‘Lead us not into temptation…’ That familiar phrase from the traditional version of the Lord’s Prayer is one we say at least once a week, if not more often. Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit and tempted by the devil our passage from Luke says – was he thinking of his wilderness experience when he taught the disciples his prayer? Lead us not into temptation.
Our wilderness walk through Lent, our forty days of introspection and examination will always lead us into temptation, too. Most days lead us into temptation even without the season of Lent, but at least during these forty days we ought to be more acutely aware of where our temptations lie and how we are handling them.
Because we are broken, because we are imperfect and our parents were imperfect, because we live in a world that is imperfect and broken, temptation surrounds us. We aren’t all tempted by the same things – we are each usually tempted in the places we are most broken.
If I am an alcoholic, alcohol is always a temptation. If I’m not, alcohol holds no power over me. If I was not loved as a child, I’ll look for love in all the wrong places. If I wasn’t raised with healthy personal boundaries, if I was abused, I won’t know how to have healthy boundaries and abuse will tempt me. It is in our broken places that we are most vulnerable and temptation will find its hold on us.
Where are those places in us? Lent gives us the chance to examine those places where we continually fall down, where we continually do those things we do that we ought not to do, and fail to do those things we ought. As we examine those dark nooks and crannies of the soul, it’s important to remember that those wounds, those vulnerable places need extra care and proper attention and love.
The Spirit has led Jesus into the wilderness, where Satan tempts him. Where is Jesus vulnerable? What are his temptations? And what can we learn about temptation (and resisting it) from his experience?
Jesus is on a fast, preparing for his ministry among us, knowing that his ministry will be a struggle. He knows that the way ahead of him includes wandering from place to place with people who won’t really understand what he has to teach them. He knows that he will have no home, that his friends will betray him, that he will suffer a painful death. He knows that he is completely dependent on God to see him through all the challenges he’s about to face. He is alone. He is hungry.
How does Satan test Jesus? By offering substitutes in those places where Jesus is vulnerable – his hunger, his loneliness, his need to trust God completely.
Satan suggests that Jesus has the power to meet his physical needs in any way he chooses. Satan urges Jesus to turn the stone into bread – and does it with a dig at the ego. ‘If you ARE the Son of God…” Jesus IS hungry and he IS the Son of God. The temptation is both physical and psychological.
When Jesus doesn’t fall for that, Satan pushes harder – into the loneliness and misunderstanding that will be part of the ministry Jesus is taking on. Say the word and you’ll be popular and important and powerful. The world will be your oyster if you worship me, Satan suggests.
And finally, Satan pushes into the faith Jesus has that God will sustain him. Prove that God will take care of you, put God to the test, jump off this place and let the angels catch you…
Jesus is able to withstand all that Satan tempts him with. How? The singer/songwriter Rich Mullins says that Jesus did it by ‘quoting Deuteronomy to the Devil.’ Jesus responds to each temptation with a verse from Deuteronomy – he looks to Scripture for strength and guidance. He refuses to set aside his future in order to change his current circumstance. Jesus keeps his focus on God. He doesn’t deny that the temptation offered looks good or claim that he’s not interested. But he also doesn’t turn his focus from waiting on God to supply what he needs in the right way at the right time.
Each of us is tempted to do what is harmful to ourselves or to our relationships with God and those we love. Each of us is tempted to ‘fix’ the broken places, our vulnerable places, in unhealthy and harmful ways. Each of us can face down our temptations in the ways that Jesus faced his down.
Are you lonely? Addicted? Fearful? Do you feel insignificant, overlooked, unloved, or small? Search out scripture that speaks to your brokenness and then let those verses be your comfort, your strength, and your guide. You are a beloved child of God. There is nothing so awful in us or done to us that it can’t be faced with God by our side. Search out others who can help you find healthy ways to heal the broken vulnerable places – support groups, therapists, trusted friends, a priest. We are beloved children of God. There is nothing so awful in us or done to us that can’t be faced with God by our side.
Take time this Lent – take time to think about and pray about those places where you know you are vulnerable.
Ask God to help you discover your vulnerable places and then seek healthy ways of caring for those places. We ought not sacrifice ourselves and our relationships by feeding our hungers inappropriately. Like Jesus, we can learn to trust that God will walk with us through our present circumstance, that it will be all right; our future is secure. Like Jesus, we ought not take our focus off of waiting on God to supply what we need – even though turning aside and giving in to temptation might feel good for the moment.
What tempts you? What is the deeper hunger that your temptations mask? How might we allow God to meet that deeper need, touch that deeper wound? We are beloved children of God and with God all things are possible. May we make these forty days a time of tender examination of our vulnerabilities and forty days of leaning on God for strength and guidance in avoiding temptation. Amen.