Saturday, March 7, 2009

Tests and Temptations: Personal Reflections

I Corinthians 10:13
Bob Rakestraw

With this posting I will conclude our study in 1 Corinthians 10:13. I continue to stand amazed at the simplicity and profundity of the text and its promise of great hope for all of us who are tested and tempted by sufferings and trials of many kinds. Here is the verse from The Message.

“No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.”

Remember the context of this verse, as we pointed out earlier. The Corinthians had just been warned against desiring evil, idolatry, self-indulgence, sexual immorality, putting Christ to the test, and complaining (see verse 6-10). They are warned in the verse just before our passage: “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.” And they are urged in the verse just after our text: “Therefore, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols.” These are the verses that frame our famous Bible verse, and seem to suggest that both spiritual pride and idols in our lives are sources of major temptation and testing. I have found this to be the case in my life.

In this posting I want to itemize briefly some aspects of “the way out” that I have discovered in my current situation. My chief test and temptation, at the present time, is to give up, give in, and give out. In other words, discouragement over my terminal health condition, and the limitations and symptoms I face daily. While I just celebrated five years of living with my heart transplant, my health is poor. The anxiety has crept back in, and I must rest in God continually with it. (I wrote about this in the two January entries on this blog.) With the great hope that something I say will be helpful to one or more of my readers, I offer these thoughts. (In this and other postings I usually quote from the New Revised Standard Version.)

The Example of Jesus

1. The “way of escape” pertains not only to individual moments of test or temptation (although these necessarily occur), but to long-lasting tests, such as chronic illness, singleness for one who desires marriage, unfavorable employment circumstances (or no job at all), or a needed change in living circumstances.

2. Jesus asked for a “way of escape” and he received it. In Hebrews 5:7 the scriptures record that “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission” (see also vss. 8-9). Jesus’ true humanity has been a powerful example to me, but the point that strikes me most here is the statement that the cries of Jesus were heard, and the “way of escape” for him came not by rescue from harm but by death and resurrection. This reminds me that the “way of escape” may be something quite different from what we expect, or what we are asking for.

3. It is crucial to remember that God does not promise to take away the test or temptation, but he does promise to provide a “way out” in the midst of it. God’s “way out” for you may not be a divorce, a different job, or a dramatic healing, but God will never allow more than you are able to bear, and he will always provide a way of escape at the moment you need it. He is more deeply concerned for you than you are for yourself, and he is as deeply concerned for your character development as for your immediate crisis ( Romans 5:3-5).

Not a Great Mystery

4. If someone asks you or me what the “secret” is to finding the “way of escape,” we need to mention that this is God’s business primarily, not ours. He is the one who promises to “provide the way out.” We need to recognize it when it comes, with our spiritual and physical senses as alert as possible, but God knows how weak and ignorant we are, and doesn’t keep this aspect of life a mystery to us. The important truth is that God is faithful, and “he will not let you be tested beyond your strength.” God does not intend for there to be some great mystery or secret that is beyond the grasp of humble, earnest Christians.

5. Even though we are not to be frantically searching for a way out, we ought to be doing what we know to do to help us in our time of testing. A recovering alcoholic knows not to walk home past the bar. A recovering sex-addict knows to escape immediately from any websites that are even a little bit questionable.

6. I have found that, in my situations of severe anxiety, a major part of the “way of escape” has been to meditate in the scriptures, resting in their glorious truth, speaking gently with God (“I trust you Lord,” “I love you Lord”), floating not fighting, as I described in my January postings. Meditating on my “top twelve” scripture texts of 2008, especially 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (“I will boast or glory in my sufferings, that the power of Christ may rest on me”) and Philippians 4:19 (“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”) has been enormously helpful.

The Help of Others

7. Seeing two doctors was helpful. I take some medications that are beneficial, but I try not to view them as a permanent “way of escape.” They may be part of the way, but God’s operations through my mind and will are more significant. I have mentioned previously the book recommended by my doctors, Hope and Help for Your Nerves. I cannot overestimate the importance of this book in my life, even though it is not written from a Christian perspective.

8. Call or write at least one person to pray for or with you, if only over the phone, computer or text messaging, at the moments of most severe testing. Never forget the open invitation in James 5 to call for the elders of the church. (The word for “sick” in verse 14 also means “weak” or “without strength”—just how we feel at the moment of temptation. This scripture is not only for the physically ill.)

Scripture, Prayer and the Spirit

9. What was Jesus’ way of escape when tested by Satan in the wilderness? For each temptation he had a scripture text ready. How did Jesus “escape” the test in the Garden of Gethsemane? He offered loud cries and tears to his Father, then he rose and went to his chosen assignment. In between these two momentous events he often went apart from the others and rested and prayed. His was the only perfect life, not because he was God and could not sin, but because he was human and did not sin, relying instead on the same resources available to you and me. This is why he can be our example (Hebrews 2:14-18; 4:14-16; 5:7-9). I have found much victory over the years in testings and temptations by focusing on the remarkable human example of the man Jesus, leaning hard on the Holy Spirit to strengthen him, just as we may.

10. Spend time in the epistle of First Peter, and think about and pray for Christians around the world who are suffering (and who have suffered over the centuries) in numerous ways. This has helped me greatly over my lifetime. Somehow my trials seem more bearable. The book of Hebrews and the precious Psalms may also become very valuable to you.

11. In your time of testing call upon God to work in his way, not necessarily your way. “And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him” (1 John 5:14-15). This is a truly remarkable promise. You may not know if it is God’s will to give you a different job, but you do know that he wants to give you the fruit of the Spirit in whatever job you have (Galatians 5:22-23). It is always good, however, to ask for what you want—a new job, a better car, a spouse, a physical healing, a raise in salary, a sphere of ministry. But keep the attitude, “according to his will.” He knows better than you do what you really need in the light of eternity.

The Compassion of God

12. Remember that our heavenly father is exceedingly kind, merciful, and gracious. He does not use us in ways that are bad for us. As a wise father, he always seeks our good—for now and eternity. An older Bible translation, that of Rotherham, offers comfort in low moments: “The soul of the wounded calleth for help, and God doth not regard it as foolish” (Job 24:12). Amy Carmichael’s comment on this word is priceless. (She was a missionary to India who became an invalid for twenty years.)

“The soul of the wounded may call for help, and God will not regard it as foolish. Quick upon the call will come deliverance. Something will occur to break the monotony—if nothing outward, then something inward. Some little candle will be lit; the dull fog will lift; it must be so….’I am in a manner imprisoned and grievously [chained] until (blessed until) you refresh me with the light of your presence.’ And then? But who can tell it? Who can tell what you are, O Lord? Who can tell what you know? Who can show to another what your large grace can be?” (Rose from Briar, Christian Literature Crusade, 1973, pp. 140-41).

Do Your Part Well

13. Avoid three things like the plague: complaining, worry, and unbelief. Really believe that there is a way out, as our text says. Never feel that your particular test is unbearable. Hans Conzelmann says so well, “The measure of the bearable cannot be theoretically determined. It shows itself on each occasion in the measure God appoints” (in Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians [Eerdmans, 1987], p. 461, n. 54).

14. Keep busy with profitable activities—those tasks that are beneficial to you and others. Stay away from things that waste your time. (One of my biggest complaints with television is not so much how bad the content may be—and it often is—but how it wastes valuable time.) Whatever else you do, get involved with your local church fellowship, not only on Sunday mornings. Volunteer also at local mission agencies in your area. Get close to mature people of God. Ask God to provide these (at least one) in your life, and be willing to approach them for spiritual interaction.

To all who suffer from tests and temptations (and that includes all with a biblically—informed conscience) I offer this benediction from the earthly brother of Jesus.

“Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bob, there is so much here to ponder. I am coming to the realization (again, and perhaps in a deeper way than ever before)that God is not after my comfort as much as he is after my transformation. Thanks again, for your encouragement, insight and example. You bless me in ways you will never know. I'm praying for you.