The devil (with thanks to K.B.)

Introduction

We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin (Hebrews 4:15; NIV).

On Monday morning, a friend asked me how I understand Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, which prompted me to re-read Luke’s familiar story:

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days (Luke 4:1; NLT). 

During this time, Jesus had to wrestle against the temptations caused by his desperate physical hunger (vv2-4), his desire for earthly power (vv5-8), and his longing to test out his trust in God (vv9-12). 

Discussion

Many people have written extensively about what Jesus experienced in the wilderness, but I would like to focus briefly on the mysterious, alarming figure who tempted him.

An immediate problem is raised by the Greek word “diabolou”, which is often translated as “the devil”. However, this word is actually an adjective, rather than a name or a noun. It means “prone to slander, slanderous, or accusing falsely” (Strong’s Greek). Thus, “the devil” is clearly not a being of any kind. 

I find this interesting and helpful, as I have never seen the “devil” as a being. Rather, I understand the personification of “accusing falsely” as a way of representing Christ’s inner struggles with the temptations to which all human beings are subject. Welling up spontaneously from the unconscious mind, powerful, disturbing desires and impulses can assail us at any time, especially when we are very vulnerable, as was Jesus in the desert. 

Jesus’ understanding of temptation

Jesus came to understand the inner, psychological process of temptation very well, both from personal experience and through observing others. This how he explained it to a crowd one day: 

It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness…

It is interesting to note that there is no suggestion at all here that people are tempted by any kind of external force or being. Rather, Jesus concludes his teaching by stating firmly that:

…All these vile things come from within (Mark 7:20-23; NLT).

Conclusion

As a human being, though also divine, Jesus was subject to temptations, just like us (Hebrews 4:15; NIV), and how strong they must have been during those challenging days alone in the wilderness. He had just experienced one of the high points of his life: hearing God’s approving voice, and receiving the Holy Spirit at his baptism. Then, immediately afterwards, he felt compelled to spend many days alone in the wilderness, facing extreme heat, cold, hunger, thirst, and the constant threat posed by wild animals.

What a strange, challenging experience this must have been, causing him much deep physical and mental suffering, so it’s not surprising that the Gospel-writers’ accounts faithfully reflect the vivid, hallucinatory quality of Jesus’ desert retreat. Perhaps this is what leads so many translators to personify the powerful reality of his inner temptations, by turning them into an external being they called “the devil”. 

Pilgrim prayer

Introduction

Today’s blog is based on one of my favourite and most frequently-used prayers. I came across it many years ago in a book called “Pocket prayers for pilgrims” (Compiled by John Pritchard, Church House Publishing, 2011). For me, its anonymous author summarises the whole spirit of the Gospel in just a few words:

Lord God,
Whoever you bring into our path today,
May we see Christ in them,
And may they see Christ in us,
For your love’s sake.
Amen.

Development

Over the years, I have personalised this prayer and slowly come to understand the force and breadth of its intention more deeply. This, in turn, has strongly influenced the way I try to live each day. I’ll briefly set out what it has taught me.

Changes

A. At an early stage, I changed “our” to “my”, and “we” to “I”, making its message much more directly personal.

B. I have come to understand its challenge as going far beyond how I speak to, and behave towards, those I meet. Now, I see those God “brings into my path” as including:

  • All who are around me wherever I am (e.g. in the street, hospital, public transport, shops etc).
  •  People I hear about online or from others (whether or not I come into contact with them).
  •  Those I read about in the newspaper.
  •  People I see on television.

C. Even though I don’t know these people, and they don’t know me, I see my task as being to love and pray for them, because Christ is within them all, just as the Bible teaches:

  • Everyone, without exception, reflects God’s divine image (Genesis 1:27; TIB).
  • Everyone is the temple of the living God (Luke 17:21; NKJV).
  • Christ lives in all of us (Colossians 3:11; NLT).
  • Everyone is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16; NLT).

Conclusion 

Using this little prayer daily for many years has brought about profound changes in how I express my faith, especially in terms of how I behave towards others, no matter how I encounter them along my pilgrim way through life.

Saint Luke expresses my approach perfectly when he describes how “Their eyes were opened, and they recognised him” (Luke 24:31; NIV; my emphasis). Thus, my task is to recognise Christ in all, loving and praying for them, and remembering that we are all one (Galatians 3:28; NKJV). In this way, I try to follow Jesus’ teaching: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40; NIV).

May you have a blessed day. I continue to pray for everyone who reads these blogs, those who reject them, those who never read, or say, a prayer, and those who don’t want anything to do with God.


References 

May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God (Ephesians 3:19; NLT). 

Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him (Colossians 3:10; NLT). 

Put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy (Ephesians 4:24; NLT). 

The Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image (2 Corinthians 3:18; NLT). 

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5; NIV).

My dear friends, now we are God’s children, but it has not been revealed what we are to become in the future. We know that when it comes to light we will be like God, for we will see God as God really is (1 John 3:2; TIB).

This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ (Ephesians 4:13; NLT).

Take life as it comes (for J.C.)

Context: When I woke up today, this prayer was already arriving. I began writing it down immediately, without even a moment to pray. As I have a migraine, which started yesterday, eye ulcers and a corneal abrasion, I was deeply grateful for the way this poem came together over the following hours.

I want your will to be done, not mine (Luke 22:42; NLT). 

1. I want to take life as it comes,
To praise, as it unfolds;
Accept your will,
And love you still,
Be faithful, brave and bold.

2. I’d like to take life as it comes,
For you send bad and good;
To hear your voice,
And learn, by choice,
Until I’ve understood.

3. I need to take life as it comes,
For you both wound and heal;
To do my best,
And face each test,
Until you are revealed.

4. I’ll try to take life as it comes,
For you bring good from bad;
To value both,
Delight in growth,
And let my heart be glad.

5. I choose to take life as it comes,
Right here; right now; today;
Face everything
With you, my King:
My life, my truth, my way.

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.
No one can come to the Father except through me.”
(John 14:6; NLT).


References

2. I create the light and make the darkness. I send good times and bad times. I, the Lord, am the one who does these things (Isaiah 45:7; NLT).

Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad? (Job 2:10; NLT).

3. I am the one who wounds and heals (Deuteronomy 32:39; NLT).

4. In all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28; NIV).

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; NIV).

5. Choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19; NLT).

Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today (Matthew 6:34; NLT). 

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me (Psalm 23:4; NLT). 

You light a lamp for me. The LORD, my God, lights up my darkness. In your strength I can crush an army; with my God I can scale any wall (Psalm 18:28-9; NLT).

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young at a place near your altar, O LORD of Heaven’s Armies, my King and my God (Psalm 84:3; NLT). 

Faith and hope

Context: Yesterday, after praying for others, there was nothing else I needed to say, so I fell silent. This time of wordless communion was eventually brought to an end by the arrival of today’s blog. It was easy to grasp, but extremely hard to put into words, perhaps because I’m still very tired after my journey back from the UK. 


Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love (Romans 5:2-5; NLT).

Lord,
Once I have prayed for others,
Faith and hope remain,
And, when I am sick and weary,
Patience will sustain.

Lord,
Once I have said I’m sorry,
Love and peace abide,
And, when I request forgiveness,
Mercy will provide.

Lord,
Once I have asked your blessing,
Bounty is assured,
And, when I accept your wishes,
All can be endured.

Lord,
Though I have tried my hardest,
I have often failed,
Yet, when you receive my soul,
I’ll see your face, unveiled.


References

The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7; NIV). 

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known (1 Corinthians 13:12; KJV). 

We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18; NKJV). 

Your presence

Context: I received the inspiration for today’s prayer just as I was leaving the flat to start my journey home, so I jotted it down very quickly, then started writing it on the train. Yesterday I continued to work on it during my ferry crossing.

Before the holiday began, I had been very much looking forward to visiting Ely Cathedral, a glorious building steeped in centuries of worship. However, when I arrived there, it seemed more like a busy tourist attraction, concert space, or conference centre than a place of pilgrimage. The tiny, plain chapel set aside for private prayer felt barren, bleak and unwelcoming. There were no flowers, altar candles, prayer requests, or even a cross; no tokens of love, reverence or gratitude. In fact, it held no sense at all of God’s presence, other than when I closed my eyes to pray. I could have been in a shop, café, or market, rather than in one of the finest mediaeval churches in England.

Afterwards, I talked this over with a wise friend, which helped to reduce my sadness, disappointment and dismay. Even so, when I had the opportunity to visit to the cathedral again, I realised I had no desire to do so.

This might all sound rather negative, but God brings good out of everything. In fact, the experience simply emphasised what I already knew: that God is within me all the time, freely and fully accessible, no matter where I am or how I feel, just as today’s prayer describes:

I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.
(Psalm 139:7-10; NLT). 

Your presence is no stronger, Lord,
Within a great cathedral,
No sweeter in a chapel,
And no closer at a shrine.

Your presence is no dearer, Lord,
Than here, and now, forever,
Because you live within me, Lord:
I’m yours, and you are mine.

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.
(Song of Songs 6:3; NIV).


References 

God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple (1 Corinthians 3:17; NLT).

You are the temple of the living God (Luke 17:21; NKJV). 

There is …one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all (Ephesians 4:5-6; NLT).

Like Martha

Context: I noted down the essence of today’s prayer a day or two ago, but didn’t have enough time to work on it. However, yesterday morning I woke early, which gave me the space to finish it before starting the long journey back to Liverpool (the magnificent Lime Street Station is pictured above). Although I was nervous before setting off, it was a really good day for several reasons.

Firstly, I made a wonderful new friend on the train, and I’m hoping we will stay in touch.

Secondly, a kind friend came to visit me at my hotel, bringing the blessings of conversation, anointing, and Holy Communion.

Thirdly, remember my lifelong claustrophobia? Well, I twice used the train loo, even though it had electronic doors. I’ve avoided this type of toilet ever since they were invented. Admittedly I didn’t engage the electronic lock (my friend kindly guarded the door whilst I was inside), but shutting myself in there was the bravest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I managed it!

Today, I’ll be catching a ferry for the final leg of my journey. I already want to visit the UK again, and especially to visit Liverpool Catholic Cathedral. So, with a heart full of prayerful thanks and rejoicing, here is today’s blog:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.
(Luke 10:38-9; NIV). 

1. Jesus, may I be like Martha,
Serving you in all each day,
And, Lord, may I be like Mary,
Learning at your feet each day.

2. Jesus, may I be like Peter,
Walking by your side, each day,
And, Lord, may I be like Thomas,
Touching your poor hands, each day.

3. Then, no matter what life brings,
I’ll know your presence, choose your way,
And never cease, Lord, to rejoice,
Give thanks for everything, and pray.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
(1 Thessalonians 5:17-18; NIV).


References 

1. Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40; NIV).

2. One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers – Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew – throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and followed him (Matthew 4:18-20; NLT). 

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed (John 20:27-8; NLT). 

3. Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20; NLT). 

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6; NLT). 

God’s nearness

Context: This blog was very difficult to write. I’m deeply tired as I approach the end of my holiday, and had to work on it in amongst all the inevitable tidying and packing which come with leaving rented accommodation. As always, the inspiration took only a moment to arrive, but expressing what I saw was almost beyond me.

Yet, to my great surprise, just before posting today’s prayer I discovered that it’s actually two prayers in one, woven together. If you read just the first line of each verse (those in non-italic text), they make sense, and the same is true if you read just the italicised lines. God is truly amazing!

We thank you, O God! We give thanks because you are near.
(Psalm 75:1; NLT). 

1. Thank you for your nearness, Lord:
In everything, I see your face,

2. And for your supreme transcendence:
Far beyond all time and space.

3. Thank you for your constant presence:
Here, on earth, in everyone,

4. And for your sublime completeness:
All exists within your womb.

The Almighty …blesses you with blessings of the skies above, blessings of the deep springs below, blessings of the breast and womb.
(Genesis 49:25; NIV).


References

1. They delight in the nearness of God (Isaiah 58:2; CSB).

There is …one God and Creator of all, who is over all, who works through all and is within all (Ephesians 4:5-6; TIB).

When I look at justice I see your face (Psalm 17:15; TIB).

When I awake, I will see you face to face and be satisfied (Psalm 17:15; NLT). 

2. Do you people think that I am some local deity and not the transcendent God?” the LORD asks (Jeremiah 23:23; NET). 

To God, the only God, who saves us through Jesus Christ our Sovereign, be glory, majesty, authority and power – who was before all time, is now, and will be forever (Jude 1:25; TIB). 

I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me (Psalm 139:7-10; NLT).

3. Your presence fills me with joy (Psalm 16:11; GNT).

We are the temple of the living God. As God said: “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (2 Corinthians 6:16; NLT).

4. The LORD our God, the LORD is one (Deuteronomy 6:4; NIV).

Be perfect, as Abba God in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48; TIB).

The flood

Context: Recently, I’ve been thinking about the flood narrative in Genesis, which illustrates the disastrous consequences of sinful, human behaviour:

YHWH saw the great wickedness of the people of the earth, that the thoughts in their hearts fashioned nothing but evil. YHWH was sorry that humankind had been created on earth; it pained God’s heart. YHWH said, “I will wipe this human race that I have created from the face of the earth – not only the humans, but also the animals, the reptiles, and the birds of the heavens. I am sorry I ever made them” (Genesis 6:5-7; TIB). 

So God sent a great flood to wipe out all living things:

For forty days the flood continued… The waters rose so high over the earth that all the high mountains under heaven were covered… All life on the earth perished – birds, domestic animals, wild animals, all swarming creatures, and all humankind (Genesis 7:17-21; TIB).

The TIB translation includes an interesting scholarly footnote for this passage:

“Some commentators feel the story of the Flood speaks of the ending of the last ice age, when the melt from the receding glaciers raised the sea level high enough to submerge much of what had before been dry land.”

The Biblical flood story is usually seen as being safely in the past, but it recently occurred to me that it can also be understood as a prophecy, for as global warming melts the polar ice-caps, similarly catastrophic flooding is becoming inevitable.

Of course, some readers may rightly point out that after the flood God promised never to cause such terrible destruction again (Genesis 8:21; TIB). However, modern climate change is not an act of God. Rather, it is caused by human over-exploitation of finite earthly resources. The causes and consequences of global warming are therefore ours alone, as we move ever further from our original commission to, “cultivate and care for the land” (Genesis 2:15; TIB). 

So, flowing from these reflections, here is today’s prayer:

From the least to the greatest, their lives are ruled by greed.
(Jeremiah 6:13; NLT). 

Lord,

How can you bear our wastefulness?
How can you bear our greed?
How can you bear our selfishness?
How can you bear our hate?

How can you bear our ignorance?
How can you bear our pride?
How can you bear our foolishness?
You weep in us all, and wait. 

How can you bear our bitterness?
How can you bear our strife?
How can you bear our wickedness?
How can you bear our sin?

How can you bear our cruelty?
How can you bear our wars?
How can you bear our lovelessness?
You weep, Lord, and wait within. 

The LORD must wait for you to come to him
so he can show you his love and compassion.
(Isaiah 30:18; NLT).

You are the temple of the living God.
(2 Corinthians 6:16; NKJV).

Thank you

Context: Yesterday I went to watch my grandson have his riding lesson. This brought back memories from so long ago that they seemed to come from a previous life, when I was able-bodied. However, it is God who gives and takes away, so I’m entirely happy to be as I am now.

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
(Job 1:21; CSB). 

Thank you, Lord, for all you send,
For all you share, and all you lend;
For all you do, and all you make –
For all you give, and take.

Thank you, Lord, for life and breath,
For joy and pain, for birth and death;
For Christ, who came to set us free –
For loving even me.

Thank you, Lord, beyond all time,
For I am yours, and you are mine,
And though you wound me, yet you mend –
And always, Lord, defend.

For he wounds, but he also binds up;
he injures, but his hands also heal.
(Job 5:18; NIV). 


The angel of the LORD is a guard;
he surrounds and defends all who fear him.
(Psalm 34:7; NLT). 

Lord Jesus

Context: Today I will be setting out on my first long journey since before the start of the covid pandemic. It will take me two days to reach Ely, in the UK, where I will spend time with my family. This trip is going to be a huge physical and emotional challenge, as my health, energy, strength and mobility have deteriorated a lot since my last visit early in 2020, just before the arrival of covid and the first UK lockdown.

If you cling to your life, you will lose it;
but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.
(Matthew 10:39; NLT).

My hope, my faith,
My light, my truth;
My joy unborn,
My sacred thorn:
Lord Jesus.

My pain, my grief,
My love, my life;
My gain, my loss,
My way, my cross:
Christ Jesus.

Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.”
(Luke 9:23; NLT).