As Lent begins, I’ve been focusing on Jesus’ temptations in the desert, and looking at how we can engage with those “arch-temptations” in order to reduce the resistance to the “rivers of living water” that are supposed to be flowing out of us. We’ve explored appetite and affirmation. Now we move to ambition.
The three areas Jesus was tempted in correspond roughly with the three aspects of the fruit that Eve found appealing in Genesis 3, and also with what old Apostle John calls “all that is in the world” (1 John 2:16)These arch-temptations are (as alliterated by Mike Breen):
- Appetite [stones into bread / good for food / lust of the flesh]
- Affirmation [temple leap / pleasing to the eye / lust of the eyes]
- Ambition [all the kingdoms / desirable for gaining wisdom / pride of life]
Let’s dive into ambition today.
“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.'”
This is the will to dominate, the desire to control people, events, and situations. It’s what John calls “the pride of life,” and in the temptation in the garden, it shows up in the fact that the fruit of the tree was “desirable for gaining wisdom.”
Most of us aren’t tempted to “rule the kingdoms of the world,” but there are a hundred moments each day that we are tempted to make things happen through our own efforts. A hundred situations each day where we will be tempted to use words and actions to manipulate people, to get them to do what we want.
- We want our children to behave, so we yell.
- We want others to go along with our plans, so we push their buttons if we can.
- We want our grown children to call us more, so we use guilt to motivate them.
- We want our spouse to pay more attention to us, so we withhold affection to manipulate them.
When our identities are tied to getting what we want, we’re useless to God. This is what it means to take up our cross and follow Jesus: we die to our kingdom, we give up on the project of getting what we want. We let go of trying to secure outcomes, we choose to lose.
Lose the argument. Don’t get the last word in, just say you’re sorry and lose. Choose to go above and beyond at work, and not worry about whether your boss notices or not. Choose not to defend yourself when others are talking about you. Keep your mouth shut and trust Jesus. Take up a discipline where you regularly choose to lose.
Things may not turn out how I want, but that’s okay. There’s no good reason for me to get what I want, because I’m not God.
- We can let go of needing our children to behave, so we can focus on loving them well.
- We can let go of our plans for situations and focus on being present with others in love.
- We can get the promotion or not get the promotion – God will be with me no matter what.
- We can let go of our desires for other people to do things differently, and simply focus on praying for them and loving them.
Why? Because we know who we are, we press into our identity as God’s beloved children, and that knowledge and experience transforms us. In the words of a great children’s Bible, we can rest in God’s Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.
As we attend to these things, keeping our identity in God firmly in place, I believe a transformation begins to take place. In Luke’s version of the temptation story he notes that Jesus went into the desert full of the Holy Spirit, but after the temptations, he comes out of the desert in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Whenever your identity is threatened there is enormous opportunity for God’s Kingdom to be advanced. Jesus said that without him we can do nothing, so we know we need the power of God to do even the smallest kingdom task. We can do none of it in our own strength. We need power. The power that was meant to flow through your life will begin to flow more freely when you wage and win the battle with temptation.