Desert

Context: Continuing my recent theme of the inner shadow-self (unconscious mind), as the seat of temptation, this blog took shape today whilst I was having a Sunday lie-in.

Then 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. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry.
(Luke 4:1-2; NLT).  

A wolf from the desert will pounce on them.
(Jeremiah 5:6; NLT). 

Forty long days
In the desert, alone:
Thirsty, tormented,
You faced the unknown.

Nightmare temptations
Arose in your heart:
Heat, cold and weariness
All played their part.

Though hungry for bread
And for proof of God’s love,
For power, and rescue
From heaven above,

Lord, you won through,
Overcoming them all,
And that’s why you’re able
To help when I call.

So, I keep going
Though dogged here by sin,
Lord, as I wander
The desert within.

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; NLT ).

Remember how YHWH, your God, led you on a wandering path through the desert for forty years, humbling and testing you, to learn what was in your heart; whether you would keep God’s commands or not.
(Deuteronomy 8:2; TIB).

The devil

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”. 

You are my source

All things come from you (1 Chronicles 29:14; NKJV). 

You are my source, and my formation;
You are my rock, my sure foundation;
You are the Lord of all creation:
You are Almighty God.

You are my way, and my salvation;
You are my shield against temptation;
You are my truth, my liberation:
You are the Son of Man.

You are my peace, my consolation;
You are my light, my revelation;
You are my fire, my inspiration:
You are the Holy Ghost.

You are my hope, and my vocation;
You are my faith, my consecration;
You are my life, my consummation:
You are the Three-In-One.

Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19; NLT). 

The Lord is One (Deuteronomy 6:4; BSB).


Just like you

The Word became human
and made his home among us.
(John 1:14; NLT).

Lord,
I’m human, just like you –
Like you, may I be kind.

Lord,
I’m tempted, just like you –
Like you, may I be pure.

Lord,
I’m fearful, just like you –
Like you, may I be brave.

Lord,
I’m humble, just like you –
Your weak, unworthy slave.

🖤

Whoever wants to be first among you
must be the slave of everyone else.
(Mark 10:44; NLT).

 


Stand up*

Stand up and praise the Lord your God!
(Nehemiah 9:5; NLT). 

Stand up to fear and panic,
Depression, hurt and loss,
To loneliness and anguish
With Christ, who faced the cross.

Stand up to pain and sickness,
Exhaustion, grief and stress,
To suffering and sorrow
With Christ, who shares each test.

Stand up to hate and envy,
Temptation, pride and sin,
To selfishness and anger
With Christ, who waits within.

Stand up to them with Jesus,
Confront them every day,
Then you will gain your freedom
With Christ, who is our way.

🖤

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

*This prayer can be sung to the tune of “Stand up, stand up for Jesus.”


Testing and temptation

The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him
with all your heart and with all your soul.
(Deuteronomy 13:3; NIV).

When I’m being tested,
May I fear you, Lord, alone.
When I’m feeling tempted,
May I cling to you, alone.

When I’m being tested,
May I serve you, Lord, alone,
And when I’m feeling tempted,
May I follow you, alone.

When I’m being tested,
May I praise you, Lord, alone.
When I’m feeling tempted,
May I worship you, alone.

When I’m being tested,
May I love you, Lord, alone,
And when I’m feeling tempted,
May I trust in you, alone.

🖤

God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation.
Afterward they will receive the crown of life
that God has promised to those who love him.
(James 1:12; NLT).

When troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.
For you know that when your faith is tested,
your endurance has a chance to grow.
(James 1:2-3; NLT).

 


My hands are soiled

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. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you
(Mark 7:20-23; NLT).

My hands are soiled.
My tongue has lied.
My feet have followed
Foolish ways.

My heart is cold;
My judgments, harsh.
My thoughts betray you
All my days.

My faith is weak.
My hope has gone.
My love for you, and all,
Falls short.

Lord, rescue me!
Forgive my sins,
And lead me on
The way you taught. 

Follow the way of love
(1 Corinthians 14:1; NIV).


Temptation (#2 of 2 linked prayers)

Hear my plea (Psalm 28:2; NET).

Father God, in sickness,
Jesus, in dismay,
Spirit, in temptation:
Hear my plea.

Father God, in sorrow,
Jesus, in distress,
Spirit, in temptation:
Come to me.

Father God, in anguish,
Jesus, in despair,
Spirit, in temptation:
You are near.

Father, in extremis,
Jesus, in blind faith,
Spirit, in my dying:
You are here.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me (Psalm 23:4; KJV).

Temptation (#1 of 2 linked prayers)

Hear my plea
(Psalm 28:2; NET).

Father God, in weakness,
Jesus, in dismay,
Spirit, in temptation:
Hear my plea.

Father God, in anger,
Jesus, in alarm,
Spirit, in temptation:
Come to me. 

Father God, in sorrow,
Jesus, in distress,
Spirit, in temptation:
You are near.

Father God, in failure,
Jesus, in despair,
Spirit, in temptation:
You are here.

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