After a really crappy Saturday at work I was going to title this post "Soul Crusher." However, two things intervened in between then and now. The first was that I remembered some advice from a friend at work about being careful to be too specific about things from the job. (They can come back to haunt you employment-wise.) The second thing that got in the way was a podcast from Imago Dei that I must have listened to 5-7 times on the way to & from the cabin on Father's Day.
(Seriously, if you haven't subscribed to the podcasts from Imago, get off your lazy butt and link it up in your Itunes. http://www.imagodeicommunity.com/sunday/teaching-and-sermon-archive/ It's free, so what are you waiting for?)
At any rate, Rick McKinley is teaching through the Gospel of Matthew, and I got stuck on the beginning of chapter 4, the whole story of Jesus being tempted in the Judean desert by Satan.
But to properly understand this passage, you need to know the context, i.e. that it comes on the heels of Jesus baptism in the Jordan river where the Father's voice breaks through and proclaims that Jesus is his son, and that he loves him.
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting 40 days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, "IF you are the son of God, tell these stones to become bread." Jesus answered, "It is written: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "IF you are the son of God," he said, "throw yourself down, for it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone."
Jesus answered him, "It is also written, "do not put the Lord your God to the test." Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan. For it is written: "Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only." Then the devil left him, and angels came and ministered to him.
Rick has a ton of stuff in this sermon, and you could go for days studying through it. But I suppose what struck me was the idea that God uses temptation as a way to refine us as his children...a way to purify us. And that was something I needed to hear.
My current job leaves me Less-than Satisfied, shall we say. In fact, there are a few individuals with whom I have to work with that make me feel as if I should be wearing a large sign around my neck that has the following written on it. "YES, I am an idiot. Please reinforce that in me. In fact, please give me a list that I must follow...which will contradict itself every other week. I am an idiot, and I need you to remind me of that." And I think I'll leave it there.
Soooooooo, it can be a bit easy to feel discouraged from time to time. I find myself asking things like, "O.K. God, what am I doing here? Am I being punished? You know this is not where I am supposed to be. Um, hello? God? Uh, where did you go?"
The Spirit leads Jesus out in to the wilderness to be tempted. What's that all about? The Spirit itself is leading Jesus out there for the specific purpose to be tempted? Apparently so.
A lot of people have a hard time time even believing that there is something like a Devil out there...which is apparently also his greatest trick. (I mean, how could anyone actually believe there is an evil force at work in the world? Just look around. Everything on Earth is just super-dooper & hunky-dory.) Apparently, the root word for "Diabolos" means "To Split." In other words, the devil's main goal is to split/separate me, you, everyone...and in this case, Jesus, from the Father.
Rick points out that Satan never really tries to stop Jesus from accomplishing his main goal, i.e. bringing redemption. Instead, Satan's goal is to simply tweak the way Jesus goes about it. And the first two ways that Satan goes about this is to simple ask Jesus a question. "IF you are the son of God..." Again, all this comes on the heels of Jesus' baptism, where the Father affirms Jesus as his son. "You have the power, dude. So just use it and prove it. Take care of you own needs by yourself. You're out here in the desert all alone."
But instead of using the power that he truly did have, Jesus responds by clinging to a reliance on his relationship with the Father. Jesus is hungry, weak, vulnerable...and at first glance, all by himself. But he really isn't alone, and he understands that.
Which is just another way in which Jesus is rather different than myself...aside from the glaringly obvious. I will feel VERY alone a good deal of the time. Particularly when frustrating things happen. The situation feels very barren, as if God has pulled an Elvis and left the building.
Perhaps what I ought to understand is that I am not alone. Perhaps what I ought to understand is that God is there, attentive & deeply concerned. He is allowing me to go through this time of frustration to strengthen me. God wants to purify me.
Instead what I do is test God. "If you are really here, God, you will do..." Which is ultimately just a selfish form of doubt. It is giving Satan just enough room to drive a little wedge between myself and my relationship with God.
"IF you really are the son of God..."
I am a child of God. He saved me. He loves me. I am his child. Nothing can change that.
I need to remind myself of that more than a few times everyday.
I can be an amazingly selfish person, and my lack of trust in the Goodness of God is a major manifestation of that. I suppose it doesn't help that I have grown up in the culture of Fast-Food America, where we want everything NOW. "I want the right job NOW. I want this problem fixed NOW. I want this situation rectified NOW. I want my wants met NOW." Talk about taking my eyes off the prize.
The funny thing that Rick points out towards the end of his teaching (Funny is a relative term) is that if it was this way for Jesus, why would it be any different for us? He is modeling the kind of relationship of dependence upon God that we are suppose to have. Actually, you see God coming along side humanity and modeling for us a great deal through out the bible...if you bother to read it in context.
One of the many reasons that I have embraced Christianity is because it is so completely opposite to the way of this world, and it's economy & worldview. You gain everything by giving it all away. You win by losing yourself. You lead by serving. You are raised up because you lower yourself. You have access to the unlimited power and resources of Ancient of Days because you embrace your own weakness.
I can't do it myself. I can't fix myself or this situation. I need to embrace my frustration and weakness. I need to drink from my dependence on God. I can try and take matters into my own hands, but I've learned the hard way that this will only get me so far. I really do need to "lean not on my own understanding," and to pick up my cross daily. If humanity could fix this world, I think we would have done it by now. 5000 years of recorded human history would argue otherwise.
God is faithful, even/especially when I am not. Jesus didn't shirk from the difficulty of his circumstances. He certainly didn't go about his ministry the easy way. (It's true that God isn't into being efficient...because relationships, which is what he desires to have with us, are anything BUT efficient.) So if that is what he is modeling for me...that full blown dependence on the Lord at all times, including the crappiest, then I should lean into him even when I don't "Get It." (And that would be me the vast majority of the time.) Easier said than done. Still, I like the idea of being strengthened and purified.
P.S. So if I am dependent on God, does that mean that he can use me as a "Write Off" on his income tax forms?