Wilderness Fasting and Temptations

Matthew 4:1-11

There are many desolate places in the world. Three years ago today, I got a taste of what a true wilderness looks like. I went to Haiti to visit some of the schools we are feeding through Trinity/HOPE. You can see some of the videos I took on my favorite charities pages. Looking back on the trip, I experienced a mere seven days of fasting. When I returned home, the temptations of the false self (my practical view of satan that in Greek is defined as a false accuser) became greater.

Haitian roadwayI lived in motels that had little or no hot water. In fact, it was a blessing to have enough running water in some of them to be able to wash my hair. I used bottled water to brush my teeth because if you ingested the local water, you’d get sick. The temperatures were manageable at 85 degrees. The air conditioners were activated after 4 pm. The roads getting back to the schools were dirt, rutted, and jarring.

I missed the conveniences of life at my fingertips. You know, those things you complain about if they aren’t at your beck and call. Like if the electricity goes off or if your satellite dish gets scrambled for ten seconds. I missed clean water. I missed hot water. I missed good food, safe food. I missed being around people who have so little to complain about that they invent things to complain about. I was awakened to the blessings in life I take for granted.

Wilderness is not a bad thing. Wilderness is often a good thing. The wilderness is a teaching tool. Sometimes it’s a place where purification takes place. Why else would the Spirit lead Jesus into a wilderness where there would be temptations? Because it prepared him to accomplish the work for which he was sent into the world. The Spirit sometimes leads you and me into lonely and desolate places where our faith is tested and strengthened.

Having been home for three years now, several temptations circle around me like buzzardsChildren in school in Haiti. in the sky. The most powerful one is the inner voice that says, “I’m so glad to be back in the United States —comfortable, blessed. It’s so tempting to fall back into the attitude that ‘Yes, it was a good experience to see what I saw, but it’s over and let’s get on with enjoying the abundance here where clean water and electricity and food and paved roads are part of everyday life.’”

Visiting eleven schools during the week, one of our tasks was to talk to ten children at each school (through an interpreter) and ask them, “Did you have breakfast this morning? If so, was it enough?” And “Did you have food last night? And if so, was it enough?” In school after school, an average of one or two children said “yes” that they’d had something to eat for breakfast, but rarely was it enough. And maybe two said they had something to eat the night before, and rarely was it enough.

Like the first temptation Jesus experienced, I’m so tempted to use my time and abilities to provide only for my own physical needs, comforts and pleasures, and to ignore the obvious needs of those who have no ability to care for themselves.

Another temptation hovering around me is to put God to the test. Maybe I could make a huge production out of how God is going to fix this problem in a miraculous way and begin mobilizing you and others to pray every day so we can show how God follows every word that comes out of his mouth in Holy Scriptures. You know, Jesus said, “Anything you ask in my name, I will do it.” Well, what better thing to ask for than for God to provide food for these poor children in Haiti? Let’s ask God to do a dramatic thing so he can prove how he comes to the rescue.

I like Martin Luther’s answer to the temptation of putting God to the test. He said, “Why should Jesus jump off the pinnacle of the Temple to prove that God would make sure he got to the ground safely, when there was a very simple and practical way of getting to his destination? He could just walk the flight of stairs from the top to the bottom.”

God is not in the business of the dramatic. There’s a simple way already laid out to get to the bottom of feeding all the hungry children in Haiti.

Children of Colminy School in Haiti.For only 28 cents, you can feed one child a bowl of rice and beans in Haiti today through Trinity/HOPE. A penny of that amount is needed to cover administrative costs but the rest feeds children. One child at a time. One meal at a time. It’s taken fifteen years to reach the point of feeding 18,000 children one meal every day they come to school. It wasn’t fast and dramatic, but it is well laid-out and implemented. And most important, it’s not just a hand-out. Trinity/HOPE is also trying to teach churches and communities to assume some accountability for helping themselves.

A third temptation that circles around me is to try to use that experience to bring glory to myself by acting like I did something special. I merely used some of the money God had entrusted to me. What I found out was how much more I have been given by God than I ever imagined.

And I saw how appreciative people could be even when they have so little. We arrived at a school a few minutes before school was to start. The cooks were already cooking the beans, frying some chicken wings, and cutting up vegetables to feed us. It was a generous act of hospitality for them to kill some of their chickens and prepare them for us. They had so little, and yet, they were willing to share it with us whose bellies were already full. I didn’t do anything special. They did something special for us by giving out of their poverty to us who have an overabundance.

The real temptations for me came after the fast. What would I do from that day forward knowing the abundance God has given to me and the lack of basic necessities of others?

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