As we begin our journey into ministry in whatever role or calling that we answer, the bible warns us to get ready to be tested.
Sirach Ch. 2
My child, when you come to serve the Lord,
prepare yourself for trials.
Be sincere of heart and steadfast,
and do not be impetuous in time of adversity.
Cling to him, do not leave him,
that you may prosper in your last days.
Accept whatever happens to you;
in periods of humiliation be patient.
For in fire gold is tested,
and the chosen, in the crucible of humiliation.
Trust in God, and he will help you;
make your ways straight and hope in him.
You that fear the Lord, wait for his mercy,
do not stray lest you fall.
You that fear the Lord, trust in him,
and your reward will not be lost.
You that fear the LORD, hope for good things,
for lasting joy and mercy.
Consider the generations long past and see:
has anyone trusted in the Lord and been disappointed?
Has anyone persevered in his fear and been forsaken?
has anyone called upon him and been ignored?
For the Lord is compassionate and merciful;
forgives sins and saves in time of trouble.
Woe to timid hearts and drooping hands,
to the sinner who walks a double path!
Woe to the faint of heart! For they do not trust,
and therefore have no shelter!
Woe to you that have lost hope!
what will you do at the Lord’s visitation?
Those who fear the Lord do not disobey his words;
those who love him keep his ways.
Those who fear the Lord seek to please him;
those who love him are filled with his law.
Those who fear the Lord prepare their hearts
and humble themselves before him.
Let us fall into the hands of the Lord
and not into the hands of mortals,
For equal to his majesty is his mercy;
and equal to his name are his works.
Jesus’ entrance into ministry was preceded by temptation. The Gospel of Matthew talks about his baptism and immediately follows with an encounter with the devil.
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.
He fasted for forty days and forty nights,* and afterwards he was hungry.
The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.”
He said in reply, “It is written:
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple,
and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written:
‘He will command his angels concerning you’
and ‘with their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’”
Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence,
and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”
At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written:
‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship
and him alone shall you serve.’”
Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.
It’s no coincidence that both the old and new testaments talk about this. I think that many of us prepare for participation in our faith community and hope that it will draw us closer to God which it should. It should be an opportunity to serve, but it also increases our value for the enemy. In my life, the closer I have drawn to the Lord, the greater the temptation and challenges have often been.
When does the tempter approach Jesus? When he’s hungry. When he’s alone. When he’s the most susceptible to give in.
I read these three examples of temptation and think that they might represent the three most common categories in which we are tempted. The first being our body. I don’t believe that when Jesus says, “man doesn’t live by bread alone” that he’s just talking about food. It could be much bigger than that. He could mean all of the sins of our flesh. Of course it could be directly about our diet, but what about our vanity or desire? What about lust? When I hear him talking about bread, I think he’s saying that physical relationships won’t quench the appetite we have for intimacy with our heavenly father.
The next challenge is to disregard his life and throw himself from the height of a temple. The enemy even twists scripture around to try to justify the temptation! Think that won’t happen to us? Think again. Jesus’ response is to go back and use scripture against this test by saying that it’s also written not to put God to the test. This is a tricky temptation. We’re supposed to trust God, right? So that means we shouldn’t be afraid or suffer from anxiety of the unknown, but it also means that we respect our lives and not test God or try to make deals with him. Have you ever found yourself saying, “I really want such and such to happen and I know God won’t let me down.” How about, “God, if I make this change in my life then I need you to do this for me.” That’s not how faith works. We aren’t to put Him to the test. This might be the hardest of the three to actually defend. We have to take Jesus’ example and know scripture and be prayerful. We won’t know what direction God has for us if we do all the talking. We must include time in our prayer life for listening.
Finally, the last temptation is a request to worship the devil in exchange for worldly riches. Many of us would hear this and say, “Ah I’d never fall into that trap. I love the Lord!” Think again. I’m speaking directly to the worship leaders and conference speakers out there. Just because we are preaching or singing about God doesn’t mean we’re obedient. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t trying to be famous, win a Grammy or have the coolest guitar collection. The temptation is still there, perhaps even greater in ministry, to be great at what we do and to be popular. We must remain humble, obedient, and remember that it’s “Him alone that we shall serve.” I also include distraction in this category. Anything that gets in the way of our relationship with Christ is placing something worldly in place of God.
One of my favorite parts of this reading is that it says that after the devil left, angels came to minister to Jesus. Not even Christ recovered from a duel with the devil without some help. I pray that we all be surrounded by a community of “angels” to support our journey.
My intent isn’t to scare anyone away from ministry, but to simply point out the fact that preparing to minister involves arming ourselves for the test. St. Paul advises that we, ”
“throw off the works of darkness [and] put on the armor of light;
let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy.
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” (Romans 13:12-14)
I think he’s saying to the ministers out there, “It’s on. Get ready for a fight.”
Can I pray for you? Contact me with an intention. It would be an honor to do so.