A time of challengeWhere's the Faith? Thursday, April 19th, 2012
Social Chaos: Where's the Faith?
We each have our own times of wilderness – and the testing that goes with that. Each wilderness experience that comes our way brings difficulties and struggles – and, also – opportunities for growth and learning.
The Gospel of Mark says that there were wild beasts in the wilderness with Jesus. Aren’t our wilderness times also filled with wild beasts? Fear crouches in the shadows nearby, ready to pounce and strangle. Temptation and trials slither around, waiting for the opportunity to strike. Despair circles overhead, just waiting. Rev. TK Bruster says that, wilderness times have their wild beasts! They are times of challenge. Our faith, our values, our trust in God, what we believe, are all tested in the wilderness.
There’s a birthday card that says, “As you grow older, don’t worry about avoiding temptations. Temptations will avoid you.” Wouldn’t that be nice if it were true! The truth is we never outgrow temptation. St. Anthony said, “Expect temptation with your last breath.” Temptation is a very real part of life and it’s especially challenging in wilderness times – those times of spiritual dryness, loneliness, despair, fear, disappointment, low self-esteem, un-forgiveness and bitterness. In those times, it feels as though we are more susceptible to the power of temptation (it’s like a magnifying glass). But, each temptation in the wilderness presents us with a corresponding challenge. Challenges can be good!
In the wilderness, the temptation is to stray from the values we hold dear. The challenge is to hold on to them and live by them.
In the wilderness, the temptation is to take shortcuts, to avoid struggle, to find the easy way through. The challenge is to move through the struggle, take the hard way and learn the lessons.
In the wilderness, the temptation is to listen to voices that would distract us from God. The challenge is to listen to our living, loving and life- giving God.
I went through Lenten Study called “Release Your Inner Splendor” with affirmations by Rev. Adriana Segovia. Here are some that spoke to me …
“I am open to letting Spirit express through me.”
“Aware of God’s presence within me, I experience the fullness of life.”
“I think, speak and act from the sacredness of my Being.”
“The wisdom and love of God inspire my every decision.”
“As I pray, I let go and let God be God in me.”
What voices are you listening to?
In the wilderness, the temptation is to substitute “stuff” in the place of God to make us feel better. The challenge is to live knowing that God is sufficient. One of the great temptations we face is the temptation always to have more. Happiness is just around the corner if only we have more things, or more wealth, or that elusive relationship. Is your happiness dependant on “things”?
In the wilderness, the temptation is to give up. The challenge is to persevere. The life-giving way is to rise to meet the challenges head-on and persevere in doing what’s right, in being faithful to God, in trusting God, in listening to God, and in loving others as God loves us. The good news is that God strengthens us to meet the challenges.
Paul wrote out of his own experience, “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but not crushed and broken. We are perplexed because we don’t know why things happen as they do, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going”. Perseverance is so often the key to meeting the challenges of the wilderness.
Every time we meet a challenge of the wilderness, it helps us prepare for meeting the next challenge – and there will be a next one – that’s life. We struggle with our temptations in the wilderness and out of that struggle comes character. James 1 tells us, “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”
In the stories of the Desert Fathers there is one story by Thomas Merton concerning Abbot John the Dwarf. Abbot John prayed to God that all passion be taken from him. His prayer was granted. He went to one of the elders and said: “You see before you a man who is completely at rest and has no more temptations.”
The elder surprised him. Instead of praising him, the elder said: “Go and pray to God to command some struggle to be stirred up in you, for the soul is matured only in battles.”
Abbot John did this, and when the temptations started up again, this time he didn’t pray that the struggle be taken away. Instead, he prayed: “God, give me strength to get through the fight.”
Don’t look at trials and temptations as just something negative, there is another side. If we pay attention, we’ll have the opportunity to learn about ourselves, to grow as a person, to become stronger, and more mature in our faith.
What are the areas of trials and temptation for you? Anger? Talking about other people? Temper? Abusing drugs? Abusing sex? Alcohol? Food? Cutting yourself down with your words? How do you hurt yourself and others through your actions or inactions?
We learn from Jesus that we meet the challenges of the wilderness by meeting God daily. Jesus was ready to meet the challenges in the wilderness because Jesus had met daily with God. When we meet God daily before the wilderness time comes our way (and it will), then we are better prepared for the challenges of the wilderness.
Rev. Dan Koeshall is the Senior Pastor at The Metropolitan Community Church (The Met) in San Diego, California, themetchurch.org.
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