This plate of sweets tempts me. So do many other things. Temptation abounds for all of us. I rarely think of those temptations as potential God encounters. But that is this week’s worship theme in Leader, where seasonal worship resources from my denominations are found. So, if temptation can lead us toward a God encounter, bring it on. Let’s see, what tempts us?
A recent email from the Fuller Youth Institute indicates silence as a temptation. As teenagers engage hard questions of faith, but are afraid to ask them, adults are tempted to silently avoid those questions and keep “splashing around in the shallow end” in faith forming encounters with them. Eight years of Sticky Faith research has convinced them that,” it’s not doubt or hard questions that are toxic to faith. It’s silence.” FYI’s response has been to develop a new youth study guide called Can I Ask That? to help us into those deeper waters. So, if our unsatisfying silence leads us to seek for better responses, it can lead to a God encounter.
In Rejoice magazine’s reflection on Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), writer Aimee Reed concludes, “When tempted to doubt your identity as God’s child, remember the truth of Scripture. You are chosen, You are loved with an everlasting love. (1 Thessalonians 1:4). By God’s grace you are enough (Colossians 2:12). Yes, identity doldrums can help us remember and encounter God’s encouragement.
Thank you, Aimee, for that reminder.
This year for Lent, my husband and I have decided to co-operate with the season by trying to lose some of those extra pounds that have found their way onto our bodies over years at tasty tables. So what is tempting us, besides remaining silent on hard questions and identity issues? You guessed it; food! I’m curious to find out how that will help us encounter God.
What tempts us varies, but temptation abounds and lures us away from living toward God’s dream of shalom, (a Hebrew concept of God-centred communal peace, justice, and enough for all). So, how can temptation be a chance to encounter God?
When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he responded with Scripture to counter the temptations of food (turn bread into stones), ego gratification (show off by jumping from the temple), and power (rule the world). He was steeped in God’s word and had internalized large portions of it in synagogue school and family worship so he had resources to draw on. Bringing his previous experiences and deep knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures to mind helped him resist temptations that could have derailed his ministry before it began. Instead of derailing him, Jesus’ temptations prepared him for ministry by making him aware of the pitfalls that would be ahead.
Similarly, we can face our temptations to keep silent by remembering when we were young. Were there encounters with God’s deep and living word through authentic, available, and affirming adults who helped us process our own deep faith related questions and identity issues? Were there people who directed us to helpful biblical texts like Aimee did? Then draw on the strength of those memories and respond similarly. Can we remember the encouragement of others who have won the battle of the bulge, or remember those who regularly have empty stomachs and choose to be in solidarity with them, or remember Jesus good words, quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3, that “People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God”(Matthew 4;4 CEB)? Hmm, that long sentence indicates where I need reinforcement, doesn’t it?
Such remembering, no matter the issue, helps us have the courage to resist temptation and make a shalom building choice. Experiences of being helped to resist temptation can help us live toward God’s dream by preparing us for the pitfalls ahead, like they did Jesus.
What pitfalls we will face? I don’t know your specific temptations but I suspect we will be tempted to keep silent on lots of tough questions as we seek to live with God into an uncertain future where Christianity may be more marginal than mainstream. I suspect identity issues will continue to drag us down in a consumerist world where celebrating the fact that we are or have enough is considered poor marketing. And I know temptations to eat more than our bodies need will abound for many of us as we live in a culture that celebrates ‘sinfully delicious’ food and ‘super sized’ portions.
So, let’s remember, and encourage each other to resist these temptations. After Jesus emerged from the wilderness in which he resisted temptation, he immediately called a community of disciples to join him in his ministry. We also need faith communities where we can encourage each other to resist temptations and stay focused on God’s dream.
Faith communities help us remember how to resist. They help us remember who and whose we are; that we are enough and have enough to engage God’s dream proactively. They help us confess, learn and worship. Faith communities can grow and thrive wherever two or three are gathered in a worshipful awareness of God’s presence. They can even grow on-line. In my free, down-loadable Lent-at-home booklet for families the Call to Worship for March 9-15 is as follows:
Leader: Lord, we come to you in weakness. We know that we make mistakes and stumble, but we want to know your loving, fixing strength. You are our safe hiding place. You teach us the ways we should go. Help us worship you.
Candle lighter: We are so glad God hides us and helps us when we are tempted, and forgives us when we fail. We light this first candle of Lent, to help us remember that God helps us in times of temptation.
Lent blessings! May you encounter God in your temptations.