We call them “desert” or “wilderness” experiences, and they are normal for most Christians. They start innocently enough – through illness, death, job loss, even the hormonal changes that come after a child’s birth can bring it on through postpartum depression. And somewhere along the way, we lose our feeling of closeness to God. We become disinterested in anything to do with the church or the Bible. We make excuses to avoid our Christian friends because we don’t feel “spiritual” enough. Before we know it, we are out wandering in the desert, wondering if we have lost our faith in God forever or if we were ever saved in the first place. But, by looking at Jesus’ desert experience, we can have victory over Satan’s attempts to lead us away from God. Today, if you are going through one of those times, it is my hope that you will be encouraged by what you find.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You’; and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him (Matthew 4:1-11, NASB).
It is clear from the verses above that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for one purpose - to be tempted by the devil. Why did Jesus need to be tempted? To show us how to avoid temptation. So let's look at the types of temptation we face and how to meet these temptations head on.
Types of Temptation:
Physical temptations include everything that the "flesh" lusts after. These can include everything from sexual addictions, to drug or alcohol addictions, and yes even food addictions. Jesus' first temptation was hunger and the promise of food. His response to this temptation was to quote Scripture that not only put Satan in his place, but at the same time reminded Jesus that His strength to resist temptation could only be found in God's Holy Word.
Satan next tried to tempt Jesus into killing himself, with the promise that in modern terms would be akin to saying, "Everything will be okay because God loves you and you won't go to hell if you do this because He would never want to see you hurt." Thoughts of suicide are very real when we are emotionally depleted. When we feel alone, when life becomes too hard, when we feel like there is no hope and no one who cares, or like God isn't there or doesn't love us. Our thoughts can easily slip into dark places that look like a way to escape our problems. But in reality, suicide is a selfish act that leaves those who love you left to pick up the pieces and forever be wondering what they had done wrong, or what they had missed. Jesus' response to this kind of temptation was to once again quote Scripture and then remind Satan that it is wrong to put God to the test. If you think things will be better if you kill yourself, you are basically counting on God to forgive you for taking the life He gave you. **Note - Depression is a serious illness that is not Satanic in nature, but is largely a biological or hormonal issue, that unfortunately if you are a Christian, can be exacerbated by well-meaning Christians who think it's from the devil. Satan DOES NOT cause depression, he only uses it for his advantage. If you are suicidal please talk to someone!**
The desire to "have it all" to be rich, to have power, money and fame are all too familiar in this day and age. Jesus' response to Satan when he promised him riches if he would just bow down and worship him, was to again quote Scripture and put Satan in his place by reminding him that we should worship the Lord and serve only Him. This world has a lot of temptations and most of them have to do with money. According to the world, when you have money, you have power and unfortunately this has turned the hearts of many well-meaning Christians. We see it in TV evangelists who use God as an excuse to buy a plane, an airport, or multi-million dollar homes for their children. We also see Christians tempted to disregard God's word in order to have the approval of the world on issues like homosexuality and same-sex marriage. When Christians toss out the Bible in favour of man's opinion, they are not honouring God or obeying Him anymore. They are simply giving in to the devil and his schemes.
How Do We Defeat Temptation?
Jesus’ desert experience lasted forty days and forty nights. He was alone, yet not entirely alone. He was God in the flesh and at any moment could have asserted His authority to rise above His flesh and blood body and return to His heavenly abode. But He didn't, because if He had His whole purpose for coming into the world would have been moot. Instead, He allowed Himself to experience what we experience everyday - temptation. He had to learn how to rely on God alone and so do we.
Jesus promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
We know we can trust the Lord and His promises. Yet we often feel alone and that God has left us in the lurch. More often than not, we are the ones who have strayed from God. During these times, we must remember how Satan tried to deceive Jesus when He was in the wilderness. All His temptations began with one word: if. Each temptation was meant to plant a seed of doubt in the Saviour’s head. In addition, each attack was aimed at something new. We must remember, Satan is always scheming to try and get us to stop believing in and trusting God.
“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
Does God allow wilderness experiences to happen to us on purpose? Yes, indeed He does. But why? He allows us to go through these spiritually dry times in order to strengthen our faith in Him and test our faithfulness in Him. This was the very reason Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert – to be tempted to sin.
When we look at Christ’s temptations in the wilderness, we begin to see a pattern in how Satan works. We can use this knowledge to our advantage to “fight against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11).
How Satan works to destroy your faith in God:
In Matthew 4:1-11, we learn Jesus was hungry. Immediately, Satan tempted Christ in two ways:
Satan then goes on to tempt Jesus further, each time using the word if. He was constantly questioning Christ’s divinity and authority. Jesus’ response to Satan’s attacks can teach us how to stand firm when we are going through our own wilderness experiences.
Five things we need to remember to defeat temptation:
Six things that will help you survive a wilderness experience are:
If you do not spend time in prayer and Bible study daily, you can easily be deceived by Satan. You might rehash your past and be filled with regret, distancing yourself from God’s healing forgiveness. You might fall prey to false teachers and be led away from the Lord. You may even doubt your salvation. Jesus knew the Father’s will because He spent time with Him daily. His faith was strengthened because of His wilderness experience which enabled Him to meet future trials, firm in the knowledge He was not alone.
If you are feeling lost in the wilderness right now and your faith seems dry and all seems hopeless - be encouraged! Only those God knows are faithful and will endure in their faith go through these experiences. Remember, Satan cannot attack us unless he first gets permission from God (Job 1:6-12). God must have a lot of faith in you. Now keep your eyes on Jesus' example and pick up your Bible, because it is the Sword of the Spirit and the Word of Truth and is your only way out of the wilderness. It will defeat any lie or scheme the devil is bringing against you.