How well prepared are you for the testing and trials ahead?
Christian leadership is so much more than the pressure to preach great messages or develop great programmes. It soon becomes apparent to any fledgling leader that the internal battles in our souls are more stretching than the external battles of our abilities or actions, writes Director of Ministry Stuart Blount.
Testing comes in all shapes and sizes for Christian leaders. Some tests bring little more than small mistakes that are rectifiable with a little humility and common sense. Some, however, are destructive forces that can threaten the very foundations of our lives, marriages, family, ministry and contentment.
Jesus faced a very significant personal ordeal in the wilderness of Judea. The record of it must have been narrated by the Lord himself because no one else was present but Jesus and the devil, which gives us an insight into its importance in the gospel account. Did Jesus tell his disciples about this ordeal to help them understand what testing is really like? Or did he tell them to demonstrate that it is possible to withstand the attack of the enemy?
Luke 4:1-2 says: “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.”
The Greek word used in the Synoptic accounts for this tempting in the life of Jesus holds two different meanings that actually fit together in the overall picture of what was happening. On the one hand, it can mean ‘internal temptation’ yet, on the other hand, it can mean ‘external testing’. Jesus was both tempted and tested.
The author SR Garrett has pointed out that in the temptation narrative both connotations of the Greek verb are simultaneously in play.
This means that the devil’s purpose is to deceive Jesus into renouncing his vocation as the obedient Son of God. This is an internal battle for Jesus. It is the temptation to give up, as the enormity of the battle he is going to face begins to dawn on him.
Yet his Father permits the devil to test Jesus in this way, in order to publicly demonstrate through Jesus’ resistance to the temptation, that he is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Saviour of the world.
Christian leadership is so much more than the pressure to preach great messages or develop great programmes. It soon becomes apparent to any fledgeling leader that the internal battles in our souls are more stretching than the external battles of our abilities or actions.
We read of three tests or temptations that Jesus faced that seem to last only a few moments, yet Luke records that Jesus was tempted for ‘forty days’ which is just two days short of six weeks! Six weeks spent on his own in the wilderness. Isolated and alone!
Loneliness, isolation and inner attack
Isolation is not necessarily a geographical or relational thing – it can be emotional and psychological. You can be surrounded by other leaders and can even have really good friends and still feel isolated internally, struggling with battles that there seems no escape from.
To most of my friends and colleagues in ministry, I can appear to be a confident and assured leader. Yet I have felt internally lonely whilst in a crowd. I have felt isolated in a place of apparent success. I have known moments when I may as well be stranded on a Judean mountainside facing the Prince of Darkness himself. That is because there is a bleakness that can come with the challenge as a Christian leader of trying your best to live for God and yet battling your humanity, as well as the enemy’s onslaught.
Isolation is an occasional
part of the call of God You cannot truly fulfil the call of God without times when all you can really depend on is God. The Holy Spirit sometimes leads us into isolated places so that we can find him.
The problem is that we may discover that the enemy seems to be waiting in that place of emotional, relational or psychological isolation to pounce on us. The Psalmist encourages us to look for the presence of God, even in the bleakest moments of our lives.
Psalm 23:4 says: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Isolation is dangerous
You may not know that a colleague, friend or peer feels internally isolated. It is a place the enemy loves to get us in. Often in times of isolation, we are more aware of the enemy’s taunts and temptations than the companionship of God.
But we must remember that fruitful, contented times of ministry can co-exist with intense times of testing. God can be at work in us at the same time that the devil is at war with us. It’s strange to think that what God designs to build our character the enemy tries to use to destroy it. That seems to be what’s happening to Jesus in the wilderness, and it may be what you have experienced as a leader yourself.
Job is confronted by internal spiritual isolation. But he has a resolve to survive the test. In Job 23:8-12 he says: “But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. My feet have closely followed his steps; I have kept to his way without turning aside. I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.”
Resisting the tests and temptations of life and ministry is not just about surviving the attack, it is also about increasing in character and devotion We know when we see the mistakes and sins of other leaders appear in the open, that they have probably been experiencing loneliness, isolation and inner attack for weeks, months or even years.
Failure is more often than not the result of conceding to internal battles.
Our contentment and fruitfulness in ministry may well rest on something that no-one else really sees, that is, our capacity to find a way to deal with the regular testings and temptations of our human soul.
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