Jesus was thrown into the desert by the Holy Spirit after his baptism (Mark 1:9-15). The forty days of fasting and being tempted by Satan were a necessary preparation for Christ’s upcoming ministry. We all, likewise, need a desert spirituality which has been formed in the crux of testing and strengthening our faith. Here are some biblical lessons I have learned from my own experiences of God forging faith in my life:
- Know your weaknesses; know yourself; know the temptations of Satan directed at you. Three top temptations we all face are worry, procrastination, and gossip. The demonic whispers come often in relation to a perceived need of perfectionism. We worry about the future and not saying or doing something perfectly. We procrastinate for fear of screwing up and not being perfect. And we gossip to others about their faults and weaknesses because it maintains the illusion that our perfectionism is intact, at least as compared to others. Perfectionism is slavery. Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
- Understand the importance of timing. When are you at your weakest? When are you most vulnerable to temptation? What triggers you to sin? Parents know that when kids act up that they are likely tired or hungry or have some other need. It is the same with us. Carrying a massive sleep debt, skipping meals or eating junk food because we are constantly in a hurry will set us up for temptation. Elijah faced down four-hundred prophets of Baal, and then completely fell apart when one woman, Jezebel, went after him (1 Kings 18-19). He was exhausted. God gave him food and rest. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith….”
- Look to God and others. Do not rely solely on your own willpower or think in your pride that you can resist temptation all by yourself all the time. Even Jesus looked both to his Father and his disciples. Listen to him on this, from Matthew 26, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me…. Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.’”
- Have a plan. Flying by the seat of your pants will not always work. Proverbs 22:3 says, “A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.” One of the major ways I personally resist temptation is by having a daily plan of worshiping God, praying, and reading Scripture at set times throughout the day. I know that this is not for everyone, but for me it is significant to have much more than a few minutes of a ‘quiet time’ in the morning.
- Overcome evil with good. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). If we apply this to our top three temptations that people face, that means the worrier will love his/her enemies and pray for those who persecute. It means the procrastinator will take intentional steps of faith and risk, being real and vulnerable with others through accountability relationships. It means the gossip will seek to speak words of encouragement that build others up.
- Know that you are never alone. Angels attended Jesus in his desert temptations. Even the Son of God was never really facing down temptation by himself. Whatever it is you are facing is likely not unique to you. Others face the same thing. Our brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of problems when they seek to walk with Christ.
Let God’s decision to toss you into the desert shape and strengthen your faith. If the Holy Spirit has thrown you into a dry place, then instead of bucking the situation and complaining about it, learn all you can about resisting temptation so that you can come out the other end a stronger, more faithful follower of Jesus Christ and ready for a life of service to the church and the world.