Spiritual reflections

Thoughts on spiritual themes, not strictly tied to a particular Bible passage

 
 

Pure Passion—Psalms 119:131

I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments (Psalms 119:131, ESV).

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“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Psalms 42:1). Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Are the things of God just an obligation or chore to you? Or, are they a hobby, something you enjoy doing every now and then? Are they an addiction, passion, or obsession? Are you drawn to prayer, Scripture, and worship like an alcoholic to beer or an addict to his drug of choice?

Far into the longest chapter of the Bible, the Anthem to God’s Word (Psalm 119), the writer tells us that he pants because he longs for God’s commandments. We envision someone who is feeling dehydrated in the desert heat, whose sole obsession at that moment is for a refreshing drink of water. A similar image appears earlier in the Psalms:

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”
These things I remember, as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival (Psalms 42:1–4).

The psalmist compares himself to a deer who pants thirstily for cool waters. As a world-weary deer in need of sustenance and safety seeks water to survive, the Psalmist seeks God, through His Word and worship. When one is dehydrated, only one thing satisfies: a drink that will restore fluids to the body. When one is weary from the hardships of this world, only God will satisfy.

Panting is one of the ways the human body expresses craving. A long-distance runner competing in a marathon may start panting as his body craves extra oxygen to complete the race. (Highly trained competitive runners learn to control their breathing so that they can preserve their energy.) Panting may also signal other kinds of craving, such as sexual arousal.

How do prayer, God’s Word, and worship relate to all of this? The two passages in Psalms suggest that God’s Word and presence should be such an obsession for us. Do we desire the things of God like that, though? Do you truly crave God’s blessings, or do you crave the things of this world? What is your passion?

Many Christians miss out on God’s blessings because we do not crave them with this addicted passion. We are torn between Christianity as a hobby and passion for the things of this world. We may be drawn to the heavy weights of this world and the sin which so easily entangles us (Hebrews 12:1). These things drag us down so that we do not pant after the things of God. However, it should not be this way. God desires our hearts to be completely committed to Him and dead to the things of this world:

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:24–25).

So, I ask you (and I ask myself these questions as well): What is your passion? What do you desire more than anything? What do you crave? What do you pursue with a single-minded focus? Does your heart cry out to God in prayer, hungry until you are assured that He has heard you? Does your soul pant thirstily to hear His Word? Do you impulsively and compulsively charge into God’s presence in praise and worship? If the answer to these questions is “No,” let each of us confess those obsessions that take first place in our lives. Let us admit them to God and ask Him to remove those desires, replacing them with a pure passion for His holy presence in their place.

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness (Romans 6:11–13).

Copyright ©  2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Celebrating Freedom (Revisited)

(The following was originally published online in May 2011 in honor of Memorial Day. As we celebrate today, let us remember why we celebrate and, more importantly, the true meaning of freedom.)

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Philadelphia

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Image via Wikipedia

May ends with a holiday which many of us take too lightly. Many Americans think of Memorial Day as “the unofficial beginning of summer.” Many people view the last Monday in May as little more than a great day to go to the beach, host a barbecue, shop at department store sales, and so on. For many, it is just an extra day off. Like many holidays, we treat it frivolously by giving little thought to its significance. It might be helpful to consider its true significance for Americans. That will also allow us to reflect on some matters of significance to Christians.

Memorial Day was first observed as Decoration Day on May 30, 1868. That day was set aside to place flowers on the graves of soldiers who had died in the Civil War. Since World War I, the holiday has been consecrated to honor all who have died in the American armed forces during all of our military conflicts. We should remember that many of these were young men, many of whom never had the opportunity to start families and embark on adult civilian life. While some soldiers were drafted, many volunteered for military service, acknowledging the dangers they would face.

Whatever one may think of the decisions our nation’s leaders make about the military, I cannot criticize the character of our troops. They know it is a dangerous job, but they still consider it worthwhile. They will tell you that they are serving to defend our freedoms or protect our people. They believe it is worth dying for. They believe in committing their lives to a cause and making sacrifices. Someone has said that if you don’t have something to die for, you really do not have much to live for. The soldier’s courage should be an example to all of us.

In a sense, we insult these men, both the veterans who survived the battles and those who died, when we reduce Memorial Day to a day for sales and beginning summertime leisure activities. Even worse, we degrade everything it stands for. By giving more attention to surf and sales than to freedom and sacrifice, we desecrate the blood of our fallen soldiers. This is especially true when we distort the meaning of the word “freedom.”

Most Americans seem to believe that “freedom” means “the right to do whatever you want.” Our nation’s first “freedom fighters,” the men who wrote our Constitution, enshrined in our founding documents the First Amendment. This clause gives us the right to speak our minds, even if our ideas are unpopular, controversial, or harshly critical of our nation’s leaders. It allows us to hold religious views that fall outside the mainstream. I have referred to the First Amendment as “the right to be wrong,” or “the right to make yourself look and sound like a jackass.” Thankfully, it is, more importantly, the right to cling to Truth when everybody around you swallows a lie.

However, this form of liberty can be abused as well. We have freedom of speech, even though it is often abused by those who use it to sell pornography or other vulgar entertainment material. While earlier generations realized that freedom and responsibility walked together, most Americans today seem to believe freedom is more important than morality, ethics, or righteousness, and that such libertinism is more sacred than serving God.

This year, Memorial Day falls about five weeks after Easter, during the season when we celebrate Jesus’ victory over the death. It is quite fitting that Memorial Day usually falls at such a time of year. The United States has its Tomb of the Unknown Soldier—a monument honoring all those anonymous men who gave their lives for our nation. Likewise, Christianity has an empty tomb. As many soldiers have given their lives for our nation, Jesus Christ gave his life for all mankind to set us free from sin, hell, and divine judgment. Few of us give much thought to the fact that our greatest freedom was purchased with the precious blood of Jesus. We gladly accept his priceless gift, talk about how it is free for us, and take it for granted. We might say a quick prayer or spend an hour in church every week, but then we ignore the One who gave his life for us.

Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free…. Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:32–36, NASB). It is true that our nation was established to seek liberty from tyranny. Yet, we need to remember that the worst tyrant in the universe is Satan, and his cruelest chains are forged with links of sin. Some people believe that following Jesus is a form of bondage. However, as St. Augustine wrote in On the Free Choice of the Will, “This is our freedom, when we are subject to the truth; and the truth is God himself, who frees us from death, that is, from the state of sin.” True freedom is found in submission to the truth. True slavery is found when we loose ourselves from our bonds to our Creator and clamp the chains of sin around our wrists.

Saint Paul adds, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). He goes on in that chapter to point out the things that Christ frees us from: the Law (including the righteous wrath of God when we fail to live up its perfect standards) which has been superseded by the forgiveness we receive through the cross of Christ; and sin, which is superseded when we live by the greater law of love (see Luke 10:27–28).

Let every day be a day to remember, celebrate, and cherish the freedom we have been granted, both as Americans and as children of God. Our liberty is a precious jewel to be preserved and nurtured. It is not a cheap toy to be played with carelessly, thrown in a corner, and broken.

Copyright ©  2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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A Prayer Acknowledging Jesus as the Light of the World

lightoftheworld1Shortly after posting my recent article, Reflecting the Light of the World, I noticed that one of the prayers for this week in the Book of Common Prayer specifically refers to Jesus as the light of the world. Since the essence of this prayer relates to the thoughts I shared in that article, I thought I would share that prayer with my readers:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Perhaps you may feel led to say this prayer as part of your daily devotions. May God bless you as you bask in His light and share it with those around you.

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Give Thanks In All Circumstances

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, ESV). Sometimes, this can be the hardest command in Scripture to obey. Thankfulness can easily drown in a whirlpool of self-pity when life’s circumstances cloud our view.

About 15 years ago I was in a meeting where everybody wrote a “gratitude list.” We all brainstormed things for which we were thankful, trying to see how many blessings we could write. As I recall, I filled a page rather quickly and was making substantial headway on the other side of the sheet of paper. There were not too many glamorous or exotic items on that list; it was mostly rather basic, ordinary things to appreciate, like health, family, a job, etc. Although fame and fortune were not on the list, there were many little things that I was grateful to have in my life.

About nine months later, I stumbled upon that list again. It still said  “Gratitude List” at the top of the page, but this time the title should have read “Emotional Kick in the Face.” Almost every item on that list was gone. Marriage? My wife and I were going through a bitter separation, child custody battle, and divorce. My son? I had not seen nor spoken to him in months. My job? Nah; I only found the list because I had just been fired.

I realize this is not the standard lead to an article about thanksgiving. However, thankfulness demands a right perspective. If we base our sense of security on things that can change or disappear, we have little reason for gratitude. We need to cherish things that last instead of those that are temporary or unreliable.

Saint Paul wrote often about the attitude of gratitude in his New Testament letters. Yet, he did not have an easy life. When he would discuss his credibility as a minister of the Gospel, he did not whip out a diploma from an esteemed seminary or point to his popular television show and huge megachurch. Instead, he validated his apostolic ministry by writing, “I am a better one—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea” (2 Corinthians 11:23-25). It does not sound like he had much reason to give thanks, but his perspective was vastly different from that of most men. He had written, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Situations and circumstances are temporary. If your life and joy are tied to things that are temporary, your gratitude will lack security. There will be no foundation. Temporary blessings bring temporary gratitude. However, the opposite is true as well: temporary hardships bring temporary sorrow: “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

This life is temporary, but eternal life last forever. People may change, fail, or betray, but Jesus will never fail us.

Within five years of that gratitude list experience, I could write a newer, better one. In 2000, I celebrated Thanksgiving with a new wife, who has been one of the greatest blessings in my life. I have spent the last 14 years working in publishing (I had always wanted to do something with books or magazines; scientific journals will do). While the workplace has been stressful in recent years, thanks to economic challenges in the publishing industry, it still beats every other job I had before. A few months after finding the gratitude-list-turned-kick-in-the-face, I gained some fairly generous visitation rights with my son. Today, I enjoy chatting with him once or twice per week over the phone, and during part of those conversations I get to talk to my 2-year-old grandson (the 7-month-old is usually too busy to chat). I have obtained some great blessings over the years, but I had to go through some painful times before I received them.

Perhaps it was the hard times that enable me to appreciate the good things I have now. James 1:2-4 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” God often prepares us to receive a blessing by allowing us to grow through trials. Even on Thanksgiving Day in 1996, when I felt like my entire world was collapsing around me, I could thank God that He still had a plan and purpose for my life.

When I was an assistant pastor, our church would occasionally sing a worship song with these lyrics: “Give thanks with a grateful heart / give thanks to the Holy One / give thanks, for He has given Jesus Christ, His Son.” No matter what else God may give us, He has already given us a great blessing by sending His Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. He has given us a gift that allows us to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved (Romans 10:9,13). No job, earthly blessing, or human relationship can compete against such a great gift.

Thanksgiving is a very appropriate climax to the month of November, as it leads to the conclusion of the church year. We begin November by observing All Saints’ Day. This feast day, observed by most traditional denominations, gives us the opportunity to thank God for the example of great men and women who served Christ faithfully. It encourages us to follow their example, which included maintaining an eternal perspective. It also reminds us that, like the great saints and martyrs of ages past, we have been offered an eternal home that far surpasses anything we have on earth. We end the month by thanking God for all the blessings He bestows on us throughout the year. Immediately after Thanksgiving, we begin the season of Advent, as we thank God for sending His Son Jesus into the world for our salvation.

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Who Are You and Who Am I?

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rockI will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:13-19, ESV).

In this Gospel reading, Jesus confronts the disciples with a question every believer must ask. “Who do you say that I am?”

The question seems simple enough to Christians today, because we can look to the Bible, church creeds, statements of faith, and 2000 years of church history for guidance and wording. Yet, before asking this question, Jesus asked a more generic question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

“What are people saying about me?” The responses were diverse: People compared Jesus to (and probably confused him with) some of the great prophets of Israel’s history. Any Jew would be honored to be compared with Elijah. Jeremiah was also a hero of the faith. John the Baptist was a recent superstar of the spiritual scene. All great role models.

Many people today will have seemingly noble descriptions of Jesus. “A great moral teacher.” “One of the greatest spiritual and religious leaders of all time.” “A great philosopher.” Once again, most of us would be flattered by such monikers.

Yet, as Peter realized, Jesus was more than that! “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Numerous men throughout history have earned some of the other titles people have ascribed to Jesus. Yet, only Jesus can be called the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. Only Jesus can be called the Son of the living God. Only Jesus is God in human flesh.

Revelation 19:11-20 give us a few more titles of Jesus. This passage, describing Jesus’ second coming in glory, tells us that he is also named or called:

  • Faithful and True
  • The Word of God
  • King of kings and Lord of lords

Ah, yes, and Jesus even has a name written that nobody knows but himself (Revelation 19:12)!

Those names and titles tell us about Jesus. Like Peter, we are blessed by God if we know who Jesus is and what his name means.

Although Peter does not verbalize it, Jesus answers a question many of us ask ourselves. “Who am I?” Perhaps this is more of a challenge for modern Western man. After all, in Jesus’ day, most people accepted a destiny from birth. Peter was a fisherman because his father was one, most likely. Most men simply accepted the career and calling of their fathers. However, just as Jesus has many names and titles, he now bestows a new name, a new title, on his friend. In the process, Jesus tells Peter who he is, and declares his calling in life.

“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19). You are more than Simon Bar-Jonah, humble fisherman from an insignificant little town on the coast of the Sea of Galilee. You are Peter: a rock of strength. Jesus recognized Peter as a man with inner strength, who could be a leader for the church he would leave behind.

When Peter recognized Jesus’ divinity, he could discover his own dignity. When he could rightly discern the truth about Jesus, he was able to hear from Jesus about who he was.

It is the same for all of us. First, we must come to know the truth about Jesus. He asks us, “Who do you say that I am?” Can you tell him the truth about who he is? Your answer should be something like this: “You are the Christ, the Son  of the living God. You are Faithful and True. You are the Word of God, King of kings and Lord of lords. You are my savior, the only way into heaven.” He is not just a great role model or wise teacher. He is more than that.

As God, he is able to reveal to you the truth about who you are. Too many of us wander through life, trying to decide who we are. We spend our lives in a perpetual identity crisis. Acknowledge Jesus as he truly is. Then, ask him who you are. What is his purpose for your life? He will never steer you wrong.

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Freedom in Christ

July begins with one of America’s favorite holidays. On July 4, most Americans will enjoy a day off from work, feasting at barbecues, watching fireworks displays, or hanging out at the beach (to name just a few fun activities). We do these things in the name of celebrating our freedom as a nation. Freedom is a foundation of our national heritage: it is central to our identity as a country, and few principles are mentioned more often in our political and social discourse. Freedom is important to us not only as Americans, but more so as Christians. God speaks about freedom throughout His Word, but it is not the sort of freedom the world promotes. To understand the biblical concept of freedom or liberty, we can study the letters of St. Paul; Galatians 5 is a great place to begin. In Galatians 5:1, 13, he mentions freedom four times:

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…. For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

It is important to consider the meaning of the word “freedom.” Most people think of it as the right to do whatever you want. Among the definitions in Webster’s Dictionary are the following:

  • “exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc.”
  • “the power to determine action without restraint.”

Both of these definitions are incomplete and therefore inaccurate. They assume that we can be completely free of external control, interference, or restraint. However, this is not possible for several reasons. For one, there are many times when freedom for one person’s course of action places restrictions on another person. For example, before the Civil War millions of Americans were free to buy, sell, and own slaves. Needless to say, their liberty in this regard placed others in bondage. When the slaves were set free, after the war, they obtained a level of freedom they had not known previously, but the people who owned them lost what they considered to be a valid legal right. In each case, one group’s liberty placed a restriction on another group. The same remains true today: A woman’s right to end her pregnancy interferes with the preborn child’s right to live. As New York State recently gave homosexuals the right to marry, it has essentially robbed Christians who serve in public office (like justices of the peace) of their right to live by their moral convictions.

As a result, total freedom (as defined by secular society) is a myth. It is ridiculous to place freedom and liberty on the throne as the ultimate reality, the greatest value in the universe. We need something greater to help us decide which rights to preserve. The Bible gives us the answer. Jesus told us that the two greatest commandments are to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love one’s neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37–40). This standard, of love to God and neighbor (in that order, and defined by His Word) is an essential first guideline for determining which “rights” should be preserved.

Secondly, even when we are free to choose a course of action, we are not free to decide its consequences. For example, there is no law saying how many donuts I may eat. Legally, I can choose to eat a dozen donuts for each meal every day. However, that diet will enslave me with obesity and a host of other health concerns. That is perhaps a rather extreme and silly example, yet millions of people claim their freedom to drink as much alcohol as they wish, only to be bound by the disease of alcoholism. People may think they are exercising their freedom, only to find themselves bound by chains of addiction.

Unfortunately, because of such false notions about freedom, many Christians do not realize their liberty in Christ. Countless followers of Jesus are bound by rules when they should instead by liberated by the Spirit of God. Jesus did not come into the world merely to reinforce the rules, but to offer direct access to His Heavenly Father to all who believe in Him. We are invited to enter into an intimate relationship with God. This relationship brings us the freedom to be everything that God created us to be. Although that freedom has guidelines and limits, it also brings great privileges. We should learn to look at God’s commandments not with resentment (“God said I cannot commit adultery; He just wants to spoil my fun!”), but with gratitude (“Thank you, God! You have shown me how to find true fulfillment in my relationships, and You have protected me from disease and other harmful effects!”).

In Galatians 5, we can discern four principles about such freedom. First, true freedom comes as we yield to the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:24 tells us that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” If you belong to Jesus Christ, He is free to lead you. He wants to lead you into liberty. He wants to set you free from sinful habits that cause slavery. Because I am free in Christ, I can choose to avoid sins that would enslave me. He also offers the liberty to serve others, which provides a sense of purpose in life. I choose to obey Christ and His Word in order to be free to serve Him.

Second, freedom produces liberty in personal relationships. When we yield to the leading of the Holy Spirit and obey Christ, we commit ourselves to a life of love. Galatians 5:14 reminds us that every commandment in Scripture is summed up by “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This love does not come naturally for people. It is not natural for a person to put the needs of others on an equal level with their own, except perhaps for very close friends or immediate family members. The Holy Spirit must orchestrate that love in our hearts. When we love one another in this way, it delivers freedom. People are sucked into bondage when they backbite and devour one another (Galatians 5:15). Numerous marriages have been destroyed, friendships shattered, and churches torn apart, because people place their own desires over the needs of those around them. God wants us to build each other up, not destroy one another.

Third, this freedom liberates us from the bondage of sin. There is no crueller taskmaster than sin. In Galatians 5:19–21, Paul lists some of the “deeds of the flesh.” While Scripture refers to them as manifestations of sin, many of them are almost deified in our culture. American society promotes sexual freedom, but millions of lives have been destroyed because people ignore the biblical warnings against sexual immorality, impurity, and sensuality. Millions of marriages have ended because of adultery. Countless young people have been emotionally scarred because they jumped into physical relationships they were not emotionally ready for. In addition, millions have enslaved themselves through hatred, discord, jealousy, rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, and a host of other sins. Sin produces personal shame. It creates consequences which we must live with. Sometimes, it damages our physical health. Too often, we think some sins are “victimless,” but ironically, the person committing the sin is the greatest victim!

Fourth, freedom in the Spirit liberates us as we develop a Christlike nature. Christianity is not a matter of living by the rules. Some churches teach us that a good Christian does not smoke, drink, dance, or go to the movies; that he prays at least one hour every day, goes to church three times per week, and listens only to Christian music. Such rules are not totally bad: Most of these guidelines will do us more good than harm. However, they do not make somebody a “good Christian.” In fact, some of the grouchiest religious fanatics follow all of these rules, yet they do not show any of the love of God. One becomes a good Christian not by following rules, but by having Christ living within them. As we allow the Holy Spirit to produce His fruit within us (see Galatians 5:22–23), we will become more like Christ. We will become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), and we will be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). We will obtain victory over sin. We will do this without rules that create bondage to guilt and shame, mingled with feelings of inadequacy because we always realize that there is more we could do.

Christlike character traits are called the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22. Fruit grows; it does not just appear overnight. As we yield to Christ and the Holy Spirit, the fruit will grow. Even though you may be weak in some areas now, you should encourage yourself as you realize that the Holy Spirit is producing growth. No matter how weak you are now, you will grow stronger as you yield to the Holy Spirit.

Let us be encouraged by these thoughts. We are free from the legalism of dead religion. We are free from the guilt and anxiety that religious rules create. As we yield to Christ, we are free from sin and enjoy newness of life as we look forward to eternity in heaven.

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Finding Time for God

One of the greatest challenges for Christians in our busy society is finding quiet time alone with the Lord. More distractions scream for our attention with each passing day. As I started writing this article, I received a Facebook alert as one of my online friends declared his love for his Blackberry. Ten years ago, “blackberry” was a fruit, not a cell phone with gazillions of “apps” to keep one occupied wherever he went. Social networking sites were likewise nonexistent. These days, such technology gives us the illusion of being connected to one another, but at the same time, they create the reality of relational distance from God.

High-tech wireless devices and websites are not the only things demanding our attention like never before. Many companies expect their employees to work in a state of non-stop multitasking, thereby eliminating even the opportunity to pray a silent one-minute petition to God between tasks. Many employees work overtime—sometimes without pay—to accomplish their tasks and keep their jobs. Parents of school-aged children chauffeur them to all sorts of sports-team practices and games, leaving few quiet afternoons or evenings at home. Many churches fill their calendars with so many events that the most committed members find it difficult to set time alone to meet with the Lord. In this article, I will offer some advice to help believers find time for God.

Recognize Prayer as a Priority

In the Gospel of Luke, we read the story of two sisters. Both of them loved Jesus, but he commended the way one showed her love for him over how the other one did so.

“Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her'” (Luke 10:38–42, NASB).

How easy it is for Christians to be like Martha! Those who have ministry responsibilities in the church can relate to her. The church tends to glorify the “Marthas” in its midst. It seems as if some Christians measure one another’s spirituality not so much by how much time they spend praying and reading God’s word, but by how busy they are “doing things for the Lord.” Mary had chosen the most important way to relate to Jesus; she was the one who had chosen the “good part.”

The lesson is clear: Prayer and hearing from the Lord (especially study of his word) should take priority over ministry and other activity, no matter how urgent it may seem. If you are not meeting your deadlines, the solution is not neglecting prayer. If you are not able to keep up with your various responsibilities, time with God is not the area where you should make sacrifices. At times like this, the solution is not less prayer, but more prayer. As a matter of fact, if you are active in any ministry, prayer is the most important job you have in the church. Pastors must pray for the members of their congregations. Sunday school teachers must pray for their students. Church musicians should worship God throughout the week, so that it flows naturally during the church service. No matter what role you serve in the church, God calls you to pray. In fact, some of the most effective ministries seek prayer supporters even more zealously than they seek financial donors! That is how important prayer is to them.

Set Aside Time

Jesus in Pray

Jesus in prayer. Image via Wikipedia

Many mature Christians suggest that you should pray at least one hour per day. They cite Matthew 26:40, where Jesus asked his disciples why they could not tarry in prayer with him for one hour, shortly before he was betrayed and arrested. Many will cite the morning as the best time to pray. Personally, I make an effort to get up at 5:30 AM every weekday morning, so that I can spend at least 30 minutes praying before I leave for work. I will usually add one to three more prayer sessions throughout the day. Many great men of God, including Jesus himself, would pray in the morning.

There is no passage in the Bible that gives a strict command to pray first thing in the morning. Quite a few passages testify to the importance of praying in the morning, but many of those passages will mention other times of day for prayer. Perhaps the strongest command specifying when we should pray is First Thessalonians 5:17: “Pray without ceasing.” So, if morning prayers are a fantasy for you, do not lose heart. While many Christians are especially blessed during early-morning prayer, God will honor your prayers whenever you say them.

More important than the exact time is the priority we place on prayer. The biblical principle of first fruits is very helpful when making decisions about any area of spiritual stewardship, whether it be our treasures (money), talents, or time. The principle is known as “first fruits” because, for several Old Testament sacrifices, God commanded the Israelites to bring some of the first crops received during the harvest (Exodus 23:19; Deuteronomy 18:4). In fact, they were not supposed to eat any of the harvest until they had presented the first fruits as an offering (Leviticus 23:9–14).

Many Christians think the principle of first fruits applies only to their finances. They might say, “First I write my tithe check to the church; then I pay my bills and buy groceries.” However, first fruits is not just a financial budgeting guideline. It is a principle of giving God our highest-quality resources, including our time. Genesis 4:3–4 tells us that “Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.” God rejected Cain’s offering but accepted Abel’s. Many Bible teachers claim that God rejected Cain’s offering because it was not a blood sacrifice. They cite Hebrews 9:22, which says that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” However, that would assume that Cain and Abel were offering a sacrifice for sin, which Genesis does not specify. The Old Testament mandated several different kinds of offerings, and some had nothing to do with sin. In several kinds of sacrifices, plants would have been an acceptable offering.

The source of God’s displeasure is more obvious in the Hebrew than it is in many English translations, but if   we look closely, we can still see the major distinction between the sacrifices of Cain and Abel. Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. In other words, he chose the best and healthiest animals he could offer. He gave God the best he could. Cain, however, offered some of the fruits of the soil. Nothing special here: he probably grabbed some stuff at random. Maybe he gave God the things he did not want (like many people who donate to a thrift store or food pantry). Even if he did not give God his junk, he made no real effort to give his best.

When it comes to giving God your time, do you give him your best or just whatever you can find? Do you give God the best of your time, or do you pray whenever you get around to it? If you wait until you have “nothing better to do” before you pray, you will never develop a regular habit of prayer. You will never know the joy and blessedness of an intimate, growing relationship with Christ. There will always be another television show to watch, another ball game, or another gathering with friends that will keep you from praying.

Since first fruits is our best, morning may not necessarily be the ideal time for you to pray. While I am blessed by my morning prayers, sometimes my best times are at night. Over the last year or so, my morning prayer time has evolved into “marching orders from God”; I do not lift up too many of my petitions at that time, but I get my day off on a spiritual angle, and the Lord speaks to me through his Word and his Spirit in a way that sets the tone for my day. Nights, though, can be times for really deep prayer for me. Unhurried prayer, after the day’s duties have been fulfilled, can allow me to spend relaxed time meditating on God’s word, getting to know him better, and devoting ample time to prayer for the needs which burden me most.

What is most important, though, is that you treat your prayer time as a priority. Don’t wait to “find time” for prayer. Make time for prayer, and then guard it as if it matters. If you plan to pray when you get home from work in the evening, don’t sit down and turn on the television. Find your place of prayer and get started.

Several passages, including First Peter 2:2, compare prayer and Bible reading with food. Our souls need spiritual nourishment, just like our bodies do. A good goal would be to seek three spiritual meals per day, just like we eat three meals of food per day. This will reduce the risk of getting “run down” spiritually. The Book of Common Prayer provides prayers for four different times of the day: morning, noon, evening, and “Compline” (bedtime prayers). In addition, it is helpful to set aside “spiritual snack” prayer times: praying or meditating on scripture during times when we are not otherwise mentally preoccupied. Sometimes, I will spend a few minutes with God while driving, or during a coffee break at work, and so on.

Your primary prayer time should be treated with the same urgency you would ascribe to other high-priority aspects of your schedule. Think about it this way: Do you skip work just because your favorite television show is on, or because you would rather go shopping? Probably not. Well then, why should we show more respect to a human boss, than to the Creator and Lord of the entire universe?

Set aside a time and place where you will not be easily distracted. Many people prefer morning prayers because there are fewer distractions in the morning: very rarely will someone call me on the phone at 7:00 AM! A place of prayer is important too. Usually, I like to say my morning prayers in a spare room in my apartment (at one time it was my son’s bedroom, but now that he is grown up and starting a family, it has become my “prayer closet”). Find a place where you can spend some time alone with God, with few distractions.

Come Prepared

Finally, come ready to both talk to and hear from God. I keep a prayer list handy, specifying people and circumstances that I am praying for. I also keep my Day-Timer handy. It provides two purposes. First, I keep a list of Bible readings for each day in it. Second, if I start thinking of things I need to do, I can scribble them down very quickly and move along. Before I started doing that, one of Satan’s most effective distractions was to make me obsess about things I need to do. Now if, during my prayer time, I think of something I need to do, it is usually God’s directive for addressing one of the needs I have prayed about! The power of demonic distraction is gone.

Most importantly, bring your Bible. Prayer is not just a time to tell God what you want. It is a time to ask God what he wants to tell you. Usually, he will speak through his word before he speaks in any other way. Prayer is a dialogue with God, not a monologue with the air.

Conclusion

Most of the guidelines above are really basic principles of time management. Many people allow time to become their master. They surrender to temporal passivity, and allow circumstances to dictate how they spend their time. Good time managers recognize the need to set priorities. You must choose to allocate time for the things that are most important to you. The Bible tells us that a wise disciple of Jesus will “redeem the time,” making the most of it (Ephesians 5:16). This begins by setting aside time to commune with God. Then, you need to allocate time for the important responsibilities of your life. When you manage your time properly, you can enjoy your leisure time with peace of mind, knowing that you have not squandered an irreplaceable commodity.

Categories: Spiritual disciplines, Spiritual reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Celebrating Freedom

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Philadelphia
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Image via Wikipedia

May ends with a holiday which many of us take too lightly. Many Americans think of Memorial Day as “the unofficial beginning of summer.” Many people view the last Monday in May as little more than a great day to go to the beach, host a barbecue, shop at department store sales, and so on. For many, it is just an extra day off. Like many holidays, we treat it frivolously by giving little thought to its significance. It might be helpful to consider its true significance for Americans. That will also allow us to reflect on some matters of significance to Christians.

Memorial Day was first observed as Decoration Day on May 30, 1868. That day was set aside to place flowers on the graves of soldiers who had died in the Civil War. Since World War I, the holiday has been consecrated to honor all who have
died in the American armed forces during all of our military conflicts. We should remember that many of these were young men, many of whom never had the opportunity to start families and embark on adult civilian life. While some soldiers were drafted, many volunteered for military service, acknowledging the dangers they would face.

Whatever one may think of the decisions our nation’s leaders make about the military, I cannot criticize the character of our troops. They know it is a dangerous job, but they still consider it worthwhile. They will tell you that they are serving to defend our freedoms or protect our people. They believe it is worth dying for. They believe in committing their lives to a cause and making sacrifices. Someone has said that if you don’t have something to die for, you really do not have much to live for. The soldier’s courage should be an example to all of us.

In a sense, we insult these men, both the veterans who survived the battles and those who died, when we reduce Memorial Day to a day for sales and beginning summertime leisure activities. Even worse, we degrade everything it stands for. By giving more attention to surf and sales than to freedom and sacrifice, we desecrate the blood of our fallen soldiers. This is especially true when we distort the meaning of the word “freedom.”

Most Americans seem to believe that “freedom” means “the right to do whatever you want.” Our nation’s first “freedom fighters,” the men who wrote our Constitution, enshrined in our founding documents the First Amendment. This clause gives us the right to speak our minds, even if our ideas are unpopular, controversial, or harshly critical of our nation’s leaders. It allows us to hold religious views that fall outside the mainstream. I have referred to the First Amendment as “the right to be wrong,” or “the right to make yourself look and sound like a jackass.” Thankfully, it is, more importantly, the right to cling to Truth when everybody around you swallows a lie.

However, this form of liberty can be abused as well. We have freedom of speech, even though it is often abused by those who use it to sell pornography or other vulgar entertainment material. While earlier generations realized that freedom and responsibility walked together, most Americans today seem to believe freedom is more important than morality, ethics, or righteousness, and that such libertinism is more sacred than serving God.

This year, Memorial Day falls about five weeks after Easter, during the season when we celebrate Jesus’ victory over the death. It is quite fitting that Memorial Day usually falls at such a time of year. The United States has its Tomb of the Unknown Soldier—a monument honoring all those anonymous men who gave their lives for our nation. Likewise, Christianity has an empty tomb. As many soldiers have given their lives for our nation, Jesus Christ gave his life for all mankind to set us free from sin, hell, and divine judgment. Few of us give much thought to the fact that our greatest freedom was purchased with the precious blood of Jesus. We gladly accept his priceless gift, talk about how it is free for us, and take it for granted. We might say a quick prayer or spend an hour in church every week, but then we ignore the One who gave his life for us.

Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free…. Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:32–36, NASB). It is true that our nation was established to seek liberty from tyranny. Yet, we need to remember that the worst tyrant in the universe is Satan, and his cruelest chains are forged with links of sin. Some people believe that following Jesus is a form of bondage. However, as St. Augustine wrote in On the Free Choice of the Will, “This is our freedom, when we are subject to the truth; and the truth is God himself, who frees us from death, that is, from the state of sin.” True freedom is found in submission to the truth. True slavery is found when we loose ourselves from our bonds to our Creator, and clamp the chains of sin around our wrists.

Saint Paul adds, “It was for freedom that Christ us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). He goes on in that chapter to point out the things that Christ frees us from: the Law (including the righteous wrath of God when we fail to live up its perfect standards) which has been superseded by the forgiveness we receive through the cross of Christ; and sin, which is superseded when we live by the greater law of love (see Luke 10:27–28).

Let every day be a day to remember, celebrate, and cherish the freedom we have been granted, both as Americans and as children of God. Our liberty is a precious jewel to be preserved and nurtured. It is not a cheap toy to be played with carelessly, thrown in a corner, and broken.

Categories: Current events, Holidays, Spiritual reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Jesus Will Return When HE’S Ready!

It is now May 22, 2011, and still no Rapture. I am still here, and I have not heard of any suspicious disappearance of Christians (although, from what I understand, Harold Camping is nowhere to be found). Life goes on, for Christians and nonbelievers alike.

It is easy to joke about Camping’s claims that the Rapture would take place yesterday, and that the world will end on October 21. I will make every effort to avoid ridiculing the man and his followers. Nevertheless, his false teachings cannot be ignored or swept under the rug. They need to be confronted, and Christians need to learn from recent events.

Wikipedia refers to Harold Camping as “an American Christian radio broadcaster.” I would normally not be that gracious in my assessment of him. His teachings in recent years have gone beyond misguided or controversial, into all-out heresy. He is probably best described as a “radio cult leader.” In 1994, after his first prognosticated date for the Rapture did not work out, he claimed that, instead of taking the church out of the world, God had decided to take his Holy Spirit out of the church! According to Camping, the church had become so heavily infiltrated by the devil, that the Holy Spirit had left it. He began teaching his followers that true Christians must leave the established church.

This is in complete conflict with what Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, where he told Peter, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” I cannot see how a person who would make this sort of claim has any true understanding of the power of God, the mercy of Christ, or the plan of salvation.

Harold Camping has hurt a lot of people. One retiree from Staten Island, NY invested his entire life’s savings—about $140,000—in advertising to warn people of the coming apocalypse. I am sure he is not alone. To be perfectly honest, if I had believed Camping, I probably would have quit my job so I can spend my last days doing something more personally meaningful (like spending time with my wife and my son’s family). I can only imagine that countless Campingites made decisions that will have long-lasting harmful effects on them.

Camping has hurt not only his followers. He has hurt the church’s witness, in a way. Over the last couple weeks, more and more secular news outlets reported Camping’s “prophecy.” Unfortunately, news radio stations—including those that focus on brief sound bites and are therefore not well-suited for deep analysis of complex issues—may not always give all the facts. It was not always clear that Camping was wrong before (he previously said the Rapture would occur in September 1994), or that most evangelical, fundamentalist, and charismatic Christians do not agree with the man. Based on a shallow, quickly reported account of Camping’s claims, one could come away thinking that those conservative Christian nuts had come up with some crazy story.

Yet, we can learn some positive lessons from this ordeal, and I would hope more Christians try to seek a positive outcome. Saint Paul tells us that all things (I would dare say that will include heresy and irresponsible preaching by false prophets) work together for good for those who love God, and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). If we continue to pursue God’s purposes, we will be OK. More than that, we will see greater blessing not only in spite of Camping, but because of him.

A few lessons we can learn and remember are the following:

  1. Jesus will return when he and his Father are good and ready! Camping is not the only date setter to get it wrong. Before Harold Camping, Edgar C. Whisenant wrote a book in 1988, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988. When that did not pan out, he followed up with a book proposing reasons why the Rapture would occur in 1989. I started telling people that I would write a book entitled, Ninety Reasons Why Jesus Will Return When He’s Darned Good and Ready.
    Well, I never did write that book. Plenty of “prophecy experts” have issued their warnings over the years, and have been proven wrong. It is easy to grow cynical about the second coming of Christ (see Second Peter 3:3–7). Yet, Jesus never gave us a date for his return. In fact, he told us that his Father is the only being who knows the date of his return—neither Jesus nor the angels know the date (Matthew 24:36; 25:13).
  2. It is not our job to know when the end will come. It is our job to occupy until Jesus comes. In Acts 1:7, 8, Jesus ended his earthly teaching ministry by answering yet another question by the apostles, about the dating of end-times events. Jesus said, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” We do not need to know when Jesus is coming back. We just need to proclaim the truth that He is returning, and that he offers forgiveness and everlasting life to all who call upon him.
  3. We do not know when our own end will occur. This should be obvious. While I was writing this post, I heard about a killer tornado in Joplin, MO. Although the article I read did not give any numbers (it referred only to “some fatalities”), I can be sure of one thing: those people who died in that storm did not expect it. I would not be surprised if they had Day-Timers filled in, like I do, specifying where they expect to go and what they plan to do tomorrow. Their plans will not be fulfilled. It does not matter to them when Jesus will return. Their judgment day is now.
    The same is true for all of us. I can hope to live another 30, 40, or even 50 years. It is not inconceivable for a man my age, in reasonably good health, to expect to live a long time. Yet, there are no guarantees. Accidents, sudden illness, or other tragedies can take us out of this world when we least expect it. So, it does not really matter when Jesus will return. We will all face our day of judgment; we will all stand before him sooner or later. We do not know that date and cannot schedule it on our Blackberry. We need to just be ready always to meet the Lord.
  4. Therefore, let us live each day with our eyes on eternity. On my Facebook page, I list one of my favorite quotes, which I saw attributed to actor James Dean: “Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.” Sadly, he did die young, and I do not know exactly where he said it. But, the truth is worth considering. We can make plans for our future. We should have long-term goals. At the same time, those long-term goals should be pursued with a mindset that focuses on eternity.

To explain that last thought, I turn to an observation by Stephen R. Covey on page 11 of his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004). He asks:

How many on their deathbeds wished they’d spent more time at the office—or watching TV? The answer is, No one. They think about their loved ones, their family, and those they have served.

So, if the world were scheduled to end this week, and we knew without a doubt that the Rapture and/or the Second Coming of Christ, what would you do? How would you spend your last days on earth? What would you do to make those last days meaningful or rewarding? What would you want Jesus to see you doing at the moment of his return?

Based on those questions, why don’t you do those things now? Make those matters high-priority goals for the weeks and years to come. Take those things that you say would matter most at the end of days, and give them priority treatment for the rest of your days.

Finally, if any Harold Camping fans read this: God has not failed. A man has made a serious mistake in his interpretation of Scripture. God is still on the throne, he is still all-knowing, and he is still in control of the universe. I urge you to find a church that preaches the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. It does not have to be a perfect church (there is no such thing, because all churches are filled with imperfect people); just one that remains faithful to the truth of God’s Word. Continue to seek a living relationship with Jesus Christ.

Categories: Current events, Spiritual reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Tempted As We Are, Yet Without Sin

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15–16, ESV).

The story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness can be a great source of encouragement and inspiration to all believers as we face temptation. This passage, found in Luke 4:1–13, provides insights that can challenge all who desire spiritual victory.

Christians are often tempted to surrender to defeat in different areas of our lives. We justify sin with the excuse, “Well, nobody is perfect.” When reminded that Jesus overcame sin, we shrug it off by saying, “Yeah, well, he is Jesus and I am just an ordinary person. He never dealt with this problem.”

The Hebrews passage at the top of this article takes all of those excuses away from us. It reminds us that Jesus was tempted in all the ways that we are, yet without sin. He faced every temptation you face, in some form or another. Our Lord even faced many of those temptations to a greater degree than you or I can imagine. All of us slip into sin before feeling the full force of temptation and we can immediately ask for divine forgiveness. Many of our sins do not have obvious serious long-term effects on our lives. However, if Jesus had sinned, even one time, his entire mission in life would have failed. He would then have to die for his own sins, and we would still not have a redeemer.

So, he faced every temptation with the added stress of knowing that one failure would derail his entire purpose for coming into the world. If we stumble (or even charge full-speed-ahead with no reservations) into sin, we can always repent with the full assurance of complete forgiveness. However, we have that option only because Jesus was crucified for us as the sinless Lamb of God, without blemish.

Jesus faced temptation with no excuses. Christians who are single can overcome sexual temptation, in part by encouraging themselves that they can enjoy such pleasure when they get married. Jesus did not have that option. Blasphemous as it may sound to some, I am certain that he had to face that same rush of hormones other adolescent males face during puberty. He probably even faced sexual temptation during his ministry. Nevertheless, he overcame, never giving in to sin.

Jesus’ wilderness temptations can remind us of several sources of temptation faced both by the nation of Israel and by individual believers. The temptations Jesus overcame were very similar to those that Israel gave in to during the wilderness wanderings (after the Exodus).

Many articles and sermons will point out how these temptations correspond to the major areas where all people are tempted (the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life—see 1 John 2:16). Since others have addressed this connection so effectively, I will not repeat it here. However, both approaches (the “three categories of temptation” approach and the perspective I offer below) remind us that while times, cultures, and technology change, human nature remains the same. At their roots, the temptations we face in 2011 are very similar to those that Jesus faced nearly 2000 years ago and those Moses and the Israelites faced 3400 years ago.

First, Satan tempted Jesus to command a stone to become bread. Soon after Israel fled Egypt, they murmured against Moses and the Lord, complaining about the lack of food. God provided bread from heaven (also known as “manna”) and quail to sustain them (Exodus 16:1–15). Moses would later tell the people that God fed them in this way so that they may “know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3).

Jesus recalled this scripture and reminded himself that he needed sustenance from the word of God. He spent 40 days in the wilderness, feasting upon scripture and prayer. As he focused on divine truth, he knew his heavenly Father would strengthen him for the fast and meet all his needs (Matthew 6:33). There was no point in giving in to the devil for even a moment.

After this temptation, Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and offered to give him authority over all of it. In exchange, all Jesus would have to do is worship him.

Two of Israel’s wilderness experiences come to mind here. First, not long after fleeing Egypt, the Israelites gave in to temptation to commit idolatry. While Moses received the law on Mount Sinai, the rest of the Israelites replaced the unseen God who delivered them with a golden idol of a calf deity (possibly reminiscent of Baal or El, two of the chief deities in Canaanite paganism).

Later, Moses sent 12 spies into Canaan to spy out the land God was giving them. Like Jesus, they saw what God would give them to rule over. The Israelites failed the test, looking at the size of their opponents and forgetting that God had already delivered them from the world’s greatest superpower at that time.

Jesus prevailed, remembering the word of God. He knew that it was an abominable sin to worship any “god” besides his Father, the one true God, the maker of heaven and earth. However, I think this may have been the most difficult temptation of all for Jesus. He knew the grueling vicious torture he would face for our salvation. Satan was offering him a shortcut to claim his eternal authority as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Perhaps Jesus reminded himself that the kingdoms of the world were already promised to him. He would have to endure the cross (Hebrews 12:2), but that would bring a far greater joy. The son of God had a choice. He could endure a night of betrayal, torture, and beatings, followed by several hours on a cross and a few days in the nether world. This would enable him to cherish a joyful eternity with the people he saved. Or, he could lower his standards for a few brief moments and avoid the suffering; but then, he would have to spend eternity as ruler of the universe while all humanity burns in hell.

Also, Jesus recognized Satan as the father of lies (John 8:44). Satan may offer wonderful gifts if we obey him, but he is a liar! Even if he does reward his followers with fame, fortune, and fun, he does not tell the truth about everything they may receive for following him: addiction and heartache in this life, and eternal suffering in the next.

When we look at our options from God’s perspective. we can find greater encouragement to resist temptation. Jesus did not focus on the short-term benefits of avoiding pain and suffering. He looked to the eternal joy. Likewise, we should look at our eternal rewards, not settling for the temporary comforts and pleasures of this life.

Satan’s final wilderness temptation of Jesus attacked the human desire for respect and admiration from others. He tempted Jesus to go to Jerusalem and put on a dramatic show of a miracle to impress the people in the temple.

Likewise, Moses was tempted to draw attention to himself. On two occasions during the wilderness wanderings, the Israelites complained about the lack of water. Both times, God instructed Moses to bring forth water from a rock.

On the second occasion (Numbers 20:8–11), God commanded Moses to tell the rock to yield water. However, Moses gave in to his frustration. Instead of following God’s instructions, he scolded the Israelites and asked, “Shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” (Thus, Moses spoke as if he were giving the water, instead of God.) Then, he struck the rock with his staff, as if his own strength were responsible for providing water.

For this failure, God did not allow Moses to enter the Promised Land with the Israelites. Joshua (whose name in Hebrew, incidentally, is very similar to “Jesus”) would lead God’s people. Virtually all of Israel, even its leaders Moses and Aaron, failed the tests of temptation and missed out on God’s blessings.

Praise God that Jesus passed the test! Praise God that, since we have Christ’s example along with the indwelling Holy Spirit and the complete word of God, we can prevail as well!

Jesus overcame, and so can we. Like Jesus, we should meditate on the Word of God, so that we may know God’s will for our lives and withstand temptation. Prayer and fasting are vital tools to pursue spiritual victory as well. We should always rely on these gifts of God and on the strength he provides to win the battle against Satan.

Categories: Bible meditations, Spiritual reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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