Luke 4:9-12 (CEV)
9Finally, the devil took Jesus to Jerusalem and had him stand on top of the temple. The devil said, “If you are God’s Son, jump off. 10-11The Scriptures say: ‘God will tell his angels to take care of you. They will catch you in their arms, and you will not hurt your feet on the stones.’”
12 Jesus answered, “The Scriptures also say, ‘Don’t try to test the Lord your God!’”
Temptation #3 – “Testing God”
Have you ever done one of those team building days? You know, the kind you do at places like high ropes courses. There’s lots of exercises that can only be done in pairs or as a team. Then there are the activities like the Blanket Toss, where someone lays in the centre of a blanket and the entire team picks up the edges of the blanket and tosses the person up into the air and catches them. Or the one where someone stands up on something high (the time we did it, it was an enormous six-foot-tall tire) and then allows themselves to fall backwards into the waiting arms of the team who will (it is hoped!) catch them!
And when it’s a team building exercise, and you’re told to do it, “testing” each other like this can build trust and interdependence and solidify a group of seeming strangers into a strong team, if done right.
But apparently this isn’t how we’re supposed to get to trust God. Apparently we’re not supposed to decide not to study for the test and just pray and “trust” that God will give us the mark we needed to pass. Apparently we’re not supposed to decide that we can drive recklessly and God will just protect us. Apparently we’re not supposed to give God ultimatums, try to “force God’s hand” or “convince” God to do what we want. Apparently these ways of ‘testing God’ aren’t actually the way God designed us to connect with God and learn to trust God.
But since Jesus is going to need to trust God to get through his next three years of life and ministry and death and resurrection, then certainly there’s some way for him to develop this trust? And since we’re going to need to trust God to get through life in this broken world of ours, then certainly there’s some way for us to develop this trust as well?
While we get a few pictures of how Jesus has and will continue to stay in trusting relationship with God through the pages of the New Testament, we also have two thousand years of writings from Christian theologians and Christian mystics to help us find our best way to developing a close trust bond with God. And overall, both Jesus’ examples and the conclusions of theologians and mystics have one thing in common – they all show us that trust is developed by regular, intentional, personal and communal time with God.
I grew up in a world where that meant “read your Bible, pray every day”. It felt rote and forced and dry and boring. I didn’t feel like I was getting anything out of it, and I wasn’t really sure what the point was. Now don’t get me wrong – these things are important. But they’re not my primary ways of connecting with God, and doing it to get “spiritual brownie points” or “because I had to” wasn’t really going to be a terribly effective strategy, since that’s basically “testing God” in a different way.
As I’ve explored other spiritual disciplines, however, I’ve found that the attitude I bring to my time with God is incredibly important to how effective it is. It can’t just be “one more thing” on my checklist – it has to be me coming to God and saying “show me how to trust you more, show me how to know you better, show me how to see myself more clearly”. With this attitude I’ve found that time spent being active in nature is incredibly powerful for me, as is journaling, centering (meditative) prayer, solitude and justice. Each of these things actually enables me to read my Bible and pray much more effectively and powerfully. I’ve also discovered that different disciplines seem to have more impact for me depending on the season of life that I’m in and the areas in which God is presently calling me to deepen my trust in Him.
And this process of learning to trust instead of test God is what will develop our ability to follow Jesus through even the toughest of what life has to throw at us!
- If I asked you to rank yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being very high) how much would you say you felt like you could trust God at the moment?
- Have you had any experience of spiritual disciplines?
- If so, were they positive or negative?
- Would you be willing to give spiritual disciplines a(nother) try?
- If you’re not a reader, would you consider emailing [email protected] or contacting someone directly to set up a time to get together and talk more about spiritual disciplines and what it might mean to begin to try some of these yourself?
- If you’re more the reading type, one of the best resources I know of on spiritual disciplines is Adele Calhoun’s “Spiritual Disciplines Handbook”. Although it’s a big book, each discipline is explained in just a couple of pages, so it’s pretty easy to approach. (I have a copy of it, if anyone’s interested in borrowing it.)
- Another classic resource on the subject is Richard Foster’s “Celebration of Disciplines”, although the chapters are longer and he highlights fewer disciplines, those he does talk about he gives more depth on.