Lent Devotions 2015: Surrender, but not to your temptations!

Photo courtesy: https://flic.kr/p/7mB8oF

Photo courtesy: https://flic.kr/p/7mB8oF

One of the most subtle temptations that followers of Christ and particularly ministers of the gospel face is to think that their life and ministry are for their own self-aggrandizement. Even Jesus Christ faced such temptations throughout his life and ministry on earth. For example, before he began his earthly ministry, Jesus spent forty days and forty nights in the wilderness fasting and praying. During this time of loneliness, Satan tempted him with various offers of which one was his suggestion for Jesus to use his vocation for his own selfish purposes. Satan wanted Jesus to exalt himself and to use the power and authority at his disposal for his personal glorification. We know that Jesus fiercely resisted such temptations because he knew that his life was not his own. Jesus knew that he was sent for a purpose and he had to accomplish the mission for which God had sent him to earth.

Such temptations did not end with the forty-day period of fasting in the wilderness. In fact, they continued throughout his life and did not leave him alone until his death on the cross. People impressed with Jesus’ life, teaching, and ministry often surrounded him and wished to make him their leader and even king. In all these situations, Jesus withdrew himself from such people and circumstances. At times, even his disciples did not know where he was going to escape such temptations of aggrandizement by spending time alone with God.

How was Jesus able to resist such temptations that many Christian leaders and ministers easily succumb to, today? The answer is simple: Jesus always surrendered his will to the will of his Father. This continued even in the Garden of Gethsemane where, again, Jesus was found praying alone to the Father. Notice that Jesus concludes his prayer by surrendering to the will of God:

“Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’ 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’ 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial;[e] the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ 42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matthew 26: 38-42)

This life of surrender was finally completed only with his death on the cross, when Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!” Therefore, if God’s Son had to surrender to the will of God in order to overcome temptations, we have no other way. I know that surrendering is not easy. In fact, it is one of the most difficult things due to our sinful human nature. However, if we do not want to succumb to the daily temptations of using our life, ministry, church, our finances and resources, for self-aggrandizement, we need to learn to live like Jesus by daily surrendering to the will of God. When we learn to live in surrender, God brings out something beautiful from a surrendered life, which become a blessing even for others. I close with what E. Stanley Jones wrote on self-surrender:

“With self-surrender, Christ asks us to take the one thing that we own (the self) and give it back to God. Self-surrender is the only remedy. I cannot go down any road on anything with anybody who has problems without running straight into the necessity of self-surrender. All else is marginal; this is central. I only have one remedy, for I find only one disease – self at the center; self trying to be God” (E. Stanley Jones: Victory Through Surrender. Exact quote cited from: http://www.estanleyjonesfoundation.com/about-esj/theology/victory-through-self-surrender/)

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Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 37

Day 37, Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus

Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus. photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/therevsteve/2164938483/

During the Passion Week, one incident that prominently stands out among others is Mary anointing Jesus’ feet at Bethany (please read John 12:1-11). Mary, one of the sisters of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead, expressed her gratitude to Jesus by pouring a bottle of quite expensive perfume at his feet. This family didn’t appear to be a rich family in Bethany, but over the years, it became the center of Jesus’ ministry in and around Jerusalem. However, Jesus’ disciples, especially Judas, reacted indignantly at Mary’s action and service of Jesus, the Messiah. Matthew 26:8 reads, “But when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?” Judas was particularly vocal and asked why the ointment was not sold and money given to the poor, as though he was the only one concerned about the poor! But, as John rightly records, Judas said this “not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it” (John 12:6).

  We have today, in many churches, similar people whose purpose of being around Jesus or inside the church is to somehow keep an eye on the money and to steal from it whenever the opportunity arises. They don’t have a clue about the poor or their needs. They do not bother about the needs of world missions or anything like that. They do not know how to serve, and they lack a sense of calling, but you’ll find them in all important positions of the church. They steal, rob, and destroy churches and ministries by their insatiable greed. However, Jesus came to the rescue of Mary and rebuked Judas and others: “Let her alone” (John 12:7). Unfortunately, there aren’t many people today in the church that oppose such thieves and scoundrels. Many a cases of financial embezzlement and irregularities in the churches and Christian organizations go unchecked or are swept under the carpet. People don’t like to confront or expose such people. It’s high time the churches stopped tolerating such greediness and gross misuse of people’s money. What would you do if you knew about your leaders’ engagement in any such activity? Would you tolerate it, expose it, or close your eyes and mouths shut when you see such things at your church/organization? God bless.

 

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Lenten Reflection 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 13.


Day 13, Wednesday, March 7, 2012

We saw yesterday that Christ’s followers’ fasting is different from other fasting. It’s different in one more way: Lenten fasting requires not just giving up of food and stuff, but offering ourselves completely to the Lord. Repentance is a prerequisite when we fast from food. However, what is even more important during fasting is that we learn to offer ourselves, our sins, imperfections, shortcomings and all to God the Father. It is for the purpose of Him accepting us as we are and then working on us as a Master Craftsman according to His perfect will and use us for His glory. So, God desires that we present to Him our whole beings. However broken our lives may be, God can and will still work on it, as the Psalmist David wrote out of his experience: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). 

When we are ready to give up ourselves completely at the feet of our Master, we will acknowledge our powerlessness. We will also give up our illusions that we are the masters of our own destiny and our world. This will help us give up control that we so strongly want to have over not just ourselves but also over others. Surrendering ourselves will bring us to the acknowledgement that we are not really the masters of this universe; rather, it is God, the Creator, who is the Lord of the universe. Such a realization is truly humbling because we resent so much being told that we are powerless and not in control. But when we are brought to this point, we too can say along with the Psalmist: “In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame” (Psalm 71:1). Another Psalmist promises that, “No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame” (Psalm 25:3). May God help us during this Lent to bring ourselves at His altar and give up our self, control, and possessiveness and to start believing that Jesus became powerless for our sake. And that it was through the surrender, weakness, and vulnerability of Jesus Christ that God worked out the salvation of humanity! He can fulfill His purposes when we give up ourselves at His feet. Amen.