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The Tempter and the Poisonous IF

I finished a wildly uneventful spring break and limped back into school on Monday. My week off didn’t afford much excitement. We stayed home mostly. But I did live vicariously through all of you, via Facebook, who spent the week at Disney, et al. It’s good for me to feel jealous and bitter because then I get lots of practice repenting. And not once did I pray that it would rain on you blessed people who actually got to spend your vacation on vacation.

We had two big (that’s a relative term) outings last week. One little day trip was to the Wal-Marts where’s we got our hairs did. This is fun because A) the Beasley youngers aren’t savvy enough to realize that Wal-Mart is not at a spa, and B) they don’t scream at the stylist when she combs through those curls like they do at their momma. So it IS like a vacation. It also provides photo ops like the following:

Spa Day, Sort ofEden at the Wal-Marts

Our second outing included a movie and lunch date with friends. We saw God’s Not Dead, which I loved. I promise no spoilers here, but I do have to explain the inspiration for what I’m about to write. One character in the movie explains that he lost his faith when his mother died of cancer. He told God that he would worship Him forever if God would heal her. I had a bizarre reaction to this scene.

First, I cried. Now, I’ve always been emotional, so maybe that’s not all that bizarre, but it’s been really bad since my dad died. Here’s the weird thing–I felt a very strong impulse to jump into the screen and tell that (fictional) character that the same experience which convinced him that God ISN’T, convinces others that God IS. Now, why is that?

Matthew 4:1-11

All that week, I’d been reading through Matthew 4 over and over in preparation for writing this post. I’ve studied the book of Matthew several times, so in each reading, I saw the same thing in the text that I had for many years. I read it as an example of how to confront temptation. Believe me, we should certainly read this passage and follow Jesus’ example. He confronts the Enemy with God’s Word, and so should we. After seeing the movie, though, one word popped off the page.

IF.

If you are the Son God…

If you heal her…

One of my little language arts teacher tricks is to think yourself into the text. Which character do you identify with? In this case, I’d always put myself in Jesus’ shoes–err, sandals. Satan’s after me, so I need the tools to protect myself. After some careful consideration of that word IF, for the first time EVER, I realized that maybe I’m the tempter, not the tempted. Do I test the Lord with that word IF and make room to doubt God?

So, let’s break it down. Verse 3–“If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus is wrapping up a 40 day fast. He’s famished–in need of nourishment in a way that most of us have never, probably will never, experience. Like the testing of Eve back in Genesis, the devil simply presents what is available for the meeting of a “need” that isn’t exactly a need. He points out to both Eve and Jesus an option which is there oddly enough BECAUSE of God in the first place. God put that tree in the garden, so why not take it? God’s power is present in Christ, so why not use it?

Though Jesus needs food in a way that Eve obviously didn’t, He isn’t in such a hurry that food has to appear before him miraculously. In fact, Jesus is so careful with His power that He would never exaggerate a need so that He can use God’s power when it isn’t God’s plan to do so. And His answer (v. 4) to the tempter is just gorgeous–“Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” In other words, let’s talk about what we really NEED.

First, God’s word is necessary. Not just helpful, like little tips to sprinkle around here and there to soften the blows of life–it IS LIFE. God is not a life coach. We need Him and His word. Like food. Like water. Like air.

But don’t miss this, either. Jesus said we need every word from God. EVERY. WORD. Y’ALL. That means the words that sound good to us AND the words that don’t. Even the words we don’t want to hear–those words sustain us.

Wow. I wish I had a dollar for every time I told God that I had a need and plugged my ears to shut out what He might say. And maybe another dollar for every time I called what is actually a desire a need, as if God didn’t understand the urgency of my situation. Then another dollar for every time I told God to just sprinkle His magic fairy dust to fix my need because, ya know, God may not have weighed out all the options when He made out His master plan. Last year, I prayed lots of these prayers. We had needs–we had to have a place to live, jobs, income, insurance. Daily, we listed it all out for God, and in that stressful state, we told God how to handle our problems.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Talk to Him. Tell Him everything. Discuss the options and what you think and feel and how you hope to see things happen. Talk to Him all the time, everyday, in your prayer closet, in the car, everywhere–keep that conversation going. However, we have to remember that we’re listening for EVERY WORD of God’s, not just the ones that sound pretty. I don’t recall using that conditional word IF with the Lord when we talk, but there have been a few difficult times when I just quit talking to Him because He didn’t jump through my hoops.

Years ago, I wanted a baby. In the absolute worst way, I wanted a baby in my arms. We suffered through quite a few miscarriages. I never actually said to God, “I’ll worship You if…” But that’s precisely how I acted. Looking back, I’m a little shocked at the way I treated God, at how I withheld my love–my worship– from Him and gave Him the cold shoulder. You see, I was a believer–and had been for many years–when all this happened. I didn’t want to NOT be a Christian. I still wanted Jesus for my salvation, but as far as the ongoing relationship is concerned, I wanted certain things on my terms. I treated my Savior as though He wasn’t worthy of my worship because He didn’t meet my need.

When Eden was born, it all made sense. I told God (imagine my repentant attitude) that I would do it all over again ten, twenty, thirty times, just so I could have my sweet Eden. All the more amazing is that God gave us Eden through adoption. So He in no way jumped through my hoops. He gave us a baby and then met a need that I wasn’t even aware I had. He used adoption to show me how much He loves me. I share this experience with many Christian adoptive parents. We pine for that baby for so long, and then finally we get to scoop one up in our arms and exclaim, “MINE!! ALL MINE!!” I ran after motherhood for so long, and it was oh so sweet when it finally came together. Now. Remember the story of the Prodigal Son? Remember how the father RAN to scoop that boy up in his arms? God ran after me and when I placed my faith in Jesus, He scooped me up and said, “MINE!” And the angels had a party. I rediscovered HIS love through my love for Eden–because I could see that, by sending Jesus, God ran to get His treasure–those He loves.

I don’t waste time wondering what life would have been like if God had used His miraculous power to give me a biological child. God’s answer–His word–was bitter. And better.

That lesson from adoption continues to shape my faith even now. Last year when we were getting pretty desperate for income, I genuinely had needs. We had to have an income to feed ourselves. It was scary. The Lord and I discussed all this at length over and over and over. I begged God to give Todd one job in particular with the Arkansas Highway Department. I was pretty depressed when he didn’t get that job, and I won’t lie, I had a hard time praying at times. But I remembered Eden–how God’s plan to give children to the Beasleys was far better and so much more than what I’d asked for. His word was hard for me to hear at first, so how could I have predicted that I would one day be thankful for miscarriages? God had revealed His character to me. Now I had to trust–and like Jesus said, immerse myself in God’s Word like it’s bread and water. Every once in a while, I would get a little cheeky with God, quote Matthew 6:31-32, wag my finger at Heaven and say, “You promised!”

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

I told Todd on a number of occasions, “I know that somewhere on the other side of this, God has a job for you that will be more and better than we ever expected.” My faith was still a little rickety at times, but nothing like those bitter days before we adopted. I’ve made some progress, y’all! She CAN be taught! Since I just covered the answer to the job search prayers in my last post, I won’t go through it all again. Take a look at State of the Beasley Union if you want to read a neat story about our prayers and God’s plan.

The second temptation presents Jesus with the opportunity to perform a dramatic feat in a very public place. Simply put, to show off. And Jesus’ answer? Don’t test Me. One commentator said that when the devil says “if you are the Son of God” in verse six, it really should say “since you are the Son of God.” The enemy knows exactly who he is dealing with, exactly what power our God has.

But people don’t. Not really. Certainly someone who doesn’t believe in God will rationalize away any evidence of God’s power, but even believers get comfortable thinking of miracles as something God used to do. That is, until we hit a crisis and we need that miracle to prove to us that He is there. Then we start pressing Him with all our might in prayer. IF You are there, IF You are who You say You are, do this. We may avoid Him in every other area of our lives—we may not give Him a second thought as we make huge life decisions, as we begin and end relationships, when we take on new challenges and it seems like we have the world by the tail. We accomplish every other thing in our lives in our own strength until suddenly, we need that miracle.

It’s impossible to avoid this trap, I think, even for believers. We all go there at one time or another. Something awful happens, you’re in pain, and you need God to show off. Nothing less than the impossible will do, and nothing’s impossible with God, right? So, why doesn’t He demonstrate His power for me? Doesn’t He love me?

After reading this text with myself in the role of tempter, I have to admit that I am guilty of testing Him. Even if I don’t tell Him directly, I imply, “IF You are there, and you really love me, You’ll do this.”

If You really love me, You’ll let me carry this baby to term.

If You are really there, You will heal my dad’s leukemia.

Picture God answering me with the same directness He used with the devil. Katie, don’t test Me. I AM.

Ouch. Isn’t that how we hear Him sometimes? When we imagine getting the dreaded word “no” from God, don’t we assume that He’s harsh? Or dismissive? Or cruel? Since I’m an English teacher, I know how to experiment with the tone to hear how a loving Father might reveal Himself to me. How would it sound if that loving Father wants you to know Him, not fall away in disbelief? What words might He use if He desires intimacy with us–if His real goal is to draw us closer and deepen our faith?  “Katie, I love you. Whether you believe in that love or not, it is there–even in your darkest days. Don’t test me. It will only cause you to doubt. Trust me. Wait on Me. I AM.”

I miscarried eleven days before my dad was diagnosed with leukemia. Did I pray for that pregnancy? Did I pray for my dad’s healing? Absolutely, I did. I am in no way suggesting that you shouldn’t pray for every single miracle that you hope for in life. Pray big–then watch expectantly for the amazing and beautiful things your Abba Father will do for you. Just beware. When you relate to God with that added conditional element–If You love me, if You are good–you are setting yourself up for doubt. You are in danger of slipping into bitterness or unbelief like the character in the film. Then when you come to your senses, you will have lots of regret–and lots of work to do.

My father didn’t live long after the diagnosis. Those were my darkest days. It’s difficult for me to explain what that year was like. It was so, so hard. But I had learned a few things from my pre-Eden years. Back then, I was so angry that I shunned God for a time. Now I realize that God is no less God because I choose not to love and worship Him. He’s still worthy of my adoration and affection even when I withhold it. Once I wore myself out on that bitterness, I’m the one who had to start over. God was still there; He’d never left, never stopped loving me. But now He had to scrub me clean of that unrighteousness and I had to begin again, working to trust in Him even in situations that made it look like He wasn’t worthy of that faith.

Following His third temptation, Jesus tells us plainly (v.10), “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” When I place an expectation on God, with that condition IF You are a loving God attached, I am really attempting to make myself the object of worship. Huh, kind of like the devil does in verse 9.

Here’s the thing that needs to sink in. God doesn’t need me to worship Him. He is just as awesome and all powerful when we don’t believe in Him as when we do. Worshiping Him and serving Him alone really benefits me. It teaches me. It changes me. It keeps me humble. It keeps everything in perspective.

I can test Him, but it will only lead me to doubt. I can plug my ears, trying to avoid the words from God that sound bitter, but I’ll miss seeing Him fulfill His word in me. I can withhold my love and worship, as if He is somehow empowered by adoration, but I am the one who is pinned down and lost without His power in me. I can try to connive things so that I’m the object of worship, but I’m no good at being God.

Or I can just do away with that poisonous conditional IF, and know that He IS. And He rewards me when I seek Him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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