Heavyweight Battle:  The Brain Versus the Heart

Proverbs 7-9

Proverbs 7 25 NIV sgl

We have already covered the first six chapters of Proverbs and they all center around wisdom.  We are now moving on to chapters 7 through 9, which focus on……..drum roll please…….wisdom.  Wisdom must be really really important.  Proverbs 8:19 says wisdom is better than pure gold and Proverbs 8:35 says those that find wisdom find life and obtain favor from the Lord.  Wisdom is clearly something everyone should have and use, but why do so many people come up short in this area?

Where is wisdom stored?  In the brain.  Wisdom is the ability to process information correctly and that is all done in the brain.  Many people actually have a pretty good brain that correctly tells them the difference between right and wrong, but they do not always follow the right path because of the brain’s nemesis, the heart.  We have many sinful desires in our hearts because we are selfish beings.

There are some people that have evil desires in their heart and their brain is lacking wisdom, so they are going to struggle in life until they search out some wisdom.  They will always do the wrong thing because their brain and heart are in agreement and working together.  They can accomplish a lot together, but none of it is good.

The rest of us are in another group that are wise enough to know something is right or wrong, but struggle to always do what is right because of our heart’s selfish desires.  That is called temptation and we all have it.  When temptation arises, our heart and mind go in to battle.  Our heart has two main tactics in this fight.  First, it may try to get us to ignore what our brain might say about the sin.  Second, it sometimes engages the brain and tries to convince the brain that the sin is ok.  This is called justifying the behavior.  The heart is very strong and can be very persuasive.  In order to do the right thing, the brain must be stronger, which is where wisdom comes into play.

The brain must know the difference between right and wrong to stand any chance of beating the heart (don’t be confused here – we still want the heart to keep beating).  That wisdom is found in the Bible and it needs to be searched out, but that is just the start.  If you want to make sure your brain is strong enough to defeat the heart, you can’t just “know” what is right and wrong, you need to “understand” why it is right or wrong.  Understanding comes with a lot of reading, thinking, learning from others, and praying.

Proverbs 7 tells of a story where a man is seduced by a married woman who was not his wife.  He gave in to the temptation because he lacked enough wisdom to fight it.  He probably knew it was wrong, but he didn’t understand all the consequences.  The lost trust and ruined reputation that he may never get back, the pain he caused his family, sexually transmitted diseases, getting the woman pregnant, a broken nose from the husband when he finds out, and the guilt he will feel because he let God down are just some of the reasons why God tells us not to have sex outside of marriage.  Once you take the time to understand why something is right or wrong, the brain will be much more powerful and most likely will win the fight against the heart.

But wait, it gets even better.  When a brain has enough wisdom and understanding, the brain can convince the heart to change its desires.  The heart can be trained to agree with and follow the brain!  This is the ultimate goal, and this is why wisdom is so important.  James 4:2-3 says that you do not have because you do not ask God.  It goes on to say that you do not receive when you ask because you ask with the wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.  Simply put, your heart is not right.  So, it stands to reason that if your brain convinces your heart using Godly wisdom, you will get what you ask for because your desires will line up with God’s desires.  In this case, when the brain and heart are in agreement and working together, they can accomplish a lot together, and it is all good.

Rick McClain

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+7-9&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Proverbs 10-12 as we continue seeking God’s wisdom on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Over and over and over

Monday – Judges 3-5

Judges Devotions (1)

Judges reminds me of the movie “Groundhog Day”—the one where Bill Murray, the local weatherman, relives the same day over and over and over. While not a single groundhog makes an appearance in Judges, the book does repeat itself over and over and over. You see, the Israelites are in a downward spiral, stuck in a vicious cycle of sin. In the reading for today, Judges 3-5, we see this cycle play out three times, once under Othniel, again under Ehud, and finally under Deborah. Today, we’ll take a closer look at this cycle using the example of Othniel:

1. SIN – “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs” (Judges 3:7). The Israelites neglected to kick out all the bad people from the Promised Land, and they often find themselves tempted by the Canaanite’s sinful ways. Their temptation leads to habitual sin, tearing themselves further from God.

2. OPPRESSION – “The anger of the LORD burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathain king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years” (Judges 3:8). I think, perhaps, God uses oppression as a tool to bring His people to their knees. His people become so desperate with no other choice but to turn to Him.

3. REPENTANCE – “But when they cried out to the LORD…” (Judges 3:9a) In their newly humbled position, the Israelites cry out to God. They recognize their sin and run from it, towards a God whose arms are always open.

4. DELIVERANCE – “He raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. The Spirit of the LORD came on him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war” (Judges 3:9b & 10a). God works for His people through His people. He fills people with His Holy Spirit to accomplish His work.

5. PEACE – “So the land had peace for forty years” (Judges 3:11a). With a newfound trust in God and a godly leader to follow, the Israelites find peace. Unfortunately, after Othniel passes, this peace leads to complacency which leads right back to sin.

As a soon-to-be English teacher, this literary structure of the book of Judges is impressive. As a follower of God, this repetition is alarming. Why do the Israelites keep finding themselves back in a stage of sin? Why am I a repeat offender of the same sins?

Temptation and habit.

First, just like the Israelites were tempted by the corrupt and wicked ways of the Canaanites dwelling in the Promised Land, we, too, are surrounded by temptation. Set healthy boundaries from whatever may be luring you towards sin because the more distance we give between ourselves and temptation, the less likely we are to fall into sin.

Second, the Israelites were caught sinning over and over and over—their sin became their habit. Recognize the power of your habits and work diligently to set healthy rhythms that honor God. Ever since I read this quote, I’ve been convicted of the power of my own habits: “People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures” -F.M. Alexander

Let the boundaries and habits you set lead you away from sin and towards God.

 

Mackenzie McClain

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Judges+3-5&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Judges 6-7 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.  Reading God’s Word daily is one healthy habit to pursue.  Keep at it!  It has the power to determine your future.

The Beginning of Jesus’ Ministry

Luke Chapter Four

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In Luke chapter four, we finally get to see the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  However, before we get there, Jesus spent forty days and forty nights in the wilderness by himself with no food.  He was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit.  We are never told the purpose of the Spirit leading Jesus to the wilderness, but I imagine it served as a great time for Jesus to focus in on God all by himself before he began his earthly ministry.

 

While Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days, the devil came to tempt Jesus.  Three times the devil tempted Jesus, but he had zero success.  To combat the temptation, Jesus responded each time with scripture (verses 4, 8 and 12).  Scripture offers us a great way to combat temptation, as Jesus demonstrated here.  Psalm 119:11 supports this notion, as it states, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

 

Whenever we are confronted with temptation, as we all are, a great way to resist and combat that temptation is by quoting scripture.  Now, this is only possible if you have scripture memorized in the first place.  This is a big reason why it is important to store God’s Word in our hearts.

 

After Jesus withstood the temptation of the devil in the wilderness, Jesus officially began his earthly ministry in his hometown of Nazareth.  He did not have quite the warm welcoming, as the Jews tried to throw him off of a cliff (Luke 4:29).  This was just the beginning of the Jews seeking to end and kill Jesus.  They were constantly taken back by Jesus’ bold claims that he makes.  In the end, the Jews send him to the Roman government to have him killed because Jesus claimed to be the Son of God (Matthew 26:54).  The Jews seldom got along with Jesus because they did not believe that he was the Christ, the Son of God.

 

Luke chapter four ends with Jesus telling us his purpose, as Jesus states, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent,” (Luke 4:43).  Jesus himself stated that his purpose was to preach the good news of the kingdom of God.  From the very beginning of his ministry, he preached all about the Kingdom.  The message of the kingdom was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry, and it should be at the heart of our ministry as well.

 

Kyle McClain

 

Sucked into Sin

Proverbs 29

Proverbs 29 16 NIV

This chapter of proverbs continues the thoughts from the previous one – speaking on the contrasts from the wicked and the righteous. Proverbs 28 and 29 give us wonderful examples, not only of recognizing sinful ways but, of the habits that could sneak into our own lives. Many a good man and woman have been corrupted in time by the allure of sin. Additionally, it is noted in this proverb that those who we surround ourselves with can lead us into sin. We must choose carefully who we associate with and be wary that they do not drag us into sin and away from God.

In my youth I hung out with people that did a lot of things that I knew were not good. Drugs, alcohol, and other activities were happening all around me. I hung out with them because I liked being around them but I never let myself fall into their ways. I always thought that made me okay but all it would have taken is one encounter with law enforcement and I would have been found just as guilty as the rest. Wow! That hit me like a ton of bricks when I first realized that. God was watching out for me but I was really pushing the boundaries of His grace and I realize that now. In that I am reminded that we are not to put our God to the test. Yet that is exactly what I was doing for years. He truly is merciful and gracious!

One last thought from this passage that actually ties back to what I wrote about for Proverbs 27 concerning anger, check it out if you missed it. Giving full vent to our anger as this proverb points out is bad. Yet I said before that it is good. No, not is good, but may be good and can help. Verse 11 says that a wise man keeps himself under control. Anger released rationally, controlled, is what I spoke of the previous day. This is talking about rage. Rage is uncontrolled, irrational, and violent. There can be no compassion or concern in rage but you can have both while angry. Understanding this is important for our relationships. That is why we have the saying, “Count to ten before speaking.”

In closing, I urge you to be aware of the various ways in which we can get sucked into sin. Be careful to not place yourself into a situation where you become guilty by association. And remember that we were created for relationships. They are vitally important to our God and to our daily existence. Treat them with the care that they deserve.

To be continued…

Jeff Ransom

Don’t Slip to the Default

Proverbs 11

Proverbs 11 3 NASB

Today is another comparison between the righteous and the wicked.  This time most of the comparisons are about outcomes.  Although it may already be clear, there is a relationship between wisdom and righteousness.  There is also a relationship between fools and the wicked.  Because of temptation always trying to lead us astray, fools turn towards wickedness, but it takes seeking wisdom to be righteous.

Verse 3 through 6 say:

The integrity of the upright will guide them,
But the crookedness of the treacherous will destroy them.
Riches do not profit in the day of wrath,
But righteousness delivers from death.
The righteousness of the blameless will smooth his way,
But the wicked will fall by his own wickedness.
The righteousness of the upright will deliver them,
But the treacherous will be caught by their own greed

We see that the upright or righteous person will be delivered from death.  The fool or wicked person will be destroyed.  The money, possessions or whatever else they have gained from their crooked ways cannot save them.  We see people who have gained wealth and power from all kinds of things that are not pleasing to God.   We see people that appear to have it made who are not seeking God’s wisdom.  We see righteous people who are seeking God’s wisdom go through struggles.  However, It is made very clear that no matter what people gain from their wicked ways, in the end it will catch up with them and they will be destroyed.  In the end, the righteous ones will be delivered.

Another example from this chapter is verses 24-26

24 There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more,
And there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want.
25 The generous man will be prosperous,
And he who waters will himself be watered.
26 He who withholds grain, the people will curse him,
But blessing will be on the head of him who sells it.

There are people who teach that this is specifically talking about wealth in the current time.  They say that if you give away $10.00, you will get $100.00 in return.  I don’t think that is accurate, and I don’t think it is even a great blessing compared to all the blessings that God does give us.  However, the generous man is the one who is doing what God wants, which makes it a wise decision.  The generous will be blessed.  The miser who withholds everything for himself will be cursed.  I think some of this comes in everyday life.  If someone who is generous and helpful has a problem, often people will help that person.  However, when someone who is greedy and never helps anyone else has a problem, people are unlikely to help that person.

Verses 29 and 30 say:

He who troubles his own house will inherit wind,
And the foolish will be servant to the wisehearted.
30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,
And he who is wise wins souls.

The outcome of seeking Godly wisdom and following in God’s righteousness is life for themselves and for the souls they win.  We have to choose daily to seek after wisdom.  If we make no choice, foolishness and ultimately destruction are the default choice.

Andrew Hamilton

Seduced by Temptation

Proverbs 7

Proverbs 7 25 26

The first five verses of this chapter again talk about how important it is to have wisdom.

My son, keep my words
And treasure my commandments within you.
Keep my commandments and live,
And my teaching as the apple of your eye.
Bind them on your fingers;
Write them on the tablet of your heart.
Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
And call understanding your intimate friend;
That they may keep you from an adulteress,
From the foreigner who flatters with her words

This is re-iterating what a lot of chapter 1 talks about.  It is not enough to just know the commands and teachings.  You must consider them as some of the most important things you know.  Following the commands and having wisdom will allow you to live.  This implies that a lack of wisdom will bring death.  The rest of the chapter details how this can lead to serious harm, and death.

The rest of the chapter can be a literal case of a man being seduced by a woman, or it can be symbolic of any person being tempted and falling to that temptation.  This shows a pattern of falling.  The first step is going to a place where the temptation is found.  This is in verse 8 where it talks about passing near her corner, and then going all the way to her house.  Wisdom would show that we should avoid going around things where we know we will be tempted.

Then, verse 9 says that this is being done in the darkness, or when we don’t think people can see us.  In most cases, if we are going to sin, it is going to be when people are not watching, or at least people that we know would be bothered by what we are doing.  Again, if we are wise, we will surround ourselves with people who will help us avoid temptation and stay away from those who draw us in to sin.

Then, when we are close to temptation, the sin can look very appealing, and it appears that we won’t get caught – so it is okay.  Verses 17-21 are showing this when talking about the couch and bed being adorned, and when it talks about the husband being gone for a long period of time.

With all of this, the man being talked about in this passage falls into temptation and sins.  He does not know this will cost him his life according to verse 23.  This is not saying that falling into temptation once and sinning means death, but when we fall into a temptation and are not wise enough to run from that in the future, we are going to fall into that same temptation again and again.  Then, we will escalate the sin, and get sucked into it until it is a lifestyle.

Wisdom, specifically Godly wisdom, is critical to both avoiding unnecessary problems in this life and in having eternal life in the kingdom.  This can only be accomplished by treasuring scriptures and a relationship with God.

Andrew Hamilton

Judy’s Candy Bar Story

Proverbs 5

Proverbs 5 23 NIV

Solomon begins Proverbs 5 again reminding us to seek out God’s wisdom. We must not only hear the wisdom offered, but we must absorb that wisdom and apply it to our lives, so that we can make wise and moral decisions.  Then your “lips may preserve knowledge”.  In other words, the things we say will be full of knowledge and insight.  Solomon knows that we need God’s wisdom to help us make wise choices, because we are constantly facing temptations.

Solomon continues the chapter talking about our temptations, using the example of an adulterous woman.  He says, “For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil.” (Proverbs 5:3) Simply put, this means that this immoral woman may come to you with sweet, flattering words.  She will look and sound very tempting.  She will tell you whatever it takes to lure you into believing that sexually sinning with her will bring you nothing but joy and happiness.

However, the next few verses go on to say, “But in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave.  She gives no thought to the way of life; her paths wander aimlessly, but she does not know it.”  (Proverbs 5:4-6)  In verse 3 it seemed as though the woman was offering bliss, but we find out in these verses that she actually will lead us to suffering and death.  You notice it says “her steps lead straight to the grave”.  We are all moving on a path.  Each day we make countless decisions that are leading us down a path.  We need to be using the wisdom God has provided to us in the Bible to make sure we are making choices leading us on the right path.

In verse eight Solomon goes on to offer this advice, “Keep to a path far from her (the adulteress), do not go near the door of her house.”  The message here is stay as far away from temptation as possible.  Do not put yourself in situations that will tempt you to sin.

The story of Judy’s chocolate bar is the perfect illustration of the stay-as-far-away-from-temptation-as-possible principle.  Judy loves chocolate.  In fact, Judy loves chocolate too much, so she decides to not eat chocolate for a month.  One day, after deciding to give up chocolate for a month, Judy is at the grocery store buying food for dinner.  While at the store, Judy decides to just go down the aisle where the chocolate is.  She is not going to buy any, she just wants to look at it.  As she gets closer to the chocolate she notices that it is on sale.  Judy decides to purchase just one bar of chocolate.  She will not eat it now, but it is on such a good sale, she wants to take advantage of the bargain and buy it for later.  When she gets home from the store, she keeps thinking of the chocolate bar that is now sitting in her cupboard. Judy believes that just getting to smell the chocolate will be very satisfying and help her to stop craving the chocolate, so she unwraps the chocolate bar and takes a large whiff of the delicious chocolate.  It smells incredible.  Judy sets a small piece of the chocolate on her tongue, not to eat it, but just to take a little lick.  You guessed it, soon the chocolate is gone!  Judy devours the entire bar.  The question is, when would it have been easiest for Judy to refrain from eating the chocolate? Would it have been easier to not eat the chocolate when it was sitting in the wrapper in the cupboard, or when it was sitting on Judy’s tongue?  What if Judy had never gone down the chocolate aisle at the store, but had instead just gone to the fresh produce section?

We need to constantly pursue wisdom, so that we can make God-pleasing choices.  We must be vigilant so that we do not believe any of the world’s lies. And finally, when we have identified what our stumbling blocks are, we must stay far away and avoid those temptations.

Jill McClain

God’s Presence and the Garden

Genesis 2 8

Text: Gen 2:4 – 3:24

 

Yesterday we began talking about the presence of God, starting with the creation account in Genesis 1:1-2:3. We saw that God not only created the earth as a place for us to live, but also as a place for him to be present with us. The heavens and earth are God’s temple.

 

As we move on in Genesis, starting with 2:4 and going to the end of chapter 2, we find another creation account, and its focus is different than the first, paying special attention to humans and what seems to be agriculture. We are introduced to a garden, and people to cultivate and rule over it: Adam (which literally means man or mankind) and Eve (which literally means living or life). The garden also includes two special trees, the tree of life, and tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The tree of knowledge could have easily been called the tree of certain death, because God promises they will die if they eat from it. But they can eat from anything else.

 

This garden is a special place. It seems to be a focal point, almost like a holy of holies for God’s cosmic temple. It is sacred space that he shares with his creation. God walks in the garden and is present there with Adam and Eve. Can you imagine just sharing space with God, doing some gardening, and God just walks by, like it was a normal thing? “Oh, hey God.”

 

That kind of closeness and intimacy with God in his presence was how it was for Adam and Eve, until something happened. There’s a talking serpent. This mischievous serpent character convinces Eve that she won’t in fact die if she eats from the tree of knowledge, she’ll just have knowledge like God. This is tricky because it has just enough truth in it. Maybe you would call it a white lie, but still a deception. Eve eats from the tree of knowledge, and Adam follows suit.

 

As Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge, they disobeyed God’s direct command and took matters into their own hands, going down a path to prematurely obtain the knowledge of good and evil. They likely had a childlike innocence about them before, and maybe God would have in time revealed this knowledge of good and evil to them in his way, in his time. Well, now things were going to be different for them. They suddenly realized they had no clothes and hid from God. They were ashamed. God finds out what they did (surely he already knew what they did) and kicks them out of his garden.

 

The consequences were very serious. God has cherubim (winged creatures sort of like a sphinx, not at all like a baby with wings) and a flaming sword guard the entrance so they can’t enter and eat from the tree of life. They are exiled from the garden, they are effectively sentenced to death by no longer having access to the tree of life and God’s presence. They will have to work much harder to grow food to survive, and some other fun consequences.

 

Reading an account like this makes you think a lot. What sorts of things are symbolized by the tree of life, and tree of knowledge? What is a serpent doing there? Are we really talking about fruit? I have no definitive answers to these questions. The beauty of this passage is that it forces you to think more every time you read it, and I believe that is why it is there.

 

The garden account is ripe with symbolism to interpret. While it is an account about real people, it is written in a way that makes it much bigger than that. Adam and Eve can be seen as archetypes for us, meaning the things that are said of them are also true of us. Adam is formed from dust (Gen 3:19), so are we (Ps 103:14). Eve is made from one of Adam’s sides, while we recognize that men and women are each other’s halves in a way. They face temptation and shame, so do we. They do things in defiance against God, and so do we (Rom 3:23), and as a result of that defiance, they exiled themselves from God’s garden, as we frequently exile ourselves from God’s presence when we sin, in a way. Their story is much like ours.

 

This isn’t the most encouraging chapter in the story of God’s presence. It’s one of the lower places we could go in scripture. The reality is that sin and the presence of God are not compatible things. Sin, separation from God, and death are all connected, if not three heads of the same monster. Of course, God knows this, and still wants to be present with us, so there has to be some kind of remedy for sin. Ultimately, we know that remedy to be Christ, but there was a progression to get there.

 

Tomorrow we’ll look at Exodus 40 – how God used a man named Moses to renew his presence among his people.

 

-Jay Laurent

 

When Temptation Comes

Matthew 4

matthew 4 1

More than we would like to admit, we struggle with temptation.  No matter how great our will or sense of purpose in our life, it always seems to find a way to slither into our lives and rear its ugly head.  Ironically, we are caught most off guard and unaware, not when we are in the midst of a struggle with sin or a desperate time, but when things are at their best.  One minute we are walking close to God, doing his will, connected to His Spirit, loving His word, sharing his Gospel, and the next we are faced with an idea (James 1:13-14).  An awful idea. A wonderfully awful idea that will feed our selfishness, our human condition.

In Matthew 4, today’s reading, Jesus is led by the Spirit to the desert.  God, being the great storyteller he is, takes Jesus to the ultimate contrast of Eden, where the groans of nature longing for restoration can be most heard (Rom 8:22).  A setting that is far away from paradise, an allegory of the state of mankind, filled with the different, yet same challenge – temptation. Now, there are theological hairs you can split as you read this message today. Don’t do that. Fix your eyes on Jesus.

Jesus’s  triumph begs the question, “How did He overcome temptation?”  Well, He was the Son of God, right? This is true, but an error in our thinking if we think this is the sole reason that Jesus wins the days.  He is the Son of God, but he faced temptation, “just as we are”, and did not sin (Heb 4:15). You might say, “He obviously had a special ability to resist.”  You are right. It is the same special ability we have access to: The Holy Spirit. God may take us to the desert to see what our faith is made of, but He will not give us something we can’t handle, and will actually empower us if we seek Him in that moment (1 Cor 10:13).

But careful. Careful we must be because when we are in the desert it is easy to see what is coming.   We might feel as though we have plunged a dagger into the heart of temptation, but we have not put it to rest.  We must remember, we are human. No matter how willing our spirit is to continue on day after day in the will of God, our flesh is weak (Matt 26:40-43).  We crave food. We seek power. We want to be known. Our eyes, the lamp into our soul (Matt 6:22-24), see a way we can instantly fulfill the desires that will be made complete by God and chases after them in selfish, fleeting moments.  Unfortunately, this often comes on the day we leave our armor at home, catching us off guard, not ready to do spiritual battle.

Deut 8 3Looking to Jesus, how can we be ready to do battle with temptation?  First, he knew the word of God. It is how He responds not only to the temptation, but even when the word of God is seemingly being used against Him.  How can you know the will of God? It is as ironically simple as losing weight: diet and exercise. Consume the right thing, His word, and practice it daily, so you will be spiritual healthy.  Next, do God’s business. Know that temptation can come at any moment, but comes easier when we are idle (Prov 16:27-29). Keep your eyes on God and your hands and feet busy to his work. Like the old adage, “if you’re going through hell, just keep going,”  Jesus faced the temptation, but immediately moves onto His ministry. Temptation IS NOT sin. No guilt required; pick up and move on. Finally, be on guard. Relapse can setback or even kill your spiritual life. Removing unnecessary temptation from our lives is a must.  Even if we are in the word every day, engaging in spiritual disciplines, or deeply involved in a ministry, at the very height of our endeavors, it only takes a moment to go back to sin and fall harder and faster than we ever did (the very nature of relapse). If you can’t hang out with your friends without getting drunk, then don’t hang out with them.  If you can’t be on the internet without looking at inappropriate sites, then don’t get on it. If you can’t use social media without bridling your tongue and speaking in love, then stop. Jesus uses hyperbole to illustrate the practical advice when he states, “it is better to cut your hand off” or “pluck your eye out” (Matt 5:29, 30) than to be lost to sin, and ultimately the kingdom of God.

It is imperative you know there is a way to overcome temptation, no matter how great.  We have access to the Father, power through His Holy Spirit, and our eyes on Jesus Christ not only as our example, but our mediator when we fall short. He speaks to the Father because Jesus knows what it is like, and encourages us to not give in or give up.  Study. Do. Guard. Repeat. Temptation may come, but sin will no longer find a foothold in you.

-Aaron Winner

Lessons from the Wilderness: Jesus

Wilderness Wandering Lesson #4: God’s word sustains us when we are depleted by the trials of the wilderness.

god's word does.

This week, as we’ve been thinking about our wilderness wanderings, we’ve primarily looked through the lessons from the Old Testament. Today though, we’re going to turn to the New Testament to see an example of a wilderness experience that can teach us a lot about how to make sure this experience makes us and doesn’t break us.

In Matthew 4, Jesus is tempted in the desert by the Devil for 40 days and 40 nights before he begins his ministry. This is a familiar story that shows the humanity of Jesus and how he can relate to us, but today, I want to focus on where Jesus was tempted. It says in verse 1 that “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.” In our time thinking about the wilderness, we’ve focused on the types of wilderness experiences we may have and how God’s faithful love can sustain us. As we look at Jesus’ experience, we can see how to survive and thrive in the wilderness.  

The first lesson we can glean from this passage is that sometimes, as is the case with the Israelites and Elijah, we are led into the wilderness by God. Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit where he fasted 40 days and 40 nights. At this point, Jesus had not begun his ministry, so this time could have been for testing and strengthening Jesus’ faith and dependence on God so that we could learn from it. By asking ourselves during each wilderness experience “What can I learn from this? How can I grow?”, we can better face the times in wilderness with palms held open instead of allowing bitterness to grow in us.

The second lesson we can learn from Jesus’ time in the wilderness is that God’s word is crucial for surviving in the wilderness. In the wilderness, Jesus had to face physical hunger, thirst, and exhaustion. He also was probably emotionally drained in this time as well. This may sound like a description of ourselves when we go through times in the wilderness. How often in these times where we are sad, lonely, depressed and drained – how often do we pause in these moments and stop the spiral of depression and wandering by saturating ourselves in God’s word? By looking at Jesus’ example, we can see how we can stop temptations in their tracks by responding with God’s word, more specifically by aligning our actions with God’s word.

The last lesson that I want us to focus on today is looking at when this wilderness experience took place. Though Jesus had not begun his ministry yet, in the previous chapter, he had just gotten baptized. All too often, we think that if we have committed our life to God that things will go well, that we’ll never have to experience trials or periods of suffering. But, we can look at Jesus’ life to see that this is simply not that case. Aside from Jesus’ experience on the cross, we can look at the beginning of his ministry as well to see that as these periods will happened to him, they will happen to us.

Jesus survived in the wilderness, and he thrived in the wilderness. I’m not sure what Jesus gained spiritually or emotionally in the wilderness, but I know what I can learn from his experience there. In the wilderness, Jesus was able to overcome temptation and suffering, including not only physical trials – but also spiritual trials – through God’s word. God’s word sustained Jesus and allowed this time to be a springboard into Jesus’ ministry instead of something that would have crippled his ministry. Now, we can look at this story and lessen the impact of what Jesus was able to do because Jesus was the son of God. But, Jesus was capable of growth and change, as seen in Luke 2:52. This is what makes him the perfect mediator for us. So, as we close this lesson today, I want to leave you with the words of Jesus as he readied his disciples for the trials they would face during the days leading up to the crucifixion: “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). With Jesus, we can conquer the world, including all our days of wilderness wanderings.

~ Cayce Fletcher

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