Day 37 – Temptation
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
As we come out of hiding, we are invited to be a “house of prayer.” (Luke 19:46) Our lives are designed to embody prayer as a way of life. It is our identity, our calling, our joy. And yet, the intimacy and emptiness of the wilderness way of the cross may confuse us.
The temptation is that we might resist or avoid the releasing and letting go required for following Jesus to the cross. As we consider the cost of taking up our own crosses, we can be tempted to look for an easier way. We may find ourselves drawn to the fruit of a life in Christ, and yet not sure if we really want to lay down our lives. For most of us, we’ve spent years constructing a life that we perceive will keep us safe … and that all falls apart in the wilderness. As we begin to stabilize in a wilderness season, we find ourselves drawn to move into the fullness of a humble, surrendered, dependent life, and yet the temptation to return to those old strategies of protecting ourselves may become quite fierce.
It’s not that the temptation is necessarily stronger, but we are aware like never before and it seems more significant. The choice is laid out before us.
Peter was confronted with this same choice as He walked with Jesus during this final week. Previously, Peter boldly expressed His desire to follow Jesus and leave everything behind. (cf., Matthew 19:27) He also expressed some misunderstanding when he “rebuked” Jesus and said, “This shall never happen to you.” (Matt 16:22) During that week, as the pressure to fully embrace the way of the cross mounted, we see Peter resisting and avoiding. He resisted as he cut off the ear of the Roman guard (John 18:10) even though Jesus had told him that the Son of Man must suffer and be rejected (Luke 9:22). Peter avoided the issue as we read that he followed at a distance (Mark 14:54) which then led to a denial that he even knew Jesus.
Are there ways that you are fighting against the forces that threaten your safety? Are there places where you are following at a distance?
Perceiving that our ways of existing in the world are threatened by the cross is both a necessary discernment as well as a normal experience. If we don’t feel that threat, we probably aren’t paying attention. Jesus made it quite clear, but it often only reaches to the depths of our heart when in the wilderness and face to face with the loss: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:24–25) Certainly, Peter felt his way of life slipping away as he saw the guards coming after Jesus and as he was confronted by the crowd. And this is where the temptation comes in.
If it will cost us something, we are tempted to look for an easier way. The statement that there is no temptation that has not been common to man is meant to encourage and also to humble. These temptations are normal and something we can expect. Discerning the presence of avoidance and resistance in our spiritual journey is vital. Otherwise, we may find ourselves swept off the path without even realizing what is going on.
Avoidance tends to be a bit more passive and shows up in a lack of honesty or a lack of awareness of our internal world. We end up staying in our heads and ignoring our heart as a way of ignoring the cost of following Jesus. We might employ avoidance in order to not deal with the very real pain we’ve experienced or are experiencing. Part of the temptation of avoidance is that we may cloak it in the religious garb of platitudes (“God is good … all the time” or “I just need to trust“), of correct theology, or of right behavior.
Avoidance often has particular expressions based on our temperaments and giftings. We may feel the need to avoid anger, needs, failure, ordinariness, emptiness, doubt, pain, weakness, or conflict. Can you see yourself in any of these things? Are you willing to ask the Lord to search your heart? How do you perceive these kinds of avoidance “protecting” you from the suffering of taking up your cross?
Resistance is the more active expression of the temptation to deny the suffering of the cross. We flat out say “no” or we refuse to engage in the kind of deep soul work that is necessary in the desert. Again, we might wrap our resistance in optimism (“everything is fine”), moralism (we go to behavior modification), or spiritualizing. Interestingly, Henry David Thoreau observed: “The path of least resistance leads to crooked rivers and crooked men.”
In any kind of avoidance or resistance, we are asking: how do I stay safe? When we ask that question, we are actually trying to be safe from having to follow Christ. The fullness of life in Christ is found as we die to self … as we choose to love. As Carl Trueman put it, “Much of life can be explained as an attempt to deny or escape from death.” The intimacy and emptiness of the wilderness threaten our previous understandings of how life should work.
Getting the “Egypt” out of us requires time and patience. The layers of resistance and avoidance that can build up over time have to be peeled away layer by layer. And in it all, God abides with us in grace … tenderly, gently, and persistently inviting us to sit still and submit ourselves to His surgeon’s scalpel.
Question for reflection: how do I see the temptation to avoid in my life? What does resistance look like for me? Sit in quiet trust and ask the Lord to give insight into these things.
Prayer: “Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first He suffered pain, and entered not into glory before He was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking the way of the Cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.” (Book of Common Prayer)