The question we ended with last time is where have we charged ahead, disregarding the timing or solution God has for us? The first temptation Jesus faced in Matthew 4—turning stones into bread—illustrates one of the trickiest temptations for thriving ministries.
When presented with “stones” (maybe a flagging youth ministry or an increase in benevolence requests), we have the influence and resources to turn those challenges into “bread” (Let’s start a youth sports ministry! Or launch our own food pantry!). This isn’t a temptation to “sin.” It’s a temptation to act independently of God—to charge on without the divine go-ahead.
The second temptation Jesus faced is so closely related. Let’s return to Matthew 4:5–6:
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “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.’”
Did you catch that? That’s Satan quoting Scripture. And it illustrates a temptation that pops up all the time in church circles—the temptation to presume on God (and the twin temptation to justify it scripturally).
In the excitement of a new idea (see above: let’s launch our own food pantry!), it’s easy to convince ourselves that faith is some sort of quantifiable power or force. And that if we can harness enough of it or get enough people to have it, God will have to act. He’ll have to bless our efforts. He’ll have to orchestrate our success.
But getting yourself out on a limb and asking God to bail you out is not faith, it’s presumption.
Satan was tempting Jesus to force God’s hand. Jump. He has to save you. And it so easy for us to do the same thing. Maybe it’s a real estate deal—claimed in the name of Jesus!—for which we have no funding and no business entering. But we have faith! It’s a sneaky way of testing God. Disguised as some grand act of faith.
This temptation flips the formula—decide the course of action first then use “faith” to force God’s hand. But faith comes in response to a calling or command from God. You don’t jump then call on him. You jump because he called you to.
So where has your ministry jumped first? Where have you extended yourself beyond God’s calling? Here’s a hint to help you answer those: If you catch yourself “guilting” God—You must not love me then, God…Have we not been a faithful ministry…for years?—you may have been lured in by this temptation.
We’ll wrap up our discussion of temptation next time with a look at the last of Satan’s tricks—it’s one leaders are uniquely set up for. In the meantime, our Pause DVD is a 4-part series by Andy Stanley that takes a closer look at temptation. Buy it here.