By The Rev. Karen Slater
Last week we talked about our wilderness times…………you know, those times when we are in the desert……in the pits……lost. We learned that those times can be great opportunities to find out more about ourselves, about God’s plan for us and about what is most important in our lives.
Today we will continue our adventure into the wilderness but we will look at those times as times of challenge. Now I don’t think I have to convince anyone here that times in the wilderness can be challenging. The questions we ask are these: How do we handle these challenges? Are these challenges the same as temptations? What is the difference between temptations and the challenges they bring?
We all know that temptations are just part of living a Christian life. The closer we become to God, the more we will be tempted. Satan does NOT like our getting close to God and will do anything to de-rail our attempts at holiness.
Temptation is a very real part of life and is especially challenging in our wilderness times. We are down, discouraged, afraid, disappointed and lonely. Satan loves to kick us when we’re down. What I want us to recognize this morning is that every temptation we encounter brings with it a corresponding challenge. Meeting those challenges head on is how we rise above the temptations.
For instance, in the wilderness we are tempted to stray from our values. We try to rationalize why we are behaving in a certain way and Satan gives us lots of logical excuses. Our challenge then is to stand firm on our convictions and remain true to our values.
In the wilderness we are tempted to avoid the pain and struggle of our lives. We want to find the easy, softer way of avoiding difficulties. The challenge we have is to walk through the pain and darkness…to persevere and to take the difficult path……….the road less traveled. In terms of financial wilderness, we may become paralyzed with the fear of losing our job or of not being able to find a job. We may feel overwhelmed when we look at a stack of bills that we cannot pay. We may not even think of asking God for help. After all, what does God know about money problems?
In our wilderness times we are tempted to listen to the voices that lead us away from God. Radio, television, internet voices tell us what is important in our lives. These voices tell us that the good in our lives……the God in our lives…. is represented by money, power, security, fame. Now all of these are good things. But good things become evil when Satan tries to convince us that we don’t need God in our lives. We become out of balance. We get confused about what is truly meaningful in our lives and what gives our lives true purpose. The temptation is to believe that all of our “stuff” is all we need to be happy and feel better. We begin to think that happiness is just around the corner if only we can have more things, more wealth, more security we will be happy. The challenge in all of this is to live our lives knowing that God will provide everything we need to be happy.
The biggest temptation most of us are faced with in the wilderness is to just give up. To stop trying to live good lives. This is not a new problem. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth these words: We are pressed on every side by troubles, but not crushed and broken. We are perplexed because we don’t know why things happen as they do, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going.
The only way to keep from giving up when we find ourselves in the wilderness is to persevere. We must rise to meet the challenges head on and persevere in doing what’s right, in being faithful to God, in trusting God, in listening to God, and in loving others as God loves us.
The Good News here is that God strengthens us to meet all of these challenges. In one of my devotion times this week I read something by Max Lucado that says: The phrase “I’ve been there” is in the chorus of Christ’s theme song. To the lonely, Jesus whispers, “I’ve been there.” To the discouraged, Christ nods His head and sighs, “I’ve been there.”
Jesus knows what it is like to be tempted. Jesus knows what it is like to be challenged. Jesus know what it is like to be in the wilderness. He’s been there. And it was in the wilderness, immediately after His Baptism, that Jesus struggled, grieved, doubted and suffered great temptations. I’ll bet most of us would admit that we have never spent forty days and forty nights straight trapped in our won wilderness time.
There is always Good News that comes out of the wilderness times in our lives. Each time we are able to meet the challenge in the wilderness it helps prepare us for the next challenge that is to come. We struggle with our temptations in the wilderness and out of that struggle comes character.
Think about it this way. We know that often our temptations seem like hopeless traps of devastation. But I want you to consider another view of temptation. It can also be a time of learning more about ourselves as we imagine the consequences that would occur if we were to yield to this temptation. We can mentally work through the consequences instead of having to live through them. The benefit is obvious…. Only if we act on the temptation do we create negative consequences for ourselves and others.
We learn from Jesus that we meet the challenges of the wilderness by meeting God daily. Jesus, the very Son of God, was ready to meet the challenges in the wilderness because He was in contact every one of those forty days with God the Father. This is how Jesus knew God’s will for His life. It is also the way we learn God’s will for OUR lives.
When you meet God daily in prayer and scripture study and worship, you will hear God’s voice in the wilderness just like you do when you are on the mountaintop.
And that voice of God will prepare you for whatever temptations might arise when you find yourself in the wilderness the next time. You can meet that challenge with the help of your Jesus. He has been there Himself and He is there with you also.