Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Matthew 4:1
The best way to battle temptation is to give into it.~ Oscar Wilde
I received a phone call from a person that was distraught. I listened and empathized with them in their sorrow. About that time a show came on the television that was somewhat racy. Not horrible, but certainly not appropriate. I had muted the sound so that I could listen to the quivering voice on the line. I began to pray for the person, all the while the fleshly images were being flashed on the screen in front of me. I closed my eyes to talk to God on behalf of a hurting friend but kept opening one eye to see the flashing images.
It is extremely difficult to pray to God and ogle images on television. I had to either hurry the prayer or turn off the T.V.
So I prayed, “DearLordJesushelpMrs.SoandSoblah,blah,blah.InJesusname,Amen.”
Jesus had a clear vision of who he was. He was God’s beloved son and the Voice spoken at his baptism was still ringing in his ear all the way out into the wilderness. He knew who He was and Whose He was.
It is not enough to have a plan about what you are not going to do in life. You must develop a vision for who you are and what you are going to become. To be fully human is not just the absence of evil, it is the relentless pursuit of good. And that is what Jesus did in the wilderness when he did battle with the devil. All of the years of reading Torah, internalizing the Scriptures and praying the Psalms came to bear on those dry and dusty 40 days out east of Zion.
It is not enough to get married and not have plans to be unfaithful, you must make plans to be faithful. It’s not enough to have plans to not become addicted to alcohol, you have to have a vision, intention and a method to be moving towards God. No one plans to be unfaithful to God. No one I have ever met has signed on to be a Christian and secretly made plans to bow their knee to the devil at the same time.
Dallas Willard has said, “We must arrange our lives so that sin no longer looks good to us.” I need to build into my life behaviors, friends, and habits that make loving Jesus more attractive than loving my own desires.
Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
Then the devil left him… Matthew 4:10-11a
What I worship really matters. One night at a weight loss clinic the instructor held up an apple and then a candy bar.
“What is the nutritional value of this apple,” she asked, “and how would it relate to your diet?”
“Low in calories”, “natural” and “lots of fiber” were among the answers.
She then went on to explain what was wrong with eating candy, and concluded with, “Apples are not only more healthful but also less expensive. You can buy this apple for about thirty cents. Do you know I paid eighty-five cents for this candy bar?”
Everyone just stared at the forbidden treat, and from the back of the room someone blurted out:
“I’ll give you two dollars for it.”
What I ascribe worth to really matters. I love how author Tim Keller puts it when he says, “The things you daydream about in your spare time are ultimately the things you serve.” It doesn’t require vision and inner strength to choose the apple over the Snickers at a weight loss clinic. It gets a lot harder at 10:00 at night and your spouse has already gone to bed and will never know anyway. The immediate gratification of the candy bar versus the fiber-rich benefits of the apple are at odds and the candy bar usually wins. Unless I have matured to the point where I can live with delayed gratification long enough to remember the vision of a healthy and dynamic body that gives presence to the soul that lives inside—I will have peanut breath when I go to bed.
It’s easy to make the right choice in squishy moments at 11:00 on Sunday mornings at the sin-loss clinic called Church. It’s a lot harder to make soul-enhancing choices in the wilderness of Monday through Saturday.
Jesus didn’t start his preparation during His temptation. He envisioned the kind of God-fearing pilgrim He would be long before he was taken into the wilderness. Since before He was twelve He had built into His lifestyle soul-shaping exercises for all of his life. Things like scripture mediation and memorization. Things like prayer and worship. Things like service and solitude. He learned obedience from the things he suffered, scripture says. He learned to be comfortable with obscurity. In fact, we could say that all of his life had prepared him for this battle in with wilderness and all the battles that dogged his steps to the cross.
We must be prepared for the battle before the battle begins.
So, turn the T.V. off. Spend time reading, praying, and listening.
The phone could ring at any moment.
I like the Dallas Willard quote. I am making a sign with his phrase to put above my office door so that when I go home at night, I can be reminded to ‘plan’ properly for the ‘battles’.