You might be burned out on church, ministry or even Jesus, because you’ve taken the bait of the three temptations of Satan. After almost 30 years of ministry, I have a few thoughts that might help remove this three-barbed hook of hell.
First the short story in Matthew 4:1-11
4 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
After a lot of hard life lessons in ministry and church, I’ve come to see the three temptations of Jesus in the wilderness are at the heart of so much failure, fruitlessness and frustration in ministry. Here’s a few of my thought from personal experience on each.
- Turning Stones to Bread.
This is the temptation to allow one’s self and ministry to become a commodity. To be pressed into being a ‘resource instead of a relationship’. This can be true as a pastor, leader or true of a church community or ministry. Individually, the result is you lose your sense of being a person, you become lonely and grow resentful that people only value what you give them or do for them. This paradigm ends up sucking out your soul, leads to a jaded view of others and can drain mercy of meaning and instead leaves you perpetually feeling under the pressure of manipulation. Churches that are driven by a ‘stone to bread’ mission often perpetuate a works oriented mindset that feeds people’s egos and draws people who have drives to feel important. Messiah complexes are rampant in this circle. Overworked souls suffer under the premises that a real Christian burns out for Jesus and is perpetually an open hand for anyone. There are no boundaries and self-care only comes after the crash. Many people leave churches and leadership because they never realize that there is no end to stones. Mission on it’s own can become a madness that deludes people into wasting years of their lives trying to figure out how to turn stones to bread. It’s hard for some people to think the devil could tempt someone to do good and it’s a lesson few learn until the damage is done.
- The Temple Pinnacle
The need to feel important, to do something that others notice, is a nefarious impulse that is often behind the butts, budgets and buildings drive. More, higher, bigger, the words used to describe this drive are often tucked away in well sounding christianese but at the core is the need to be seen as competent, popular, innovative, a world changer, an entrepreneur, a real risk taker and way maker. There’s a lot of testosterone fueling these endeavors and it’s easy to get caught up in the ‘make a difference’ crusade. This circle makes ordinary people, with ordinary jobs or life routines feel less than others. This circle falls under the Pinterest and Instagram illusion: where appearances are not as they seem. It a ‘cropped and filtered’ life. Everything looks better than it is and there is very little room for real life issues, problems or failures. Divorced people, disabled people, people in recovery, the fat or gangly, pimpled, frumpy or over the hill often get to watch and consume while the latest version of what is “in” has the pulpit, speaking circuit, stage, microphone or camera. Then there’s the whole ‘bigger & better’ cycle of showing off that means each and every event has to outdo the previous. Sooner or later this machine chews up good intentioned people or disenfranchises the easily unimpressed crowd and they move on to the next new church or a better version of your knock-off that is in the world.
- The Top of the Mountain:
“Bow to me” is at the end of this drive. Whatever mountain you are trying so desperately to get to the top of, ends eventually in servitude. It’s a race to the top to get the most power, prestige, profit or your share of the ‘gold, girls/guys and glory!’ Oh sure you can spiritualize it all and make it sound like some religious achievement or rationalize it with a bunch of self-actualizing philosophy but at its heart is a prison of forced servitude. You will lose you in it and more than likely, a lot of relationships and self-respect as well.
All of these temptations strike at the heart of our need for identity, a sense of purpose, well being and relationship. Too much religious culture is infected with these temptations and the carnage and crippled lives are littered in the path of this three-horse, pulled chariot and the devil is cracking the whip to always drive faster, higher and farther. Don’t fall for these temptations, they are lies and they will steal from you life, time, fruitfulness, friends and joy.
A moment of prayer for you:
I pray that the Holy Spirit will help us all escape from these tempting, spiritual mirages and lead us to reject them as Jesus did. Right now, I pray that as the Lord was ministered to by Angels, you too would find a supernatural moment of care. You need to be touched by the grace of God and healed from the madness, misdirection and mania associated with these dead-end drives. Knowledge is not enough, you need comfort, counsel and care. God desires to minister to you, to touch you and speak a consoling word of wisdom into your exhaustion, dissolution and anger. He desires to release a fresh renewal into this season of your life that will liberate you from these religious hamster wheels. All that you think or feel was wasted over the years, won’t be in vain, even the stuff that was a waste, God can use to fertilize the abundance of good fruit to come. Sometimes we are like Samson and our last moments of life are far more impactful than the years of questionable warriorhood were, do not despair saint, God hears your cry and has seen your labor and you are loved. He is here to save your from these devilish temptations if you have ears to hear and eyes to see. I pray you do for you own soul and the sake of a well managed life.