In the early days of my discipleship journey, everything went well for me. I had sold my business, seeking a move from success to significance, as Bob Buford says it. We built our cabin in Colorado. I was collaborating with other leaders to create a Leadership Academy for our Lutheran Bishop. We were living large: taking some long delayed trips once I was free of the business, investing time in family and friends, growing in faith, finding clarity in purpose and calling. Then, we hit some rough water.
We got a phone call as we enjoyed the first month in our new cabin telling us our son had hit a tree snowboarding at Whistler and had a compound fracture of the leg and was in an ambulance. With that phone call, I realized how quickly everything can change. Three surgeries later, doctors had saved his leg, and a long rehab began. It was a wake up call.
I was scaling back the consulting business in the marketplace and putting most of my energy into the church. I began encountering various obstacles to the work for the church, yet spent five more years trying to create a cohort based leadership learning community across the church that just did not want to happen. During these years, I found myself moving through seasons where God felt close, and I was really living out my gifting and purpose. These times alternated with other times when I was wandering through the spiritual desert encountering the dark night of the soul.
Times of trial and testing are spiritual and psychological at times even physical. We are holistic beings, and when we encounter turbulence in our lives, it expresses itself in many ways. During these times, I realized that faith is like a muscle. When everything is going great, the muscle gets very little exercise. These are the times when we experience God’s presence and movement in our lives. God’s power is on display. It is those other times, when God seems absent, that we have to call on our reserves of faith, and exercise the muscle. When we can call on the promises of God, even when He seems distant and we hear nothing from Him, that our faith is strengthened and grows.
In a later post, I explore these waves of closeness and distance from God, and realized it looks like a sine wave. See that post here. Jesus himself was not spared the testing as the scripture teaches us in Matthew 3:13-4:11, from the NIV Bible.
The Baptism of Jesus
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
Ever wonder why the story of Jesus going off into the desert to be tempted just after His baptism is so prominent in scripture? It was a time of sifting and discerning exactly what being an obedient Son meant. Until he had faced the temptations of Appetite, Affirmation and Ambition, he was not ready to take the role God planned for Him. Funny thing is that we will each be tempted by these three things as well. Until we have faced these temptations, we will not be ready to live into the fullness of purpose and calling. I wrote a post about that here.
So, the next time you find yourself in a time of trial, testing and temptation, ask yourself, “What is God trying to say to me through this, and what am I going to do about it. To think about what this looks like, see this post on the Learning Circle.