Alcoholics Anonymous warns it’s participants that there are especially vulnerable times for succumbing to temptation. They use the acronym HALT to help their participants slow down and think when they feel Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired as these are the most vulnerable times to reach for old habits of comfort, in their case alcohol. I attended Overeaters Anonymous meetings for a couple of years and they used this also. I think it is a wise saying for all of us, as these are times when we too are more easily vulnerable to the devil’s wiles.
I see these same vulnerabilities in Jesus when he was in the wilderness and the devil came to tempt him to sin against God. One of the things I like to do when the Lord highlights a scripture for me is to search out the way other Bibles have translated that passage. The various ways it has been translated or paraphrased often help me see a larger picture or understanding of that passage or event.
The story starts in Matthew chapter 3, when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. When Jesus came up from the water, the heavens opened, the Spirit descended and came to rest on him, and a voice from heaven (the Father) said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (ESV) It is especially important to see that all three members of the trinity were gathered together in one place and time.
Matthew 4 then says that the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for the express purpose to be tempted by the devil. Here we have a highpoint of Jesus’ life and immediately afterwards he is taken into the wilderness. Does this sound familiar in your life? Have you been on the mountain of wonder and then something comes against you almost immediately to steal that feeling and you find yourself thrust into a wilderness? Jesus knows how you feel.
Note it was the Spirit that led him into the wilderness. Interesting question…are you in the wilderness because of the devil or because of God? Job didn’t know which either.
The first question we need to answer is “Why did the Spirit lead Jesus where he would be tested by temptation?” Do you remember the 1st Adam and Eve and the ramifications of their choice when tempted by the devil? Jesus came to be the 2nd Adam, in every way to overcome those consequences, to overcome the temptations of man, to live a sinless life, and to die as the payment for the sins of all who call on his name. So to fulfill this, Jesus needed to be tempted in all ways.
Since Matthew 4:1-11 is such a familiar passage I want to share it here from the Message Bible (a single author paraphrase). We are going to take it a little at a time. Let’s start by looking at what the Message Bible says in Matthew 4:1-4.
“Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: “Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.”
Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”
The devil came to Jesus when he was extremely hungry. The “H” in our acronym I know when I haven’t eaten in a while and have low blood sugar, I don’t think very clearly let alone be able to quote scripture. At that time I am vulnerable to being more easily frustrated with others, less tolerant, not willing or even able to concentrate on the things they are saying. I’m pretty much focused on the comfort I will receive from FOOD! Truthfully, I hate to fast, although when I have submitted to the Lord’s call to fast I have seen miracles appear and a clearer understanding and a closeness with my Lord that I don’t feel otherwise. Still, I am tempted not to fast because it is uncomfortable. It amazes me that Jesus fasted 40 days, was uncomfortable, and yet stood against the devil and won. I find it interesting that He used his Father’s words to overcome the devil and strengthen his resolve. (Do you think that is a clue to us on how we can overcome the devil too?)
The devil, not being able to tempt Jesus through hunger, tries another tactic. This time he uses the old “did God say” that he used in Genesis by attacking Jesus’ identity and calling. The Father had just announced 40 days ago that “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” (Matt. 3:17 ESV), but now the devil once again is saying “If you are the Son of God” then. In other words, prove you are the Son of God. Prove you are called for a purpose, that you are the beloved of God. Have you heard that one, where you are tempted to do something to prove your value, your worth, your calling instead of letting God reveal it to others in his time? Jesus didn’t fall for this tactic. Let’s see it in the Message.
“For the second test the Devil took him to the Holy City. He sat him on top of the temple and said, ‘Since you are God’s Son, jump.’ The Devil goaded him by quoting Psalm 91: ‘He has placed you in the care of angels. They will catch you so that you won’t so much as stub your toe on a stone.’
Jesus countered with another citation from Deuteronomy: ‘Don’t you dare test the Lord your God.” (Matt. 4:5-7)
Jesus is alone in the wilderness. That’s a good time for a human to feel lonely (the L in our acronym) and unsure of their calling. Friends are often used by God to encourage us and lift us up to remember who we are in Christ. When we spend too much time alone it is easy for us to forget and we become vulnerable to the devil’s whispers that God really isn’t bringing to pass the things He has promised us. When we are in the wilderness our purpose sometimes gets confused. Jesus was called to be the head of the church, to have all power, but it doesn’t look like that in the wilderness experience. The devil whispers that you can do it. You can fulfill it, go ahead do it by your own power rather than wait for God to lift you up into that position. This is the temptation to distrust the Father’s care for you and His purpose for you. The devil will often come and try to prod you to do for you in your timing what the Lord has asked you to trust Him for. This temptation will often happen when the devil can get you alone. It also happens when you are tired (the T in our acronym) and in need of an Aaron or Hur to help lift your hands to win the battle. (Ex. 17) After not eating for 40 days Jesus is probably tired as well.
The Message Bible continues:
“For the third test, the Devil took him to the peak of a huge mountain. He gestured expansively, pointing out all the earth’s kingdoms, how glorious they all were. Then he said, ‘They’re yours—lock, stock, and barrel. Just go down on your knees and worship me, and they’re yours.’
Jesus’ refusal was curt: ‘Beat it, Satan!’ He backed his rebuke with a third quotation from Deuteronomy; ‘Worship the Lord your God, and only him. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.’
The test was over. The Devil left. And in his place, angels! Angels came and took care of Jesus’ needs.” (Matt. 8-11)
Jesus in this passage is tempted with choosing to receive power and control. All he had to do was “sell his soul to the devil.” That certainly is a familiar theme in fictional stories, but sadly is often a reality in some people’s lives. What this passage is illustrating is that when you are tempted with power and control you are asked to worship something or someone other than God. The devil is good at disguising this (although it was pretty straight forward for Jesus), but for us it often looks like the way things are done in this world and before you know it you are exchanging your trust and love in God for a position or possession or power. If God isn’t lifting you up, question who is. The devil is pretty good in covering the giver of the gift even if it is yourself. That might be why the Lord says “Stand” so often before a big breakthrough. Throughout the Bible whether it be before the Red Sea crossing, a battle, or Peter’s admonition to “resist the devil,” the implication is to stand still and wait for God, to trust that God will bring you through to victory. He doesn’t say go get power, but that you will have power. It is given by God to you when He wants you to have it. Until then stand, resist the devil’s wiles, and he will get tired of bugging you and flee from you until a more “opportune time.” (Luke 4:13 ESV)
Although anger shows up in the passage, Jesus’ anger was holy and righteous anger with a purpose. In our case anger is often a result of fear, which was not at all Jesus’ problem here.
Anger (the A in our acronym) is usually not helpful to clear thinking for us. Since human anger is often coupled with fear it clouds our judgment as adrenalin floods our brain with the fight or flight response. We do not make wise and thought-through choices when we are angry or afraid. These times make us vulnerable to the devil’s plans for our destruction. This is a time to stand still until you can be rational once again and it is always a good idea to not only talk to the Lord but a trusted friend. The Lord will often use that friend to minister to you and help you calm down after talking it through, so that you can once again hear the Lord’s next step to take on your path. If you allow yourself to jump on impulse it will almost always be a snare of the devil that will set you back or on a detour from your walk with the Lord.
It is a good thing to remember to be very careful in your decision making when you are very vulnerable. Other times of vulnerability are: times of grief and loss, times of distraction when you don’t have you life in the proper order, times when you are crazy busy or when you are sick or taking care of someone who is sick, or when you are struggling with an area of trust with the Lord and you are in the waiting room rather than the receiving room. What I’m trying to say is there are many times when we are vulnerable to the devil’s tests. I think it would be good for us to take inventory today and ask the Lord to show us any area in which we are vulnerable right now and how He wants us to strengthen that area. It would also be a good thing to reach out to a friend and see if they would be willing to spend some time talking about spiritual things. As women we especially need our “Aaron and Hur,” a trusted friend who will promise to hold our hands up when the battle rages.
I’d like to leave you with my new discovery: the original full version of the Serenity Prayer. I hope it will be as helpful and hopeful for you as it was for me.
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Written by Reinhold Niebuhr