Monday, January 11, 2010

A Time of Preparation

God’s been speaking to me in the last few days… No, not audibly, just in the things I’ve been hearing.

  • Saturday night, I heard Charles Stanley preach on “Obedience to God’s Word.”
  • Sunday morning, while I was getting dressed for church, Jentezen Franklin was preaching on “Fasting.”
  • Our Sunday School lesson was on Jesus’ fasting and temptation in the wilderness.
  • The last verse of our closing hymn during the worship service said, “Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore; let the search for Thy salvation be our glory evermore. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, serving Thee whom we adore, serving Thee whom we adore”.

And what is so chilling is that it came immediately after I was praying in my spirit, “Lord! What should I do? I have been praying to be more understanding and more patient in (this certain situation)… Is that right? Should I be praying that? Or should I be praying for strength to stand strong regardless of what others think? Lord! Tell me what to do!”

And I believe He did…

However, it’s not just a matter of “standing strong”; it’s a matter of preparation.

That Sunday School lesson was on my mind all Sunday afternoon. The actual lesson was on being strengthened in temptation, and how we should draw on the weapons that God has given us. But, I really got to thinking about the time of fasting and temptation itself, and I began asking the question, “Why did Jesus really go into the wilderness…?”

I know… the scriptures tell us that:

  • “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry…” (Matthew 4:1-2) or
  • “Immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness, and He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan, and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him.” (Mark 1:12-13) or…
  • “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry.” (Luke 4:1-2)

But, why did He have to go into the wilderness? I know that Matthew clearly says, “…to be tempted by the devil…” but was that the only reason? Was the sole purpose of going into the wilderness, just the testing that took place after the forty days? If that’s so, then what was He doing for forty days?

Both Mark and Luke imply that the testing was on-going during the forty days, but surely it wasn’t nonstop! Surely that wasn’t all that was happening. What else was He doing during those forty days?

This is what I think… I think that during those forty days, Jesus was preparing for His ministry. I think He was fasting and praying and in dialogue with the Father about what kind of ministry He was to have; exactly what He was going to do; and exactly how He was going to do it. I think it was (in today’s terms) a “strategic planning session.”

This was, for all intents and purposes, “a fast in preparation for a new ministry.”

And, I think He was being tempted every step of the way in that preparation, not just after the “fast” was over.

We’ve heard all kinds of sermons on these three temptations. These include:

  • A comparison to 1 John 2:16 with “The lust of the flesh; the lust of the eyes; and the pride of life…”
  • A comparison to a “slippery slope” by their being “not so bad”, “a little worse”, or finally, “off the deep end.” (Literally!)
  • Or being a “progression” by their being “reasonable” (after all He was hungry); being “plausible” (the scriptures did say what Satan said they did, sorta); and being expedient (this would speed things up, ya know…)

And, I’m sure you’ve heard many other possibilities such as their representing “economic, socialistic, political” or “physical, spiritual and psychological” temptations or maybe even others. But, the more I thought about it (with the mindset of ministry preparation) the more it seemed to be something else as well. The writer of our lesson hinted at another set of possibilities, and this really seemed to fit in with what I was “hearing.”

Just what kind of ministry was Jesus to have in these next 3 short years? Would it be one in which everyone’s physical needs were to be met? Would it be one in which “signs and wonders” would have sovereignty? Would it be one in which “the ends would justify the means”?

I think the temptations reflected the very issues that Jesus struggled with in the wilderness. Just what would be the balance between meeting people’s needs, doing miracles, and getting it all done in the right amount of time? That was the struggle.

I wrote a “snippet” a few years ago that I thought would make a nice chorus to a song. It went:
“He took
No shortcuts.
He said
No ‘yeah, buts’
He was
All God and All man, all the time.”

But, what does this have to do with what God has been saying to me? Just this: Whatever God is calling you or me to do, there has to be a time of preparation. And I think that time must be spent in prayer and fasting. That’s what I’ve heard, and that’s what I’ve been called to do.

But, no matter what we’ve been called to do, throughout the preparation period we’ll face temptations on “how” it should be done that we’ll have to work through until we get a clear picture of the path. And how do we see that path? “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path…” And we all know that the kind of “lamp” this scripture speaks of, only lights one step at a time… but, that’s another sermon for another day!

But now think about this…Once Jesus was past the 40 days, and the “last ditch efforts” of Satan, was it all smooth sailing from then on? Luke tells us in verse 13 that, “When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him… until an opportune time.” (emphasis added)

No, Satan still tried to tempt Him all along the way (remember His saying to Peter, “Get behind me Satan”?) And we’ll face temptations all along the way as well. We’ll face times of struggle and doubt. But we can prevail because Jesus went before us and was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”

Because He did, we can.

Fast and pray, and listen for His voice in your time of preparation.

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