Lent, Part 3

 

Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say,

‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t eve hurt your foot on a stone.'”

Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.'”

Matthew 4:5-7

“The second temptation to which Jesus was exposed was precisely the temptation to do something spectacular, something that could win him great applause…But Jesus refused to be a stunt man. He did not come to prove himself. He did not come to walk on hot coals, swallow fire, or put his hand in the lion’s mouth to demonstrate that he had something worthwhile to say.”

-Henri Nouwen

I think we can pretty much all identify with the temptation to do something great and be praised for it. The human craving for accolades is universal. But Jesus isn’t just any human, he is the Son of God. God, who displays his power in acts of great love on behalf of his people, not merely for a standing ovation. And during Lent, we follow him in denying the temptation to dazzle the multitudes and amass glory for ourselves.

The fact is, we do serve a spectacular God, who is more powerful than we could ever imagine. But unlike us in our fallen nature, he doesn’t share the compulsive need to strut it around in order to garner applause.

Lent offers us the opportunity to enter into deeper communion with the God who isn’t a “show-off.” He doesn’t make  a spectacle of power for power’s sake, there is always a deeper purpose. When God parted the Red Sea it wasn’t merely to show off, but to liberate a people enslaved to oppression. When Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding celebration, it was to save a family from disgrace. And when Jesus healed the leper, it was out of his great compassion.

As followers of Jesus, it’s easy to start out wanting to meet needs and do something noble, but often we become ensnared by the byproduct of applause. Even when we have good intentions, it’s easy to be sidetracked by the appeal of wowing others.

Jesus, the one who was able to resist this temptation in the desert, knows all about these tendencies.

One day some teachers of religious law and Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority.” But Jesus replied, “Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a sign…”

Matthew 12:38-39a

Over and over again, the Pharisees completely miss the point. They’re looking for all the wrong things, and if we’re not careful, we can fall into the same trap. They were always favoring the letter of the law over and above the Lawgiver who is Love. And often, we fall for the same trickery. Lent is about resisting the temptation to opt for a sign or wonder from God over the heart of God.

The Pharisees kept missing it because their lives were oriented around behavior.  And if we think God is about getting us to be on our best behavior, we don’t know God at all. The Pharisees, very much like us sometimes, were obsessed with externals.

When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by ourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”

Matthew 6:5-6

storybook

The Pharisees prayed because they wanted people to think they were spectacular…and they largely succeeded at that. Unfortunately, they missed out on God himself because of their obsession with appearances. For them, it was about the exterior.

Although we observe certain external practices during Lent (fasting, attending special services, etc.), Lent is about the interior. Lent is a chance to reclaim our hearts from the allegiances to applause, and give them fully and wholeheartedly back to God himself.

Lent is a perfect opportunity to ask myself: how am I praying like a Pharisee? Maybe I want to prove that I’m spiritual. Or maybe I want my ministry to be spectacular so that I’ll be noticed or acknowledged, when all that really matters is that God says I’m his daughter, and that’s more than enough.

I love the language in my daughter’s Bible:

“When you pray, don’t pray like those Extra-Super-Holy People. They think if they say lots of words, God will hear them. But it’s not because you’re so clever, or good, or so important, that God will listen to you. God listens to you because he loves you.”

(from the Jesus Storybook Bible, written by Sally Lloyd-Jones)

The beauty of Lent is that it isn’t for the “Extra-Super-Holy”; it’s for the hungry.

Although I want to experience all the wonder and power of God in my life, what I desire so much more is just to have GOD. I am hungry for God, and Lent is a way to feast on him.

So will you join me in asking yourself these questions:

In what ways have I sought the power, gifts, blessings of God over and above God himself?

In what ways am I trying to prove myself?

In what ways am I seeking applause?

Lent is traditionally a season of repentance, so let’s be fully honest, and turn our hearts back to the one who listens to our prayers, simply because he loves us.

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