Friday, February 22, 2013

Wilderness and temptation...

Based on John 4

Often, the temptations that are placed before us don’t look anything like evil.  Often, they look like things that will be good for us or for our community. Evil is not always easily recognizable…because it is based on distortions and lies.  In order to be tempted, it is much easier for the enemy to present something familiar to us and offer us that rather than something new and unfamiliar…temptation appeals to our comfort and security even more than it appeals to  glamour and power.  Unfortunately, evil also distorts what we know of God and the world.

The enemy presents wants as needs, falsehoods as truths, distrust as faith.  Where in our world do we hear these distortions? Advertising?  Politics? Gossip? We are trained to distrust our own feelings and experiences,  and trust those of other folks with agendas other than the glory of God, agendas to boost their own esteem, or worse, to diminish our faith and trust in our God…to make us believe lies about who we are and what we need instead of relying on our knowledge of whose we are and that our true need is to rely on Him.  In this testing in the wilderness, the devil tries to do the same with Jesus.  He tries to make him believe lies-like that he has been given all authority over the world.  That’s a lie.  Jesus does not fall for that lie because he knows who he is and who his father is and that his father has all authority in the universe.

The devil tries to persuade Jesus that discomfort is not part of the journey of faithful obedience.  If he wants to act like the son of God (as he says he is) he should just go ahead and make the stones into bread so he won’t be hungry anymore.  But Jesus knows his Father and he knows what real faith is.  Real faith is trusting God even in the harsh wilderness…even when it would be much easier and more comfortable to just turn the rock into a stone and eat it and stop being hungry.  How often do we find ourselves in the wilderness for extended periods of time spending every moment trying to find ways out…or ways to make the harsh realities of our situations more palatable and comfortable rather than trusting in God who promises to see us through?

It’s so much easier to deal with hardship when we can find ways to lessen the discomfort, right?  But all too often, that’s exactly the lie the enemy puts before us.  If the Spirit of God has led us to a place of harshness and discomfort, we must believe there is a reason for it and that he will be faithful to take us through it in His time and in His way.  When we believe the lie that we must rely on our own strategies and understanding and take the temptations to make the ride a little less painful, we allow God’s message to us to be distorted and in so doing, we miss the purpose God has for the journey.  We get so busy trying to fix things and make them more tolerable and we forget that there is a purpose to the time in the desert…to prepare us and to shape us and to focus our attention on the one who truly provides.

So many of the most important leaders in the Bible were led into the desert or wilderness before they were able to do the tremendous things God had for them to do.  God told Moses to lead ALL the people of Israel into the desert to escape slavery…and not just for 40 days bur for 40 YEARS.  The people did the natural thing, they complained about it.  They talked about how much better it was back in Egypt when they were slaves.  They tried to collect manna and save it so they would have some sense of security.  They made a golden calf to have something tangible to worship. Moses himself never saw the promised land..he died before they arrived in Israel and there had to be times when Moses thought to himself, “what have we gotten ourselves into? This can’t possibly be what God has promised.”  And then, when God was ready, he led them to Israel where, might I add, things were not always rosy either.  Not even the promised land is going to be always easy and comfortable.

John the Baptist spent months in the desert before he began his ministry.  He ate locusts to survive.  And he had a huge role to play in the ministry of Jesus.  And now Jesus himself is led into the desert before he begins the work God has for him.  There is often, in God’s Kingdom, a time for quiet preparation, a time for sitting in the wilderness and waiting for God.

We all experience time in the wilderness. We become uncomfortable with some of the realities we are facing.   We want to believe the distortions the enemy puts in front of us…that doing nothing  is preferable to change that could bring us into closer obedience or that we must find a quick fix for our difficulties right away and get back to our comfortable way of being.  It is so hard to sit patiently in the desert and wait on God. I think it’s the hardest thing we are asked to do as Christians in this world.  Some of us will scramble to find ways to make the desert more comfortable…fashioning pillows out of rocks and trying to turn stones into bread.  We might believe the lie that tells us that if we are a bit more at ease, we are doing better and that is God’s plan.  But when we look to Jesus, if we look to Jesus, we see that he did not do this.  He refused to accept anything that changed his circumstances, even allowing himself to be hungry rather than turn just one little stone into a piece of bread, until God himself led him to the next thing.

Perhaps instead of focusing on the hardship around us we might choose, instead to focus on what we know of our God.  How have we experienced God’s faithfulness in our own wilderness?  How is our relationship with God being transformed? How strong are our temptations to return to old ways—ways of relying on ourselves—and how is God helping us to turn instead to his ways?

Even Jesus had a tough time in the wilderness.  The Holy Spirit himself had to take him there because, I suspect, like us, he might not have chosen it for himself.  But upon closer look we see that the Holy Spirit did not just drop Jesus off in the desert and leave him there to fend for himself…he stayed with him and was in him as the temptations came.  With the Holy Spirit, Jesus turned to God’s Word in times of temptations and refuted the promises and lies of evil.  And so it is with us.  The Spirit will lead us into  times of wilderness testing.  We will be tempted to bounce around and try to make it more comfortable, but he will not abandoned us there.  He will stay with us and point us to God’s Word, who is Christ, so that we will endure and overcome and we will be ready when the Holy Spirit takes us out again to do great things.

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