up" (sometimes for the good and sometimes unnecessarily) because of the wilderness experience.
I'm in the Wilderness, But How did I get Here?
OPEN: Before we begin, we need to clarify something. What is a literal wilderness and why would you not want to be there?
At what times in your life would you have considered yourself to be "wandering in the wilderness?" What did it feel like to be there?
Read Numbers 13:17-27
- By the time Joshua, Caleb and the other 10 spies were sent into the promised land, the Israelites had already been in the wilderness for 2 years. What had brought them into the wilderness up to this point? When have you felt as though you were in the wilderness by the same means?
- What did the spies find in the promised land? Do you think it was worth spending the last two years in the wilderness to get what the spies saw there?
- What can we learn about God from what the spies found? (See Exodus 3:17) What hope can we draw from this?
Read Numbers 13:28-14:4 & 14:26-35
- Which camp would you have been in, the Joshua/Caleb camp or the 10 who were afraid? Why?
- What circumstances make it easier or harder for you to believe God's promises?
- Are God's promises enough to help you do the hard stuff or are you more likely to take the easy way out? Why?
- What are you facing or have you ever faced that you might consider being the "sons of Anak" (things that are too big for you to fight)?
- So now, the Israelites are condemned to die in the wilderness, sentenced to wandering for 40 years. Why are they in the wilderness now? (4 reasons)
- Have you ever found yourself in the wilderness by these same means?
- What can we learn from the Israelites?
THE LAST QUESTION:
What is given up in today's scripture and why?
To Think About: Israel was as close as 11 days, but disbelief and disobedience kept them from receiving the promise of God. Is God trying to bless us and yet just like the Israelites we find ourselves wandering? How long will we wander before we believe His promises. Remember, God is bigger than our fears and He always keeps His promises.
You can read the recap of this story in Deuteronomy 1:19-46
- Forty Days in the Wilderness for Kids
This Children's Curriculum was written to be taught alongside "40 Days in the Wilderness" (the study on this page). Although it can be used without the adult study, this can be a perfect way to put your kids and adults on the same lesson.
I'm in the Wilderness and It's not my fault
Sometimes even when we are obedient to God and go in faith where He leads us, we still find ourselves in the wilderness. Take Job for example, He was a devout man, but Satan wanted to prove a point. Through it all Job stayed strong in the Lord. Let's look at another servant of God who found herself wandering in the wilderness through what seems to be no fault of her own.
Read Genesis 21:8-20
- Why do Hagar and Ishmael find themselves in the wilderness? Does this seem fair?
- How do you think Abraham felt?
- When have you ever found yourself in a wilderness situation that you had no control over?
- How did you feel when you were forced into your wilderness situation? How did you respond?
- Hagar and Ishmael were cast into the wilderness quite suddenly. How does the scripture say they responded?
- How did God respond?
- Hagar and Ishmael wandered for a while before they finally stopped and cried out to God. What might have happened had they stopped sooner?
- The last time you were in the wilderness, did you wander for a while or stop and cry out to God?
- What keeps you from crying out to God. (Psalm 46:10)
- This scripture says that "God opened her eyes." What does this tell us about the well?
- Share a time when God "opened your eyes."
THE LAST QUESTION:
What did Hagar, Ishmael and Abraham give up to follow God?
What? You want me to go into the wilderness on purpose
Occasionally, the wilderness experiences we have will be ones God leads us into. It's hard to imagine going into a wilderness on purpose just because Jesus sends you there, but that's just what the disciples did.
Read Matthew 10:5-20
- What circumstances make this seem like a "wilderness" condition even though the disciples may not have been sent into a true wilderness?
- What do you think it may have been like to spread the good news in the first century?
- What kind of experience has God called you to that might compare with this wilderness experience or what kind of experience might God call you to that could feel like you've been called into the wilderness?
- What kind of gifts and/or power was given to the disciples to endure this wilderness experience?
- What kind of gift and/or power has God given you that has helped or could in times such as these?
- Why did Jesus call the disciples "sheep among wolves"? How were they supposed to compensate for this seemingly uneven match?
- When have you felt like a "sheep among wolves"? How did your response mirror Jesus' advice in vs. 16b or what do you wish you'd done differently?
- In vs. 17 & 18 Jesus warns the disciples (and us) that going into the wilderness and the unknown for His sake would not be easy. What is the obstacle He mentions specifically in these verses? How were the disciples (or any of His followers) supposed to handle this obstacle?
THE LAST QUESTION:
What kinds of things did the disciples give up to be obedience to Jesus?
Would you be willing to do the same?
TO THINK ABOUT: When you find God calling you into this sort of wilderness, a place where you just aren't comfortable, remember the disciples and how much more "uncomfortable" they were. Praise God that He brought the disciples through their desert, and He will bring you through, too. Have faith that He will never let you down.
Life can be difficult. It often feels as though we are walking all alone through a desert. But does it have to? This six week study is great for Lent, but appropriate for any time of year when you feel overwhelmed or lost and alone. My groups have enjoyed exploring how our own life journey can parallel the walk the Israelites made thousands of years ago.
Are You Grumbling in the Wilderness?
In Exodus we read the history of Israel being under the tyrannical rule of Egypt. (To find out how they got here, read Genesis chapters 37 & 39-45) God heard their cries for deliverance and rescued them from the hands of Pharaoh. (You'll find this account in Exodus chapters 1-15). Today we're going to find them a short time later. Let's look at how they faced their wilderness experience.
Read Exodus 16:1-15
- 1. Only 1½ months after their deliverance from Egypt, what do we find the Israelites doing? Why?
- Share a time when you were like the Israelites and forgot the goodness of God because you were in the wilderness? What was/is your biggest complaint when you find yourself in the wilderness?
- 2. The Israelites thought they were grumbling against Moses and Aaron (vs. 2), but who were they really grumbling against? Why does God say that?
- 3. Share a time when you "grumbled against" someone or some situation. How does remembering God is in control of everything in our lives put into perspective our grumbling?
- 4. How did God answer the cries of the Israelites? Read John 6:32-35 and consider how this might be how God sometimes answers our cries.
Read Exodus 16:16-30
- What can we learn from the Israelites about obedience? When was the last time you weren't obedient and what did you learn from it?
- Look at Hebrews 13:5 and I Thessalonians 5:18 and discuss how we measure up in the midst of our "wilderness." Talk about why these verses are sometimes difficult and how following/not following them affects our witness.
THE LAST QUESTION:
What did the Israelites give up in the midst of their grumbling?
Strength in the Wilderness
Matthew 4:1-11 (parallel account found in Luke 4:1-13)
- What was the specific reason that Jesus was led out into the wilderness? (Compare with Deuteronomy 8:1-5) Share a time when you felt like you were in the wilderness for a similar reason?
- Jesus is most assuredly God, but during this time in His life we see Him in one of His most human moments (next to His suffering before and on the cross). Discuss how you would feel (how Jesus probably felt) after going 40 days without food or water.
- How would this have affected Jesus' ability to resist the first temptation Satan threw at Him? (or yours)
- What was at the heart of the 2nd temptation? What do we learn from Jesus' answer?
- How might the third temptation have been attractive to Jesus?
- What can we learn from this temptation about compromise?
- What do we learn about Satan in this passage?
- What did Jesus use to combat him? How can this help us defeat this enemy?
- Are there any verses you have memorized that have helped you in the wilderness?
- How did Jesus' 40 days of temptation end?
- Who has been your "angel" at the end of your "wilderness" experience?
THE LAST QUESTION:
What did Jesus give up in this passage? Why?
TO THINK ABOUT: Jesus has been through everything that you and I will face. He has been in the "wilderness" physically, like He was in this passage, as well as spiritually, like the Garden of Gethsemane, during Judas' betrayal, Peter's denial and the Roman's cross. He even cried out to God, "Why have you forsaken me?" Consider how this knowledge can help you have strength in the midst of your wilderness.
God's Promise After The Wilderness
Hopefully up to this point, this study has helped you understand some of the reasons we go through hard times and how we can grow in difficult situations. The beauty of going through life with God is the knowledge that there is more to life than just living everyday. We have promises from God. Promises of life with His Son, Jesus Christ and promises of reward after the wilderness.
Read Isaiah 32:1-2 & 14-20
- Because God is with us, how are we like a
a. shelter in the wind
b. refuge in the storm
c. stream in the desert
- Verse 14 sort of reminds us what being in the "wilderness" is like. How does verse 15 tell us we get out? How does this happen in our lives?
- Do you feel more like a desert, a fertile field or a forest right now? Why?
- When we get into the middle of a desert, what do these verses tell us we should ask Jesus for?
- What emphasis do Galatians 3:3 and John 14:25-27 put on Isaiah's message?
- John 10:10b says: "I [Jesus] have come that they may have life and have it to the full." (NIV)
a. What is "life to the full"?
b. What keeps us from having it?
Read Isaiah 35
- In the New International Version the Bible has a heading for this section: "Joy of the Redeemed." This passage is full of promise. Name some of them and then share what is your favorite.
- How can these promises (and the ones we've read in other scriptures today) help us the next time we go through the wilderness?
THE LAST QUESTION:
Is there anything you're ready to "give up" for Jesus sake?
(After all, He gave His life for you)
TO THINK ABOUT: The next time you're in the wilderness, don't go there alone. Remember the promises of God, and remember that Jesus knows what it is like to be in the wilderness. Ask for a "filling" of the Holy Spirit and call on a brother or sister in Christ to minister to you and help you through.
© 2009 Lynne Modranski