Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Matthew 4:1
We have an amazing pastor at our church. In just fifteen minutes flat, his Ash Wednesday sermon helped me look at Lent in a whole new way. He explained that Jesus could have gone right from His baptism by John directly into His public ministry. But He wanted to role model for us the process of preparing and purifying ourselves before beginning something extremely important. What He role models most is avoiding temptation to purge false images of God. Jesus went into the desert specifically to face temptation in order to wrestle those false images into submission. In doing so, He provided us with only the purest image of God.
I’ve never viewed Lent like this before. I’ve always looked at the forty days as a sacrifice: giving up something that matters in exchange for the sacrifice Jesus made for me. Or I’ve added something that nurtures my relationship with God, to draw me closer to Him.
But my pastor has me wondering what false images of God I am tempted to carry in my heart and mind. Not only am I curious, but I also need to know so I can work through them to avoid passing them on to my children. As crazy as it sounds, the devil’s three temptations are the perfect place to start.
When He is tempted for the first time, Jesus is at His most vulnerable. He hasn’t eaten in forty days. Yet when the devil challenges Him to turn stones into bread, Jesus responds with, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
How often has my hunger, my desperation for relief from any discomfort in my life tempted me to want God to be a God of quick fixes? This temptation has always superseded my desire to draw closer to God in the midst of my problems. My first reaction is never, “What words do You want to nourish me with, feed my soul with in my time of need?” I don’t mean to say that God sends us problems in order to teach us a lesson. But I am saying that there is always an opportunity to lean into Him, trust in His mercy, and be challenged to grow every time we face something difficult.
However, in order to do this, I need to fast from wanting a God of quick fixes, and feast on the fact that God wants me to learn and grow through my challenges. I need to fast from complaining about my hardships, and feast on gratitude for the things in my life that aren’t difficult. I need to fast from pitying myself, and feast on the idea that God will give me the strength to get through whatever problem I’m facing. If my kids can witness me do all this, I will be teaching them how to face adversity and how to journey through problems in a healthy way.
The devil tempts Jesus a second time. He says if Jesus throws Himself from the highest point, then the angels will catch Him. Jesus wins this battle by saying, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Sadly enough, I am not as victorious. Instead, I do test God when I treat Him as an “If I, Then You” God. “If I” carry out a kindness, “Then You” will smooth out this problem. “If I” do this ministry to further Your glory, “Then You” will fulfill all my hopes and dreams. “If I” pray this certain prayer, “Then You” will cure the person I am praying for. I act as if I have the recipe to bake the miracles I want God to grant.
Instead, I need to fast from the idea that what I do, or do not do, can influence God, and feast on desiring His will. I need to fast from a high need to know, and feast on trusting God as things unfold. I need to fast from my compulsion to control everything, and feast on the idea that God’s will will always be the best outcome for everyone.
The devil tempts Jesus a final time. He presents Jesus with all the kingdoms of the world and tells Him they can all be His if He bows down to the devil. Jesus triumphs in this test by saying “Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.”
When I look deeply and honestly, I realize I have succumbed to the temptation of putting false gods before the one true God. When I’m checking text messages constantly, ignoring my kids to look something up online, and can’t resist the urge to check my email just one more time, I’ve idolized technology, and am serving it. When I should be in prayer time, yet can’t seem to unplug, not only have I made technology an idol, but now I’ve put it before God.
Without a doubt, it’s time to fast from technology, and feast on prayer time with God. It’s time to fast from any and all vices I turn to instead of God, and feast on every moment in my day that provides an opportunity to connect with God. I need to fast from the temptation to avoid what’s on my plate, and feast on the fact that all the mundane tasks of motherhood are necessary, and are part of my purpose.
Yes, Lent can be a time to give things up as a sacrifice. But if that sacrifice doesn’t draw me closer to God, it’s lost its meaning. It becomes more of a personal challenge. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but that’s more of a New Year Resolution than an offering to God.
Instead, I need to fast from and feast on the things that help me resist temptation and wrestle my false images of God into submission. Hopefully, with His grace, doing so will help me come out of this desert time with a healthier image of God, and a deeper relationship with Him. Then I’ll be better prepared to properly praise Him for the glorious miracle of resurrecting His only Son for us on Easter morning.
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