Listening: Suffering as an Invitation, Pt 2
As Jesus suffered in the wilderness, He encountered the same temptations that Adam and Eve encountered in the Garden of Eden. These three temptations are representative of the kinds of testing we all experience in the midst of suffering.
For Adam and Eve, they lived in paradise and even there, they experienced a trial. Being commanded to not eat from the tree of knowledge was a trial … a testing and a refining of their trust in God. They experienced a temptation to do just the opposite. But, inside that temptation was embedded an invitation … an opportunity to live out of and be deepened in their relationship with God.
As the people of Israel were leaving Egypt and journeying to the land of promise, we read in Deuteronomy 8:2, “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.” Of course, God’s desire is that the testing draws out a heart of keeping his commands with trust.
The point is this: in suffering, our hearts are tested and tried with the purpose that temptations become invitations. Jesus faced each temptation and shifted it to an opportunity to entrust Himself to God the Father as the Beloved Son. Our trials have this same intention: to draw out the reality of who we are as the Beloved in Christ.
The first temptation for Jesus was to “turn stones into bread.” Jesus was hungry. He was in need. Satan tempted Jesus by encouraging Him to use His own resources to take care of Himself. This is the temptation to possess. Clearly, using things to give ourselves a sense of security is part of the human condition. We want to know that we have enough, that we will survive. We are tempted to turn to ourselves for the security we desire rather than trusting in a God we cannot see.
Certainly, in Jesus’ weakened condition, this was a real temptation. He could have easily solved the trial He encountered but it would have happened on His terms, through His strength, and independently of the Father.
However, He responded in trust as He quoted from the second part of Deuteronomy 8:3 in saying “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The first part of the verse says, “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone …” The idea is that God allowed His people to hunger and He provided for them day by day (a very humble place to be) in order to deepen their dependence. Specifically, mankind does not find security (a real need) through physical things but through listening to the voice of God.
So, this first invitation in suffering is the invitation to listen.
But, often, all we want to do is figure a way out through possessing the right knowledge for escape or possessing enough money to escape. When encountering a time of trial, we frequently go to the internet to research escape plans whether it is the best way to find healing or the best way to make a lot of money. Healing and money are not bad things in and of themselves (I’ll take both!), but they are not good when we are setting our hopes there.
Suffering exposes our needs, and the gift is that we begin to see our needs and the ways we are tempted to fill those needs in our own strength and wisdom. Often, we float through life unaware. Suffering brings awareness and also opportunity. And then, if we receive the invitation, we can, like Jesus, move from temptation to trust.
Of course, this can be difficult because we only listen and turn our attention to the Lord when we believe that He is enough … that His voice is that by which I can live in the fullness of life. Do you believe that He is enough? that His voice and leadership in your life what you truly need, even more than a piece of bread?
Perhaps in a defiant sort of way, we can begin to proclaim in the midst of suffering: “My life is not defined by what I have or don’t have but by listening to the Lord.” It is His voice that will fill us and shape us into who we most desire to be.
Going back to Jesus in Matthew 4, we can only wonder if He was thinking about the voice of the Father that He had just heard at His baptism in Matthew 3, “You are my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Listening to that is indeed the essence of what makes life full.
How much time do you set aside to listen to God’s voice of love toward you? One of the ways that we can receive this invitation to listen is to intentionally engage in silent prayer in which we let go of all the other voices (“I need” “I want” “I wish”) and simply hear Him say, “You are my beloved in whom I am well pleased.”
Notice how the Psalmist walks through this in Psalm 73:1-3:
“Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”
Why do we become envious? Because we believe that others have something I need. The Psalmist ponders all that others seem to have, and then we see temptation move to invitation:
“But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin … When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strengthof my heart and my portion forever.” (Ps 73:16-26)
He is our portion! The first invitation in suffering is to know Him as our portion, or sustenance. We know Him in this way as we listen to His voice and hear Him speak His love. Its one thing to “know” that He loves us and another altogether to “hear” it. Suffering puts us in a place to hear, if we let it.