December 30, 2009

Trials, Temptations, and Failures as Preparation

The concept of "the temptation of Christ" has been so repeated and skimmed over that it has lost much of it's potent meaning to today's average Christian. It has become some far off divine event that was just something Jesus did, like walking on water or healing sick people. It has lost its significance to many. So have the other two, but I've only got your attention for a few paragraphs.

The isolated event is simple enough. Jesus walks into the desert, does not eat for forty days, and the Devil tempts him. Satan tries to gain the upper hand through food, because Jesus has a physical body and is no doubt feeling severe hunger. Jesus's answer is scripture. Satan tries to appeal to the supernatural connection between Christ and the Father, asking Jesus to jump down from a very high place to have the angels catch him. The answer, again, is scripture. Lastly he is tempted by "all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor" at the cost of worshiping Satan.

I'm going to mention, but not focus on the obvious trends. Jesus, God incarnate, the Word made flesh, quoted scripture in response to temptation. If God (as Jesus) responds to temptation with scripture, how much more should we depend on it? Commitment of scripture to memory is essential and exceptionally useful.

The other obvious trend is that Jesus was tempted and resisted that we might be able to more readily identify with his humanity. He was tempted like we are, but resisted. That's where the power to resist temptation lies, with Jesus, and having your mind "set on what the Spirit desires." You've heard that before and probably inferred it from the story.

What I want to do is place this event in the timeline of Jesus's ministry; at the beginning. Before beginning his ministry he went through these temptations; they were necessary to prepare him for the Father's plans. The temptations in our life will often (if not always) take much more subtle forms than what happened here; the Devil is not likely to come up to you in bodily form and say "Worship me and you'll get all this treasure!" Instead, you will be faced with choices. When one looks at these situations through the eye of scripture and through consulting fellow believers, one option will become clearly the way that leads to God's plan for you. It will often be the more difficult one, the one where you personally give up more... usually what you hold dear (material security, pride... pride is a tricky one because you think you're right). The most difficult choice will seem to bring you more hardship, but if you move forward believing that God will work His will in your life for the best even though it really sucks, He will. Psalm 66:10-12 comes to mind here:
For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.
Find support in fellow believers. Seek a relationship with God everyday through reading the Bible, praying, and worshipping; the result of being obedient to Him in the darkest of days, in the valley of death, is abundance. It may take a while, but He will lead you there.

These kinds of trials have prepared some of the most famous people of God for their work for Him; David spent years as the runt of the litter tending the sheep, risking his life against lions and bears to protect the flock while his brothers got the best training and reputations among the people. I don't think David was completely worry-free when the wild animals came to eat his dad's sheep; I'm sure that was very much a trial where he could have ran. He stayed and fought, though, protecting the sheep of the man who did not expect him to be one of Israel's most famous kings.

Moses, from our perspective, completely blew his first opportunity to save the Israelites by killing an Egyptian and earning the scorn of the very people he wanted to help. That wasn't nearly enough to stop God from using him to be the one to lead a people out of years upon years of bondage and slavery... forty years after the fact.

Remember Joshua, who led the Israelites? He was among the Israelite spies sent into the promise land who despaired and didn't speak up against the nay-sayers, even when Caleb was faithful and spoke out against those who didn't think they could take the land. Talk about feeling ashamed for not being brave enough; God still used this guy, having learned from these experiences, to lead the people in conquest.

See a common theme here? Second Corinthians 12:9-10...
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Your mistakes can't stop God. He has personally guaranteed and shown many times that He can work with whoever you are, whatever you've done. Because you are not a loser when you humble yourself before Him; as soon as you admit your brokenness and your foolishness, He will start to grow you and mature you and prepare you for the advancing of His kingdom. Just seek Him, seek a relationship with Him; in some ways, like a human relationship. You've got to spend time with the other person (worship), talk to them (prayer), hear what they have to say to you (Bible)(those are not exclusive, i.e. you can very much talk to God in worship/hear from him in prayer). The difference is that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, beyond time, and loves you vastly more than you can imagine. Don't you want that kind of friend looking out for you? Even better, don't you want that kind of Father looking out for you? What wouldn't He do for you, his Child, to bring you to the best possible place in Him?

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