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The Wilderness of Testing Part Three

For the past two months, we looked at the first two temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness and how his experience applies to our lives. Now we come to the third and final temptation of Jesus recorded in Matthew’s account. If you haven’t read the previous featured blogs, I encourage you to take a moment and review The Wilderness of Testing and the Wilderness of Testing Part Two. It will give you a better understanding of the progression in this passage. Of the three temptations, this one resonated with me the most. It seems the first temptation is in the area of our physical desires. The second temptation seems related to spiritual issues. This final temptation seems connected to our emotional lives – areas of ego and how we view ourselves in context with others. Here is our passage for this month:

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”  (Matthew 4:8-10, ESV)

Let’s look deeper into this passage.

Satan Attacks

In this final scene of the temptation of Jesus, Satan goes for broke. He takes Jesus to the top of a high mountain and in a sweeping gesture shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “I’ll give you more than you can imagine,” he whispers. “All you have to do is to trust me. Worship me. You don’t need God. I’ll give you all this glory and more.”

When Satan offers Jesus the kingdoms of this world, I do not think he was referring to political kingdoms and nations. I suspect he was referring to kingdoms of wealth, kingdoms of happiness, kingdoms of power, kingdoms of celebrity and fame, kingdoms of significance. These are the kingdoms of this earth. “Worship me,” he says, “and I will give you all this.” Note the passage says he offered Jesus “the kingdoms of this world and their glory.” He’s not just offering him kingdoms, he’s offering him their glory. This is key to understanding the basis of this temptation. It is the temptation to seek glory for ourselves. It is the temptation to take our eyes off God, and to worship anything but him. It is the temptation for self-worship. It is the temptation to seek our glory over God’s. It is the temptation to seek wealth, happiness, power, celebrity, fame and significance and the glory they represent.

The problem with this is that none of these things ever satisfy. All leave us longing for more. Satan is a fraud. He offers glory, but fails to mention it will never satisfy. We want more. More significance. More money. More toys to play with. More followers on social media. More likes. More retweets. But none of it satisfies. Sadly, we’ve been duped. We bought the lie. We bowed down. And it left us empty.

The rise in social media has fueled this temptation. In December 2017, former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya shared how the site was intentionally developed to hook users by manipulating their emotional responses. “We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection, because we get rewarded in these short term signals: Hearts, likes, thumbs up,” he said. “We conflate that with value and we conflate it with truth, and instead what it really is is fake, brittle popularity that’s short term and leaves you even more vacant and empty than before you did it.”

We rate our success based on the number of Twitter followers or friends on Facebook. I’ve done it. Lately I’ve questioned this. How much of my social media use is ultimately to promote myself? This is where we have to ask ourselves the hard questions.

The Search for Significance

Satan offers us significance. God offers us the opposite. Jesus said “The greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:11, ESV), and “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4, ESV). Note he did not say the greatest among you will have the largest church. He did not say the greatest among you will influence the most people for the cause of Christ. He did not say the greatest among you will have the largest social media following. He did not say the greatest among you will have the nicest home, drive a newer model car, or live in the right neighborhood. He said the greatest would be your servant.

Even the disciples dealt with this issue. They argued over who was the greatest. Here’s Luke account:

“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves” (Luke 22:24-26, ESV).

If the disciples grappled with this issue, is it possible we do as well? I know I do.

My desire for significance is an ungodly motivating factor in my life. I grew up in a difficult home environment where often I struggled. Most of my life I have felt insignificant, worth little, etc. I have a natural sinful desire to counter those feelings. It crouches in the background of my life. My whole life it has hidden behind the curtain on the stage, peeking out at me. I hear its whisper when I am preaching.

I pray for influence. But does my prayer for influence come from a heart to see God’s kingdom made great, or do I desire to see my kingdom made great? Even just a little? Is my desire for influence actually just a desire for significance? These are the difficult questions with which I wrestle in quiet moments alone with God.

I asked myself this question in regard to publishing the next book I’ve written. I spent time last year looking for a publisher and speaking with literary agents. Is my desire for a publisher just another example of pride? Do I want to say, “I am published by so-and-so.” Am I trying to find a publisher so I can feel significant? So many questions.

Jesus Responds

Satan does his best to tempt Jesus away from God. Jesus will have none of it. He counters with a stunning command to Satan. “Be gone, Satan! You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” Here he quotes from Deuteronomy 6:13, where Moses instructs the Israelites, “It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.”

In the original language, the command “Be gone, Satan” is the same statement Jesus says to Peter. Jesus shared with the disciples he was about to go to Jerusalem to lay down his life. Peter responds, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, (be gone) Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:22-23, ESV).

There it is. Did you catch it? “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” He is referring to the kingdoms of this world, the things of man. It is the core temptation with which we all deal. Gratefully, Jesus continues and explains how we are to live.

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25, ESV).

Satan offers us the chance to be served. Jesus offers us servitude. Satan focuses on building wealth. Jesus focuses on the poor. Satan offers power. Jesus willingly set aside his power and submitted to death on a cross. Can you see the contrast?

God does not share his glory. The wise never try to capture it for themselves. It never ends well. His command to us is to love him with all our hearts, all our minds, all our strength. All, not most of our hearts. All. He alone is worthy of our worship. We bow to him alone.

There is hope!

While this may sound discouraging, what I found was greatly encouraging. It frees us to address each of these issues. It frees us to seek influence without significance. It frees us to seek ministry without titles. It frees us to serve without needing someone’s approval. Each area I addressed brought a brighter light of God’s glory into my heart. While difficult to process, it brought me to a new place in my relationship with God. For this, I am extremely grateful.

As I mentioned in the earlier blogs, at the end of this Wilderness of Testing I was exhausted, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Good news, my friends, a season of rest is coming! In God’s plan, the Valley of Wait usually leads to a Wilderness of Testing. But the Wilderness of Testing leads to a Valley of Rest. We’ll look at this in detail in the next featured blog. For now, let’s review what we discovered in this passage.

  1. Satan offers us the kingdoms of this world – kingdoms of significance, power, prestige, celebrity, fame, wealth and glory – if only we bow down to him instead of to God. Be careful to worship God alone. God does not share glory. Don’t try to take it for yourself. It will not end well.
  1. Ask the hard questions. What are the motivating factors in your life? What actually drives you? Let the Holy Spirit dig deeply in your heart. Find freedom when you yield to his touch to transform your life in these hidden places.
  1. Bow to God alone. Love God with all your heart. The challenge here is the word “all.” It is one thing to say we love God. It is a far different thing to say we love him with all our hearts. “All” leaves no room for second place.

The third test is this: Is God worth more to you than the kingdoms of this world and glory? May we do the hard work of addressing these issues in our lives.

I always enjoy reading your comments.  Feel free to post your thoughts below.

The Wilderness of Testing Part Two

Last month I shared some of the challenges I faced over the past year. If you missed that blog, you can read it here: The Wilderness of Testing. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, I was greatly challenged. I received many comments about my transparency regarding the sexual temptation I endured. However, there may have been a misperception this was the primary way God tested me. This is not the case. I was tested in many areas; discouragement, physical and mental exhaustion, and financial stress were significant aspects throughout this season. The sexual temptation was a small part of a larger protracted trial. I call this season of trial, “The Wilderness of Testing.” It is a season specifically designed by God to test us, to see what we have learned.

In the previous blog, I shared the first interaction between Satan and Jesus when Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tested. As I look further into this passage, there is more to discover in regards to the challenges we face. So this month let’s look at the second temptation Satan presented to Jesus and see how it relates to you and me.

Here’s the passage for this month:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

 

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matthew 4:5-7, ESV)

The Enemy Attacks

Once again, the enemy begins his attack by questioning Jesus’ identity. He says, “If you are the Son of God….” He used this statement in the first temptation. It is significant that he uses this line again. Why? Our enemy wants to destroy our relationship with God. If our enemy can get us to question our identity as sons and daughters of God, then we are in grave danger. Carefully guard your identity.

From the pinnacle of the temple, he tells Jesus to throw himself down. After all, the Scriptures say God will rescue you. Why not make him prove it. You’re his son, right?

Also notice how Satan uses Scripture as part of his attack. He quotes Psalm 91:11-12. Satan loves to quote Scripture on the way to destroying you and I. It should alarm us that our enemy knows Scripture. Do we know it as well as he does?

Jesus Responds

Gratefully, once again Jesus responds with Scripture. “Again it is written ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Now if you are like me, I’ve read this passage before and glossed right over what Jesus just said. This time, as I looked into this, I wondered what it meant to put God to the test. What was Jesus saying?

To understand what Jesus says, we need to look at the passage he references. Jesus refers to a passage where Moses addresses the Israelite nation. In this passage Moses says, “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah” (Deuteronomy 6:16, ESV).

We’re getting closer. Now we need to find out what happened at Massah. The event is described in Exodus 17. Here is what it says:

All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”

 

And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?”
But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”

 

So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

 

And the LORD said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.”

 

And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Exodus 17:1-7, ESV)

 

The Hebrew word for “tested” in this passage expresses the idea of putting God to the test, to make him prove himself. It is connected with the idea of doubting God. It is a test born out of doubt instead of faith.

The Israelites were thirsty by design. God led them to that place. In their discomfort, they complained to one another. They complained to Moses. It seems they speak to everyone but God. They tested the Lord by saying in effect, “Is the Lord among us or not? Then he should prove it.”

God tests us to see where we are in relationship with him, but it is not okay for you and me to test God to prove where he is in relationship with us. He never changes. His love is a constant burning flame. It is our love for him that flickers. The irony is we tend to test God when he is testing us! He allows trials in our lives to see what we have learned in our relationship with him, but instead of trusting him, we tend to test him. We doubt his love and care. Are you here? Do you love me? Are you loving or not?

Don’t do it. Do not test the Lord. Instead of testing him, trust him. Even when it does not make sense. Choose to love God rather than trying to understand him. This is perhaps the greatest lesson I learned over the past year. It is better to love God than to try and understand him. He is completely in control.

Next month we’ll look at the final temptation the enemy throws at Jesus. For now, let’s review the lessons from this section.

  1. Satan will question your identity as a son or daughter of God. It is the primary way he tries to defeat us. If he can get us to question our identity as God’s children, then we are in deep trouble.
  1. The enemy uses Scripture against us. It is interesting that our enemy knows Scripture. Unfortunately, he twists it to support his position. Some people do the same today. Do you know the Scriptures as well as your enemy? It is critical to view any Scripture in the broader context of the entire Bible.
  1. Don’t put God to the test. It is okay to question God, but it is not okay to doubt his love for you. Never doubt his love. He already proved his love for you when he gave his Son to die in your place. Choose to trust God rather than trying to understand him.

Is God actually trustworthy? Ultimately, this is the question at the heart of this temptation. May we pass the test! May we rise up and say, “I will trust God even when it does not make sense.”

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

 

The Wilderness of Testing

This is a difficult season in my life and ministry. For the past few months, my schedule has exhausted me. In July I dealt with the accident with my sailboat and the subsequent repairs. The marina where the boat was stored was two hours and forty-five minutes from home, complicating matters. I worked full-time in construction, remodeling homes, to raise the funds for the rudder repair. I spent my evenings preparing my home for the tourist rental market as I made the move to living aboard the sailboat. I tried to maintain the ministry. I worked six days a week, ten to twelve hours a day, for almost five months. In the middle of all this, I rode out Hurricane Irma at home, and dealt with issues related to the storm for days before and after the storm. The ministry feels like it is on autopilot. Physically, spiritually, and emotionally, I am spent.

I struggled to maintain my relationship with God. I spent time in the Word, but it felt dry and uninspired. I talked with God about it, but even those conversations felt empty.

During this time, I also experienced lustful thoughts far beyond normal temptations. I’m used to the usual thoughts we all have as guys, but this was different. I mentioned to several friends how shocking these thoughts were. In my whole life, I don’t think I’ve ever before entertained such thoughts. The temptation was so strong that for a moment I even considered walking away from the ministry to fulfill it. The next moment I had clarity and shuddered to think I would even consider such things. It frightened me that I could even think that way.

In all, the past months felt different from anything I’ve ever experienced in my relationship with God. Something was going on, but I was not sure what it was. I plodded on in my relationship with God, still spending time in the Word, still finding time to talk with him, but struggling throughout.

Last week, in the midst of all this, I heard the still small voice of God. “Tim,” he said, “you need to be very careful. This is not just a ‘Valley of Wait’ that you are in. I have led you to a Wilderness of Testing.” It was a quiet word to my spirit, but it felt as if it were shouted to me. This changed everything. For a moment, I saw the context of what has transpired over the past months. Oddly, I was greatly encouraged.

I looked in Scripture at others whom God led into the Wilderness of Testing. Jesus is the most obvious example. I started there. Matthew’s account resonated with me. This is what it says:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

 

But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

 

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

 

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

 

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

 

Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”

 

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (Matthew 4:1-11, ESV)

I find this passage intriguing. The first thing I noticed is how Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit to the Wilderness of Testing. This is important. It was not accidental that he was in this place. He followed the leading of the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. It was purposeful. This gives a sense of purpose to all I experienced over the past six months. There is a reason, even if I do not yet know what it is. It is not merely a season of waiting.

The next thought that stood out to me was how the enemy came at the moment when Jesus was physically spent. Jesus had fasted for forty days prior to this trial. Surely he was physically exhausted. In this place of need the enemy approached. He began by questioning Jesus’ identity. He said, “If you are the son of God….” This is often the core question Satan asks of you and me. He tries to question our identity. “Are you actually a follower of Christ?” he asks. “Are you actually a son of God? If you are, then why do you feel the way you do?”

But the enemy also struck where he suspected Jesus had the greatest need. “Go ahead. Turn these stones into bread. You’re hungry. You deserve it.” This may explain the lustful thoughts I experienced. It is the one area of my life I struggle with the most. On a regular day I want to experience the fulfillment of the normal physical desires God created within me. But when I am tired and “hungry,” the temptation is more difficult to resist. It is likely the enemy will strike in the area where our felt needs are greatest.

Gratefully, Jesus responded with clarity as an example for us to follow. He said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4, ESV).

It is significant that he refuted the enemy with Scripture. Jesus quoted from a passage in Deuteronomy 8. Let’s take a moment to look at the passage. Moses addresses the nation of Israel as they look forward to the fulfillment of the promise of God to give them the land. Here is the full context:

And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:2-3, ESV)

Moses’ words give greater understanding to the purposes of the Wilderness of Testing. It is a place of humbling. It reveals what is in our hearts, and expands our understanding of our relationship with God.

This season certainly humbled me. There can be a subtle pride in saying I am full-time in ministry. It sounds successful. To work full-time outside of the ministry humbled me. I was confident God orchestrated the work for me as a way of providing for the repair of the boat, but it was humbling at the same time. This time also revealed what is in my heart. As a result, I have grown deeply in my understanding of my relationship with God. I mentioned in a previous blog the powerful truth that it is better to love God than to try to understand him. For me, this is a deepening of my faith in God and in his faithfulness and love to me.

It is also significant to realize the Israelites were looking forward to the Promised Land. They had not yet taken possession of it. The path to the Promised Land for the Israelites led through the wilderness. Often, in our lives, the path to a promise leads through a Wilderness of Testing. Perhaps you can relate. I continue to believe my best days of ministry are still to come. There is no logical reason to believe this. My ministry schedule is lighter than at any other time in thirty years of ministry. But I believe I have yet to see all God intends to do through my life and ministry. I look forward to the Promised Land. I focus on what is to come, not on what has passed.

There is much more to discuss. We have only tapped the first section of the wilderness experience of Jesus. I will expand on this in future blogs. For now, allow me to pause here and reiterate the lessons God is teaching me to this point.

  1. You are where you are by God’s design. As we follow Jesus, sometimes this means he will lead us by the Holy Spirit into a Wilderness of Testing. It is difficult, but it is by design. Take comfort in knowing you are where you are for a purpose, even if you do not yet know what that purpose is.
  2. The enemy will likely strike when you are exhausted emotionally, physically, or spiritually. Be extremely careful in those dangerous moments when you are spent.
  3. Guard your identity. You are a child of the most-high God. Never forget this. Commit to spending time in your relationship with God even when you don’t feel like it. Your relationship with God is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. It is not based on your emotions. How you feel has nothing to do with your identity. When you are spent, crawl onto God’s lap and let him hold you close.
  4. Embrace humility. The Wilderness of Testing is designed to humble you. Identify areas where pride has crept in. Confess it to God. Welcome humility.
  5. Look forward as you endure today. The path to a promise often leads through a Wilderness of Testing. Let hope reign as you wait for relief.

I am greatly encouraged as I continue to walk through this season. Recently there is a freshness to my relationship with God as I contemplate what it means to navigate a Wilderness of Testing. I have raised my guard. I am on high alert. I am also filled with hope. At this time, I have no construction projects on my schedule. I am slowly able to focus on ministry again. The sailboat is now repaired and safely in its new home here in Southwest Florida. I moved out of my home and onto the sailboat. The house is now in the rental market. And Hurricane season ended November 30! Hope reigns.

I wonder where you are in your relationship with God. Do you love him? Apart from my relationship with God, I do not know how I would have navigated these days. Are you in a Wilderness of Testing? Are you spent from the trials that have come into your life? God longs to meet you in the midst of your situation to remind you that you are his child. Let him pull you up unto his lap. His love for you is greater than any sin you have done. He offers forgiveness when we confess our failures to him. He rushes into our brokenness with healing and comfort. Find hope in him alone.

For me, it is a Wilderness of Testing. I look forward to sharing more from the Wilderness in the days to come.

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

The Presence of God in the Midst of the Storm

Terror gripped the men. The storm was upon them. Wave upon wave crested over the bulwarks of the boat. The men bailed as quickly as they could. But just when they thought they were gaining on the deluge, the bow pitched steeply into the sea, and another wave swept across the sides. Their backs ached. Their arms cramped in dissent. But there was no time to protest. The wind screeched and howled as it slammed upon the vessel. And with each lurch of the boat, the contents sloshed from one end to the other, thudding against the hull. The storm was gradually winning.

Oddly, one man lay asleep in the stern. The teacher. The Rabi. Oblivious in the midst of the gale. No one wanted to wake him, but the situation was dire. Finally one of the men shook him by the shoulder, and Jesus awoke to see all the men staring at him.

“Teacher,” the man pleaded, “do you not care that we are perishing? Save us, Lord!”

Jesus propped himself up on one arm. He looked up from his seat and surveyed the faces of the men. Anxious, terrified, frightened eyes stared back. Finally he spoke. “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Slowly Jesus rose, his robe whipping in the wind. He turned his back to the men and faced the sea, the wind blowing directly into his face. “Peace! Be Still!” he shouted.

The wind died instantly. The waves took a moment to settle upon one another until at last the sea was glassy smooth. He smiled. Peace rested upon the water. The only sound was the trembling breath of the men as they stared at Jesus. A new fear gripped them. In the back of the group, one of the men whispered, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” The realization was complete. They hardly knew him.

(Adapted from Matthew 8:23-27 and Mark 4:35-41, ESV.)

Storms have a unique way of revealing truth about God, while at the same time revealing how little we know about him. They leave us shaken and exhausted and weary. We turn to him in our chaos. We cry out for him to intercede. His response comforts and confuses at the same time. He calms the storm. In the light of his glory, we get a brief glimpse of who he is. At the same time we close our eyes and turn away, for we are blinded by it. We are stunned by the realization of how little we know and trust him.

When we find ourselves in a storm, the primary question we have is the same as the disciple asked of Jesus: “Do you not care?”  It is the question at the heart of our concern. Does God care?

I appreciate that Jesus does not mock the disciple for questioning his love for them. God knows our humanity. He knows the times we question him. Instead of chiding, he calms the storm. God does care. In fact, the presence of the storm may show just how much he loves us. He longs to reveal more of himself to us and often uses a trial to bring us closer to himself. He is with us in the midst of the storm. His response to the storm is an example for all of us. He rests. He sleeps. He is not concerned. He is the God of the wind and the waves. Everything is in his control.

Once we understand God cares and is in control, we can join him in the stern of the boat. We can rest with him as the winds howl and the waves crash upon the hull.

The disciples were in shock when Jesus calmed the wind and the waves. They realized they knew little about Jesus. “Who then is this?” was their reply. In the midst of the storm we discover he is with us, and in the process we discover how little we know about him.

Last month, as Hurricane Irma was bearing down, I sent out a prayer request. As of 7:00 that morning, the projected path of the hurricane was directly over my home. At the time, it was a monster category 4 storm. My prayer was for a clear awareness of the presence of God with me, no matter what happened. I knew if I had a clear awareness of his presence, nothing else would matter.

After sending the request, there was nothing to do but wait for the storm to hit. I was unsettled at home alone, so I drove across town to have breakfast with friends. While we ate, one in the group received a text from a friend. It read, “Psalm 91.” I smiled when she shared it with the group because it is one of my favorite Psalms. Years ago I memorized it. It is loaded with promises. My favorite part of the Psalm is the ending. This is what it says:

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation” (Psalm 91:14-16, ESV).

When my friend read the text, God was reminding me of his protection and his presence. I was greatly encouraged.

I returned home as the winds continued to swell. Tropical storm force winds barreled down now-deserted streets. I checked email. Remember, I had sent out the prayer request a few hours earlier. Several folks had replied with words of encouragement. But oddly, the majority of the emails referenced a single passage of Scripture – Psalm 91! It was highly unusual for multiple people to reference the same passage. I love the way God orchestrates his word to us in such a way that we cannot miss what he is saying to us.

I sat at my laptop and smiled. I knew the presence of God was with me. If I were to lose everything in the storm, it would not matter because God was with me.

Twelve hours later, the eye of the storm passed to the east of my home and slowed to a category 2 storm by the time it churned past. There was still extensive damage in my area, but my home was not damaged. Trees fell. Some trees snapped in half. Power lines were torn from their poles. Some in my area were without power for more than a week. Debris littered the streets, but I was safe, and my home was not damaged.

I was exhausted. The storm had taken a toll on me, but God had carried me through. His response comforted me. At the same time, like our friends on the Sea of Galilee, it reminded me how little I understand him and trust him.

My friend, you may be in a storm as well. An unexpected trial has blown into your life. An infidelity is exposed. A porn addiction is revealed. A child runs away. A job is lost. An addiction is discovered. A relationship crumbles. There is no escape, only endurance fortified with hope.

Remember, God does care. Find him in the midst of the storm sleeping at the stern of the boat. Come to him. Rest in him. Recognize his presence with you. As he moves and calms the storm, press in to learn more about who he is. He longs to reveal more of himself to you. He cares for you. He is completely in control.

Find his presence with you in the midst of the storm, and find his presence is enough.

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When God Tests Your Love

The young man ran up to Christ and fell at his feet, the crowd around him pulling back at the sight. His heart was pounding and he was out of breath as he looked up into the face of Jesus. The men gathered around looked at the man with shock, for he was a ruler. To see him humble himself in this act of desperation was unthinkable. But his heart was heavy, and he cared not what anyone else thought. He had one question that must be answered, and he believed with all of his mind that this Rabbi could answer it for him.

“Teacher,” he cried, “what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”

Jesus looked at him and felt compassion for him. “Why do you ask me about what is good?” he replied, kindness falling from his lips. “There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” the young man replied, desperate for the truth.

Jesus answered, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

As Christ spoke, the young man listened intently and in that moment evaluated his own life. A sense of relief began to sweep over him as he knelt there before the Lord and for a moment his anxiety ceased. “All these I have kept,” he said to him. “What do I still lack?”

Christ looked at him and spoke gently to him. “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

The words slammed upon his spirit, and he reeled under the weight of them, for he had great wealth. Stunned, he slowly rose to his feet, his gaze falling away from the master. Silence hung thickly in the air. The gathered crowd nervously shuffled their feet, glancing away, for the truth had struck them as well. The young man’s heart beat anxiously in his chest, the ramifications of this request growing with each passing moment.

Finally he turned and walked away, the crowd nervously parting as he passed. As he did, a torrent of sorrow swept over him. He had gotten the answer to his question, but it was more costly than he could possibly imagine.

(Adapted from Matthew 19:16-22, ESV).

This story, repeated in three of the four gospels, is a jarring reminder that God is interested in where our hearts are in relationship with him. God wants me to love him, but he is not content for me to share my love with anything else. The first and greatest command is that I love the Lord with all of my heart, all of my soul, and all of my mind. According to Christ, this command is more important than all the others. In fact, Christ said that loving God with utter abandon and loving others as myself were so important that all the rest of the law depended on those two commands. That is a pretty amazing statement.

What is so interesting about this dialog between Christ and the rich young ruler is the point where Christ lists the commands. He leaves off the one command that he says is the most important command of all, to love the Lord my God with all my heart. Instead, Christ asks the man to do something, knowing that the man’s response would reveal whether or not he was obedient to the unspoken command. God is testing him to reveal the true condition of his heart.

Did you know that God tests our hearts? Even Moses speaks of it as he is explaining the law to the Israelites. This is what he said:

“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 12:1-3, ESV, emphasis added).

Isn’t that interesting? Moses warns the people to be very careful. According to the law, the way they would know if a prophet were legitimate was whether his prophesies came to pass. In this situation, Moses said that when it comes to following a legitimate prophet, be careful because the Lord may be testing them to see if they actually love him with all their hearts. God was concerned about where their hearts were in relationship with him, and he might test them along the way to reveal the answer. “Do you love me with all your heart?” This is the question God asked the Israelites thousands of years ago. It is the question he asked the rich young ruler, and it is the question he asks us today.

My concern is that we appear to be failing the test.

I want to be very, very clear. I do not believe this passage is teaching that you need to stop reading this article, get up, go sell everything you have, and give it all to the poor. I am not teaching a poverty gospel. What I am asking is this: if God were to ask you to sell everything you have, to cash out your retirement account and to give it all away to the poor, would it matter to you? If God were to ask you to sell your home, your boat, your bike, or your car and to give the money away, would it matter to you? I believe the answer to that question will reveal whether you are loving God with all your heart or not.

Again, may I remind you, the command it not to love God. The command is to love him with all your heart, emphasis on the word “all.” I’m confident if I were to ask the congregation of the average church in North America if they love God I would get a resounding “yes.” But if I were to ask those same people whether they would be willing to put it all on the line for the cause of Christ if asked to do so, I think the numbers would drop dramatically.

I personally believe this is the great sin of the church in North America. We do not love God with all of our hearts. We love him, but we also love our comfort. We love our security. We love our houses. We love our cars. We love our credit cards. We love our retirement plans. We love a lot of stuff.

Over the past two years, I believe God has been testing me again and again with one simple question: Do you love me with all of your heart? Do you love me more than your retirement account? Okay, then give it away. Do you love me more than your house? Do you love me more than your car? Do you love me more than your bank account? Do you love me more than your dreams and plans? Do you love me more than a regular salary? Over and over he has said to me, “Okay, then give it away, give it up, give it to me.” To the best of my knowledge, I’ve followed him in each and every test. It has been difficult; it has not been easy. But looking back, the past two years have been some of the best times of my life because God has freed me from a divided heart. I write this knowing that God may test me more, that he may bring even more difficulties into my life, if he so pleases, to test me again. I’m okay with that. He has carried me through each and every trial. I have climbed up into his lap over and over saying “God, please just hold me,” and he has done that. His faithfulness to me is staggering. He gives me his presence to comfort and encourage me as I walk along the path he has called me to follow. At each test along the way, I have learned to love him a little bit more. If the result of my obedience to God in this way means that I eventually end up living in a cardboard box under a bridge somewhere, I am okay with that, because the presence of God Almighty would be with me in that box and that is all that matters to me.

Again, I want to be very clear, I am not teaching a poverty gospel. I am not teaching that we need to sell everything we have in order to be a follower of Christ. I’m simply asking if it would bother you if God asked you to do that, because I believe the answer to that question reveals where our hearts really are.

I firmly believe that God does not care how much money you have in the bank, whether it be pennies or millions. Even in Christ’s teaching during the sermon on the mount, when he said, “Do not store up treasure on earth,” he didn’t say “Do not store up money.” Instead he uses the word “treasure.” The idea of treasure is my heart attitude toward what I have. If I treasure something here on earth, then my heart is not where God wants it to be. It is always an issue of the heart. God wants me to love him with all my heart, and he knows that where my treasure is, there my heart is also. I don’t believe God cares what kind of house you live in, whether it be a mansion or the smallest of shacks. I do believe God cares where your heart lives. That is the issue that matters to God.

My friend, do you love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength? Is there anything in your life today that, as you are reading this, the Holy Spirit is asking you, “Do you love me more than this?” Please do not take this lightly. Do business with God. Be willing to put it all on the line for the cause of Christ, whether he asks you to or not. It is the most freeing thing you could possibly experience, to be set free from a divided heart.

Allow me to share one final thought regarding the story about the rich young ruler and his dialog with Jesus. In the end, the young man was deeply moved by his conversation. Those words from Jesus convicted him deeply. The Scripture says that he went away sorrowful, but there is no record in Scripture that he ever passed the test. It seems he was moved by the message, but was not willing to do business with God. How sad!

Please, I beg you, let us not be guilty of doing the same.

This article was originally published in the October 2013 Newsletter.